Wall of Wonder

Water droplets sit on moss on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 31, 2021. Originals: _ZFC5551.NEF to _ZFC5566.NEF

One of my favorite places in the Columbia River Gorge was a cliff next to the trail where water trickles down over a thick carpet of moss all along the rock face. I loved to stand close, let the water mist onto my face as I defocused my eyes, and gaze into the endless sea of green. It was hypnotic, even disorienting, but I wanted to imprint in my memory not just the look but the feel of such an intense and lush green in an area already awash in it.

This damp wall of moss though was taken here in the desert on New Year’s Eve. It is a wall only in miniature, a close-up of a small section of the shady side of a granite rock. It had rained earlier and while the trails had dried the moss was still a vibrant green with a few water drops clinging to its surface. Not a wall to overwhelm the senses but to puzzle the mind. I thought I was leaving moss behind when we left the wet Northwest for the arid Southwest, and yet …

Of Wax & Wood

A close-up of the base of an old ocotillo, including an exposed root, on the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 31, 2021. Originals: _ZFC6317.NEF to _ZFC6343.NEF

The tendrils at the base of this old ocotillo reminded me of ornate candles with wax dripping down the side, with the exposed root more like a bleached and broken branch from a fallen tree than a life-giving support to a spiraling giant. If I ever learn to draw or paint this kind of scene is one I’d like to do over and over in different ways, I love the colors and textures and the way beauty seems to have burst out of a shell no longer able to contain it.

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.

Where Sharpness Grows

A close-up of spines growing from areoles at the tip of a saguaro arm on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona on December 31, 2021. Originals: _ZFC6005.NEF to ZFC6028.NEF

A network of spines grow in a spiral galaxy of areoles in the depression at the tip of a saguaro arm. This is a focus stack of 24 images taken with the Nikon Z fc and the Nikon Z 105mm macro lens, my main motivation for getting the camera was for taking close-ups and I’m happy to say I’m loving it and have done little else on my hikes the past month.

I picked up the camera and a couple of lenses early during my time off at Christmas so I could start to learn the Nikon system, I hoped to get the macro lens as well but was resigned to wait as my local stores and usual mail order stores were out of stock. But then Steve Mattheis mentioned on his video channel he got his Nikon Z9 from Pictureline up in Salt Lake. They were new to me but seemed like good folks and had the lens in stock, so with a few clicks the lens was on its way and I had a handful of days to play with it before my break ended and I returned to a busy month at work. Very easy process, they took Apple Pay and kept me up-to-date throughout to the point the email saying the lens was delivered arrived before the UPS truck had pulled away from the driveway!

I resisted watching Steve’s channel at first when Youtube started recommending it as some photographers view wildlife photography as a non-lethal form of trophy hunting but Steve shows both knowledge of and concern for the animals he photographs up in Wyoming, with a philosophy that the animal is more important than the picture of the animal. Highly recommended, watching his videos is a respite from a hectic world.

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