At the start of May I got up early and went to a favorite trail I hadn’t been to in a while. I soon came across mule deer so close to the trail I could have photographed them with a wide angle lens, but it was rather dark yet so rather than risk startling them I continued on towards the scene I planned to photograph at sunrise.
Further on the dim light suddenly intensified and turned pink, not nearly as strongly as the time when I was visiting my favorite saguaro but I couldn’t figure out why it was happening at all. The sun was still below the mountains and there were no clouds I could see to reflect the light, but perhaps the mountains hid more than just the rising sun. I looked around for something to shoot and had to smile when I saw the family of deer were occasionally visible through the desert scrub. I was far enough away now to need a telephoto lens but I was pleased I could include Troon Mountain in the background, as somewhere betwixt us and the mountain sits my home.
I watched from afar as the deer drifted in and out of view until they disappeared for good. The pink light stayed but for a moment before turning yellow, then a sickly white, then dying away until the sun at last cleared the hills. I tarried too long with the deer to have any chance of reaching my original destination so I went a little further down the trail to my favorite rock formation and soaked in the moment when the light suddenly floods across the desert.
It’s a little embarrassing that after a few years in the desert I can still struggle so to predict the sunlight, my excuse that I love rainy days and spent decades in an area with a plethora of them only goes so far, but it’s alright if I never get much better.
Sometimes it’s nice to be surprised.
The other sparrow I see in large numbers here are black-throats. While the source of their name is unmistakable, like the white-crowns they also have white racing stripes running across their heads, presumably to make them faster as they zoom-zoom across the desert.
We had a variety of sparrows on display in Oregon but during the winter at my favorite refuge the big flocks I’d see were golden-crowns. I have lost count of the many ways the desert has surprised me but one was that here too I’d see flocks of sparrows in the winter, only now it’s white-crowns and black-throats. I saw white-crowns in Oregon but not nearly in the numbers I see them here, it’s such a joy to stand still as the sun rises and watch a flock flit about me as they make their morning rounds.
Two white-crowned sparrows greet the rising sun on a winter’s morning on the Marcus Landslide Trail. The young one in front has the striped crown of the adult behind but not the bold black-and-white coloring, that comes later.
Our winter skies are brightened by the dark forms of phainopepla, I love walking down the trails and hearing their quiet voices from the other side of trees. This one is from an early December morning on the Marcus Landslide Trail, I haven’t been hiking in about six weeks (!!!), partially from wanting to minimize exposure to others and partially from being exhausted. I’d like to try some of the wider and less popular trails as it would be beneficial mentally and physically but we’ll see how tomorrow goes. So far the weekend has been a lot of curling up for naps with the cats before yard work in the evenings.
Two of the giant protectors of the Marcus Landslide Trail watch over me at sunrise, in the distance on the hill on the left the rock I call The Guardian, closer to me on the right an old if less ancient saguaro. I love this trail but haven’t been in a while, while I’d like to rectify that I’ve been too tired for any early hikes the past couple of weeks.
This black-throated sparrow, nestled back in a buckhorn cholla, almost seemed reluctant to emerge and greet the rising sun but perhaps I was projecting.
Shortly after the house finch left his perch a cactus wren flew in and posed in the same spot. Was it class picture day? Would a canyon towhee fly in, a little oatmeal spilled on its shirt? A black-throated sparrow with an unruly cowlick? A white-crowned sparrow with a bright smile and a mouthful of braces? Sadly no, the mixed flock of birds continued to move across the desert so I continued up the trail.
The sunrise Saturday morning was so glorious there was still a little red in the skies even an hour later.