The House at the Top of the World

A bird's nest sits near the top of a teddy bear cholla atop the debris field along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2018

I was a bit surprised to see birds building nests in cacti when we moved here as it didn’t seem to be the most comfortable place to raise your children but I can see how it might keep ground predators at bay. This nest in a teddy bear cholla looked out over the desert from atop the debris field along the Marcus Landslide Trail. The nest was no longer in use as I took this at sunrise on Christmas Eve, I’m glad I didn’t wait as over the winter the nest slowly disintegrated.

Two For Breakfast

Two curve-billed thrashers perch atop the fruits of a saguaro, both of their beaks caked in dried pulp, as one eats as the other watches on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in July 2019

I thought there might be a tussle when the thrasher on the right flew onto the saguaro as the other ate from one of the fruits but perhaps they were a pair as they got along fine. They had both been enjoying their breakfast as their beaks were caked in dried pulp.

The Mocking Spot

A view of my photography and hiking gear where I photographed a mockingbird near a mushroom along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

A peek behind the scenes at my setup as I photographed a mockingbird doing its ritual dance this spring, it would perch on a large rock betwixt me and the hillside. I photographed from two locations on three successive mornings right around sunrise, twice from this spot beside the mushroom and once just a bit to the right on the other side of the palo verde. On this morning a thrasher flew in and the mockingbird left off its dance right as the sun started to clear the mountains and bathe the desert in soft red light, so in the quiet moment before the mocker returned I stepped back and took a picture of my gear with my iPhone. You can see the large crack at the base of the mushroom, some day it will fall over but on these mornings it was a steadfast companion as we listened to the mockingbird sing. This mushroom holds the xenolith I photographed back in December, it’s down in the corner behind my backpack. The sign describing it is just to the left, taken on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

This Land Is My Land

A northern mockingbird flares out its wings and tail to arrest its climb during a territorial display along the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

Although I grew up with them in the east we didn’t have mockers in Oregon so I’m getting reacquainted after two decades apart. This past week I watched this mockingbird doing its dance on successive mornings, possibly to establish its territory from this high vantage point on a granite boulder where it would have been visible from further distances (I never saw another mockingbird). It would fly up a short distance and do these aerobatic maneuvers, reminding me more of a flycatcher, as it arrested its climb and returned to the rock. In between hops it sang a wide variety of songs, although a thrasher would sometimes fly in and the mockingbird would lay low for a while.

The Morning Submarine

Submarine Rock is bathed in soft red light early on a spring morning on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

Submarine Rock is one of the massive boulders that fell down from the mountains as part of the landslide 500,000 years ago. At first I wasn’t sure which rock was Submarine Rock as at first glance I thought “whale” and there is another large boulder out-of-frame to the left (it’s casting the shadow on the front) that looks to me like a World War II era submarine breaching the surface. Submarine Rock now lies halfway into my hike as it is in the middle of the short loop at the far end of the Marcus Landslide Trail. Normally I can’t get out this far during the soft sunrise light, even if I’m hoofing it, while it was no different on this morning smoke from fires in the distant Superstitions left the light a soft red for longer than normal.