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

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California Kingsnake, banded

Gotta love the Californians, at least some of them! I was most pleased to cross paths with this beauty the other night. He(?) was a little skittish at first, then warmed right up to my presence, going on as though I wasn't even there, with my flashlights and camera flash. We hung out for about an hour, during which he covered quite a lot of ground. At one point he scared the poof out of a little mouse, who quickly bounded away.

In researching these creatures, I was quite surprised to find out that they love to eat rattlesnakes! Now that would be quite a dining experience to behold...

California Kingsnake, banded, on the trail of a mouse

As I was hanging out with my long friend, a little mouse jumped out of the darkness. Seems the snake got awfully close to it, and boy did that mouse look shaken and stirred.

I love watching snakes moving along. I especially enjoyed this snake's movement. At the end of the video, I like how the 'bands' move in the different directions at the same time, nice.

Desert Spiny Lizard, female in front, male in back

Joel Pearson's time and effort in the park pays off again. Here he captured a pair of Desert Spiny Lizards, getting ready to do that procreation thing.

It is interesting to note how much larger and more colorful the female is.

These critters are rarely seen. They are very skittish, and will clear the area whenever the upright walkers come around.

This was Joel's second sighting of the female, and it appears that she likes it when he captures her image, even when she is busy with her guy.

Wilson's Warbler

This bird is seldom seen in the park, and when it is, it rarely sticks around long enough to be photographed.

This day it did, at least long enough for Joel to get several clear ones.

I really like the color combinations, especially that jet black eye against the bright yellow face, and the little black 'cap' on top.

Red-tailed hawk pair being harassed by a hummingbird

Red-tailed Hawk pair, being harassed by a hummingbird
Photo by Joel Pearson

The hummingbird is lightly visible in the left edge of the image.

 Those tiny birds have an insatiable appetite to harass. Now that I have noticed it more, I look for it more, and it amazes me how often I see it.

I don't get how they do it. They have to burn a good amount of energy to hover and book across the landscape. It seems like they would have to eat so much in order to keep that up. It just doesn't seem possible to fly that radically that often, and still have plenty of energy for the survival needs.

I don't get it...and I love it...

Dawn in the land of wondrous beauty and awe inspiring wildlife.
photo and caption by Joel Pearson

It is really heating up here in the desert, but the mornings are still gorgeous. There are some great 'windows' to look through when you are out there. I can feel the elevation of my spirit when I see one and stop and take the time to gaze upon it. I really love that feeling.


Cooper's Hawk

This was a rare sighting in the park. It actually took us quite a while to identify him (?). We initially thought it was a sharp-shinned hawk. When we asked the 'experts' that we knew, we came to the consensus that he is a cooper's hawk. A true beauty, with the handsome tan and white chest, and the slight blue tint on his grey plumage. The snowy white feathers at the base of the tale are about as pure  as any feathers that I've seen before.

This was a brief encounter, and at a distance. Fortunately with images like these, we can enjoy this beauty for a long time, and in fine detail.
Photo taken by Joel Pearson

Leucistic hummingbird

I came across this little jewel this morning, July 1, as I was heading back after checking on the night hawk chicks. I have never seen a hummingbird with this plumage. My research led me to believe that this is a fairly rare bird, called  leucistic.

I added a page for this critter, called hummies.


Male American Kestrel

Back in mid-January, Joel and I encountered this beauty. He was busy hunting, and didn't seem to mind our hanging out and following him around. This was quite a pleasant surprise, as most of the raptors we encounter rarely allow us to get very close. We ended up tracking him for over an hour, and covering more than a mile. We ran into what we think was the same bird a few days later. It was a great couple of days. I have just added a Kestrel page to celebrate this experience.

Photo by Joel Pearson

Phaenopepla, male

It has been a while since I have heard the distinctive whistle of these black beauties. It reminds me of someone trying to get your attention...a single mid-tone whistle. It does feel a bit like they are saying "over here".

This bird is shown in the middle of it's favorite food, mistletoe berries. Kissing aside, this stuff is a killer, and the Palo Verde trees are the victims. It is parasitical, and it slowly destroys the trees, or at least parts of it. There are many trees in The Park that are half dead from mistletoe.

