Big Saguaro, Little Falcon

A female American kestrel perches atop flower buds and blossoms on a saguaro on the Granite Mountain Loop Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2018

In the spring every square inch of the tops of old saguaros might be covered in flower buds and blossoms, thick as thieves, such as these providing a softer-than-normal perch for an American kestrel. I saw our smallest falcon frequently in the Northwest but only a couple of times here so it was a pleasure to see her as she towered over me on the Granite Mountain Loop Trail.

A Surprise in the Familiar

Two master blister beetles cling to a spent brittlebush flower early in the morning on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

While I enjoy exploring new trails I like to have a set of favorites I visit repeatedly, both because I find comfort in the familiar and because it makes it easier for me to see change from day-to-day and season-to-season, never more so than when we are in a new area like we are now. The Marcus Landslide Trail has been a favorite since I discovered it late last year but this morning in May had a surprise in store as these gorgeous little creatures clung to seemingly every blooming brittlebush. I had never seen them before (or since) so I did a little research when I got home to learn these jewels are master blister beetles. It was still pretty early, the sun still hiding below the mountains, when I found these two clinging to the same spent flower in the middle of the brittlebush.

Candy Dish

Flowers bloom on the top of a compass barrel cactus beside the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2018

Flowers bloom atop a barrel cactus along the Chuckwagon Trail in May of 2018. I photographed several different barrels blooming last year but this year I didn’t see any that struck my fancy, perhaps I was too distracted by hawks and lizards and woodpeckers. The circle of buds and blossoms at the top reminds me of a candy dish full of brightly colored candies, we have a small one in the backyard with what looks like some buds just starting to form, I’m curious to see if it will bloom this summer.

The Morning Stretch

A Harris's hawk stretches while perching on a dead tree, surrounded by palo verde blossoms fore and aft, near the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

I met this Harris’s hawk shortly before sunrise, it was mostly sleeping perched high in a dead tree. With the palo verdes blooming, there was one spot on the trail where if I lowered my tripod to a particular height I could frame the hawk using blossoms on trees between us and blossoms on the trees behind. The picture is a bit of a lie in that it gives the impression the hawk is in a dense section of trees but in truth it was in the open, I’ll post other pictures later that give a more accurate depiction of why it chose this perch.

I framed the shot for the pose when the hawk was resting but when it suddenly stretched after the sun came up most of the time its head was obscured behind the yellow blossoms, up until it reached the peak of its stretch and it came into full view again, showing off its chestnut shoulders and legs and the large white patch at the base of its tail and the white strip at the tip. I thought it was going to go to the bathroom, birds often do before they take flight, but it was just a morning stretch. Do all animals have their equivalent? Our cats do it after waking up from a nap, our dog Ellie did too and something about it always made me laugh.

Prickly, Lovely

A Southwestern prickly poppy blooms in May 2019 along the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I’m still early in my learning what plants grow in the Sonoran Desert, even after having lived here a year I’m mostly in the “I think that’s a tree” stage of identification. Keep that in mind when I say I think this lovely if prickly plant is a Southwestern prickly poppy. I appreciated how it so thoughtfully bloomed that I could show both the beauty in its flower and the abundance of prickles everywhere else. I recently picked up a guide to the wildflowers of McDowell Sonoran Preserve by Marianne Skov Jensen (@ezpixels on Instagram), they sell it (and the overall field guide which I also bought) at some of the trailheads on the weekends. It will greatly speed up my learning process, it’s extensively photographed and was clearly a labor of love.

The second shot below is similar but with shallower depth of field, it emphasizes the flower more but it doesn’t show as well how the plant is covered in prickles.

A Southwestern prickly poppy blooms in May 2019 along the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

Explosion

A large palo verde blooms in an explosion of color along the Hackamore Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

The shape of the branches of this blooming palo verde made it seem to me as though it was literally exploding with color. I had to hoof it out there to arrive as the sun was about to clear the slopes of Cone Mountain behind me, I only had a brief moment for pictures as immediately after this shot clouds obscured the sun and the light was gone.