The Morning Stretch

A Harris's hawk stretches while perching on a dead tree, surrounded by palo verde blossoms fore and aft, near the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

I met this Harris’s hawk shortly before sunrise, it was mostly sleeping perched high in a dead tree. With the palo verdes blooming, there was one spot on the trail where if I lowered my tripod to a particular height I could frame the hawk using blossoms on trees between us and blossoms on the trees behind. The picture is a bit of a lie in that it gives the impression the hawk is in a dense section of trees but in truth it was in the open, I’ll post other pictures later that give a more accurate depiction of why it chose this perch.

I framed the shot for the pose when the hawk was resting but when it suddenly stretched after the sun came up most of the time its head was obscured behind the yellow blossoms, up until it reached the peak of its stretch and it came into full view again, showing off its chestnut shoulders and legs and the large white patch at the base of its tail and the white strip at the tip. I thought it was going to go to the bathroom, birds often do before they take flight, but it was just a morning stretch. Do all animals have their equivalent? Our cats do it after waking up from a nap, our dog Ellie did too and something about it always made me laugh.

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.

The White Rump

A male gilded flicker perches on an ocotillo in June 2019, showing off hsi white rump and red mustache and a hint of the yellow beneath his wings, taken on the Latigo Trail in the Pima Dynamite area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I frequently see both gilded flickers and Gila woodpeckers flying through the desert, the easiest way I distinguish the two woodpeckers in flight is to look for where the white is, flickers with their white rumps and Gilas with their white wing patches. With a closer look you can see not only his glorious red mustache but also a hint of the yellow ‘gilding’ under his wings that gives these birds their names. This lovely fellow perching on an ocotillo was feeding one of his hungry and noisy youngsters beside the Latigo Trail in the Pima Dynamite area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve. I hung back as they moved up the trail ahead of me as I didn’t want the young one to miss a meal.

The Tipping Point

A Harris's hawk calls out from atop a saguaro, lit by the soft light of the rising sun as it partially cleared the mountains, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

A Harris’s hawk calls out as the rising sun begins to tip over the distant mountains, partially illuminating the desert with its soft light. From this angle and in this light you can barely see the distinctive chestnut patches on its shoulders and legs, but you can get a glimpse of the large white patch at the base of the tail and the white band at the tip.

After it flew off I continued up the trail, and when I rounded a corner five minutes later the hawk and I met again (I assume it’s the same one, it would be easier if they wore name tags). The rising sun having fully cleared the mountains and the hawk completely lit in the morning light, you can better see the distinctive chestnut patches. This is the same saguaro (and maybe the same hawk) I photographed shortly before sunrise a week prior.

A Harris's hawk perches atop a saguaro, fully lit by the rising sun after it cleared the mountains, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019