This bird supposedly spreads it by eating the berries then pooping what's left of them on the branches, where it sticks and gets active.

Young red-tailed hawk, with a parent watching on

These birds rule the cliffs of the park. It is mesmerizing to watch them effortless.

photo by Joel Pearson



Cactus Wren babies waiting for food. 3 are in the nest though only 2 are visible in this shot.

Spring was certainly active in the park, with babies in nests all over. I was a bit surprised to these little critters this late in the season, in early June.

It seems like the mortality rate for the little ones is high in the park, with many being taken by other birds. It feels harsh, but the balance of nature goes well beyond my feelings and thoughts. Even so, there appears to be plenty of these great birds gracing the land with their presence.


Red Tailed Hawk, juvenile

This red-tailed hawk image was captured by my friend Joel Pearson, just north of Piestewa Peak. This was one of the most aloof hawks we have ever encountered, seemingly oblivious of our presence. It was like we weren't important enough to pay attention to, looking right past us and right through us, almost like we weren't even there.

I love how he (?) is perched on one leg, tucking the other below his chest, barely visible.

There is something magical about spending time with such a powerful creature in the wild.

It was indeed a great day.

Photo by Joel Pearson


Bee gorging on Barrel Cactus bloom yummies.

This leaf cutter bee is partying hard in this saturated sun-like blossom. I have never noticed a tongue on a bee before, much less a split tongue, or maybe it is even 2 tongues.

These creatures are hugely impactful for the well being of us human animals. Without bees, many of our crops would not produce fruit. We would have to do what a village in China does for its apple trees; they hand pollinate each blossom.

These are another great example of the genius design of our earth, of how things work that are far beyond us, and that need to be honored and respected.

Wind Scorpion, aka Camel Spider, Sun Spider
May 17, 2009    1.5" long

Thanks to the folks at for helping me identify this critter. I have been fascinated by these crawlers for years now. They run around and around and around, high-speed. They have these long front 'legs' which sometimes look a bit like scorpion claws. I think that is one of their natural defenses, imitating a scorpion, though they have no relation to them.

I was very pleased to come across this one, as she (?) was standing still, which is rare in my experience. I never saw one this close-up before. The transparent body skin reveals what looks to be eggs.

Gila Monster 
May 13, 2009   7pm

The highlight of my nature adventures so far this year. This glorious creature was making his (?) way along a wash when I happened upon him. He looked my over and decided to go the other way, which took a little while. He did a u-turn and was off. Fortunately, I was able to capture some video of him walking along.

This is the most prehistoric creature in The Park. I am very curious to see how little he has changed in the millions of years of existence. Looking at the video, it reminds me of those great dinosaur shows where they animate according to what they think it was like. What an amazing animal.

Gila monster lumbering along

Great Western Diamondback  May 4, 2009  8 am

Well, what do you know. About 10 hours after my first rattlesnake sighting of the new year, another finds its way to my path. This one is an adult, about 5 feet long, contrasting the youngster below. She (?) didn't rattle a single time, though she did pull herself into a coil. After about 12 minutes of photographing her, she slid off into a bush, completely invisible. Makes you wonder how many are out there in the bushes that we never see, that never rattle at us.


Great Western Diamondback, coiling video

Here is a video of the rattlesnake shown above. I love watching her coil, how her tail follows everything inside and underneath, then continues to fill up all the space inside, which seems to go on and on and on before it is full. The elegance and grace with which these creatures move is almost mystical...mesmerizing. It is interesting to note that as she coils, her rattle is buried underneath her body, not up and ready to rattle. It is like she was telling us that it was ok for us to hang out with her for a while...that she was glad to have us take photos of her.

Thank you oh ancient one.


Mexican Poppy

Here she is with a fellow yellow bloom behind. Looks like there is going to be a whole lot of yellow soon.

Yellow does seem to be the dominant color for desert blooms. The Creosote bush can have thousands of little yellow blooms on one plant. Others include the Palo Verde tree, the Staghorn Cactus, the Barrel Cactus, the Brittlebush, and more and more...

