The Continuing Education of the Great & Mighty Bear

Our dog Bear at The Amphitheater in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 22, 2023. Original: _Z722950.NEF

Since he’s been doing so well in the less crowded part of the preserve near our house, I’ve been taking Bear onto some more popular trails while still avoiding the congested areas where I know a number of other dogs might be present. On this occasion we started off near my favorite saguaro, The Green Elephant, on the Latigo Trail then went up to the Vaquero Trail to visit Witch Hazel, then continued up to where I took this picture at The Amphitheater (its actual name and unlike the others not just a name I made up to help me navigate to my favorite places in the park). At this point I knew he was ready for a water and snack break so I got out his water bowl and a bag of baby carrots. It makes me laugh as he eagerly gobbles them down as I can hear Ellie shouting down from heaven, “No Bear! Carrots are vegetables! Make him give you real treats!”

Morning Ablutions

A canyon towhee pauses while preening at sunrise on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on September 18, 2022. Original: _CAM5336.ARW

Another in my series exploring light as it arrives or departs the desert. If it looks like the towhee puffed out its feathers to protect against the cold, it hadn’t, this was mid-September when cool hasn’t yet entered the desert’s vocabulary, much less cold. I was watching it preen before sunrise and luckily it was still at it as the light peeked over the mountains, the hills behind it still in shadow.

A Simple Portrait

A cactus wren perches on an ocotillo branch on the Latigo Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 30, 2022. Original: _CAM6223.ARW

I’ve been in the mood for environmental portraits the past couple of years but I still love a simple portrait, in this case a cactus wren perched on an old ocotillo. The ocotillo is sometimes mistaken for a cactus as the spiraling arms are often covered in spines, but unlike a cactus they grow out of the stem rather than an areole. The cactus wren is our state bird and I was going to say our noisiest bird but the Gila woodpeckers might have a word or two to say about that …

The Sunset Watch

A pair of Harris's hawks look out from a large boulder as the setting sun colors the rocks red near the Jane Rau Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 30, 2022. Original: _CAM6306.ARW

A pair of Harris’s hawks look out from a large boulder as the setting sun colors the rocks red. Earlier in the evening I saw a family of five on one of the big electrical towers but I’ve not seen the birds on these rocks before. From a distance I could see three forms on the boulders and couldn’t imagine what else they could be, by the time I got close the third had flown off but these two stayed to watch the sun set with me.

The Lion King

The base of a saguaro is caked in mud, likely from termites, in a pattern that reminds me of the face of a male lion on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on September 25, 2022. Originals: _ZFC0614.NEF to _ZFC0619.NEF

In September I went out specifically to photograph this pattern at the base of a saguaro, the ring of mud reminding me of a lion’s mane. But then I discovered a lizard hiding behind the spines a foot above this spot and spent so much time photographing her that I had to rush these shots before fleeing the park. Last weekend I went back to photograph the lion again, to compose when I was more composed, but my mind was wondering and wandering and I walked right past it. Realizing my mistake much later than I should have, I doubled back and easily located my target.

Except the lion was gone. The saguaro was there thankfully but the pattern was not. I had a little laugh as I remembered the heavy rains from earlier in the week while I was at work, which had probably washed away the work of the little artists who painted this canvas. Termites I suspect, there are a type here that eat the rough bark-like material at the base of old saguaros, which might explain the tan section in the middle.

The Mocking Bird

A northern mockingbird sits in an old ocotillo as the sun sets on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 7, 2022. Original: _CAM5716.ARW

I keep track of what animals I see in the parks but I’m not too religious about it, I mostly just pay attention to the animals that are close so a proper wildlife watcher would come away from the same visit with a much larger list. I’ve seen mockers in the local preserve every month except September, so I was hoping to spot one on recent hikes but had no luck. Yet in the first week of October as I headed out of the park, the light a ridiculous red from the setting sun, there sat a patient mocker in this gorgeous old ocotillo, just begging to be photographed.

Perfectly Poised

A female common side-blotched lizard hides behind the spines in the gap between two saguaro trunks on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona on September 25, 2022. Originals: _ZFC0561.NEF to _ZFC0577.NEF

On a September evening I headed to my favorite trail to take pictures of patterns in two saguaros. I never made it past the first as when I stopped a common side-blotched lizard scampered up into the World’s Best Hiding Spot, protected behind large spines in a gap between two trunks. The little lizards are a favorite so I could hardly believe I’d get to add one to my series of animals on saguaros, and so perfectly posed!

Although I took a quick shot with the telephoto lens I had time to switch to my macro setup and shoot a sequence of images for a focus stack, as I wanted everything in the scene to be sharp. Unfortunately the more excited I am, the less likely I am to setup the camera properly, and the exposure was set for the scenes I originally intended to photograph. With the sun getting low and the hill in shade, each picture took 2 seconds, the sequence 34, and it was only later I realized my mistake. When I finally worked up the courage to look at the pictures weeks later, she had stayed still and all the photos were sharp. Perfectly posed and poised!

No matter how long our sojourn in the desert lasts, this will be a favorite moment.

Subtle Sunrise

A large boulder and tree light up at sunrise on the Sunset Vista Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on September 25, 2022. Original: _Z726910.NEF

One of my favorite moments is when the rising sun first sweeps its light across the desert. I’ve played around with different ways of photographing it on days off when I manage to get up before sunrise, which is rare these days. I love simple scenes and when we moved here made a mental note to photograph this one next to the trailhead, only to realize the other day I had never done it. I thought I’d prefer the scene when it was more strongly lit but my favorite three images were over a 40 second span when the rising sun just fell upon the boulder and tree and left the foreground in shadow. At the moment this is my favorite of those three.