Backlit

A northern mockingbird is backlit by the sun as it perches atop an old saguaro on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020

One of the problems with hiking early in the morning, apart from it being early in the morning, is that several of my favorite trails go east from the trailhead straight into the rising sun. While I liked how it backlit this mockingbird high atop an old saguaro, maybe the sun could sometimes rise in the west? The south? The north? I’m willing to be flexible.

Morning Greetings

In the blue light before the sun was up, a northern mockingbird perches on the flower stalk of a soaptree yucca at the Brown's Ranch Trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020

With a headache not yet relenting I was delighted to be greeted as soon as I stepped off the parking lot by the songs of a mockingbird, perched on the flower stalk of a soaptree yucca. Technically the sun had risen but it would be a little while before it cleared the mountains and bathed us in its warm light. For now the mocker and I enjoyed the cool and the blue of the waking desert. I tore myself away in time to reach my target for the morning, a ladder-backed woodpecker, just as the sun arrived.

A black-and-white version of a northern mockingbird perching on the flower stalk of a soaptree yucca at the Brown's Ranch Trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020

The Song Disruptor

A northern mockingbird sings in the reddish light of sunrise atop a rock on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

Back in June I woke up early before work so I went out for a short hike, spending the morning the way I had the previous two mornings, watching a mockingbird dance and sing as the sun rose. The previous day a curve-billed thrasher had flown in and the mocker stayed out of sight for a while, but on this morning I got a picture of it singing right as the first light arrived. But then almost on cue the thrasher flew in, dried saguaro fruit clinging to its beak, and the mocker yielded. I noticed the previous morning that although it would lay low for a while whenever the thrasher flew in, eventually it would always come back to dance and sing, but on this morning work waited so I could not.

A curve-billed thrasher perches atop a rock, dried saguaro fruit clinging to its beak, in the reddish light of sunrise on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

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.