Eyes in the Sky

A female American kestrel perches atop a saguaro in front of Granite Mountain on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 23, 2021. Original: _ZFC0845.NEF

Kestrels are one of the birds that live both in our old home in the rainy Northwest and our current home in the arid Southwest. In Washington I’d often see them hovering above a large meadow, looking for Townsend’s voles sneaking through the grasses below. One day I watched one hunting earthworms in the soggy soil like a robin in falcon’s clothing. I’ve seen them a number of times here but have yet to witness the hovering behavior, I’m guessing since they have natural perches that let them sit up high and watch for small creatures without a dense canopy of leaves or needles obscuring the view below.

Taken with the Nikon Z 24-200mm, after buying the Nikon Z fc I liked it enough to immediately buy this lens, partially for environmental portraits like this one of a female kestrel as the clouds rolled in on a December afternoon.

The Karate Kid

A female American kestrel preens while perched atop a saguaro on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 23, 2021. Original: _RAC2849.ARW

I don’t know who her opponent is but I feel for them, I’ve seen the movie and know what comes next. I suspect this is the same kestrel as the previous post, I’ve seen a female a few times this month in the same general area of the park. Taken two days ago in the late afternoon as heavy clouds rolled into the desert, the next day they brought a steady rain.

Pink Light, Blue Light

A view of a stand of saguaros far in front of Brown's Mountain under pink skies of sunset. Taken near the Brown's Ranch Entrance to McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2021. Original: _CAM3874.arw

A couple of quick snapshots after sunset, taken a week apart in October, as I hiked out of the local preserve. I like the blue light of the second picture the best, the park closed a bit after sunset so I had enough time to wait for the soft light of dusk before leaving (I’m steps away from the park entrance where my wife was picking me up).

That’s Brown’s Mountain sneaking in in the background, I usually try to include the mountains in this area if I can since they were so fundamental to me getting oriented on the trails when we moved here and life seemed a whirlwind. I’ve been meaning to try some other compositions but to get here I have to make it past a couple of favorite trails that often have good views of wildlife, such as the last picture where a female Gila woodpecker sidles round a saguaro in the last light of the day. Hard to pass up a chance to watch the desert fauna, at which point I have to hurry on down the trail. One day though, one day …

A view of a stand of saguaros far in front of Brown's Mountain in the blue light after sunset. Taken near the Brown's Ranch Entrance to McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 31, 2021. Original: _CAM3920.arw

A female Gila woodpecker on a saguaro at sunset near the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on November 14, 2021. Original: _RAC1617.arw

Smaller of the Larger

A mule deer fawn watches me in thelater afternoon on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2021. Original: _RAC9826.arw

I’ve posted a lot of the smaller creatures of the desert lately, even if the larger of the smaller like tarantulas and black witches, so let me post one of the larger creatures of the desert, even if the smaller of the larger as this white-spotted fawn is still fairly young. It was gently browsing through the desert in the late afternoon sun with a sibling and their mother. I wasn’t completely taken aback when we moved here to find deer in the desert, we had mulies in the high desert of central Oregon, as well as blacktails and Columbian whitetails in the wet western valleys. Still, with the extreme heat of the summers it amazes me anything can survive here.

A week later I was back in the same area, the sun had just set and I was nearing the park border where I was meeting my wife, my hike ending, when I met a different mule deer doe and this older fawn, their day beginning.

A mule deer fawn watches me after the sun has set on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 31, 2021. Original: _RAC1370.arw

In The Interests of Human/Spider Relations

A side view of a young tarantula with its abdomen raised on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2021. Original: _RAC9976.arw

Last Sunday evening I headed out for a quick hike, while I brought my camera I really just wanted to get out into the desert for a little while. Late in the day as I started the hike back towards where my wife was picking me up, I saw a small black form in the middle of the trail ahead of me. As I approached it looked to my still-learning eyes like a tarantula, only shrunk in size 3 or 4 times. I was aware the adult males might be on the move in the fall but instead of fitting in the palm of my hand this one would have fit on my watch face.

I took a few quick pictures but wanted to encourage it to move to a safer spot, this trail is popular with cyclists and trail runners, so I tapped the ground behind it with my feet. Their eyesight is even worse than mine but they’re very sensitive to vibrations so I expected it to scurry up the side of the trail to more hospitable terrain, but while I could get it to move further out of harm’s way eventually it just stopped in the trail and raised its abdomen. Even as a neophyte I know that’s a sign of an unhappy spider.

