I Hiked Alone, Surrounded by Friends

A black-throated sparrow perches atop a buckhorn cholla on the new interpretative trail at Fraesfield at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 24, 2021. Original: _RAC3574.arw

I came across this black-throated sparrow in a mixed flock of sparrows on the new hard-packed interpretative trail at Fraesfield on a rainy winter afternoon. It’s a nice trail if you have mobility issues or need to push a stroller or wheelchair or the like, and is also nice on rainy days when they’d prefer you stay off the regular trails. Even after a few years in the desert I can’t get over how naturally birds land on a cactus with spikes half the size of their bodies, they are more at ease in their dangerous world than I will ever be in mine.

A black-throated sparrow perches in a buckhorn cholla on the new interpretative trail at Fraesfield at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 24, 2021. Original: _RAC3614.arw

Red Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

A female phainopepla perches on a curved branch on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on November 28, 2020. Original: _RAC9951.arw

This is what a female phainopepla looks like on our more typical sunny desert days. I heard her cheerful cheeps from the backside of a tree as the trail wound its way up a small hill but I was headed to a particular spot and wasn’t going to try for a photograph. But as she flitted about she hopped onto this ready-made perch right as I approached so I couldn’t resist a quick picture of one of my favorite birds.

I Feel You, Sister

A phainopepla rubs her damp head feathers on a branch on the interpretative trail in the Fraesfield area of McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 24, 2021. Original: _RAC3738.arw

On-again, off-again rain showers left this phainopepla feeling a little bedraggled as she preened her damp feathers to get them back into their normal glorious shape, here gently rubbing her crest on the branch. She was her normal chipper self even if the wet weather seemed to have thrown her a little off her game. I wonder how she felt the next day when it snowed.

Christmas Decorations

A rosy-faced lovebird perches on a saguaro arm after sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 21, 2020. Original: _RAC1215.arw

I was at the local park a few days before Christmas when I heard a familiar squawking in an unfamiliar place. I looked over to this saguaro to see a couple of rosy-faced lovebirds had flown in right after the sun set and went into an old woodpecker hole for the night. I had seen them at our rental house but not our new house so it was nice to be reacquainted with lovely if noisy old friends. They are native to Africa but a population has established itself in the Phoenix area, I’ve not seen them in the desert proper so I was surprised to see them here in the natural area of this small park near the city’s edge. I don’t know where I was expecting they might nest but it wasn’t in a saguaro to be sure.

A rosy-faced lovebird perches on one of several saguaro arms after sunset at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 21, 2020. Original: _RAC1197.arw

A Little and a Lot

A Gila woodpecker is bathed in intense red light at sunset as it perches on a saguaro at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 13, 2020. Original: _RAC0844.arw

Only a little sliver of red atop this Gila woodpecker’s head is visible but the whole scene is bathed in intense red light as the sun begins to dip below the mountains behind me. Even as I took it I wasn’t sure how it would turn out as I think in isolation the red is a bit too overwhelming, at least until the light softened shortly thereafter (but after the woodpecker left) when the sun was more obscured by the hills. I had been shooting with my other camera but the patient fellow hung around until I went back and got the telephoto one.

After he left I lowered the camera and set the tripod aside as I went back to my camera bag for a drink and to get my other camera. With the woodpecker image still displaying on the back of the telephoto camera I realized I could use my shadow to mimic the saguaros to my right and take a bit of a self-portrait as a reminder of the little trail in the little park a little ways from my home.

My Sony A6600 and tripod are bathed in the red light of sunset in front of the hill at George Doc Cavalliere Park in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 13, 2020. Original: _CAM7485.arw

Little Tempters

A black-throated sparrow perches on a dead teddy bear cholla on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on November 29, 2020. Original: _RAC0301.arw

While waiting for sunset to photograph a particular saguaro I scouted some other trails and found a yucca I wanted to shoot, timing how long it would take to move between the two locations so I’d be ready when the light got low. In the meantime I headed up to the Jane Rau Trail to look for some antelope squirrels but got taken in by a phainopepla, then a mockingbird, then this black-throated sparrow. I gave up on the yucca entirely and had to pull myself away to arrive in time to photograph the saguaro, as I adore it but have never photographed it and didn’t want to risk something happening to it before I got the chance. Easier said than done when little tempters abound.

Rewards for the Early Bird

A Harris's hakw perches on a large broken saguaro along Powerline Road No. 2 in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on August 2, 2020. Original: _RAC5128.arw

One of my fears when moving here was that it would be too hot in the summers for hiking so I was pleased to find that with a few tweaks to my hiking clothes (and several more water bottles) I could hike in the early mornings, if not without breaking a sweat, at least with relative ease. The hard part is not the heat but the early rising required to avoid the worst of it, as it is no easier to get up before sunrise here than in Oregon.

On this morning in early August I hiked a trail very close to one of my favorites that I had only partially hiked before, knowing it was much wider and allowed more physical separation in these pandemic times, and was rewarded with my first badger sighting. The sun wasn’t up yet and I hadn’t gotten my telephoto lens out so I watched from afar as it ran its hands through its fur, grooming itself like the muskrats and beavers and nutria I had watched so many times before. Grooming completed it waddled, and I mean waddled, off into the brush.

Further on this young Harris’s hawk came flying up, a mammal clutched in its talons, landing amidst a battered old beauty as the first hint of light fell upon the saguaro. Knowing it was offering to share its breakfast, I said thanks just the same but I had breakfast bars in my pack in case I felt peckish. Somewhere nearby, out of sight but not of earshot, its family was raising up two fledglings from the summer batch. Successfully so, I got to spend a few minutes this Thanksgiving with them all.

Oh this desert! Every sunrise, every sunset, every step along the path is a treasure.