Distinctive Silhouette

The silhouette of a rock squirrel atop a granite boulder in front of saguaros on the Saddlehorn Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 17, 2020. Original: _RAC6530.arw

Though I only saw it in silhouette I knew from shape and size which of our ground squirrels I was seeing as I came down the Saddlehorn Trail. This is a rock squirrel, the one I see least. The trail wound away from it so this was my only good view, I did like that I could put the tops of saguaros behind it for context as it looked out from atop the large granite boulder.

Beakful of Bugs

Beakful of Bugs

A yellow-headed blackbird stuffs his beak full of insects, destined for his hungry family back at the nest, as he straddles plants just above the waterline. Taken at Long Lake at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in May 2011, the yellow-heads didn’t often come as close as the more ubiquitous red-wings but it was such a treat when they did.

Williamson’s Sapsucker

A male Williamson's sapsucker perches on a tree peppered with holes on the Cerro Grande Route in Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico in May 2007. Original: _MG_7688.cr2

A trip to New Mexico in 2007 provided my one and only view of the lovely Williamson’s sapsucker, this is a male perched on a favorite tree. They prefer Ponderosa Pine forests and that’s not a habitat I’ve been in much since. You can see the irregular and regular pattern of holes he’s drilled into the tree to encourage it to secrete the sap he craves. It was a wonderful trip although it had far more import than I could have known as when it came time to look for work a decade later, it got me thinking of New Mexico, which got me thinking about Arizona, and here we are.

A male Williamson's sapsucker shows off his red neck patch and yellow belly while perched on a tree lined with holes on the Cerro Grande Route in Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico in May 2007. Original: _MG_7714.cr2

A male Williamson's sapsucker perches on a tree peppered with holes on the Cerro Grande Route in Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico in May 2007. Original: CRW_6328.crw

Purple Crown

A male Costa's hummingbird head flashes purple as he looks in my direction in the Troon neighborhood of Scottsdale, Arizona in February 2020. Original: _RAC3253.arw

A Costa’s hummingbird shows off his purple crown on a winter morning. The color is based on the way the light falls upon the feathers, not pigment, so when he had his head turned his crown appeared black (as the rest of his face and throat does here, but they will light up too if the light is at the right angle).

Two Pollinators

A male gilded flicker perches on saguaro blossoms while a honeybee hovers nearby on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in May 2020

It may look like this male gilded flicker took an interest in the honeybee as the two pollinators shared a saguaro, but it was just a coincidence of timing, the bird was only interested in eating from the flowers.

A male gilded flicker prepares to eat headfirst from a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in May 2020

Changing of the Guard

A female Gila woodpecker perches outside their nest in a saguaro as the male prepares to leave on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

A female Gila woodpecker brings food to the nest while the waiting male is about to pop out and make room for her. This is zoomed in less than the previous pictures to show more of the saguaro, I was kicking myself later for forgetting to take a much wider shot with my regular lens of the full saguaro and the surrounding desert. I forgot partially because of the excitement of watching woodpeckers and partially because it was 5:30am. At that hour I’m just happy if I dress myself properly because that isn’t guaranteed.

Large Mercies

A cuve-billed thrasher swallows after feeding from a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

Even with a relatively long beak, come springtime curve-billed thrashers end up with faces covered in pollen courtesy of the massive flowers of the saguaro. Saguaros are many things, subtle is not one of them. I’m thankful for the mercy of these large flowers, because if they were carnivorous they could easily eat their fill of desert birds who thrust their entire heads into the blossoms (and later, fruit) to feed.

A cuve-billed thrasher sticks its head into a saguaro blossom on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

OCCUPIED! OCCUPIED!

A white-winged dove looks up from feeding from a saguaro blossom as another is about to land, taken on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2020

A white-winged dove looks up from feeding from a saguaro blossom as another is about to land. The incoming bird landed on the leftmost blossom so they were able share the perch for a while. I haven’t seen so many white-wings this year, to be fair I haven’t hiked as much this spring and summer and when I do it’s often on different trails, but we also aren’t seeing so many in the yard as last year. Which works out well for the mourning doves as in numbers the larger white-wings can push the smaller doves around but this year the white-wings are fairly subdued and it’s only the quail parents with babies whose wrath the doves have to avoid.

A Moment of Peace

A near silhouette of an adult Harris's hawk perched on the tallest arm of a fruiting saguaro on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2020

My hiking has fallen off dramatically the last six weeks as most days I’ve been too worn out to get up early. I managed it a couple weeks back and decided to photograph a pair of saguaros in the light of dawn and sunrise. Before I got that far up the trail I ran across a Harris’s hawk from the family I watched last year, so I stopped and played around with some near-silhouettes as it sat atop the fruiting arms. I decided not to press on to my original target as this saguaro is literally next to the trail and I wouldn’t be able to pass without spooking the bird. It felt like a form of sacrilege to disturb the tranquility of the desert dawn, so I whispered “Take as long as you like,” then laughed and added “only let’s not make it hours.” I stayed back but knew I could really only buy it minutes as I’m not the only one who loves this trail. Only no one else came by, leaving the two of us in the quiet, relative quiet, as we were joined by flycatchers and thrashers and woodpeckers and wrens, with small flocks of white-winged doves flying overhead and mourning doves cooing in the distance.

I didn’t get the picture I came for but what joy I received in return!