Eyes in the Sky

A female American kestrel perches atop a saguaro in front of Granite Mountain on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 23, 2021. Original: _ZFC0845.NEF

Kestrels are one of the birds that live both in our old home in the rainy Northwest and our current home in the arid Southwest. In Washington I’d often see them hovering above a large meadow, looking for Townsend’s voles sneaking through the grasses below. One day I watched one hunting earthworms in the soggy soil like a robin in falcon’s clothing. I’ve seen them a number of times here but have yet to witness the hovering behavior, I’m guessing since they have natural perches that let them sit up high and watch for small creatures without a dense canopy of leaves or needles obscuring the view below.

Taken with the Nikon Z 24-200mm, after buying the Nikon Z fc I liked it enough to immediately buy this lens, partially for environmental portraits like this one of a female kestrel as the clouds rolled in on a December afternoon.

The Karate Kid

A female American kestrel preens while perched atop a saguaro on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 23, 2021. Original: _RAC2849.ARW

I don’t know who her opponent is but I feel for them, I’ve seen the movie and know what comes next. I suspect this is the same kestrel as the previous post, I’ve seen a female a few times this month in the same general area of the park. Taken two days ago in the late afternoon as heavy clouds rolled into the desert, the next day they brought a steady rain.

Favorites

A female American kestrel perches on a saguaro on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 5, 2021. Original: _RAC1934.arw

Judging by the white streaks running down the saguaro I’m guessing this kestrel likes this perch. I met her before sunset as I was heading out of the park and couldn’t resist stopping briefly for a picture, I so adore these little falcons. Unlike my time in the Northwest I’ve not gotten to see their hovering pose here in the desert. I think I too would enjoy a nice sit-down given the many high perches nature has graciously provided.

Pink Light, Blue Light

A view of a stand of saguaros far in front of Brown's Mountain under pink skies of sunset. Taken near the Brown's Ranch Entrance to McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2021. Original: _CAM3874.arw

A couple of quick snapshots after sunset, taken a week apart in October, as I hiked out of the local preserve. I like the blue light of the second picture the best, the park closed a bit after sunset so I had enough time to wait for the soft light of dusk before leaving (I’m steps away from the park entrance where my wife was picking me up).

That’s Brown’s Mountain sneaking in in the background, I usually try to include the mountains in this area if I can since they were so fundamental to me getting oriented on the trails when we moved here and life seemed a whirlwind. I’ve been meaning to try some other compositions but to get here I have to make it past a couple of favorite trails that often have good views of wildlife, such as the last picture where a female Gila woodpecker sidles round a saguaro in the last light of the day. Hard to pass up a chance to watch the desert fauna, at which point I have to hurry on down the trail. One day though, one day …

A view of a stand of saguaros far in front of Brown's Mountain in the blue light after sunset. Taken near the Brown's Ranch Entrance to McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 31, 2021. Original: _CAM3920.arw

A female Gila woodpecker on a saguaro at sunset near the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on November 14, 2021. Original: _RAC1617.arw

Smaller of the Larger

A mule deer fawn watches me in thelater afternoon on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2021. Original: _RAC9826.arw

I’ve posted a lot of the smaller creatures of the desert lately, even if the larger of the smaller like tarantulas and black witches, so let me post one of the larger creatures of the desert, even if the smaller of the larger as this white-spotted fawn is still fairly young. It was gently browsing through the desert in the late afternoon sun with a sibling and their mother. I wasn’t completely taken aback when we moved here to find deer in the desert, we had mulies in the high desert of central Oregon, as well as blacktails and Columbian whitetails in the wet western valleys. Still, with the extreme heat of the summers it amazes me anything can survive here.

A week later I was back in the same area, the sun had just set and I was nearing the park border where I was meeting my wife, my hike ending, when I met a different mule deer doe and this older fawn, their day beginning.

