Three Predators: Ash-Throated Flycatcher Edition

An ash-throated flycatcher turns about in mid-air as it realizes there are two fuzzy Harris's hawk chicks in the their nest in a saugaro on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

An ash-throated flycatcher was about to land in the arms of this saguaro when it noticed the two fuzzy heads in the nest and did a mid-air about face and returned to the trees below. Flycatchers are built to snare insects on the wing so aerial acrobatics are second nature to them. Through it all the saguaro has fruit bursting open up top, offering up both its red pulp and its many seeds to all willing to risk flying above the hawk’s nest. Death comes in many forms in the desert, but so too does life.

Three Predators: Loggerhead Shrike Edition

A loggerhead shrike jumps from the top arm of a saguaro to try to catch some small prey moving about in the desert below, as two fuzzy Harris's hawk chicks sit oblivious in the nest, on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

A loggerhead shrike jumps from the top arm of a saguaro to try to catch some small prey moving about in the desert below. Oblivious to it all, inside the big nest of sticks are two fuzzy heads barely able to hold themselves up, young Harris’s hawks who can’t much move about the nest much less the desert. The shrike is no threat to the youngsters or it wouldn’t have been allowed this close, as unseen in the picture are three other predators, an adult hawk not visible from my vantage point but sitting atop a saguaro nearby, and two more high up on a transmission tower a ways behind me with an expansive view of the desert and any threats that might approach. An adult had been on the nest at sunrise but had left presumably to hunt while the rest of the family kept an eye on their newest arrivals.

Time to Leave

The long thin body of a western patch-noses snake lies across the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

I was nearing the end of my hike when I saw a colorful stick lying across the path. At first delighted as I knew it was going to be a new snake species for me, my heart sank as I approached and it didn’t slither off into the grass. Afraid it had gotten run over, I was a bit confused when I saw its head, mostly hidden in the grass (not visible in this picture), as its eyes were open and bright. I laughed to myself, wondering if it was like when we adopt a cat and at first they hide under the bed, only their tail is sticking out giving away their position. The rear of its body covered so much of the trail that I felt I had to convince it to move along as this trail is heavily used by cyclists who wouldn’t likely see it in time to avoid it. I saw a dried yucca stalk in the grass and thought to tap it nearby, but just the sound of pulling the stalk from the grass sent the snake on its way. I whispered my apologies for having to startle it but best to find a safer place to warm up in the morning light.

This was my second snake sighting this year and my first ever of this species. I don’t know my snakes well and initially thought it was some type of garter snake based on its long thin body adorned in stripes, but something about the shape of its head seemed off. Upon closer inspection (in pictures, not in person) it has a large triangular scale at the front of its head, perhaps an aid when looking for reptile eggs to eat.

The head and upper body of a western patch-nosed snake it partly hidden in grass on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

Gilded, Dusted

A male gilded flicker looks to the side as he pauses during a saguaro breakfast as he perches atop the flowers on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

A gilded flicker shows off his red mustache as he pauses during a saguaro breakfast, his face and bill dusted in pollen. We had a similar flicker in Oregon, Emma always let me know when one came into the backyard as they were favorites of ours.

Wrens

A cactus wren perches on a flower bud of a blooming saguaro on the Chuckwagon Trail early in the morning in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

I met this cactus wren in the early light last Sunday after having just missed a picture the day before. If memory serves they were the first bird I saw on the trails after we moved here, they remind me so much of the boisterous little wren of the sloughs of the Pacific Northwest that I watched for many years, the marsh wren. More so in personality than appearance as they would dwarf my former friends if seen side-by-side, a bit unlikely as there is an even larger difference in the places they call home. The smile they always bring is the same though.

The Warmest Welcome

A male ladder-backed woodpecker perches atop a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

After a two month absence I made my return to the trails yesterday morning and the desert gave me a warm welcome in more ways than one as who was waiting to greet me but the ladder-backed woodpecker I photographed my last time out! Only this time instead of his favorite tree he was on a nearby saguaro whose arms were already blooming, dining headfirst from the giant blossoms of the giant cactus. And not just he but also his friends, as that morning and this on that one saguaro I also saw cactus wrens, curve-billed thrashers, a pair of gilded flickers, a male Gila woodpecker, and a pair of house finches.

A male ladder-backed woodpecker eats from a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Black and White in Blue, No Red

A female ladder-backed woodpecker clings to a dead tree in the blue light before sunrise on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in March 2020

I was off on Friday but woke with such a severe headache I didn’t even get out of bed for a neighborhood walk. Saturday morning I was mostly feeling better and ventured out for a gentle hike on a favorite loop. Awaiting me in the blue light, the sun still thinking of rising, was not only a male ladder-backed woodpecker but this female, perched a few feet below. I saw her briefly the previous week though I didn’t know it at first, while photographing the male I stooped down to get a drink and returned to photograph him, only realizing later while reviewing the pictures that his red crown disappeared in the second set. The old switcheroo! May you raise a lovely family, little ones.

Backlit

A northern mockingbird is backlit by the sun as it perches atop an old saguaro on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020

One of the problems with hiking early in the morning, apart from it being early in the morning, is that several of my favorite trails go east from the trailhead straight into the rising sun. While I liked how it backlit this mockingbird high atop an old saguaro, maybe the sun could sometimes rise in the west? The south? The north? I’m willing to be flexible.