The Headache Cure

A male ladder-backed woodpecker looks back at the rising sun from atop a dead tree on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020

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.

Ring of Fire

A ray of light illuminates the red crest of the silhouetted form of a ladder-backed woodpecker perched in a tree on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020

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.