Perfectly Poised

A female common side-blotched lizard hides behind the spines in the gap between two saguaro trunks on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona on September 25, 2022. Originals: _ZFC0561.NEF to _ZFC0577.NEF

On a September evening I headed to my favorite trail to take pictures of patterns in two saguaros. I never made it past the first as when I stopped a common side-blotched lizard scampered up into the World’s Best Hiding Spot, protected behind large spines in a gap between two trunks. The little lizards are a favorite so I could hardly believe I’d get to add one to my series of animals on saguaros, and so perfectly posed!

Although I took a quick shot with the telephoto lens I had time to switch to my macro setup and shoot a sequence of images for a focus stack, as I wanted everything in the scene to be sharp. Unfortunately the more excited I am, the less likely I am to setup the camera properly, and the exposure was set for the scenes I originally intended to photograph. With the sun getting low and the hill in shade, each picture took 2 seconds, the sequence 34, and it was only later I realized my mistake. When I finally worked up the courage to look at the pictures weeks later, she had stayed still and all the photos were sharp. Perfectly posed and poised!

No matter how long our sojourn in the desert lasts, this will be a favorite moment.

There Are Predators and There Are Predators

A close-up of the yellow legs of an American bittern as it hides in the shallows of Rest Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on December 25, 2011. Original: _MG_6943.cr2

We often think of predators as animals with sharp teeth and claws but I wonder if the owner of these yellow legs isn’t the creature that most haunts the nightmares of the fish and frogs and voles of Ridgefield. If you see these yellow kicks hiding in the shallows, best hope the bittern isn’t hungry.

Up & Up & Up

An American bittern stands with its next stretched out against a backdrop of green grasses at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington

Bitterns can look like a football with a head attached so it always amazed me when they’d stand and stretch their necks up, and up, and up. Useful for seeing over tall grasses and also as a defensive pose, I saw them do it multiple times when bald eagles soared high overhead, although the subterfuge worked best when the grasses were brown instead of green. I was never quite sure how they distinguished the distant eagles from other birds of prey but I did a quick check of the skies if a bittern I had been watching suddenly struck a thin vertical pose.

Threat Assessment

A tarantula tries to hide in a crevice under a rock

I grew up thinking tarantulas were deadly assassins that would kill you if you crossed their path, as I lived far from their domain and my impressions were formed based on how I saw them portrayed on television. We love to demonize and vilify certain animals (and worse, people) based on primal fears, and on deliberate lies told to mask the real threats, but in truth tarantulas are not a threat to us. As my wife and I walked down the path and stopped to watch this tarantula in New Mexico, she noticed us (their vision is poor but they are good at sensing vibrations in the ground) and ran over to this rock and tried to hide in a crevice but was slightly too big to fit. I always feel bad when I frighten an animal when I hike but thankfully she decided to trust us and climbed out onto the rock. A lesson my young self did well to learn – I was the threat.

A tarantula climbs up a rock

Resting, Hiding

A black-tailed deer rests in the shadows, hidden by the tall grass, along the Rich Guadagno Memorial Loop Trail at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon

A black-tailed deer rests in the shadows, hidden by the tall grass, along the Rich Guadagno Memorial Loop Trail at Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. I’d frame this a little differently today, I took this in the summer of 2001 during my first full year with a digital camera, although to be fair to my past self I was working around hot-spots created by the bright sun. I think the trail back then was known as the Baskett Butte Trail, as the trail leads up to Baskett Butte, but the trail is now named in Rich’s memory. He was a former manager of the refuge and would die two months after this photo was taken in the attacks on 9/11. There is a plaque dedicated to him atop the butte.

Home But Not Home

Home But Not Yet Home

I took this picture of Trixie hiding under the bed on her first day with us in January of 2015, she was home but it did not yet feel like home to her. It had been quite a month for her, she was rescued on New Year’s Day on the other side of the state and brought to the Oregon Humane Society here in Portland two weeks later. They kept her for two more weeks until she was spayed and we brought her home on the 27th. It wouldn’t take her long to realize she was home though, soon she was out from under the bed and snuggling with me on top of it. She’s never looked back.

I used my little mirrorless camera for these first shots to avoid stressing her any further, it’s far quieter and less obtrusive than my larger camera.