My How You’ve Grown

A close view of a Harris's hawk juvenile looking to my right while perched in a tree, taken from Brown's Ranch Road in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019

A week ago as I neared the end of my loop hike, walking down a popular trail, I was stunned to see both Harris’s hawk juveniles close by. This one especially so, the other a bit further back in a palo verde. A couple of the adults were a ways behind me on a transmission tower where the two youngsters eventually joined them. Such a treat to see them so close after watching them so long! Of course they got so big by eating some of my favorite creatures of the desert, such is life in our world. The young fliers are much more confident in their movements now although they have much to learn as they enter their first winter.


A juvenile Harris's hawk calls out while an adult is perched higher in the tree, set against the backdrop of a variety of plants of the Sonoran Desert with saguaros rising up behind, taken on the 118th Street Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

One of my favorite pictures this year, taken early in the morning in October looking west from a frequently-hiked trail near our house. It speaks to the misconceptions I used to have about this area and how surprised I was to learn there is so much diverse life here. There are the twisting trees, the yuccas with their flower stalks reaching towards the sky, the green-barked palo verdes, the yearning ocotillos, and above all the saguaros. Topping it off are two members of the Harris’s hawk family that so charmed me this year, an adult perched in the bare branches of the tree in the upper left and a juvenile down below, calling out to the rest of the family who must have been on the other side of the hill. The adult eventually flew off in that direction and the juvenile took its spot high in the tree before following the adult out of sight. How lucky I am to be in their, and my, home.

The Less Early Bird Gets the Early Bird

A male Gila woodpecker perches on a dead tree branch near the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in November 2019

Last night I turned off my alarm as I wanted to get as much sleep as I could, naturally waking half an hour later than I would normally get up to hike. However with trails so close by I was able to roll out of bed and grab my hiking gear and still make it to the trailhead right around sunrise. I took an easy trail, one of my favorites, but despite seeing a number of birds couldn’t manage any pictures. Some days are like that, and it’s fine as it’s just nice to be out. But then this gorgeous Gila woodpecker posed for me on a dead tree branch, even hopping up a little into a more photogenic location, and the smile on my face got even wider.

Fall Back

A male phainopepla perches in a tree on the Latigo Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in October 2019

The reptiles may be gone, but look who’s back! I met this male phainopepla in October on the Latigo Trail, I’ve seen them frequently on my recent hikes though usually not so close. They remind me of cardinals, another desert bird, but having traded red feathers and black eyes for black feathers and red eyes while keeping the distinctive crest. The bills tell a different story, however, as phainopepla have the thin bills of flycatchers while cardinals have the thick bill of finches.

Two Years

A Harris's hawk perches in a dead tree in front of a blooming palo verde along the Chuckwagon Trail in McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2019

It was two years ago today that my team got laid off, setting in motion the events that brought us from Oregon to Arizona. To me it feels like we left Portland much longer ago but that we’ve been here much shorter. I haven’t ventured further afield than my local trails, that will change with time but for now I’m content to enjoy the pictures people post as they travel the state. While Ellie was with us I didn’t want to be away from her more than I had to be, then with the new house and a lot to learn at work it’s left me a bit thin at times. Thankfully I am blessed with an abundance of local trails, to the point that some mornings I have difficulty choosing where I want to go. And there is so much wonder to behold in the Sonoran Desert, such as this Harris’s hawk I met in June with the blossoms fading and the sun rising, one of the adults that helped raise the two young hawks in the saguaro nest further up the trail.

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.