Big Needles

A view of strawberry hedgehog cactus in the rain growing in slate on the Quartz Trail in Cave Creek Regional Park in Cave Creek, Arizona in December 2019. Original: _DSC6456.arw

My award for the cutest member of the desert that will still stab you six ways from Sunday goes to the diminutive hedgehog cactus with its almost comically long needles. I found this little clump in the slate at Cave Creek on a rainy winter’s day. Rain, I remember rain. It was wet I think.

An overhead view of strawberry hedgehog cactus in the rain growing in slate on the Quartz Trail in Cave Creek Regional Park in Cave Creek, Arizona in December 2019. Original: _DSC6441.arw

Fruit Salad

A close-up view of a compass barrel cactus with dried flowers atop green fruit with two buds waiting to bloom, taken on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in August 2020

I sometimes find cacti a bit awkward looking when the flowers have died but not yet fallen off, but I liked the look on this compass barrel cactus with the dried flowers atop green fruit, a couple of buds waiting to bloom, nestled beneath the large red spines.

A top-down view of a compass barrel cactus with dried flowers atop green fruit with two buds waiting to bloom, taken on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in August 2020

Two Pollinators

A male gilded flicker perches on saguaro blossoms while a honeybee hovers nearby on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in May 2020

It may look like this male gilded flicker took an interest in the honeybee as the two pollinators shared a saguaro, but it was just a coincidence of timing, the bird was only interested in eating from the flowers.

A male gilded flicker prepares to eat headfirst from a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in May 2020

Changing of the Guard

A female Gila woodpecker perches outside their nest in a saguaro as the male prepares to leave on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

A female Gila woodpecker brings food to the nest while the waiting male is about to pop out and make room for her. This is zoomed in less than the previous pictures to show more of the saguaro, I was kicking myself later for forgetting to take a much wider shot with my regular lens of the full saguaro and the surrounding desert. I forgot partially because of the excitement of watching woodpeckers and partially because it was 5:30am. At that hour I’m just happy if I dress myself properly because that isn’t guaranteed.

Are You a Tasty Bee: Gila Woodpecker Edition

A male Gila woodpecker looks down at a honeybee hovering above a saguaro blossom near the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Do Gila woodpeckers eat honeybees? With the sun starting to rise this honeybee hovered over the saguaro blossom for so long that this male craned his neck out and started watching it. If he was thinking about jumping out and snaring it he never did, he stayed at the nest entrance until his mate returned. Which didn’t take long, the pair was pretty amazing to watch, even before sunup they were constantly bringing food back to the nest. I don’t know if they eat honeybees or not but there is an ample supply nearby when the saguaros are blooming.

A male Gila woodpecker looks out while a honeybee hovers above a saguaro blossom near the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Large Mercies

A cuve-billed thrasher swallows after feeding from a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Even with a relatively long beak, come springtime curve-billed thrashers end up with faces covered in pollen courtesy of the massive flowers of the saguaro. Saguaros are many things, subtle is not one of them. I’m thankful for the mercy of these large flowers, because if they were carnivorous they could easily eat their fill of desert birds who thrust their entire heads into the blossoms (and later, fruit) to feed.

A cuve-billed thrasher sticks its head into a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

OCCUPIED! OCCUPIED!

A white-winged dove looks up from feeding from a saguaro blossom as another is about to land, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

A white-winged dove looks up from feeding from a saguaro blossom as another is about to land. The incoming bird landed on the leftmost blossom so they were able share the perch for a while. I haven’t seen so many white-wings this year, to be fair I haven’t hiked as much this spring and summer and when I do it’s often on different trails, but we also aren’t seeing so many in the yard as last year. Which works out well for the mourning doves as in numbers the larger white-wings can push the smaller doves around but this year the white-wings are fairly subdued and it’s only the quail parents with babies whose wrath the doves have to avoid.