We’ve been in Arizona a month now and life in the desert is going pretty well. I am still a fish out of water at work but with each passing week more falls into place and I’ve been able to contribute a bit the past couple of weeks. The same can be said about life in general although I haven’t ventured further afield than driving to work and local hiking trails. I picked up my Arizona drivers license and license plates a while back, which drives home this is home, although with the new plates I did walk past my Subaru when returning from a hike until I realized my mistake.
It’s still spring so we haven’t had to deal with extreme heat – extreme heat for this area anyway, it is already as hot as it ever got in Portland – and while so far I haven’t minded the heat I am having a hard time imagining how it can be 20 degrees hotter, which it will be soon enough. In the meantime I am hiking as often as I can, as it is springtime in the desert and there is much to see and learn. Several varieties of cactus are starting to bloom so soon the desert will be at its most colorful.
This morning brought the 17th new species I’ve identified, a pair of Harris’s hawks along the Hackamore Trail. The one in flight is younger, it still has some of its juvenile coloration but it seems to be taking on the appearance of an adult, like the one perched below. I’ve seen more new species than this but some I can’t yet identify, especially the lizards, but I’ll get better in time. Reptile field guides aren’t nearly as good or plentiful as for birds, and I really wish there was an app, I love how the birding apps let you limit your selection to just the birds you might see in your area. I just ordered another reptile guide to go with the one I have so hopefully that will help.
But even for birds I have questions to be answered. I’ve seen a cactus wren building a nest in the arms of a saguaro, but after seeing these hawks a while later I came across a massive nest in a saguaro’s arms. Do the hawks nest in the saguaros too? There is plenty of time to learn the answer, and I hope with each answer another question follows, for that is part of the joy as I wander and wonder in my new desert home.
When we moved to Arizona the two birds I hoped to see above all others were both woodpeckers, the Gila woodpecker and the gilded flicker. My interest was piqued early on when we were looking at houses online and I noticed what looked like bird holes in a large saguaro in front of one of the houses and a little research revealed the likely culprits. Woodpeckers are one of my favorite birds, a love born in childhood in our wooded Michigan backyard, a love that never ended even when my daily exposure to them did.
I was delighted to arrive here and not only see both woodpeckers but see them frequently, even in our backyard. My first gilded flicker sighting was in our backyard but I met this male on this morning’s hike on the Hackamore Trail, one of the many interconnected trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Although I mostly see the woodpeckers on the saguaros where they live, he was perching on the branch of an ocotillo, a beautiful and distinctive plant covered in sharp thorns.
I’m a night owl in a land of early birds. It wasn’t a good feeling when the alarm rang out at 4:30am but it was a great feeling when the sun tipped over the mountains and illuminated the curve-billed thrasher serenading me atop a saguaro. I love how gingerly it appears to be stepping on its prickly perch but in truth the birds fly onto these saguaros with great speed and alacrity.
When we adopted our dog Ellie years ago, as we tried different dog toys we quickly discovered her clear favorites were stuffed hedgehogs that squeaked when you squeezed them. She so adored them that over the years we acquired a small army of adult and baby hedgehogs that were loved within an inch or their life. Some were loved too much and had to be thrown out, as once they developed a hole she would gleefully rip their stuffing out. In her elderly years she doesn’t have the agility to chase them anymore so they have fallen out of favor.
Most of the bedraggled lot didn’t make the trip to Arizona but I will always have a soft spot for anything hedgehog.
I was delighted in February when I made a brief stop to Pinnacle Peak Park on my interview trip and saw that there is a cactus named strawberry hedgehog. It’s the first cactus to bloom in the spring so when I saw the hedgehogs in late April on the Tom’s Thumb Trail most of their flowers were already spent, this one still had a couple of its lovely flowers in the interior. I have a pair of North Face Hedgehog waterproof hiking shoes so in the cooler months I’ll have hedgehogs on my feet and before them.
Looking up the hill at this scene with the blue sky behind it felt fake to me, more like a diorama in a museum than part of the vast desert landscape, so I couldn’t resist a picture of this delightful little cactus.
A rock squirrel lives up to its name as it crawls along a crevice in the massive rock formation known as Tom’s Thumb in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. It had been at the base of the formation but crawled way up into the crevice when hikers with a dog approached. This is not a new species for me, we saw one during our visit to New Mexico a decade ago, but it is nice to be reunited. I owe a lot to that trip, not only because we had a great time but because it got me thinking about moving to the Southwest when looking for a job. I’ll eventually make it over to New Mexico but for now I’m focusing on trails near our home in Scottsdale.
One of the birds I was hoping to see once we moved to Arizona was the Gila woodpecker. It only took a couple of weeks, and my second time hiking, to find one, courtesy of the Gateway Loop Trail at McDowell Sonoran Preserve. My first Gila was a ways off but after finishing the loop I found this female atop a saguaro on the Bajada Nature Trail. I’ve since seen one in our backyard but wasn’t able to get a picture. The Gila is one of 14 new species for me since we moved here a few weeks ago (11 birds, 1 mammal, and 2 lizards).
A curve-billed thrasher perches atop a saguaro at the Bajada Nature Trail in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. This was the second thrasher I saw that morning, a new species for me.