Father’s Day?

An adult Harris's hawk prepares to land at its nest in a saguaro, one leg outstretched to find purchase on a saguaro blossom while the other clutches twigs to spruce up the nest, as two nestlings watch near the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

I’ve never seen a bird not defend its nest so I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. With one Harris’s hawk on its nest in a saguaro, multiple other adults were perched nearby, in trees, on saguaros, on large electrical towers. They called out repeatedly but to my untrained eyes and ears it seemed like they were keeping in touch rather than warning to keep away.

What was I seeing? Perhaps what I needed to see, what I wished for rather than what was, with Ellie’s death still stinging. But in this case both as I learned later Harris’s hawks live in family groups, even during nesting season with new life about to come into the world.

A week ago after sunup this adult flew to the nest, one leg outstretched to find purchase on a saguaro blossom while the other clutched twigs to spruce up the nest, as the two nestlings watched from the nest (they’re hard to see). Was it the father arriving? The mother? A sibling?

This morning one of the young hawks was continuously jumping from one arm to the other, working on its balance and testing its wings. I didn’t see the other until it flew over and landed awkwardly in a palo verde below the nest, having already fledged.

What joy these hawks, this family, have brought to me this spring as they add two more to their number.

Occupied! Occupied!

A female Gila woodpecker tilts her head to the side while holding a moth in her beak as her male partner prepares to leave the nest in a saguaro beside the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

As the female Gila woodpecker brought a moth to the nest, she had to wait to go in as the male was still in the nest. Though she was positioned right below the entrance, she only had to tilt her head to the side to give him room as when leaving they jump out of the hole before spreading their wings and flying off. I’ve seen so many moths brought to woodpecker nests it’s a wonder any remain to fly about the desert. Below is the same bird, but different moth, taken 5 minutes later.

A female Gila woodpecker holds a moth in her beak as she perches outside her nest in a saguaro beside the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

Flowers for Breakfast

A female Gila woodpecker perches beside her nest with a beak stuffed not only with what might be a bee but stamens from saguaro blossoms, taken near the Latigo Trail in the Pima Dynamite area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona, in May 2019

A female Gila woodpecker perches beside her nest with a beak stuffed not only with what might be a bee but stamens from saguaro blossoms, illuminated by soft light as the sun just starts to break over the mountains. The stamens produce the pollen that is covering her face. I knew they fed their young insects and spiders but it appeared they were feeding them the stamens too, as not only did they leave the nest with beaks empty but sometimes it appeared as their beaks were full of nothing but stamens.

Life Ends, Life Begins

Two Harris's hawk nestlings peak out from their nest in a saguaro along the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I woke up early the morning after Ellie died, trying to decide if I was going to go hiking or not, as while I knew the trails would help with the healing I didn’t know if I was ready quite yet. I expected there to be tears as I got ready but there were none but I knew that might not hold when I was out on the trails and alone with my thoughts. I decided to go to my favorite park and chose a short loop trail that I know well.

Sunrise was still a little ways off so I had the trail to myself and stopped at a banana yucca I wanted to photograph. But my thoughts weren’t focused enough for photography and I felt compelled to keep moving, so I picked up my tripod and continued on. It felt good to be in the desert in those wonderful moments as the night yields to the day, comforting, calming, but even so I had to keep moving. Further up the trail I noticed a large nest in a saguaro a ways off the trail. An adult Harris’s hawk was barely visible in the nest, sitting mostly in shadow as the sun rose behind me. It was the first time I had seen an active nest, normally I would have stayed longer but not on this morning, I just couldn’t stand still. Although it was hard to keep the tears at bay I did keep from breaking down.

Until I walked into the house, because for a moment I forgot she wouldn’t be there. I had gotten used to her not being at the door to greet me, she’d been deaf for a while and although she slept by the door I could usually sneak past her and put my things away so when she woke I could be there to help her get up. If she didn’t wake in those first few moments, she always did as I heated up a breakfast sandwich, a little routine I got into as a reward for getting some exercise in the morning. Ellie loved them and while she couldn’t eat them I’d always give her a little sliver of meat or cheese or egg as I finished it.

Even in a deep sleep you couldn’t get anything by that nose of hers.

I couldn’t eat my sandwich that morning, knowing she wouldn’t be watching me waiting for her little treat at the end, but I went hiking nearly every free morning afterwards, healing more each time. A month later when I hiked past the Harris’s hawk nest, with the sun about to rise, I set up the tripod and calmly waited for the light. Two furry heads, barely visible, peeked out from the top of the massive nest.

Welcome to the world, little ones.

Breakfast Landing

A female Gila woodpecker prepares to land on the saguaro where her nest is located, she's holding red material (fruit?) in her bill for her hungry babies to eat

Early on a spring morning, a Gila woodpecker brings food to her hungry babies waiting inside the saguaro. I’m not sure what she’s holding in her bill, my first thought was fruit but I couldn’t tell for sure (the saguaro’s aren’t fruiting yet). What a jewel she is!