A mule deer fawn watches me after the sun has set on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 31, 2021. Original: _RAC1370.arw

In The Interests of Human/Spider Relations

A side view of a young tarantula with its abdomen raised on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2021. Original: _RAC9976.arw

Last Sunday evening I headed out for a quick hike, while I brought my camera I really just wanted to get out into the desert for a little while. Late in the day as I started the hike back towards where my wife was picking me up, I saw a small black form in the middle of the trail ahead of me. As I approached it looked to my still-learning eyes like a tarantula, only shrunk in size 3 or 4 times. I was aware the adult males might be on the move in the fall but instead of fitting in the palm of my hand this one would have fit on my watch face.

I took a few quick pictures but wanted to encourage it to move to a safer spot, this trail is popular with cyclists and trail runners, so I tapped the ground behind it with my feet. Their eyesight is even worse than mine but they’re very sensitive to vibrations so I expected it to scurry up the side of the trail to more hospitable terrain, but while I could get it to move further out of harm’s way eventually it just stopped in the trail and raised its abdomen. Even as a neophyte I know that’s a sign of an unhappy spider.

I checked where the tread marks were and felt it had moved enough to be safe from the line the cyclists typically took and, tapping my toes having exhausted my ideas about how to get a tarantula to move, I continued on my way. A cyclist passed me several minutes later so I decided to backtrack to the little thing, though I really wasn’t in the mood to see a squished spider I was hoping for the best.

Thankfully when I arrived I saw it had fully moved up to the edge of the trail. In the interests of human/spider relations I avoided saying “I told you so” and was just happy it was in a safer place and pointed away from the trail. I took a few more pictures since it was so relaxed and continued towards the trailhead.

An overhead view of a young tarantula on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on October 24, 2021. Original: _RAC0051.arw

One More for the List

A European starling pokes its head out of its nest in a saguaro in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 21, 2021. Original: _RAC5715.arw

This spring I went down to a rock formation in the neighborhood to try and photograph a pair of starlings, I have mixed feelings about seeing them since while I enjoy watching them they were introduced in the US and have negatively impacted some native species. Thankfully they don’t seem to be making much of an inroads here, I’ve not seem them in the desert (even on trails near subdivisions) and rarely see them in the neighborhood. I was surprised to find them nesting in a woodpecker hole, possibly built by one of the local architects below, this one poking its head out right as the sun was about to dip below the mountains. One more species added to my list in my attempt to photograph every animal in the desert on a saguaro.

A female Gila woodpecker perches on a saguaro near sunset in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 21, 2021. Original: _RAC5482.arw

A Sea of Wings

A Mormon metalmark butterfly perches on the red-winged seedpod of a slender janusia vine at sunrise on the Jane Rau Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on August 24, 2021. Original: _RAC7317.arw

I woke up early one morning in August and couldn’t get back to sleep so I went out for a short hike before work, feeling a rush of euphoria as I got a glimpse of what it must be like to be an early bird in a world designed for them. I met a couple of butterflies as the sun crested the mountains, including this Mormon metalmark set in a sea of wings. The plant was so distinctive I thought it would be easy to identify but it took me a while as at first I was looking at plants with red flowers, but thanks to Marianne Skov Jensen’s excellent field guide of the plants of the preserve I realized the red wings are part of the seed pod and the plant is slender janusia.

After returning home for breakfast and heading into work, I knew I’d pay for my early start and indeed left early that afternoon while my energy levels were still good so I could crash on the couch instead of the road. The night owl has been re-asserting himself the past couple of years so early mornings like this have not been as common as our first year here.

A Fixer Upper

A close-up of worn and hardened skin of a saguaro on the Cone Mountain Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on August 21, 2021. Original: _RAC7182.arw

Even after a few years in the desert I don’t know who to call when I see a saguaro in need of a fresh coat of paint. Who maintains them, the city? The county? The state?

I had gone out to photograph a particular saguaro at sunrise but as I feared Brown’s Mountain blocked the light for a good while. I switched over to my telephoto lens, the old saguaros always have interesting beauty spots to photograph and this one was no exception. I like the early diffuse light for shots like these.