First light on the Hawknest Trail revealed a young white-winged dove that was a little red-faced, courtesy of the saguaro fruit juice that stained its beak and the tip of its face. It was mid-July so there wasn’t much fruit left on the old giants but the plucky youngster seemed to have found some before perching on the ocotillo to preen its feathers. With its cleaning regimen complete followed by a few beak swipes on the ocotillo stem, it flew off to a nearby saguaro and chased off the adult that was feeding there.
A white-winged dove looks up from feeding from a saguaro blossom as another is about to land. The incoming bird landed on the leftmost blossom so they were able share the perch for a while. I haven’t seen so many white-wings this year, to be fair I haven’t hiked as much this spring and summer and when I do it’s often on different trails, but we also aren’t seeing so many in the yard as last year. Which works out well for the mourning doves as in numbers the larger white-wings can push the smaller doves around but this year the white-wings are fairly subdued and it’s only the quail parents with babies whose wrath the doves have to avoid.
By late June it isn’t just the air that’s hot as even the ground radiates heat back at you before the sun is even up. That sunrise comes frightfully early but the desert is amazing as it wakes so for me deciding whether to get up or sleep in on my days off becomes a delicate act of balancing mental and physical exhaustion. The white-winged doves had been hiding from me last June but suddenly exploded into view one weekend when one seemed to adorn every saguaro. I met this adult in the blue light of dawn, the sun not yet peeking over the eastern mountains. Although the fruits upon which it perched were not yet ripe, the fresh pulp on its beak and forehead suggested that it had already breakfasted at nearby saguaros. My watch read 5:28 am, I had arrived at the park around 4:55 am, up before 4:30 am. Somewhere in Virginia my 20-year old self just had a heart attack hearing this, would someone check on him please? Only wait until after 1 pm and knock softly, just in case he’s still sleeping.
I remember banana yuccas from last year but I can’t remember seeing the “bananas” themselves. I must have as they are hard to miss, either I’ve forgotten or I was just too overwhelmed by all the new sights before me. This year I photographed them a few times, although not in their earliest stages of development as it was at the end of Ellie’s life. I was waiting for this plant to be fully in the light as the sun came up but shadows from saguaros and trees behind me always cast at least some of the plant in shadow. Still I was delighted when a white-winged dove photobombed the picture, always nice to have wildlife in the picture even when they aren’t the subject.
A white-winged dove and a canyon towhee bookend a fruiting saguaro before sunrise on the Latigo Trail. The morning lows are in the 80’s now, even I am wearing short sleeves on the trails. Normally I prefer long sleeves to physically keep the sun off my skin but for the next couple of months I’ll rely on sunscreen and being off the trails early before the sun gets too bright. Still wearing long pants though, too many things in the desert want to poke you when you get down low to photograph lizards.
Its pale eyes drained of color, of the red in the eyes and the blue that surrounds, its beak and face caked in red as if from blood, a juvenile white-winged dove has a bit of the look of a vampire. The look is all about time, not yet enough time for the color to form in its eyes, the time of year for the face-drenching juicy fruit of the saguaro. It already has the distinctive white wing patches that give them their name but like many juveniles has a recently assembled, the glue-hasn’t-finished-drying look to it. I watched one recently that had learned to defend its chosen saguaro, chasing off even adults that ventured too close. This one is from a year ago in a similar part of the preserve, another is feeding in our backyard as I write this.
As the rising sun lights up distant Pinnacle Peak, a white-winged dove perches in the shadows. The light soon reached the tips of the tallest saguaros and was a minute or two from reaching the fruiting saguaro this dove was jealously guarding from other doves when suddenly the lights went out. From my vantage point I couldn’t see the sun and saw naught but blue sky before me, but low-lying clouds in the east must have rolled in. Although I missed the first kiss of the soft red light the sun soon returned and I watched this dove and a variety of other birds from that one spot for quite some time, the only downside being I only hiked for a couple of miles that morning.