Father’s Day?

An adult Harris's hawk prepares to land at its nest in a saguaro, one leg outstretched to find purchase on a saguaro blossom while the other clutches twigs to spruce up the nest, as two nestlings watch near the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

I’ve never seen a bird not defend its nest so I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. With one Harris’s hawk on its nest in a saguaro, multiple other adults were perched nearby, in trees, on saguaros, on large electrical towers. They called out repeatedly but to my untrained eyes and ears it seemed like they were keeping in touch rather than warning to keep away.

What was I seeing? Perhaps what I needed to see, what I wished for rather than what was, with Ellie’s death still stinging. But in this case both as I learned later Harris’s hawks live in family groups, even during nesting season with new life about to come into the world.

A week ago after sunup this adult flew to the nest, one leg outstretched to find purchase on a saguaro blossom while the other clutched twigs to spruce up the nest, as the two nestlings watched from the nest (they’re hard to see). Was it the father arriving? The mother? A sibling?

This morning one of the young hawks was continuously jumping from one arm to the other, working on its balance and testing its wings. I didn’t see the other until it flew over and landed awkwardly in a palo verde below the nest, having already fledged.

What joy these hawks, this family, have brought to me this spring as they add two more to their number.

Spring Sing

A cactus wren sings atop a saguaro with its mouth wide open near the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in April 2018

A cactus wren sings atop a saguaro at the end of April in 2018. It was also the end of our first month in Arizona and my second trip to Brown’s Ranch, having visited the day before as well. The cactus wren was the first bird I saw on my first hike after we moved here, at nearby Pinnacle Peak, also singing from a saguaro but before the sun had risen. They were nesting at the Brown’s Ranch trailhead and I assumed would always be so easy to see so close but I’ve had less luck this year.

At least on the trails, at home one was beside me a few minutes ago as it worked the porch for food. A couple of weeks ago two wren parents were also close by on the porch, feeding their hungry and boisterous chick as it fluttered its wings to draw attention the way so many young birds do. As one parent fed the little thing I heard a thud at a nearby window and my heart sank thinking the other adult had flown into it. But then I laughed when I realized the sound came from the other side of the window and the source was our youngest cat Trixie who could no longer hold back her desire to be introduced to the young family.

The Morning Stretch

A Harris's hawk stretches while perching on a dead tree, surrounded by palo verde blossoms fore and aft, near the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

I met this Harris’s hawk shortly before sunrise, it was mostly sleeping perched high in a dead tree. With the palo verdes blooming, there was one spot on the trail where if I lowered my tripod to a particular height I could frame the hawk using blossoms on trees between us and blossoms on the trees behind. The picture is a bit of a lie in that it gives the impression the hawk is in a dense section of trees but in truth it was in the open, I’ll post other pictures later that give a more accurate depiction of why it chose this perch.

I framed the shot for the pose when the hawk was resting but when it suddenly stretched after the sun came up most of the time its head was obscured behind the yellow blossoms, up until it reached the peak of its stretch and it came into full view again, showing off its chestnut shoulders and legs and the large white patch at the base of its tail and the white strip at the tip. I thought it was going to go to the bathroom, birds often do before they take flight, but it was just a morning stretch. Do all animals have their equivalent? Our cats do it after waking up from a nap, our dog Ellie did too and something about it always made me laugh.

Occupied! Occupied!

A female Gila woodpecker tilts her head to the side while holding a moth in her beak as her male partner prepares to leave the nest in a saguaro beside the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

As the female Gila woodpecker brought a moth to the nest, she had to wait to go in as the male was still in the nest. Though she was positioned right below the entrance, she only had to tilt her head to the side to give him room as when leaving they jump out of the hole before spreading their wings and flying off. I’ve seen so many moths brought to woodpecker nests it’s a wonder any remain to fly about the desert. Below is the same bird, but different moth, taken 5 minutes later.

A female Gila woodpecker holds a moth in her beak as she perches outside her nest in a saguaro beside the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

Woods in Fall

Three wood ducks swim surrounded by fallen leaves on a serene morning at Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in Portland, Oregon in late October 2017

Three wood ducks swim surrounded by fallen leaves on a serene morning in late October 2017. A few days later my team would get laid off, this was not only my last visit to Crystal Springs but I only went hiking once more before we moved to Arizona in March 2018. Partly because I didn’t feel like it at first, partly because the job search was time consuming, partly because I took Ellie for a walk each morning. I had romantic ideas about taking one last hiking tour of many of my favorite places in the Northwest but all I managed was one last visit to Ridgefield. I wish there had been more time but I wouldn’t trade those walks with the pup for anything.

Flowers for Breakfast

A female Gila woodpecker perches beside her nest with a beak stuffed not only with what might be a bee but stamens from saguaro blossoms, taken near the Latigo Trail in the Pima Dynamite area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona, in May 2019

A female Gila woodpecker perches beside her nest with a beak stuffed not only with what might be a bee but stamens from saguaro blossoms, illuminated by soft light as the sun just starts to break over the mountains. The stamens produce the pollen that is covering her face. I knew they fed their young insects and spiders but it appeared they were feeding them the stamens too, as not only did they leave the nest with beaks empty but sometimes it appeared as their beaks were full of nothing but stamens.