I checked where the tread marks were and felt it had moved enough to be safe from the line the cyclists typically took and, tapping my toes having exhausted my ideas about how to get a tarantula to move, I continued on my way. A cyclist passed me several minutes later so I decided to backtrack to the little thing, though I really wasn’t in the mood to see a squished spider I was hoping for the best.

Thankfully when I arrived I saw it had fully moved up to the edge of the trail. In the interests of human/spider relations I avoided saying “I told you so” and was just happy it was in a safer place and pointed away from the trail. I took a few more pictures since it was so relaxed and continued towards the trailhead.

An overhead view of a young tarantula on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2021. Original: _RAC0051.arw

A Plethora of Perches

A young Harris's hawk looks out from atop an old saguaro at sunset on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 9, 2021. Original: _RAC8897.arw

An old giant provides a plethora of perches for a young Harris’s hawk to choose from as it scans the desert floor at sunset. This time of year the perches are relatively soft courtesy of the large flower buds (and by now, flowers themselves). Apparently Audubon would name the birds for his friend and supporter Edward Harris but when he first drew one for his book Birds of America he called them the Louisiana hawk. The University of Pittsburgh has the entire collection online but be forewarned, it can be a real time sink.

There is a movement to rename birds named after people, something I’d like to see. I’d rather see birds named after their nature (especially for these hawks, their social network since it’s so unusual) rather than an homage to a human, regardless of whether the person should be remembered or forgotten or somewhere in between. Interestingly Wikipedia notes, among other things, Audubon may have stolen the Harris’s hawk specimen he used as a model for his drawing.

We humans are complicated creatures.

Hawkland

An environmental portrait of a young Harris's hawk atop an old saguaro as it looks out over an expanse of desert, Cholla Mountain visible in the distance, as the sun sets on the Latigo Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 9, 2021. Original: _CAM1682.arw

Most of the desert falls into shadow as the setting sun clings to the saguaros and mountains; a young Harris’s hawk looks out over its home from atop one of the old giants. Looking north towards Cholla Mountain there aren’t a lot of saguaros but there are around me, a short walk to my right leads to my favorite. Walking left leads to an area chock-a-block full of them and all the wildlife they support. Nearby too is the neighborhood entrance I’m heading towards with the park about to close, it’s not my neighborhood but we live close by and my wife was picking me up, having dropped me off earlier for an evening hike before the encroaching summer heat puts an end to those.

Two Favorites

An environmental portrait of a common side-blotched lizard perched on a granite boulder in front of a tall saguaro, taken on an offshoot of the Latigo Trail in the Brown's Ranch area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 4, 2021. Original: _RAC6033.arw

I’ve been in the mood for environmental portraits so I was delighted to take one of two of my favorite desert inhabitants, the saguaro and the common side-blotched lizard, one of the largest residents and one of the smallest (at least one of the smallest on four legs). As much grief as I give my pattern-matching self for spotting marmots in the rocky hills when he knows there are no marmots here (he’s mostly stopped with the occasional relapse) and for spotting lizards that turn out to be protuberances in the rocks, he nailed this one from afar. The little fellow was a ways off and wasn’t worried about me so I had time to find a spot on the trail both where I could see the saguaro behind him and place him in a gap between the giant arms so he’d be easy to see against the blue sky.

I quietly wondered if he’d be willing to stick around for an hour-and-a-half for the last light of day but I knew he wouldn’t stay that long and neither would I, I wanted to get some hiking in and I had only just begun. In any event I finished the day further east, taking environmental portraits of another favorite resident, but no spoilers …

Right and Almost Right

A male Gila woodpecker brings a moth to his nest in a saguaro on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 28, 2019. Original: _DSC5120.arw

Two years ago I watched a pair of Gila woodpeckers, my favorite desert bird, bringing food to their nest in a saguaro. While all of these pictures are of the male, both parents were relentless in caring for their young. Mostly he was doing the sort of things he should, such as bringing a moth (1st picture), a spider (2nd picture), and clearing out debris made by the growing family (3rd picture). But then he brought a small rock, thankfully he realized his mistake before feeding it to the babies and brought it back out. I suspect he must have grabbed for an insect and picked up the rock in the capture, which left enough of a gap for either the insect to get away or fall out in transport.

A male Gila woodpecker brings a spider to his nest in a saguaro on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 28, 2019. Original: _DSC5337.arw

A male Gila woodpecker removes debris from his nest in a saguaro on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 28, 2019. Original: _DSC5356.arw

A male Gila woodpecker brings a small rock to his nest in a saguaro on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on May 28, 2019. Original: _DSC5391.arw