The Disappearing Act

A great horned owl sleeps in a palo verde with saguaros behind it on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 17, 2022. Original: _CAM5131.ARW

Early on a spring morning before my hiking came to a screeching halt, I saw a great horned owl sleeping in a palo verde on my favorite trail. I knew I’d have a better look a little further up but as the trail undulated up the hill my view of the owl was blocked and when I popped out in the spot where I expected to see it again, I could find no owl.

They fly silently but I thought it unlikely it left its perch given its sleepy mood, so I backtracked down to where I first spotted it and immediately relocated it. Back I went up the hill and once more the owl disappeared. This repeated a few times until I was finally able to not only relocate the owl but place it as I had hoped, with saguaros in the background. Thankfully only the owl was witness to my ineptitude and if it noticed it didn’t feel the need to rub it in.

Christmas and Easter Combined

A house finch perches on the fruit of a compass barrel cactus on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on August 7, 2022. Original: _CAM5207.ARW

Though house finches have been backyard birds for me everywhere I’ve lived, I love seeing them out in the desert proper as it boggles my mind that they thrive here. I’ve only been out for a few hikes since the early spring and before that was mostly doing macro shots, so my bird photography has gotten rather rusty and I didn’t set up the camera properly so I was delighted some of the pictures came out.

It’s perched on a compass barrel cactus, surrounded by fruit, though because it isn’t juicy and pulpy it doesn’t invite the feeding frenzy that saguaros do. We have a couple of barrels in our yard and I’ve noticed birds like woodpeckers and thrashers poking holes in the fruit to get at the seeds inside. I wondered if some of the other birds would like a crack at them so I took some of the ripened fruit and broke it open by hand and laid it in the backyard.

The next morning a huge family of quail came in and it was like Christmas and Easter combined, a little group would find one of the fruits and they’d dance around and fervently gobble up the seeds, then they’d walk around the yard and find another until within minutes all of the seeds had been consumed. I repeated the experiment last night and by this morning all of the seeds were gone.

The Forest & The Sea

Moss and lichen intermingle on a granite rock on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona on December 31, 2021. Originals: _ZFC5756.NEF to _ZFC5783.NEF

Another homage to my former home, I was photographing areas where the moss and lichen embrace and this scene reminded me of the Oregon coast from above. The moss standing in for the evergreen forests stretching into the sky, the lichen caressing the granite representing the Pacific washing over the rocky beaches and around the sea stacks.

There are many giant wonders in this desert, many small ones too.

Wall of Wonder

Water droplets sit on moss on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 31, 2021. Originals: _ZFC5551.NEF to _ZFC5566.NEF

One of my favorite places in the Columbia River Gorge was a cliff next to the trail where water trickles down over a thick carpet of moss all along the rock face. I loved to stand close, let the water mist onto my face as I defocused my eyes, and gaze into the endless sea of green. It was hypnotic, even disorienting, but I wanted to imprint in my memory not just the look but the feel of such an intense and lush green in an area already awash in it.

This damp wall of moss though was taken here in the desert on New Year’s Eve. It is a wall only in miniature, a close-up of a small section of the shady side of a granite rock. It had rained earlier and while the trails had dried the moss was still a vibrant green with a few water drops clinging to its surface. Not a wall to overwhelm the senses but to puzzle the mind. I thought I was leaving moss behind when we left the wet Northwest for the arid Southwest, and yet …

Windmills

A close-up of the spines and areoles of a prickly pear on the Latigo Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 2, 2022. Originals: _ZFC6697.NEF to ZFC6706.NEF

To celebrate my first hike of 2022 I took to some beloved trails I’ve hiked many times the past few years, ending with a visit to my favorite saguaro, not to photograph her but just to say hello. On the way out as I wandered west this prickly pear caught my eye so I stopped for a quick shot in the fading light. I took a picture like this not long after we moved here but the new camera is better suited for it.

Our roof is getting replaced soon, after that it will be time to think about new plants around the yard both to replace some non-natives we’ve already had removed and to fill in some things earlier owners took out. We have a little prickly pear volunteer that started growing near the saguaro out front, I gave it some water occasionally when it first peeked out and it now has several paddles on it. I want to add a bigger patch as they seem like nice hangouts for some of the smaller creatures I love to watch and when they fruit provide food for birds as well.

The javelina will be welcome to come in for a munch, we had a family in the yard the other night that walked beneath my office window as they rooted for mesquite seeds, two of the youngsters were nursing from their mom in addition to snacking on seeds.

Where Sharpness Grows

A close-up of spines growing from areoles at the tip of a saguaro arm on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 31, 2021. Originals: _ZFC6005.NEF to ZFC6028.NEF

A network of spines grow in a spiral galaxy of areoles in the depression at the tip of a saguaro arm. This is a focus stack of 24 images taken with the Nikon Z fc and the Nikon Z 105mm macro lens, my main motivation for getting the camera was for taking close-ups and I’m happy to say I’m loving it and have done little else on my hikes the past month.

I picked up the camera and a couple of lenses early during my time off at Christmas so I could start to learn the Nikon system, I hoped to get the macro lens as well but was resigned to wait as my local stores and usual mail order stores were out of stock. But then Steve Mattheis mentioned on his video channel he got his Nikon Z9 from Pictureline up in Salt Lake. They were new to me but seemed like good folks and had the lens in stock, so with a few clicks the lens was on its way and I had a handful of days to play with it before my break ended and I returned to a busy month at work. Very easy process, they took Apple Pay and kept me up-to-date throughout to the point the email saying the lens was delivered arrived before the UPS truck had pulled away from the driveway!

I resisted watching Steve’s channel at first when Youtube started recommending it as some photographers view wildlife photography as a non-lethal form of trophy hunting but Steve shows both knowledge of and concern for the animals he photographs up in Wyoming, with a philosophy that the animal is more important than the picture of the animal. Highly recommended, watching his videos is a respite from a hectic world.

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