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A female American kestrel perches on a saguaro on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 5, 2021. Original: _RAC1934.arw

Judging by the white streaks running down the saguaro I’m guessing this kestrel likes this perch. I met her before sunset as I was heading out of the park and couldn’t resist stopping briefly for a picture, I so adore these little falcons. Unlike my time in the Northwest I’ve not gotten to see their hovering pose here in the desert. I think I too would enjoy a nice sit-down given the many high perches nature has graciously provided.

Pink Light, Blue Light

A view of a stand of saguaros far in front of Brown's Mountain under pink skies of sunset. Taken near the Brown's Ranch Entrance to McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2021. Original: _CAM3874.arw

A couple of quick snapshots after sunset, taken a week apart in October, as I hiked out of the local preserve. I like the blue light of the second picture the best, the park closed a bit after sunset so I had enough time to wait for the soft light of dusk before leaving (I’m steps away from the park entrance where my wife was picking me up).

That’s Brown’s Mountain sneaking in in the background, I usually try to include the mountains in this area if I can since they were so fundamental to me getting oriented on the trails when we moved here and life seemed a whirlwind. I’ve been meaning to try some other compositions but to get here I have to make it past a couple of favorite trails that often have good views of wildlife, such as the last picture where a female Gila woodpecker sidles round a saguaro in the last light of the day. Hard to pass up a chance to watch the desert fauna, at which point I have to hurry on down the trail. One day though, one day …

A view of a stand of saguaros far in front of Brown's Mountain in the blue light after sunset. Taken near the Brown's Ranch Entrance to McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 31, 2021. Original: _CAM3920.arw

A female Gila woodpecker on a saguaro at sunset near the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on November 14, 2021. Original: _RAC1617.arw

One More for the List

A European starling pokes its head out of its nest in a saguaro in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 21, 2021. Original: _RAC5715.arw

This spring I went down to a rock formation in the neighborhood to try and photograph a pair of starlings, I have mixed feelings about seeing them since while I enjoy watching them they were introduced in the US and have negatively impacted some native species. Thankfully they don’t seem to be making much of an inroads here, I’ve not seem them in the desert (even on trails near subdivisions) and rarely see them in the neighborhood. I was surprised to find them nesting in a woodpecker hole, possibly built by one of the local architects below, this one poking its head out right as the sun was about to dip below the mountains. One more species added to my list in my attempt to photograph every animal in the desert on a saguaro.

A female Gila woodpecker perches on a saguaro near sunset in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 21, 2021. Original: _RAC5482.arw

Flickerfreude

A young gilded flicker peers out from its nest in a saguaro after the sun set at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 31, 2021. Original: _RAC2537.arw

One of my great joys this spring was to go to a local park on weekend evenings and watch a pair of gilded flickers raise their family in a nest near the top of an old saguaro. I’ve shared some of those pictures before and have more I haven’t sorted yet, but one of my favorites is the last one I took. Earlier in the weekend as I scouted for antelope squirrels lower in the park I heard a flicker calling out constantly and worried something had gone wrong and one of the adults was alarmed, but when I made my way to the nest I realized the last remaining youngster had found its full flicker voice and was putting it to good use.

It was as close to fledging as it could be, often hanging out of the nest hole and even leaning down occasionally to shoot out its long tongue (I’m presuming ants were climbing up the cactus as they are a favored food). It was happy enough to take feedings from its parents but after the sun set and I prepared to leave, I wondered if the Germans had a word for the feeling that as much as you had loved watching a flicker grow up, you hoped not to see it again. Not that I wouldn’t technically see it, just that I wouldn’t know I had, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back until the next weekend and something would have gone wrong for it not to have left the nest by then.

I took one last photo, though I had taken one just like it after the sun set the day before, and whispered let’s not meet here again. As I arrived the following weekend I was both happy and sad to walk up the trail and not hear the familiar voice, to see the nest hole emptied of a bird on the precipice of leaving the comfortable world it had known to join the fuller world that awaited, and hoped it would have a wonderful life.

A Little Red-Faced

Saguaro fruit juice stains the beak and face of a young white-winged dove perched on an ocotillo on the Hawknest Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on July 18, 2021. Original: _RAC4013.arw

First light on the Hawknest Trail revealed a young white-winged dove that was a little red-faced, courtesy of the saguaro fruit juice that stained its beak and the tip of its face. It was mid-July so there wasn’t much fruit left on the old giants but the plucky youngster seemed to have found some before perching on the ocotillo to preen its feathers. With its cleaning regimen complete followed by a few beak swipes on the ocotillo stem, it flew off to a nearby saguaro and chased off the adult that was feeding there.

