A peak into the beauty and wonder of the Sonoran Desert in Phoenix

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Red-tailed Hawk, landing and taking off

I was fortunate to capture this beauty as he was coming in for a landing, and taking off. It sure is easy to see where he (?) gets his name from...that is one large reddish tail!

It was nice to see one of these big birds up fairly had been a while.

Be sure to click on each photo to see a larger version...more interesting.






Loggerhead Shrike, Ninja of the Desert

I have been seeing a lot of these beauties around the park lately, which I love. There is just something about a creature that wears a mask.

They are ninja-like...skilled bird killers. I saw one ambush a small Inca Dove, then drag it off under a tree to finish it off. The attack was stunningly quick and stealthy.

Thses birds stand out as holding arare combination of characteristics; they are a songbird and they prey on other birds.

The singing killer...

Phaenopepla, female

I just love those wonderful red eyes against the dark gray body.

These, along with the Shrikes, have taken over as the primary critters on my walks, which works just fine for me. I am a sucker for beautiful birds.

They are about the same size, and both spend time high up in trees, looking around for what's next.


American Kestrel, Male

I was very pleased to have a close encounter with this, the smallest species of falcon in North America. It seems that I interrupted his dinner, a lizard with a long tail. This photo is rather unclear partly because it was late in the day, after the sun had cast a shadow.

I kept getting a little too close, and he would fly to a different perch. Once he flew into a Palo Verde tree that was next to a saguaro. This particular cactus happened to house a Gila woodpecker, which loudly called out in alarm. Mr. Kestrel soon found out he was not welcome as the Gila flew into the tree to push him out, and was soon joined by the mate. Just wanting to enjoy his fresh meal, the falcon flew on to quieter ocotillo branch.

Peregrine Falcon

Finally! After so many years of looking for one of these beauties, today was the day. This bird was quite a bit bigger than I was expecting, looking almost as large as a Red-tailed Hawk. This critter was busy munching some fresh meat, most likely a dove. At one perch he(?) was busy pulling feathers.

I hadn't heard of these being in the park before. This makes 3 falcons that we have encountered; most notably the American Kestrel, and the Prairie Falcon.

I love the 'mask' on this bird's face.

Long-eared Owl

Looks like we are having a Long-eared Owlathon. Today we came across 3 of them! Best guess is that they are a family, with one youngster. It is interesting to note how different two of them look from one another; this one and the one below. We are hoping to get a clear shot of the third one so that we have identifiable shots of all of them.

Another great day in The Park.

Long-eared Owl

This is the other one that we got clear shots of today. It appears to be the same one as yesterday, in the 2 photos below.

It still surprises me when I see them perched, how very small they are. We usually don't see them until they fly, and then they look big. When we are fortunate enough to see them perched, wow, they are small.

As small as they are, they sure pack a huge punch in the beauty department. We were privileged to spend quite a chunk of time with these two today, and was one of our best days ever in The Park.

Thank you O' Beautiful Family...

Long-eared Owl

OK, I think I fell in love today. Looking into these eyes for several minutes had an effect on me. What a beauty! She let me get within about 20 feet, where we hung out for about 5 minutes before I got too close and she took off. It was one of those major buzzing experiences, where the walk back to the van was surrealistic.

She was with another Long-eared Owl, either a mate, a friend, or maybe a friend with benefits. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos with both.

These birds are quite small, about the size of a Cooper's hawk. Speaking of which, a Cooper's hawk flew into this tree while she was there, seemingly unaware. That was quite the full tree.

Tarantula Hawk Wasp

This is one of the most fascinating creatures in The Park. Her driving force appears to be hunting down Tarantulas. Does she want to eat them? No, she hunts them for her offspring. When she finds a Tarantula, she stings it, then inserts a single egg inside. The sting paralyzes the spider. The egg eventual hatches and uses the 'live' spider as the first meal, putting them off to a great start.

Normally these flyers are difficult to photograph, as they search out holes in the desert floor for the big spiders. I have rarely seen them stop long enough to get a decent shot. This one was different, feasting on the flowers of this plant for about 30 minutes.

