The Tipping Point

A Harris's hawk calls out from atop a saguaro, lit by the soft light of the rising sun as it partially cleared the mountains, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

A Harris’s hawk calls out as the rising sun begins to tip over the distant mountains, partially illuminating the desert with its soft light. From this angle and in this light you can barely see the distinctive chestnut patches on its shoulders and legs, but you can get a glimpse of the large white patch at the base of the tail and the white band at the tip.

After it flew off I continued up the trail, and when I rounded a corner five minutes later the hawk and I met again (I assume it’s the same one, it would be easier if they wore name tags). The rising sun having fully cleared the mountains and the hawk completely lit in the morning light, you can better see the distinctive chestnut patches. This is the same saguaro (and maybe the same hawk) I photographed shortly before sunrise a week prior.

A Harris's hawk perches atop a saguaro, fully lit by the rising sun after it cleared the mountains, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

I Have the High Ground

Two male brown-headed cowbirds arch their heads towards the sky as they stand on flower buds atop a saguaro along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

A male brown-headed cowbird was singing atop an old saguaro when it flared out its wings and then arched its back and pointed its head into the air. The reason soon became clear as another beak came into view, followed by the rest of the head. A second male had flown onto the opposite side and was inching its way up from below. It flew off pretty quickly and the original male gave chase.

Rage, Rage Against the Rising of the Light

A Harris's hawk calls out from atop a blooming saguaro in the moments before the sun rises above the distant peaks along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

A Harris’s hawk calls out from atop a blooming saguaro in the moments before the sun rises above the distant peaks. I’m guessing it did rise, a heavy cloud cover blanketed the desert so the sun hid its face most of the morning. Perhaps the hawk was staying in touch with another hawk on a nearby saguaro, or perhaps like me it was protesting the earlier and earlier rising of the sun. My alarm went off at 4:15am that morning!

Morning Face

A male Gila woodpecker perches on saguaro buds with his face covered in pollen on the Upper Ranch Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

Thankfully I managed to get up at 4:30am on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and was on the trails before sunrise, as that is how I met this Gila woodpecker shortly before the sun crested the hills behind me. Most of the saguaros old enough to bloom don’t have flowers yet but are putting out buds that make handy perches. Some of those buds have bloomed, however, as evidenced by the pollen covering the front half of his head.

Not the Usual Suspects

A young male Bullock's oriole perches atop a blooming saguaro cactus in the Brown's Ranch section of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

In my short time here there are a handful of birds I’ve gotten used to seeing on the saguaros: Gila woodpeckers, gilded flickers, house finches, cactus wrens, and curve-billed thrashers. But I sometimes see more than the usual suspects, such as this splash of color that momentarily swooped into view early Saturday morning. He’s a young Bullock’s oriole, he’ll be even more colorful and vibrant in a year. I’ve only see this species a couple of times before, both during my years in Portland, so here’s hoping we meet more often in Arizona.