A male ladder-backed woodpecker clings to a dead tree on a cloudy morning in the Sonoran Desert, a little tribute to the overcast of the Northwest with a bird of the Southwest from someone lucky enough to have called both home. Not much later he and his mate pulled the ol’ switcheroo, when I wasn’t looking he flew off and she flew in but I didn’t notice the change at first. Taken in March of 2020, turned out to be my first sighting of the female, the male I had seen before.
After a two month absence I made my return to the trails yesterday morning and the desert gave me a warm welcome in more ways than one as who was waiting to greet me but the ladder-backed woodpecker I photographed my last time out! Only this time instead of his favorite tree he was on a nearby saguaro whose arms were already blooming, dining headfirst from the giant blossoms of the giant cactus. And not just he but also his friends, as that morning and this on that one saguaro I also saw cactus wrens, curve-billed thrashers, a pair of gilded flickers, a male Gila woodpecker, and a pair of house finches.
I was off on Friday but woke with such a severe headache I didn’t even get out of bed for a neighborhood walk. Saturday morning I was mostly feeling better and ventured out for a gentle hike on a favorite loop. Awaiting me in the blue light, the sun still thinking of rising, was not only a male ladder-backed woodpecker but this female, perched a few feet below. I saw her briefly the previous week though I didn’t know it at first, while photographing the male I stooped down to get a drink and returned to photograph him, only realizing later while reviewing the pictures that his red crown disappeared in the second set. The old switcheroo! May you raise a lovely family, little ones.
I woke Saturday morning with a massive headache, initially hoping to fall back asleep but eventually getting up for a gentle hike. On the short drive to the trail the western sky hung on to its pink and purple hues as sunrise approached. Seeking ladder-backed woodpeckers, I arrived at the dead tree where I saw a male last week seconds after the sun cleared the mountains (I would have beat the sun but I got distracted by a mockingbird). He was already in the tree so to put the sun at my back I walked past quickly and quietly, too nervous to even look up to see if he remained. Remained he had, perched at the top before sidling down and hammering into the branches.
My hike was gentle but much longer than planned, my headache fading perhaps from post-woodpecker euphoria or perhaps the Ibuprofen. All the while serenaded by wrens and thrashers and flickers and sparrows as we shared the morning glory.
There is a species of woodpecker in the desert I’ve glimpsed so briefly that it wasn’t until two months ago I could put a name to its face. After seeing them a few times recently I decided Sunday morning to try for a picture in the early light, heading to the one section of the one trail where I’ve seen them. The sun was just cresting the mountains, not yet illuminating the desert floor, when I stopped in my tracks as a ring of fire flashed atop the silhouetted form before me, a ray of light illuminating the red crest of a ladder-backed woodpecker.