As a child in Michigan we had woods behind the house where I fell in love with chipmunks and squirrels and woodpeckers. In memory the woodies were downies and redheads but the memories are blurry at best. I was in graduate school when I got my first camera and binoculars and fell in love with woodpeckers all over again. Now in Virginia, the memories are sharper, flickers and downies and hairies.
In Oregon where I spent most of my adult life we had flickers in our urban backyard, I was always alerted to their presence since they were also a favorite of Emma’s and she would chirp at me from atop the cat tree on their arrival. On the trails in addition to downies and hairies I saw pileated woodpeckers and red-breasted sapsuckers too.
Before the move to Arizona I was intrigued when looking at real estate listings to see what looked like bird holes in the saguaros of some yards, and upon learning they were made by woodpeckers wanted to see them more than anything. So imagine my delight at arriving and finding them ubiquitous, I can sit on my porch and regularly see Gila woodpeckers and commonly gilded flickers and on rare occasion ladder-backed woodpeckers, so much more often than I saw their cousins in Oregon.
Who knew to see woodpeckers I had to leave the woods!
This is (I think) a tail feather from a Gila woodpecker, having served its duty helping its owner navigate the desert, now fallen to ground in our backyard.
From July during a summer rain with no lightning or thunder. This photoshoot was the straw that broke the camel’s back and made me start looking for a camera with focus bracketing, though it took me another 5 months to pull the trigger.
An American snout enjoys the remains of lantana fruit in our backyard. After the monsoons this summer and fall when the flowers were in full bloom I’d close my mouth as I walked past this bush to make sure I didn’t accidentally inhale a butterfly from the mob that flittered about. We recently had landscapers dig up the many bougainvillea plants in the backyard and a couple of palms that had died or were struggling, initially I was unsure on whether to keep the lantana but after seeing how the butterflies loved it I decided to keep them.
A yellow sailboat tilts on the gentle waves.
Another look at some of the patterns in the wings of the male black witch that sought refuge at our door, this time the bat-like M’s at the bottom of his wings.
Speaking of wildlife right outside our door, a couple of weeks after the first black witch appeared my wife was trimming some bushes that had overgrown the water spigot and was startled by this kingsnake. You might not expect it from its adorable little mug but one of the many things these constrictors eat is rattlesnakes. I wish I could keep it on retainer, I’d put up tiny little signs at viper eye level around the yard saying “Beware of Kingsnakes” and I don’t think we’d have to worry about venomous snakes anymore. Not that I don’t love seeing rattlesnakes, just I prefer seeing them in their home rather than mine.
I cast no spell but charm
and do not mean you any harm,
for I am not to blame
for my often fearsome names.
I’m the biggest in the land,
almost the size of a hand,
who am I?
Answer is in the tags, I had no idea this creature even existed until my wife woke me one weekend to tell me one was sitting outside our door. This is a male, we’ve since had a female and another male come visiting, though they only stay for a few days. One of the biggest surprises I’ve had since arriving in the desert, just an absolute joy to behold.
This is a macro shot of some of the patterns in his wings, I left it a little dark but it didn’t look quite right if I left it as dark as he was in person as my impression of him as he rested in the shadows was of a void, a hole in our reality. A long exposure (this one is 2.5 seconds) revealed the glory in his details.
I was working in the yard early this month when I noticed a white-lined sphinx moth flying near one of our plants, I had seen them a few times before but this was my longest look. Sadly it soon landed on the ground, walked around a bit, then stuck its head under the rocks, shivered, and died. Most moths and butterflies have short lives as adults, it wouldn’t have picked up insecticides in our yard though I can’t speak for the neighborhood, but it was still sad to see. I wasn’t going to photograph it but had a change of heart and went out in the dark after sunset and took a picture as a tribute to a beautiful little life.
I hadn’t planned on posting the picture but learned there was a death a week or two ago at my favorite trailhead not far from here, I don’t know the details but given it was one of the last truly hot days of the summer heat stroke would be a possibility. My thoughts go out to her family on what should have been a fun visit to the desert and to the rescue crews who spent hours looking for her. Usually their tireless efforts have happier endings.
The desert is unforgiving in the summer, especially once the air temperature rises above body temperature, please don’t underestimate the heat and low humidity if you’re visiting from out of town. Fitness and hydration are important but only get you so far if you wait to hike in the hotter parts of the day. Especially avoid the trails with elevation changes, there are a number of nice short trails where you won’t get the views of the mountain trails but you can get a good taste of the desert flora, including saguaros you can see up as close you’d like, and you can quickly retreat to safety if one of your party starts to overheat.
I think this may be a Sleepy Orange eating from lantana flowers in our backyard but I’m still learning my butterflies. This was one of two that were working over the diminishing blossoms last weekend, I’ve been giving a sore shoulder a rest so I stayed at home rather than going out for a hike.
When you’re royalty you don’t have to follow the laws, not even the law of gravity.