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

Dressed in Orange

A mule deer doe and her fawn graze in the desert scrub in the first light of the day along the Watershed Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

The first light of day filtered through the desert scrub, bathing a doe and her two fawns in orange light. I too was dressed in orange, my jacket a holdover from my time in Oregon when I walked to the train station and needed every advantage to be seen by drivers who weren’t looking for me. I stick out like a sore thumb in the desert and have thought about replacing it with something less distracting, but for the moment I’ve held off as it does make me more visible both from a distance and a glance to the cyclists I share the trails with.

Though she’s looking at me for eternity in this picture, the doe paid me little heed as I stood quietly and watched the trio graze as the sun rose. Suddenly to my right a young buck and doe crossed the trail and I stopped taking pictures for a while, obviously I was rather visible but I didn’t want to make any noise as the mother doe was slightly nervous at the new arrivals. She relaxed when the two showed no aggression and they all breakfasted together, coming in and out of view through the shrubs and trees and cacti, when suddenly they bolted and disappeared from view. I soon heard why as two cyclists came riding up the trail, we said our good mornings and they too disappeared from view. A lovely quiet morning on the Watershed Trail.

Dining In

Our cat Sam licks his lips as he eats inside a cabinet while wearing a baby's oneside after surgery in October 2019

Sam a week and a half ago after his surgery to get a few teeth pulled and a cyst in his back removed. He was in pain and the other cats didn’t fully recognize him yet, Boo in particular hissed at him, so we let him hide in the cabinets as much as he wanted and even let him eat in there. Thankfully as the sedatives wore off the little fellow’s appetite returned, sore mouth and all.

Brace For Impact

A female Gila woodpecker flies to her nest with a moth in her beak, raising her legs and preparing to throw out her wings, on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

A female Gila woodpecker, the mate of the male in the previous picture, prepares to land at the nest with a moth in her beak. They fly in at full speed, throwing up their legs and flaring their wings at the last moment, it’s a delight to watch.

Yellow Belly

A male Gila woodpecker carries an insect in his beak as he flies in with his wings spread to his nest in a saguaro along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

A Gila woodpecker lands at his nest in a saguaro, carrying an insect (maybe a grasshopper?) in his beak, about to feed his hungry babies inside. I love their yellow bellies, both males and females have them. There are a handful in our backyard as I write this from the porch but this flying fellow is from the spring, taken on the Latigo Trail.

Morning Makeup

A male Gila woodpecker holds a freshly caught moth in his bill, his face dusted in pollen from saguaro flowers, as he clings to the saguaro where his nest is, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

I took a couple of days off work last week but it wasn’t to do anything fun, I was laid low by a cold and didn’t feel much like getting off the couch. I was watching some Gila woodpeckers in the backyard with my binoculars and something felt off, I couldn’t figure out what at first until I realized their faces were the same color as their heads. I had been editing pictures from the spring, like this male holding a freshly caught moth, and was used to seeing them with their faces dusted yellow from the pollen of saguaro flowers.

Big Breakfast

A verdin, missing most of its tail feathers during a molt, sticks its head into a prickly pear fruit to eat on a cloudy morning in the Troon neighborhood of Scottsdale, Arizona in September 2019

Watching the verdin eating from fruit almost as large as themselves, I wondered how it would look if I tried to wring every drop of sustenance from a five foot watermelon using only my face. This one had to fly precisely onto a cactus with thorns as long as its legs while missing many of its tail feathers but it did it with aplomb. Given their short beaks I don’t know if they open up the fruit themselves or if they leave the honors to something like a woodpecker with a longer beak and a head designed for hammering.

Verdin

A verdin covered in prickly pear juice looks at me as it pauses while eating from a fruit almost as large as itself in our neighborhood in Scottsdale, Arizona in September 2019

Sunday morning instead of going for a hike I took a long walk through the neighborhood. It was my first time doing it alone since we moved here, my wife and I took a short one a few months ago, but this time I walked much farther. Natural landscaping abounds so I was greeted with many of the same creatures I’d see on the trails, but many communities are gated so I was limited in where I could wander. The hardest part was walking without Ellie, my constant companion for a decade, so I was delighted when on the way back a 3 year old pup named Jackson strained at the leash to meet me and then showered me with kisses when I crossed over to meet him. As I neared the house I saw familiar faces flitting about a patch of prickly pear, dining on fruit almost as large as themselves.