Windmills

A close-up of the spines and areoles of a prickly pear on the Latigo Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 2, 2022. Originals: _ZFC6697.NEF to ZFC6706.NEF

To celebrate my first hike of 2022 I took to some beloved trails I’ve hiked many times the past few years, ending with a visit to my favorite saguaro, not to photograph her but just to say hello. On the way out as I wandered west this prickly pear caught my eye so I stopped for a quick shot in the fading light. I took a picture like this not long after we moved here but the new camera is better suited for it.

Our roof is getting replaced soon, after that it will be time to think about new plants around the yard both to replace some non-natives we’ve already had removed and to fill in some things earlier owners took out. We have a little prickly pear volunteer that started growing near the saguaro out front, I gave it some water occasionally when it first peeked out and it now has several paddles on it. I want to add a bigger patch as they seem like nice hangouts for some of the smaller creatures I love to watch and when they fruit provide food for birds as well.

The javelina will be welcome to come in for a munch, we had a family in the yard the other night that walked beneath my office window as they rooted for mesquite seeds, two of the youngsters were nursing from their mom in addition to snacking on seeds.

How Do You Hug a Cactus?

Buckhorn cholla grows next to prickly pear on the Vaquero Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on November 26, 2020. Original: _RAC8826.arw

In my mind’s eye I saw the picture I wanted to take, the cholla next to the prickly pear, almost hugging. The cacti were a ways off the trail and even with my longest telephoto I knew I’d have to crop the image a bit, which was fine, I grabbed a quick shot before heading off as I had a little hike yet to reach the exit by closing. It’s not quite the shot I wanted, a better angle was a few steps down, literally down, as the trail descended a small hill. At that spot though too many plants obscured the view, I would have needed to be 50 feet tall to get the camera high enough. It’s a frequent issue but at this stage I doubt I’ll develop Late Onset Extraordinary Gigantism. I haven’t given up hope, I bet Godzilla wasn’t expecting it either.

Big Breakfast

A verdin, missing most of its tail feathers during a molt, sticks its head into a prickly pear fruit to eat on a cloudy morning in the Troon neighborhood of Scottsdale, Arizona in September 2019

Watching the verdin eating from fruit almost as large as themselves, I wondered how it would look if I tried to wring every drop of sustenance from a five foot watermelon using only my face. This one had to fly precisely onto a cactus with thorns as long as its legs while missing many of its tail feathers but it did it with aplomb. Given their short beaks I don’t know if they open up the fruit themselves or if they leave the honors to something like a woodpecker with a longer beak and a head designed for hammering.

Neckties

A verdin perches on a prickly pear spine with a line of fruit juice running down its front in the Troon neighborhood of Scottsdale, Arizona in September 2019

The verdin were looking a bit ragged, some unlike this one didn’t have much of the normal yellow coloring in the face. They were all wearing damp maroon neckties, a temporary adornment not because they had been bathing in the blood of their enemies but because they had been eating the fruit of the prickly pear. When I got home I found a nice paper online that confirmed my suspicion that this is the time of the year when they molt.

Verdin

A verdin covered in prickly pear juice looks at me as it pauses while eating from a fruit almost as large as itself in our neighborhood in Scottsdale, Arizona in September 2019

Sunday morning instead of going for a hike I took a long walk through the neighborhood. It was my first time doing it alone since we moved here, my wife and I took a short one a few months ago, but this time I walked much farther. Natural landscaping abounds so I was greeted with many of the same creatures I’d see on the trails, but many communities are gated so I was limited in where I could wander. The hardest part was walking without Ellie, my constant companion for a decade, so I was delighted when on the way back a 3 year old pup named Jackson strained at the leash to meet me and then showered me with kisses when I crossed over to meet him. As I neared the house I saw familiar faces flitting about a patch of prickly pear, dining on fruit almost as large as themselves.