Shivers

A saguaro with wavy pleats stands next to two normal saguaros at sunrise on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020

We’ve had a string of nights recently with temperatures near freezing, so since I get cold easily I wore one more layer than normal, stripping off layers as the morning advanced and the air warmed. I felt for this poor saguaro seemingly shivering in the cold as the sun rose, it probably didn’t help that its friends to the left and right didn’t seem to mind the winter weather. I don’t know what causes them to grow like this but I confess the oddballs are my favorites.

The Hidden Smile

Moss covering a small rock appears to smile on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in January 2020

In the damp of the Pacific Northwest it wasn’t hard to find moss, stand still long enough and the moss found you. I was surprised though to find it growing in the desert far from any water, covering a rock hidden in the shadow of a boulder. I was even more surprised when it matched my smile with its own, so joyful and exuberant, beautiful if unconventional, as I told it of the glory of the rising sun that it could never see.

Extra Sharp

The tongue of a male Gila woodpecker sticks out of his beak as he looks out from his nest in a saguaro on the Latigo Trail in McDonnell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

It must seem unfair to the insects of the Sonoran Desert, given all the sharp spines they have to navigate, that some saguaros are extra sharp. The tongue of this Gila woodpecker is just sticking out of his beak, it’s a long tongue that wraps around in his head that he can shoot into cavities to snare insects with the sharp tip. I’m so tickled I get to see these amazing birds every day (except times like now when it is dark when I leave for and get home from work).

Land Ho!

A male Gambel's quail looks out from atop a blooming saguaro, his black face completely dusted in yellow pollen, taken on the connecting trail to the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2018

I’m not sure why mariners coined the term “crow’s nest” for the lookout atop the mast as “quail’s perch” seems more apropos. Taken in May of 2018, normally his face would be black but on this morning it was coated in the yellow pollen of saguaro blossoms.

The Less Early Bird Gets the Early Bird

A male Gila woodpecker perches on a dead tree branch near the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

Last night I turned off my alarm as I wanted to get as much sleep as I could, naturally waking half an hour later than I would normally get up to hike. However with trails so close by I was able to roll out of bed and grab my hiking gear and still make it to the trailhead right around sunrise. I took an easy trail, one of my favorites, but despite seeing a number of birds couldn’t manage any pictures. Some days are like that, and it’s fine as it’s just nice to be out. But then this gorgeous Gila woodpecker posed for me on a dead tree branch, even hopping up a little into a more photogenic location, and the smile on my face got even wider.

Fall Back

A male phainopepla perches in a tree on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

The reptiles may be gone, but look who’s back! I met this male phainopepla in October on the Latigo Trail, I’ve seen them frequently on my recent hikes though usually not so close. They remind me of cardinals, another desert bird, but having traded red feathers and black eyes for black feathers and red eyes while keeping the distinctive crest. The bills tell a different story, however, as phainopepla have the thin bills of flycatchers while cardinals have the thick bill of finches.

A Morning Behind

A Harris's hawk perches on a saguaro before the pink skies of dawn on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

A few weeks ago I had in mind to photograph a particular saguaro, arriving before sunrise so I could be ready to go when the sun crested the hills. WIth my gear in place I took in the sights around me, I so love this moment in the morning when the sun arrives in the desert. Fortunately I looked behind me as well as a familiar face decided to share the moment with me. Since I’m only shooting with one camera right now I had to decide whether it was worth switching lenses and camera settings and the tripod location and risk missing the shot I came for. Because it was a Harris’s hawk I couldn’t resist the opportunity and took a quick picture, set up my original shot again, then waited with my beautiful friend until the sun arrived.