Shining Robes

A male phainopepla perches on a thorny tree with his crest extended on a cloudy morning on the Marcus Landslide Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in Decmeber 2018

The name “Phainopepla” (pronounced fay-no-PEP-la) comes from the Greek for “shining robe,” a fitting characterization of the shiny black plumage of the males, at least on a sunny day. However on this overcast morning last December the soft diffuse light showed off the details in his feathers. They’ve been gone all summer but I gather will be back in the next month or so. We didn’t see them at the rental house but will see them here, though this lovely fellow was on the nearby Marcus Landslide Trail.

A View of the Wash

A frontal view of a dilapidated chair sitting in the middle of a desert wash beside the Gooseneck Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in July 2019

In Oregon we got occasional heavy downpours but mostly the summers were bone dry while the winter had frequent drizzly showers that kept everything damp and preposterously green. In Arizona we get some rain in the winter but it’s summer that brings the monsoons. Rain may be rare but when it arrives it often pours down in buckets, perhaps accompanied by high winds and thunder and lightning (I can count on one hand the number of lightning storms I saw in two decades in Oregon). I haven’t seen much rain this year, when it has rained I’ve either been at work or it’s been dark, so I still haven’t seen a wash run. Our neighborhood is on a hill so there are washes running through (one beside our house), some more natural looking than others, so one day it will happen. This chair would have an excellent view of a running wash, sitting in the middle of a desert wash along the Gooseneck Trail, and by the looks of it has probably seen its fair share of summer storms.

Dressed in Blue and Green

A tree swallow perches on a mossy dead snag in the rain at Long Lake on the auto tour of the River S Unit of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington in May 2012

This picture resonates strongly with me of my former home in the Pacific Northwest, a paradise dressed in blue and green. A tree swallow pausing from its aerial hunt on a rainy spring morning, tiny drops of rain beading on its tiny wings. The blue of the bird, the greens of the moss and lichen, the blue of Long Lake below, the green of the lush grasses at its marshy border, the meadow beyond. When I first visited Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge years ago the lake was full of snags near the road but one by one they began to fall. This snag was the last one near the road but eventually it too fell.

Hiding in Plain Sight

A male common side-blotched lizard basks in the morning sun on a dead tree along the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in July 2018

A common side-blotched lizard basks in the morning sun on a dead tree along the Latigo Trail in July of 2018. One of the notes in my hiking journal says “Such an *amazing* morning!” and indeed it was, mostly I was photographing birds but this little jewel was icing on the cake. Hiding pretty well for being out in the open, I can’t remember now if I spotted him when I stopped for a water break or if I stopped for a water break because I spotted him. I’m always a little disappointed we’ve not met there since, even though I always look when I walk by. Maybe I should leave a note?