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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The buckhorn cholla were in full bloom in mid-May and this family of mule deer took full advantage of the soft treats. While other animals will also eat the flowers the deer have a height advantage so they can reach flowers the others can’t. The deer also fed on palo verde flowers, the trees blooming alongside both the cholla and soaptree yucca.
A Harris’s hawk calls out as the rising sun begins to tip over the distant mountains, partially illuminating the desert with its soft light. From this angle and in this light you can barely see the distinctive chestnut patches on its shoulders and legs, but you can get a glimpse of the large white patch at the base of the tail and the white band at the tip.
After it flew off I continued up the trail, and when I rounded a corner five minutes later the hawk and I met again (I assume it’s the same one, it would be easier if they wore name tags). The rising sun having fully cleared the mountains and the hawk completely lit in the morning light, you can better see the distinctive chestnut patches. This is the same saguaro (and maybe the same hawk) I photographed shortly before sunrise a week prior.
I’ve photographed Harris’s hawks up close several times the past couple of weeks but I was delighted to make an environmental portrait of a distant adult as light from the rising sun swept over the desert. The palo verdes below it were in full bloom while some of the saguaros towering above it were just starting to flower.