Saguaro fruit juice stains the beak and face of a young white-winged dove perched on an ocotillo on the Hawknest Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on July 18, 2021. Original: _RAC3902.arw

Quiet For a Moment

A cactus wren perches on a rock immediately after the sun set at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on July 25, 2021. Original: _RAC5493.arw

In late July I had a quiet moment with our not-so-quiet state bird, the cactus wren. The sun had mostly dipped below the mountains as it posed for a moment before flying off with two others. More robin-sized than wren-sized, they don’t seem to cock their tails like their smaller cousins, but their personalities remind me of the ever-entertaining marsh wrens I watched in the Northwest. On recent hikes they’ve kept me company calling out from either side of the trail while mostly staying out of sight.

The Ol’ Switcheroo

A male ladder-backed woodpecker clings to a dead tree branch early on a cloudy morning on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 1, 2020. Original: _RAC1308.arw

A male ladder-backed woodpecker clings to a dead tree on a cloudy morning in the Sonoran Desert, a little tribute to the overcast of the Northwest with a bird of the Southwest from someone lucky enough to have called both home. Not much later he and his mate pulled the ol’ switcheroo, when I wasn’t looking he flew off and she flew in but I didn’t notice the change at first. Taken in March of 2020, turned out to be my first sighting of the female, the male I had seen before.

A female ladder-backed woodpecker clings to a dead tree branch early on a cloudy morning on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 1, 2020. Original: _RAC1325.arw

You Should Have Called First!

A male kestrel prepares to land at his nest in a saguaro but is surprised to find one of the nestlings looking out from the nest entrance. Taken near sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on June 6, 2021. Original: _RAC3468.arw

A male kestrel arrives at his nest in a saguaro to feed the last of his young that had not yet fledged but was surprised to find him sitting in the entrance hole. Strong winds blew as the sun was about to set but kestrels are agile fliers with a strong grip, so even though he had to fall backwards to avoid crashing into the youngster he was able to flare out his wings while grasping the cactus with his talons and maintain his purchase. He not only recovered with remarkable grace but soon leaned in and fed his hungry charge before flying off to look for the next meal.

I bet next time he calls first to let junior know he’s on his way.

A male kestrel starts to fall backwards after being surprised to find one of the nestlings looking out from the nest entrance in a saguaro. Taken near sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on June 6, 2021. Original: _RAC3477.arw

A male kestrel recovers after being surprised to find one of the nestlings looking out from the nest entrance in a saguaro. Taken near sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on June 6, 2021. Original: _RAC3483.arw

A male kestrel flares out his wings to maintain his balance as he leans into his nest in a saguaro to feed a nestling. Taken near sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on June 6, 2021. Original: _RAC3486.arw

Happy Father’s Day!

A male gilded flicker regurgitates food into the mouth of a hungry nestling shortly before sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 30, 2021. Original: _RAC2058.arw

Happy Father’s Day to my father of the year, this gilded flicker nesting near the top of a saguaro. It was my first time watching a flicker raise a family so I was a bit confused when, unlike Gila woodpeckers, the adults arrived at the nest with empty beaks. As the nestlings grew old enough to lean out of the nest I understood why, they were regurgitating food into the always-hungry mouths of the little ones.

A male gilded flicker prepares to feed a hungry nestling shortly after sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 31, 2021. Original: _RAC2048.arw

The nest was in a nearby park, best visible late in the day, so on weekends I’d stop by to watch this tireless provider feeding his babies before and after the sun set. I brought out my Canon 500mm telephoto for these pictures, the autofocus doesn’t work very well on my Sony cameras but it’s amazing it works at all given it’s a 15 year old Canon lens attached to a Sigma converter attached to a Sony camera, a combo they were not designed for. I often shot with the electronic shutter so I wouldn’t make any noise.

For a while I was concerned something had happened to the mother as I only ever saw this male (a bit of his red mustache is visible in the picture below as he feeds the last nestling) but it turned out to be a coincidence of timing as eventually I would see her too. The top picture is right before the sun set, the bottom two just after (on the following day).

A male gilded flicker regurgitates food into the mouth of a hungry nestling shortly after sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 31, 2021. Original: _RAC2500.arw

A Faithful Father

A male gilded flicker perches outside his nest in a saguaro at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 8, 2021. Original: _RAC8770.arw

My favorite times to be in the desert are around sunrise and sunset, transfixed by how rapidly the light rises and falls, changing not only in intensity but color. I love the moment as the sun fades when a little diffuse red light mixes in with the heavier scattered blues, similar to the light here. But the sun, while low in the sky, had not yet set, instead blocked by a band of smoke in the northwest from a burning desert. While a depressing sign of things to come in the drought-stricken West, there was hope before me too. Flower buds on an old saguaro, soon to burst into blossom. And a faithful flicker father landing at his nest, squeaking voices inside welcoming him home.