I love those expressive antennae.

Tarantula Hawk Wasp and a Mexican Blonde Tarantula

I found this video on YouTube. This is the first part of what goes on here. After the wasp stings the spider, it becomes paralyzed. Then the spider drags him into a hole, inserts an egg inside, then she leaves and covers the hole. A few days later the larvae hatches and starts in on the spider. At first it drinks in the juices. Then it starts to eat away, leaving the vital organs till last, keeping the spider alive as long as possible.

This is all a bit disturbing to think about, especially since I have befriended a Mexican Blonde Tarantula in The Park. I sure wouldn't want her meeting with such a fate. However, this is a good example of the complexity of nature, and I love it.

Desert Tortoise walking along

Another sighting of a Desert Tortoise today. We encountered him as he was heading home. It is always good to see him, and I was fortunate to get some ground level video of that ancient walk that he does.

Joel had quite a day with 2 of the Tortoises last week, photographing them doing that procreation thing...quite an aggressive act it was. I am working on a Desert Tortoise page where I will post all of the best images that we captured of them this glorious summer.



I always love it when I see a Dragonfly land. For some reason they seem to be quite partial to where they are, and will return repeatedly to that same spot. This enables me to get in close, and even if they fly off, they usually return.

I love how they hold on to the branches that they land on. Those 'feet' are a piece of art. At the end are some hooks that remind me of something that Captain Ahab used.

Quite a day today. First this modeling session with the Dragon, then the Long-eared encounter, then the Tortoise sighting, and finally the new bird. It was also one of the longest mornings that I have spent in The Park in a while, a little over 5 hours.

Desert Tortoise, female

3 tortoises in one day! This is the 3rd one that we encountered, confirming our suspicion that there were more than 2 out there. She was on her way to see her guy, looking to get a little action. Initially we thought she was a he, because of the apparently powerful drive to find the other. The next day they were observed doing the deed, and she was indeed in the female position.

She 'zoomed' right past us, ending up with her mate a few minutes later. He was waiting in the entrance to the burrow. She rammed him a few times, but there was no action till the following day. More to come...

Western Banded Gecko

I see these critters most of the nights when I go out. I usually have a tough time capturing any good images, but the other night was different, yay!

I love watching these reptiles move along. It is like they are a cross between a lizard and a snake, the way that their bodies wiggle back and forth as they go. They also sometimes raise their tail when they are running, seemingly to scare off whoever is threatening.

They also have this semi transparent skin that is really alluring.
Thanks for the photo shoot little one.

Click on the image for a larger version.

Great Horned Owl

Here is one of the most charismatic owls in the park. We call him(?) 'no ears' or 'no horns', because he doesn't have the typical 'horns' that the Great Horned Owls display. He is very active, and seems to enjoy our presence.

These creatures are amongst the most beautiful in The Park. They look fairly small when they are perched, but when they take to the air, and those huge wings come out, it is quite a sight to see.

They also have some of the most powerful eyes around. Click on the image for a larger version.


Sonoran Desert Tortoise, female

Finally, after years of wandering through The Park, I finally encountered the great and ancient Desert Tortoise. She (?) was bigger than I thought she would be, and more beautiful too. As excellent as this encounter was, it soon got twice as good. About 200 yards away we came across another one, the male. I posted a photo of him below this one. I am so hoping that they got together and did that procreation thing, and that a bunch of little ancients have started their journey of life in The Park.



Sonoran Desert Tortoise, male

Here he is, the presumed partner of the female above. He was hanging out under a ledge, and seemed quite comfortable to remain there.

Another great day in The Park! 







Tiger Rattlesnake

Here is rattler #11 for the year, and what a beauty. She(?) was about a step and a half in front of me, between some rocks. Thankfully she gave me a little rattle to let me know that she was there. We hung out for about 10 minutes before she moved on. To my surprise, she went up the rocks, almost vertical. I had never witnessed how well they can climb rock faces before. I was pleased that she didn't seem to mind my presence at all.

Add to this the other wildlife encounters for the day : two owls, a Desert Spiny Lizard, and some africanized bees (fortunately only one bee sting). It all adds up to another great and eventful day in The Park.

