Two Years

A Harris's hawk perches in a dead tree in front of a blooming palo verde along the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

It was two years ago today that my team got laid off, setting in motion the events that brought us from Oregon to Arizona. To me it feels like we left Portland much longer ago but that we’ve been here much shorter. I haven’t ventured further afield than my local trails, that will change with time but for now I’m content to enjoy the pictures people post as they travel the state. While Ellie was with us I didn’t want to be away from her more than I had to be, then with the new house and a lot to learn at work it’s left me a bit thin at times. Thankfully I am blessed with an abundance of local trails, to the point that some mornings I have difficulty choosing where I want to go. And there is so much wonder to behold in the Sonoran Desert, such as this Harris’s hawk I met in June with the blossoms fading and the sun rising, one of the adults that helped raise the two young hawks in the saguaro nest further up the trail.

Home in the Heights

A Harris's hawk nestling spreads its wings as it practices for flight by moving from one arm of the saguaro holding its nest to another, taken at sunrise on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

When I hiked to this Harris’s hawk nest back in June I noticed one of the chicks had fledged and this one was getting close, practicing by hopping from one arm of the saguaro to another, already at it when I arrived before the sun was even up, with the adults occasionally bringing in something to eat. I nicknamed it Trixie as it would eat just a few bites before returning to flight practice, then go back for a few bites, much like our youngest cat who likes to nibble at her food then play play play, repeat repeat repeat.

In the low light before sunrise, knowing it would be hard to freeze the motion of the young bird constantly on the move, I did what I had been meaning to do on several previous visits, zoom out to give a view of the saguaro holding the nest. The cactus doesn’t have the classic look of the tall central spire but does have an ample space to hold the nest. If you look at the teddy bear cholla in front of the saguaro (the light colored cholla in between the darker buckhorn cholla) there’s a nest of a smaller bird.

An environmental portrait of a Harris's hawk nestling practicing for flight by moving from one arm of the saguaro holding its nest to another, taken before sunrise on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

I was rather surprised when we moved here to see so many birds nesting in the various types of cactus as it seemed a rather inhospitable place to build a home. But it must give them a fair amount of protection from ground predators that can climb trees but can’t deal with the cactus spines, but if a fledgling falls from the nest it doesn’t have far to fall. Contrast that with the red-tailed hawk’s nest I saw up on the canyon walls, where a slip off the narrow ledge would result in a deadly fall, or the bald eagle’s nest in Washington that was high up in a massive tree.

I had intended to hike past this nest on the Chuckwagon Trail and then take a familiar loop back to the car, but after spending the first part of the morning watching this young bird building its agility and its confidence, I got distracted by a handful of lizards in a rock formation just up the trail, so with the morning wearing on I just took the Chuckwagon back to the trailhead. Although I didn’t get as much exercise as intended it was a positive result, Ellie had died two months earlier and it was a sign of how much I had healed that I could sit still for so long, an impossibility in the weeks after she died.

The Lizard Rocks

An environmental portrait of an ornate tree lizard in a jumble of rocks on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

I nicknamed this jumble of rocks The Lizard Rocks when I first saw them, though I saw no lizards there. It just seemed like they should be there, though I was new to Arizona and not really sure where lizards would want to live. They aren’t large rocks and it’s not a large formation, I suppose my initial fascination came from it being a nice place on a favorite trail to stop for a drink as it’s nestled into a kink on the trail with room to step out of the unsighted path of cyclists and horses. It took me a while but I did eventually start seeing them, on this spring morning I saw at least six lizards from three different species. This ornate tree lizard was the first I saw, I took some closeups but also pulled back to give a bit of flavor of the place he calls home.