Tigers in the Desert

A tiger whiptail along the Hackamore Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

The tiger whiptail is one of the lizards I see most often hiking in the Sonoran Desert. They are frequently on the move looking for insects and small lizards and active in the morning when I’m on the trails, so they more easily catch my eye than some of the other lizards. I arrived in Arizona at the end of March, from what I’ve read the tigers are mostly active from April to August so I may not be seeing them much longer.

Yucca

The dried flowers of a soaptree yucca set against a pink and purple sky at sunrise on the Hackamore Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

I don’t love getting up before sunrise but I love being up before sunrise. If only there was a way to enjoy the desert dawn without getting out of bed. I was hiking along the Hackamore Trail with the sun not yet risen and liked the serenity of the dried flowers on the long flower stalk of a soaptree yucca set against the pink and purple western sky. What a blessing it is to be in the desert as the day breaks, may it always bring me joy.

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.

Gilded Thorns

A male gilded flicker perches on an ocotillo along the Hackamore Trail in the Brown's Ranch section of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

When we moved to Arizona the two birds I hoped to see above all others were both woodpeckers, the Gila woodpecker and the gilded flicker. My interest was piqued early on when we were looking at houses online and I noticed what looked like bird holes in a large saguaro in front of one of the houses and a little research revealed the likely culprits. Woodpeckers are one of my favorite birds, a love born in childhood in our wooded Michigan backyard, a love that never ended even when my daily exposure to them did.

I was delighted to arrive here and not only see both woodpeckers but see them frequently, even in our backyard. My first gilded flicker sighting was in our backyard but I met this male on this morning’s hike on the Hackamore Trail, one of the many interconnected trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Although I mostly see the woodpeckers on the saguaros where they live, he was perching on the branch of an ocotillo, a beautiful and distinctive plant covered in sharp thorns.