Morning Surprise

A young mule deer looks out from the Sonoran Desert with Troon Mountain in the background in pink light before sunrise on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 1, 2021. Original: _RAC8010.arw

At the start of May I got up early and went to a favorite trail I hadn’t been to in a while. I soon came across mule deer so close to the trail I could have photographed them with a wide angle lens, but it was rather dark yet so rather than risk startling them I continued on towards the scene I planned to photograph at sunrise.

Further on the dim light suddenly intensified and turned pink, not nearly as strongly as the time when I was visiting my favorite saguaro but I couldn’t figure out why it was happening at all. The sun was still below the mountains and there were no clouds I could see to reflect the light, but perhaps the mountains hid more than just the rising sun. I looked around for something to shoot and had to smile when I saw the family of deer were occasionally visible through the desert scrub. I was far enough away now to need a telephoto lens but I was pleased I could include Troon Mountain in the background, as somewhere betwixt us and the mountain sits my home.

I watched from afar as the deer drifted in and out of view until they disappeared for good. The pink light stayed but for a moment before turning yellow, then a sickly white, then dying away until the sun at last cleared the hills. I tarried too long with the deer to have any chance of reaching my original destination so I went a little further down the trail to my favorite rock formation and soaked in the moment when the light suddenly floods across the desert.

It’s a little embarrassing that after a few years in the desert I can still struggle so to predict the sunlight, my excuse that I love rainy days and spent decades in an area with a plethora of them only goes so far, but it’s alright if I never get much better.

Sometimes it’s nice to be surprised.

Boo’s New Friends

A javelina eats in our front yard on December 27, 2020. Original: _RAC2559.arw

My wife and I isolated during the holidays but we did end up hosting a hungry family a couple of days after Christmas. I heard some grunting when I stepped outside and looked up to see a family of javelina scattered about the yard. I went back into my office for my camera and telephoto lens (they are tolerant, not tame) and saw Boo was in my office. I put him onto the window seat as some of the family walked right below it and he was mesmerized, I think it was his first time seeing them. I felt sorry for the one that must have wandered too close to a teddy bear cholla although the prickers didn’t seem to bother it.

A family of javelina eats in our front yard on December 27, 2020. Original: _RAC2592.arw

Distinctive Silhouette

The silhouette of a rock squirrel atop a granite boulder in front of saguaros on the Saddlehorn Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 17, 2020. Original: _RAC6530.arw

Though I only saw it in silhouette I knew from shape and size which of our ground squirrels I was seeing as I came down the Saddlehorn Trail. This is a rock squirrel, the one I see least. The trail wound away from it so this was my only good view, I did like that I could put the tops of saguaros behind it for context as it looked out from atop the large granite boulder.

Shoo Fly

A harbor seal raises a flipper to shoo away the files swarming on its face at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon on October 8, 2017. Original: _L1A0429.cr2

While I don’t have a phobia about insects and in fact enjoy photographing them, I don’t like the feel of them walking on my skin. I’ve tried to work on it over the years, especially when it’s an insect that won’t harm me, such as this visit to the Oregon coast when flies swarmed around but didn’t bite. I felt for this harbor seal who was getting hounded much worse, they even walked across its eyeballs. It raised a flipper to shoo them off but they didn’t stay away long.

A harbor seal shoos files away with a flipper at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon on October 8, 2017. Original: _L1A0434.cr2

A harbor seal rests after shooing away files at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon on October 8, 2017. Original: _L1A0448.cr2

The Entertainers

A squirrel peaks out from the neighbor's bushes in Portland, Oregon on June 17, 2007. Original: _MG_0704.cr2

A squirrel peaks out from the neighbor’s bushes in the spring of 2007. Although Oregon has native tree squirrels in our urban Portland neighborhood you’d only find species introduced long ago, like eastern grays and eastern foxes. Our dog Ellie never paid them much heed but they were endlessly entertaining to all six cats over the years, with Emma and Trixie probably their biggest fans.

