On Pins & Needles

A curve-billed thrasher perches on a chain fruit cholla on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2018

No matter how many times I witness it I can’t quite wrap my head around how birds can fly in at full speed and land on a cactus with densely packed spines, such as this curve-billed thrasher on a chain fruit cholla. I adore this cholla (and the similar teddy bear cholla) but they are best appreciated at arm’s length, they are even more fearsome than they look.

Early to Rise

Chain fruit cholla bathed in blue light before sunrise along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

In December I arrived when the Tom’s Thumb trailhead opened so I could hoof it out as quickly as possible to photograph this bank of chain fruit cholla before sunrise, with my beloved Guardian looking out over the desert in the background. At that time of year I can hike as fast as I can without worrying about surprising a rattlesnake as they are still hibernating. My favorite shot turned out to be the first one of the desert bathed in the soft blue light before the sun rose above the mountains behind me, but I also like the one below of the same scene bathed in the red light of sunrise.

Chain fruit cholla bathed in the red light of sunrise along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

Remarkable Red

A male house finch perches on a chain fruit cholla at sunrise on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I arrived before sunrise to get into place to photograph this chain fruit cholla at first light. As the sun crested the mountains clouds in the east slightly softened the light just as a male house finch flew onto the cholla. I have been surprised by so many things in the desert it’s hard to say what has surprised me most but the finches are near the top of the list. These are the same finches that fed year round at our feeders in Portland yet they also thrive in the desert. When I first saw their little groups flying around I assumed they could only survive near subdivisions but then I noticed them miles out into the desert, like this lovely little fellow on a winter morning.