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 …

New Arrivals

A desert spiny lizard sits behind the entrance to its new home, it moved into an antelope squirrel's home, taken in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

I was delighted when an antelope squirrel dug a burrow in the front yard, but its time with us was rather short as I’m fairly certain a bobcat got it. A pair of spiny lizards moved in shortly after, although I didn’t see the female for long. A roadrunner made several attempts at this one on different days and I don’t know if it was eventually successful, as while I didn’t see the lizard for a while there is one around occasionally now, so perhaps it moved on to a better location. Hard to say as there are multiple lizards in the area as some came over to sample the flowers on the bush above this rock. The only way I could tell they weren’t all the same lizard is one was regrowing its tail and one had a missing front leg (it looked like it had learned to live without it just fine).

A desert spiny lizard is partially seen behind a cactus as it sits near the entrance to its home in our front yard in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

Lizard, Milky White

A side view of a molting ornate tree lizard, taken on the Saddlehorn Trail in the Granite Mountain area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2018

When we moved to Arizona I was delighted to find lizards but also a bit baffled at identifying them. On my first visit to the Granite Mountain area I encountered a handful of little lizards in one rock formation on the Saddlehorn Trail but was particularly confused by one that, to my eye, looked milky white. When I brought the telephoto lens to my eye I understood my confusion, the little thing was molting and from some angles the dead skin looked white in the morning sun. I was even more surprised when it ran over to where I was standing, if only we could communicate so I could have offered to help remove the larger tufts. It must feel good when all the dead skin is gone!

An overhead view of a molting ornate tree lizard, taken on the Saddlehorn Trail in the Granite Mountain area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2018

The World Before Me

An ornate tree lizard perches vertically on a rock face near the summit of Brown's Mountain in McDowell Sonoran Preserve, taken on the Brown's Mountain Trail in September 2019

The sun was just tipping over the horizon this fall as I approached the summit of Brown’s Mountain with an expansive view of the mountains circling my desert home. But as the light spilled across the world at large around me it was the world writ small before me upon which I trained my gaze and my camera’s lens, for I shared that lovely sunrise with an ornate tree lizard scampering about the rock face. I love the scenery here but there is no doubt where my heart lies.

Until We Meet Again, My Friend

A male common side-blotched lizard perches atop a rock on an Off-map Trail in the Pima Dynamite section of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

I met this lovely little fellow back in June on some of the nice new trails at the Pima Dynamite Trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve. While I can’t quite say I love the summer heat, I love how it warms the pool for an after-hike swim, and more than anything I love how it draws out my friends from their hiding places in the rocks. Until we meet again little ones, stay safe, stay warm.

The Lizard Rocks

An environmental portrait of an ornate tree lizard in a jumble of rocks on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

I nicknamed this jumble of rocks The Lizard Rocks when I first saw them, though I saw no lizards there. It just seemed like they should be there, though I was new to Arizona and not really sure where lizards would want to live. They aren’t large rocks and it’s not a large formation, I suppose my initial fascination came from it being a nice place on a favorite trail to stop for a drink as it’s nestled into a kink on the trail with room to step out of the unsighted path of cyclists and horses. It took me a while but I did eventually start seeing them, on this spring morning I saw at least six lizards from three different species. This ornate tree lizard was the first I saw, I took some closeups but also pulled back to give a bit of flavor of the place he calls home.

Beauty in the Shadows

A male desert spiny lizard close his eyes as he rests beneath massive boulders at Cathedral Rock in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in July 2018

Cathedral Rock is awash in beauty, with massive boulders and sweeping views of the Sonoran desert, but its greatest beauty sleeps in its shadows, hidden in crevices below the monoliths. Despite its size, the desert spiny lizard is rather shy and often scurries out of sight long before I approach. Thankfully I was not only able to spend some time with this one and watch as he grew sleepy, but ease away and leave him to his slumber.