Tiger Rattlesnake

Here is some video of the Rattlesnake from the above photo.

It really surprised me when she started going up, practically straight up too. She was putting her nose into holes and crevices...I think she was looking for the little mice that hop around The Park.










Roadrunner, cooling off

I followed this lovely creature to the top of this granite peak. He got quite comfortable up there, grooming and fluffing his feathers. It looks like he is cooling off, or something.

He was also going through a series of calls. One of them is a bunch of clicking sounds close together. Another one is a cooing sound. It looks and sounds very sad. It felt to me like he was mourning a lost partner. I don't think that is what it actually is, just sounds like what it is. I uploaded a video clip of the cooing calls below. They are rather subtle, so you may have to turn your volume up to hear them.

Roadrunner cooing video

The calls are soft, so you may need to turn your volume up quite a bit to hear them.

If you know what this call means, please let me know. I am very curious. My email address is located on the bottom of this page.









Gila Monster #2

This is the second Gila that I have encountered this season, and how pleased I was too. When I saw her(?), she looked different from the previous one, but I wasn't sure. I went home and compared the two, and the designs on the skin are different.

This Gila has recently molted. You can see evidence of this on the lower half of her middle section, and around her rear leg. The new skin is a much lighter color, while the older looks duller. Click on the photo to enlarge.

I am hoping that these two Gilas found each other, and that there is a litter of little monsters out there, getting ready to hit the desert floor themselves.

Gila Monster foot

I was looking through some of my Gila shots, and found a close up of a foot. It amazes me how beautifully put together this creature is. I would love to know how it is decided which 'bead' goes where.

click on photo for larger version





Antelope Ground Squirrel eating a lizard
Photo by Joel Pearson

This is the first time that I have ever witnessed a squirrel eating 'meat'. It changed my perception of this  little critter...not quite as adorable as before. He(?) really chowed down on that reptile. He munched right through the tail within seconds, then got to work on the legs.

It is always stimulating to make new personal discoveries. You think you know, then you find out how little you really do know.

It reminds me of the saying, "The more you know and the more you see, the more you realize how little you actually know".

'Antelope Ground Squirrel munching some reptile' video

Here is a video clip that I shot while Joel captured the image above. It was a funny thing, at the time we had no idea what he was eating. We knew that something 'unusual' was going on, as it seemed different than anything that we had seen such a squirrel do before. We couldn't figure out why it was taking so long for him to finish eating, and why he was comfortable having us so close by while he was eating. It wasn't until we looked at what we had captured on our computers that we realized what was going on. It was quite a surprise, and a fun one at that.


Ladderback Woodpecker

This is the 3rd Woodpecker species that I have seen in The Park. The other 2 are far more common, the Gila and the Gilded Flicker. We were actually led to this male by a female. He was really working that ocotillo branch, hitting on it for a long time. I wonder what exactly he was working on here.

These are particularly beautiful woodpeckers, with their spotted red head, light colored underside with soft spots, and that graphically complex much going on there.  Nicely done.


Bullock's Oriole, male

This beauty came through The Park last May. We got short glimpses of him(?) a couple of times, but he was very elusive. Finally one day he landed in some Palo Verdes fairly close to me. He really made me work for this shot. I just kept shooting, hoping that my auto focus would lock on and I would get something good. Fortunately I did get some images that were good, though not great.

This is the first season that I remember seeing one of these. I really get a kick out of capturing images of animals that I haven't seen in The Park before.

Mexican Blonde Tarantula, probably a female

Finally I get an experience with the great Tarantula. I came across this beauty last night. She was busy hunting, using her hole as cover. We hung out for about 45 minutes, during which time she came out of the hole twice, then zoomed right back into it.

I am amazed that it took me so many years to see my first big hairy spider. I haven't heard of any sightings in the park. I have seen the Tarantula Hawk Wasp here, so I thought sure there were some around.

Her colors work so beautifully together. It really took me by surprise how strikingly stunning she was, how alluring her beauty.

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Email address Joe(at)