First light on the Hawknest Trail revealed a young white-winged dove that was a little red-faced, courtesy of the saguaro fruit juice that stained its beak and the tip of its face. It was mid-July so there wasn’t much fruit left on the old giants but the plucky youngster seemed to have found some before perching on the ocotillo to preen its feathers. With its cleaning regimen complete followed by a few beak swipes on the ocotillo stem, it flew off to a nearby saguaro and chased off the adult that was feeding there.
A couple of days ago I visited my favorite copse of ocotillos at sunrise, when I realized they were going to be partly in shadow for a while I started goofing around with self-portraits. The jacket is a holdover from my time in Portland where I was frequently a pedestrian, I have a small army of jackets and hoodies in bright orange to make me more visible. On this morning it was a little cool and windy so I put up the hood of my wool hoody to take the chill off. I have a wool cap on underneath, I’ve never liked the cold but after a couple of years in the desert I’ve lost any tolerance of it. The mask didn’t go unappreciated not just for a little warmth, and not just because I didn’t need to smile for the camera, but because it hid the tears streaming down my cheeks from being up so early.
I can’t tell the story of the Sonoran Desert, only my time in it. I’d love to revisit this shot when the ocotillos leaf out or bloom but this is their normal state, bare arms soaring into blue skies, and I hope in some sense it shows how beautiful the desert is even when it’s not trying to be spectacular.
For this shot I put myself at the edge of the large flat boulder, the plants are growing between this one and the next, so I could be as close as possible to the same plane as the two ocotillos in front to give some context as to their size. All of which is to say no optical tricks, they get pretty big.
So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”
John Prine “Hello in There”
So sorry to hear of John Prine’s passing, one of too many we’ve lost to Covid-19. I first heard his song “Hello in There” on a VHS tape I bought in my college days from the 10,000 Maniacs and was immediately transfixed by its beauty and its pain. Performed by lead singer Natalie Merchant and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and Billy Bragg, I initially assumed the song was one of Bragg’s since I was as yet unfamiliar with his work (the other two were already favorites) only to find it was one of Prine’s. Both the cover and the original are dear to me, resonating as strongly today as they did in my youth. Goodbye to a quiet giant, and thank you.
I met this lovely little fellow back in June on some of the nice new trails at the Pima Dynamite Trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve. While I can’t quite say I love the summer heat, I love how it warms the pool for an after-hike swim, and more than anything I love how it draws out my friends from their hiding places in the rocks. Until we meet again little ones, stay safe, stay warm.
In May I met this young red-tailed hawk on one of the off-map trails in the Pima Dynamite area, it was still growing in confidence if not in size. Its movements were still a little unsure, here flaring out its wings slightly to maintain its balance atop the flower buds of the saguaro. It kept its head on a swivel, looking at not just its nearby sibling but listening further off for the parents that were keeping in touch vocally (and perhaps visually, they had a taller vantage point than I). The yellow in its legs and beak was quite pale but it had already accomplished much by growing to this size, as babies even the top predators are vulnerable to other predators such as the great horned owls I saw on the previous hike and heard hooting that morning.
By now it will be an old hand at flying about the desert even if still wearing its juvenile plumage. I turned around at this point as its sibling was on a saguaro right next to the trail and I didn’t want to disturb them, they had enough on their minds, enough to learn about their desert home. I can sympathize.
Usually I see woodpecker nests in vertical saguaro arms but this male and his mate had chosen an angled arm. At 5:20 am with the sun about to rise they were already bringing food to the nest, in this case a moth. Given the angle to the sun I wasn’t sure if the light would illuminate them when the sun came up or if the saguaro would cast them in shadow, and I still don’t know, as while they brought food to the nest at first they started holding back. Raising young is precarious and stressful enough so while I suspected they would quickly come to not see me as a threat I didn’t want to risk it and continued up the trail.
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.
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.