Father’s Day?

An adult Harris's hawk prepares to land at its nest in a saguaro, one leg outstretched to find purchase on a saguaro blossom while the other clutches twigs to spruce up the nest, as two nestlings watch near the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

I’ve never seen a bird not defend its nest so I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. With one Harris’s hawk on its nest in a saguaro, multiple other adults were perched nearby, in trees, on saguaros, on large electrical towers. They called out repeatedly but to my untrained eyes and ears it seemed like they were keeping in touch rather than warning to keep away.

What was I seeing? Perhaps what I needed to see, what I wished for rather than what was, with Ellie’s death still stinging. But in this case both as I learned later Harris’s hawks live in family groups, even during nesting season with new life about to come into the world.

A week ago after sunup this adult flew to the nest, one leg outstretched to find purchase on a saguaro blossom while the other clutched twigs to spruce up the nest, as the two nestlings watched from the nest (they’re hard to see). Was it the father arriving? The mother? A sibling?

This morning one of the young hawks was continuously jumping from one arm to the other, working on its balance and testing its wings. I didn’t see the other until it flew over and landed awkwardly in a palo verde below the nest, having already fledged.

What joy these hawks, this family, have brought to me this spring as they add two more to their number.

Breakfast Landing

A female Gila woodpecker prepares to land on the saguaro where her nest is located, she's holding red material (fruit?) in her bill for her hungry babies to eat

Early on a spring morning, a Gila woodpecker brings food to her hungry babies waiting inside the saguaro. I’m not sure what she’s holding in her bill, my first thought was fruit but I couldn’t tell for sure (the saguaro’s aren’t fruiting yet). What a jewel she is!

Life in the Desert

Two Harris's hawks along the Hackamore Trail in the Browns Ranch section of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

We’ve been in Arizona a month now and life in the desert is going pretty well. I am still a fish out of water at work but with each passing week more falls into place and I’ve been able to contribute a bit the past couple of weeks. The same can be said about life in general although I haven’t ventured further afield than driving to work and local hiking trails. I picked up my Arizona drivers license and license plates a while back, which drives home this is home, although with the new plates I did walk past my Subaru when returning from a hike until I realized my mistake.

It’s still spring so we haven’t had to deal with extreme heat – extreme heat for this area anyway, it is already as hot as it ever got in Portland – and while so far I haven’t minded the heat I am having a hard time imagining how it can be 20 degrees hotter, which it will be soon enough. In the meantime I am hiking as often as I can, as it is springtime in the desert and there is much to see and learn. Several varieties of cactus are starting to bloom so soon the desert will be at its most colorful.

This morning brought the 17th new species I’ve identified, a pair of Harris’s hawks along the Hackamore Trail. The one in flight is younger, it still has some of its juvenile coloration but it seems to be taking on the appearance of an adult, like the one perched below. I’ve seen more new species than this but some I can’t yet identify, especially the lizards, but I’ll get better in time. Reptile field guides aren’t nearly as good or plentiful as for birds, and I really wish there was an app, I love how the birding apps let you limit your selection to just the birds you might see in your area. I just ordered another reptile guide to go with the one I have so hopefully that will help.

But even for birds I have questions to be answered. I’ve seen a cactus wren building a nest in the arms of a saguaro, but after seeing these hawks a while later I came across a massive nest in a saguaro’s arms. Do the hawks nest in the saguaros too? There is plenty of time to learn the answer, and I hope with each answer another question follows, for that is part of the joy as I wander and wonder in my new desert home.