A Common Sight

A mourning dove perches on a log beside the Rustler Trail early in the morning in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in May 2019

It sometimes still surprises me to see mourning doves out in the middle of the desert, even though they are one of the most common native birds in the States. They are year-round residents and also common visitors to our backyard. They are fairly skittish so I see them a lot more than I photograph them, but this one on the Rustler Trail posed early on a spring morning.

I Did Not Eat My Hat

A desert spiny lizard perches on a granite rock along the Rustler Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

I like to think I’m a man of my word but I suppose we all have our limits. Last weekend I hiked out to Balanced Rock for the second time and after taking some pictures noticed in the distance the head of a spiny lizard sticking out from a rock, much like this desert spiny lizard on the Rustler Trail. It was far off and in the shadows but seeing the shape and that the head was darker than the surrounding granite I thought “If that isn’t a spiny lizard I’ll eat my hat.”

I lifted the telephoto lens to my eye to be sure. It wasn’t a spiny lizard. I tell you, the granite can be cruel.

But I didn’t eat my hat.

This spiny lizard is the same as in the linked picture but from the other side of the rock and in different lighting. The granite was in a kinder mood.

The Valley of the Sun

A common side-blotched lizard all in shadow save for its head along the Rustler Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

In the Valley of the Sun, when you get the first rays of light depends on when the rising sun clears any mountains to the east. This scene played out in miniature early one morning when I found this common side-blotched lizard completely in shadow until it turned its head into a shaft of light that had just cleared the rock behind it.

Turning Rocks Into Lizards

A desert spiny lizard peeks out from behind a rock on the Rustler Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona

As I hike the pattern recognition part of my brain is constantly scanning for objects that might be wildlife even though they often turn out not to be. I spent a summer in Florida in the mid-90’s and was delighted by the many alligators there, it took years after we moved to Oregon for that part of my brain to stop trying to identify possible alligators when I hiked in marshland. In Yellowstone on a gravel road there was a large rock in the distance that in the periphery resembled a bear. I loved that road and drove it a number of times and as I approached that spot, I’d tell myself not to be fooled even for an instant by what I came to call Bear Rock. But every time the pattern recognition would kick in for a fraction of a second and say “Hey is that a …” before the rest of my brain would reply “I just told you it wasn’t going to be a bear!”

Here in the Sonoran Desert I am fooled by cholla skeletons that look like rattlesnakes, twigs like small lizards, granite protuberances like large lizards. I try to use my mental powers to turn rocks into lizards but usually I fail, rock stays rock. But sometimes I succeed and the rock comes to life, such as this beautiful desert spiny lizard on the Rustler Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve. One success is worth a thousand misses.