So, So Early

A white-winged dove perches on unripened fruit atop a saguaro at dawn on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

By late June it isn’t just the air that’s hot as even the ground radiates heat back at you before the sun is even up. That sunrise comes frightfully early but the desert is amazing as it wakes so for me deciding whether to get up or sleep in on my days off becomes a delicate act of balancing mental and physical exhaustion. The white-winged doves had been hiding from me last June but suddenly exploded into view one weekend when one seemed to adorn every saguaro. I met this adult in the blue light of dawn, the sun not yet peeking over the eastern mountains. Although the fruits upon which it perched were not yet ripe, the fresh pulp on its beak and forehead suggested that it had already breakfasted at nearby saguaros. My watch read 5:28 am, I had arrived at the park around 4:55 am, up before 4:30 am. Somewhere in Virginia my 20-year old self just had a heart attack hearing this, would someone check on him please? Only wait until after 1 pm and knock softly, just in case he’s still sleeping.

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.

A Morning Behind

A Harris's hawk perches on a saguaro before the pink skies of dawn on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

A few weeks ago I had in mind to photograph a particular saguaro, arriving before sunrise so I could be ready to go when the sun crested the hills. WIth my gear in place I took in the sights around me, I so love this moment in the morning when the sun arrives in the desert. Fortunately I looked behind me as well as a familiar face decided to share the moment with me. Since I’m only shooting with one camera right now I had to decide whether it was worth switching lenses and camera settings and the tripod location and risk missing the shot I came for. Because it was a Harris’s hawk I couldn’t resist the opportunity and took a quick picture, set up my original shot again, then waited with my beautiful friend until the sun arrived.

Spirits

A black-tailed jackrabbit is visible through the desert scrub at the trailhead to Brown's Ranch in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

I am amazed how effortlessly and silently mammals move through their home while I stumble down the trail. The jackrabbits seem like spirits floating through the desert, I often first notice the black tips of their tall ears moving while the rabbit itself is blocked from sight by the many plants of the scrubland. This lovely creature I found not on the trails but at the trailhead of Brown’s Ranch, we shared a quiet moment before sunup.

The rabbit you are most likely to see at the trailhead, and on the trail, is the desert cottontail (below). They too move silently through the desert but are so much smaller than the jackrabbits that you see them when you see them, there are no tall black tips dancing in the early light to catch your eye. Like all the mammals your best bet to see them is to arrive early, here also at the trailhead but just as the sun began peeking through to send one of us onto the trails and one to bed.

Walking in the Sonoran Desert at sunrise, seeing the desert both wake up and go to sleep, is a joy and a treasure even to this lifelong night owl.

A desert cottontail looks straight at me as it is partially lit by the rising sun at the trailhead to Brown's Ranch in McDowell Sonoran Preserve