Beakful of Bugs

Beakful of Bugs

A yellow-headed blackbird stuffs his beak full of insects, destined for his hungry family back at the nest, as he straddles plants just above the waterline. Taken at Long Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in May 2011, the yellow-heads didn’t often come as close as the more ubiquitous red-wings but it was such a treat when they did.

Little Pink Houses

An adult fork-tailed bush katydid eats inside a pink rose blossom in our yard in Portland, Oregon on September 12, 2009. Original: _MG_6338.cr2

As summer turned to fall in September 2009, an adult fork-tailed bush katydid dined on one of our rose blossoms. Once I discovered they were eating the rose petals I stopped pruning the flowers after they lost their aesthetic appeal and only cut them once the petals fell off. Which worked out well for both the katydids and myself, as they loved the roses and I loved watching them.

The Beauty of the Auto Tour

A close-up of a coyote in the rain on the auto tour at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on December 25, 2011. Original: _MG_6249.cr2

While on a visit to Ridgefield on a rainy Christmas in 2011, I accidentally took a short nap while in a pullout beside Rest Lake (I mean, given the name of the lake, hardly my fault) which meant I was lucky enough to be in the right position when driving past the meadow that I got to spend quite a while watching a coyote hunting voles in the rain. It’s what I loved about the auto tour, getting to watch animals behave naturally at relatively close distances without disturbing them.

A coyote pauses in a meadow in the rain on the auto tour at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on December 25, 2011. Original: _MG_6194.cr2

These pictures are a bit bittersweet as while I got to watch the family at length multiple times that winter, my pictures from a couple of months later would be my last photos of coyotes at the refuge as they were shot to create a safer haven for the threatened Columbian white-tailed deer that were about to be transplanted. Thankfully the deer seemed to be establishing themselves by the time I had to say goodbye to the refuge so hopefully coyotes have been allowed back since.

A coyote hunts for Townsend's voles in a meadow on the auto tour at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on December 25, 2011. Original: _MG_6021.cr2

I’m not sure the many Townsend’s voles in the meadows around the refuge missed the coyotes, although perhaps they didn’t notice given the wide variety of predators that ate them. It was always a little hard to watch through the big lens as one little life was snuffed out, even knowing it allowed another life to continue. I always hoped to photograph a vole on its own but I only ever managed to catch them when something else caught them first.

A coyote eats a Townsend's vole in a meadow on the auto tour at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on December 25, 2011. Original: _MG_6067.cr2

All-Crab Breakfast

A yellow-crowned night heron tosses back a fiddler crab as it hunts in the mud of a saltwater marsh while the tide was out at Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina in July 2007. Original: _MG_2833.cr2

On a sunrise walk on the boardwalk through the saltwater marsh at Huntington Beach State Park, I met this yellow-crowned night heron hunting fiddler crabs in the mud while the tide was out. The hungry bird snared one after the other, tossing them down its throat, so it’s a good thing the little crabs seemed endless in number. Taken in the summer of 2007.

Two Pollinators

A male gilded flicker perches on saguaro blossoms while a honeybee hovers nearby on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in May 2020

It may look like this male gilded flicker took an interest in the honeybee as the two pollinators shared a saguaro, but it was just a coincidence of timing, the bird was only interested in eating from the flowers.

A male gilded flicker prepares to eat headfirst from a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in May 2020

Large Mercies

A cuve-billed thrasher swallows after feeding from a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Even with a relatively long beak, come springtime curve-billed thrashers end up with faces covered in pollen courtesy of the massive flowers of the saguaro. Saguaros are many things, subtle is not one of them. I’m thankful for the mercy of these large flowers, because if they were carnivorous they could easily eat their fill of desert birds who thrust their entire heads into the blossoms (and later, fruit) to feed.

A cuve-billed thrasher sticks its head into a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

OCCUPIED! OCCUPIED!

A white-winged dove looks up from feeding from a saguaro blossom as another is about to land, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

A white-winged dove looks up from feeding from a saguaro blossom as another is about to land. The incoming bird landed on the leftmost blossom so they were able share the perch for a while. I haven’t seen so many white-wings this year, to be fair I haven’t hiked as much this spring and summer and when I do it’s often on different trails, but we also aren’t seeing so many in the yard as last year. Which works out well for the mourning doves as in numbers the larger white-wings can push the smaller doves around but this year the white-wings are fairly subdued and it’s only the quail parents with babies whose wrath the doves have to avoid.

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.