Performance Art

A female Gila woodpecker is in freefall after she has jumped out of her nest but before she spreads her wings to fly, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

A female Gila woodpecker is for the briefest of moments in free fall after jumping from her nest in a saguaro. It took me a while to notice this behavior, everything happens so quickly when they enter and leave the nest, and took even longer before I could find the right conditions to photograph it. It looks rather unnatural when frozen in time, one foot still sticking out below her while her wings are tucked up tight, but the nest is high off the ground so even though the fall is brief she has plenty of time to put a little distance between herself and her sharp-spined home before throwing out her wings.

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.

Bananas

Fruit grows on a banana yucca as a white-winged dove flies overhead early one morning on the Latigo Trail in the Brown's Ranch section of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

I remember banana yuccas from last year but I can’t remember seeing the “bananas” themselves. I must have as they are hard to miss, either I’ve forgotten or I was just too overwhelmed by all the new sights before me. This year I photographed them a few times, although not in their earliest stages of development as it was at the end of Ellie’s life. I was waiting for this plant to be fully in the light as the sun came up but shadows from saguaros and trees behind me always cast at least some of the plant in shadow. Still I was delighted when a white-winged dove photobombed the picture, always nice to have wildlife in the picture even when they aren’t the subject.

This Land Is My Land

A northern mockingbird flares out its wings and tail to arrest its climb during a territorial display along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

Although I grew up with them in the east we didn’t have mockers in Oregon so I’m getting reacquainted after two decades apart. This past week I watched this mockingbird doing its dance on successive mornings, possibly to establish its territory from this high vantage point on a granite boulder where it would have been visible from further distances (I never saw another mockingbird). It would fly up a short distance and do these aerobatic maneuvers, reminding me more of a flycatcher, as it arrested its climb and returned to the rock. In between hops it sang a wide variety of songs, although a thrasher would sometimes fly in and the mockingbird would lay low for a while.