Changing of the Guard

A female Gila woodpecker perches outside their nest in a saguaro as the male prepares to leave on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

A female Gila woodpecker brings food to the nest while the waiting male is about to pop out and make room for her. This is zoomed in less than the previous pictures to show more of the saguaro, I was kicking myself later for forgetting to take a much wider shot with my regular lens of the full saguaro and the surrounding desert. I forgot partially because of the excitement of watching woodpeckers and partially because it was 5:30am. At that hour I’m just happy if I dress myself properly because that isn’t guaranteed.

Are You a Tasty Bee: Gila Woodpecker Edition

A male Gila woodpecker looks down at a honeybee hovering above a saguaro blossom near the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Do Gila woodpeckers eat honeybees? With the sun starting to rise this honeybee hovered over the saguaro blossom for so long that this male craned his neck out and started watching it. If he was thinking about jumping out and snaring it he never did, he stayed at the nest entrance until his mate returned. Which didn’t take long, the pair was pretty amazing to watch, even before sunup they were constantly bringing food back to the nest. I don’t know if they eat honeybees or not but there is an ample supply nearby when the saguaros are blooming.

A male Gila woodpecker looks out while a honeybee hovers above a saguaro blossom near the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Hello in There

Hello in There

So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”
John Prine “Hello in There”

 
So sorry to hear of John Prine’s passing, one of too many we’ve lost to Covid-19. I first heard his song “Hello in There” on a VHS tape I bought in my college days from the 10,000 Maniacs and was immediately transfixed by its beauty and its pain. Performed by lead singer Natalie Merchant and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Billy Bragg, I initially assumed the song was one of Bragg’s since I was as yet unfamiliar with his work (the other two were already favorites) only to find it was one of Prine’s. Both the cover and the original are dear to me, resonating as strongly today as they did in my youth. Goodbye to a quiet giant, and thank you.

Stay Off Target

A female Gila woodpecker peeks out from behind a joint in a saguaro in George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020

I was heading up to photograph a particular saguaro when I got pulled off target by a phoebe. As I made my way over to the saguaro in the last light of day I heard a siren’s call up the trail and got pulled off target again, thankfully instead of luring me to my demise she posed for a picture. Based on her call and her hammering I could guess well enough where she was but had to hope she’d sidle around into view before the light faded. Finally she not only popped into view but stood far enough out of the shadows for the fading light to catch her face.

Extra Sharp

The tongue of a male Gila woodpecker sticks out of his beak as he looks out from his nest in a saguaro on the Latigo Trail in McDonnell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

It must seem unfair to the insects of the Sonoran Desert, given all the sharp spines they have to navigate, that some saguaros are extra sharp. The tongue of this Gila woodpecker is just sticking out of his beak, it’s a long tongue that wraps around in his head that he can shoot into cavities to snare insects with the sharp tip. I’m so tickled I get to see these amazing birds every day (except times like now when it is dark when I leave for and get home from work).