The Beauty of the Auto Tour

A close-up of a coyote in the rain on the auto tour at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on December 25, 2011. Original: _MG_6249.cr2

While on a visit to Ridgefield on a rainy Christmas in 2011, I accidentally took a short nap while in a pullout beside Rest Lake (I mean, given the name of the lake, hardly my fault) which meant I was lucky enough to be in the right position when driving past the meadow that I got to spend quite a while watching a coyote hunting voles in the rain. It’s what I loved about the auto tour, getting to watch animals behave naturally at relatively close distances without disturbing them.

A coyote pauses in a meadow in the rain on the auto tour at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on December 25, 2011. Original: _MG_6194.cr2

These pictures are a bit bittersweet as while I got to watch the family at length multiple times that winter, my pictures from a couple of months later would be my last photos of coyotes at the refuge as they were shot to create a safer haven for the threatened Columbian white-tailed deer that were about to be transplanted. Thankfully the deer seemed to be establishing themselves by the time I had to say goodbye to the refuge so hopefully coyotes have been allowed back since.

A coyote hunts for Townsend's voles in a meadow on the auto tour at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on December 25, 2011. Original: _MG_6021.cr2

I’m not sure the many Townsend’s voles in the meadows around the refuge missed the coyotes, although perhaps they didn’t notice given the wide variety of predators that ate them. It was always a little hard to watch through the big lens as one little life was snuffed out, even knowing it allowed another life to continue. I always hoped to photograph a vole on its own but I only ever managed to catch them when something else caught them first.

A coyote eats a Townsend's vole in a meadow on the auto tour at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on December 25, 2011. Original: _MG_6067.cr2

Of Seals

A harbor seal closes its eyes with its feet and tail sticking out of the water in the shallow surf near Cobble Beach at Yaquina Head Outsdanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon in October 2017

The past couple of years I’ve been watching some old movies I haven’t seen before, using Turner Classic Movies to catch up on some old gems. Last night I TiVo’ed Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal”, which has been on my watch list for some time. I haven’t watched it yet and since I try to not find out anything about a movie before I watch it, even the basics of the plot, I don’t know if the movie is about harbor seals, elephant seals, or leopard seals. With seven seals, maybe all of them! Can’t wait to find out!

Legs Up, Hands On Hearts!

A wave begins to break over the body of the first harbor seal in a group at Cobble Beach in Yaquina Head Oustanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon in October 2017

The rising tide brings waves that overwhelm the sleeping locations of the harbor seals, eventually sending them into the water. The bigger seals often held the ground that let them sleep the longest while the younger seals took the first brunt of the wave action. As each wave swept past, they’d raise their legs in unison, allowing the water to sweep over their bodies instead of knocking them into the sea, though in the end the water always wins.

I could spend hours watching the seals, relaxing on land or swimming in the sea, someday I’d love to spend more time in the area. A couple of years ago when it was time to choose between two job offers, the job in California would have put me relatively close to the coast with not just harbor seals but other mammals I haven’t seen before. If the cost of living had been swapped between the two locations perhaps we’d have gone on a different adventure, but thankfully the Sonoran Desert had its own wonders in store.

Harbor seals lift their legs as a wave breaks over them at Cobble Beach in Yaquina Head Oustanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon in October 2017

A group of harbor seals lie with their legs raised after a wave swept past at Cobble Beach in Yaquina Head Oustanding Natural Area in Newport, Oregon in October 2017

Not Samwise

A close-up view of the face of a bobcat with it's mouth a bit open to let heat escape, taken through the window of my office in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

A bobcat in our front yard, taken through the window of my office. The window makes the pictures a little odd but it’s not easy to be this close otherwise. Those teeth are a reminder that this is a predator, and indeed it captured a rabbit beside the house that morning. It may be the reason the ground squirrel who built a nest in the front yard has not been seen lately, though there are other predators too. Yesterday a pair of spiny lizards seem to have moved into the squirrel’s hole and this morning my wife saw a roadrunner had flattened itself against the ground outside the hole. I saw the female lizard later but it’s a dangerous world, in far too many ways. Theirs of necessity, ours of our own invention.

A close-up view of the ears of a bobcat, taken through the window of my office in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020