The First of the Second

The head of a bobcat is visible as it peers over a large rock formation on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsale, Arizona in July 2019

One more bobcat photo, this is the first one I took of my second ever sighting. Though most of the sky was blue, there were low lying clouds in the east that were frequently changing the light. This morning it worked in my favor as clouds partially obscured the sun as I walked back to check out what initially looked like a coyote-shaped cactus. The clouds not only softened the light but made it more diffuse so that the left side of the cat’s face isn’t in such deep shadow. If I could only choose one I’d prefer the shot where it is peering over the rocks but I also like how here the bobcat’s lovely face is fully shown while it verified I wasn’t a threat before settling in for a nap.

Dressed in Blue and Brown

An environmental portrait of a bobcat peering out from the rocks atop the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in July 2019

If my former home in the the Pacific Northwest was a paradise of blue and green I could describe my current home in the Sonoran Desert as a paradise of blue and brown, but that would not quite be true. There is far more green in this desert than I was expecting, a dusty green to match the dusty landscape and not the lush blinding greens of the Columbia River Gorge, but green just the same. But it is true enough for this scene, the brown cat in the brown hills, the blue sky behind. There were three pictures I wanted to take on that summer morning, a close shot of the bobcat, this more distant environmental portrait, and an even wider shot showing the rocks down to the desert floor. The latter I didn’t take as since I’m only shooting with one camera I didn’t want to risk taking off the telephoto zoom in case the cat walked up onto the top of the rocks. Instead it settled down for a nap on the ledge in the middle of the frame, out of sight of both me and the rising sun.

The Hills Have Ears

The Hills Have Ears

There are moments on the trails you never forget. In the Tetons, when a black bear casually sauntered down the trail towards me. A gorgeous black bear I had to slowly follow up the path at Mount Rainier. A scrum of bighorn sheep rams in Yellowstone. My first Gila monster. My first bobcat, and my second.

I woke up far too early Monday morning and couldn’t get back to sleep so I went out for a short hike at a nearby trailhead. I was nearing the end of the Jane Rau Trail, hoping to see a spiny lizard I had spotted on a previous hike. My eye caught a pair of ears high in the rocks, or so it seemed at first glance, a cactus with the face of a coyote. The lizard wasn’t there but thankfully I had time to walk back to get a better look at the cactus as I couldn’t remember seeing it before. Looking through the telephoto lens I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw eyes looking back at me, the ears were indeed ears, pointed towards the heavens. My second ever bobcat. As the rising sun grew stronger the sleepy cat dropped into the shadows and settled down, time for us to part, time to get ready for work.

Even after a couple of decades of photography I can get a little too excited and not set up the camera or the shot properly. I didn’t realize it at the time but all those years she was training me for this moment, my sweet Em, to photograph beauty looking down upon me. Relax, breathe, enjoy the moment. Miss you Em.

Our black cat Emma looks down from the top of the cat tree in May 2012

The Morning Surprises

A gambel's quail sings, silhouetted against a blue sky, early on a spring morning near the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I first visited Brown’s Ranch a month after we moved to Arizona last year and fell in love immediately. One of the things I liked about our new house was its close proximity to some of my favorite local trailheads, Brown’s Ranch included. I haven’t been much since the fall, only visiting on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, at first because I was exploring another area (also near the house) and then because I was concentrating on trails near some of the other houses we were considering.

While I haven’t had much time and/or energy for hiking lately I was up for an easy hike last weekend so I begrudgingly got up before sunrise and made the short drive to Brown’s Ranch. A cardinal serenaded me before I stepped out of the car and I could hear the calls of Gambel’s quail and mourning doves and cactus wrens all around. I thought about how much I had learned in my year here, how much more these sights and sounds are familiar to me now, as I grabbed my camera and headed to the Jane Rau Trail, a short little loop trail near the trailhead and the first trail I hiked at Brown’s Ranch last year.

A gambel's quail sings, silhouetted against an orange sky, early on a spring morning near the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I then headed down the Latigo Trail, despite my low energy levels I was so happy to be back that I almost felt like running. I didn’t, however, feel much like taking pictures, a feeling I get sometimes where I almost put the camera away. I usually keep the camera out but there is a mental shift where I don’t worry so much about photography. Sometimes though the animals pull me back in, as they did on this morning. It started with a Gambel’s quail in the trees, silhouetted against the morning sky, I took a quick picture against the blue sky before moving further on and taking another against the orange sky.

An ash-throated flycatcher perches at the edge of a tree limb early on a spring morning along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

A mourning dove shows off the distinctive black spots running down its wings early on a spring morning along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

As the sun rose I spotted an ash-throated flycatcher and couldn’t help but stop for some pictures. It didn’t stay long as a couple of mourning doves flew into the tree and scared it off, so I photographed one of them instead. They were out in abundance, I imagine the white-winged doves will be back in numbers soon and the smaller mourning doves will get moved a step down the pecking order. Beside the trail the banana yuccas were budding and blooming, a sight I hadn’t seen before, and I thought I could spend a lifetime photographing them in their various stages, each beautiful in its own way, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to photograph them on this morning.

A close-up view of a rock squirrel perching in the rocks early one morning along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

But when I saw a familiar shape in the rocks, bathed in the lovely morning light, I eagerly setup my camera beside the trail to photograph what I initially assumed was an antelope squirrel but which I quickly realized was the larger rock squirrel. I had seen them before but usually from a distance, only once getting a close look up at Tom’s Thumb. This one though posed for me in its rock home and now in more of a photographic mood I photographed it with different focal lengths, including wide and medium shots and this full on close-up.

A great horned owl perches in a palo verde near the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

Further up the trail I stopped when I thought I saw a hawk on a distant saguaro, but when I lifted the telephoto lens to my eye to get a better look I realized it was a great horned owl, my first owl in Arizona. It flew a little closer as an American kestrel hassled it from above and landed in this foothill palo verde. It occasionally cast its eyes over towards where the rock squirrel was but it didn’t seem too interested in hunting.

A mourning dove pauses while preening atop a large rock as the breeze picks up and ruffles its feathers on a spring morning along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I continued up the trail a bit but didn’t go too far, I was tired and while there are times it’s good to push yourself, this morning didn’t feel like one of them. As I headed back I did see a couple of genuine hawks on a large saguaro, a pair of Harris’s hawks that I suppose will be nesting soon. A grasshopper accidentally impaled itself on a buckhorn cholla and I thought my hike might end on a sad note but then I saw a mourning dove preening from a rock above as the breeze rustled its feathers.

Despite not seeing any reptiles it was a quick reminder of why I love this place as I saw so much beauty in so short a time. Soon enough I did get to see a reptile as when I got home a spiny lizard was doing pushups in a tree behind the house, it was too bright for pictures but hopefully he and I will meet again. And hopefully so too the rock squirrel, if it survives the owls and the hawks and the snakes and …