Anna's Hummingbird with his helmet a blaze

Anna's Hummingbird         

The Baddest Bully of the Park

With war paint a blazing, this bird is ready to get after anything that flies within sight. These tiny birds have the biggest attitudes of any animal in the park.

The amount of harassment that they inflict is astounding. At first I thought it was kind of funny as I watched it happen. After a while I began to feel for the harassed birds. There is nothing that they can do to get away. They even seem to have trouble landing when a Hummie is buzzing them. Sometimes they get it as soon as they launch into flight, instantly bugged and bothered.

Hummingbirds will go after any bird in the park, even the great Red Tailed Hawk. Often times I will be admiring a hawk soaring and notice this tiny object buzzing around it, a speck of a flying object, doing that relentless thing that they do.

 photograph by Joel Pearson.

Loggerhead Shrike, the ninja of the Sonoran Desert

This bird is a skilled killer, specializing in taking down birds it own size and smaller. Several years ago I saw a Shrike ambush and kidnap an Inca Dove, and then quickly kill it. It was fast and stealthy, and caught us all by surprise (me and the other birds). The Dove was about the same size as the Shrike, maybe a little smaller.

My reaction at the time is rather humorous looking back. I immediately got angry, and wanted to rescue the Dove. After a few minutes of watching the process, I realized that this is nature being nature. As harsh as it is watching an innocent little dove being killed in such a Ninja manner, it is simply another part of the great balance within creation. It was a most impressive strike.  True Beauty.

White-winged Dove, flashing some tail.

Is this Dove showing off her beauty for the camera? Nah, she was using what she's got to keep her balance on a windy day. Like most desert animals, these birds have incredible balance, far superior to humans. Even in the wind they rarely ever take a step to save it.

This is a good representation of  the split-second moments that pass us by, day after day. They are just too fast and too many to keep up with. It takes something like stop-motion art to enable us to examine and experience the deep beauty that surrounds us in everyday things.


Straight out of the dinosaur age, this great reptile honored me with his(?) presence. This provided me with a great connection to my deepest past, buzzing on my reptilian brain.

It surprises me how docile many of these wild creatures are. This fella was deep into a sunning bliss when I happened by. He didn't pay me any mind, which I love. I worked the different angles for about 13 minutes before I finally got too close and he booked, disappearing into one of the cracks in the rock.

Aah to have that reptilian connection to life and living.

Barrel Cactus bloom, bud,  and fruit shells

This Barrel Cactus is performing a life and death drama, while paying  homage to the sun.

This cactus is showing the life cycle of this brilliant desert bloom, from the plump and scaled bud, to the burstingly beautiful bloom that seems to be singing loudly to the sun, to the half-eaten fruit, which looks a lot like a pineapple. There are thousands of tiny black seeds inside of each fruit shell, any one of which could grown into a mature cactus with blooms and fruit exactly like this one.

 The Sun is the great energy of our world. It, along with water and air, seems to be all that the the natural world needs in order to run perfectly.

Female Gilded Flicker

These birds have become one of my favorites to photograph. I love their formal attire, with the big black bowtie. It is interesting how the female has no face paint, while the male has a great red slash across his face.

There is something special about the entire woodpecker family. It is very interesting how different they are from one another, even with all of the similarities that they share. So far in the park I have seen the Gila Woodpecker, the Gilded Flicker, and the Ladderback Woodpecker.


Turkey Vulture

This great bird was working at the entrance of Phoenix Mountains Park, cleaning up what appeared to be a Ground Squirrel that had been hit by a car. I was amazed by the size of this creature, looking to stand more than 3 feet tall. I love watching them grand and graceful. I was able to experience these flights several cars would approach he(?) would launch clear, then circle around and land again. It reminds me of a 747, where it needs lots of room to make its turns and approaches, and the take offs were so slowish.

Another great animal graces the park. Thank you.

Fishhook Pincushion Bloom

Here is the first pink bloom of the year. I was surprised to see this one. These usually don't bloom till it gets warmer, but it looks like we had enough warm days in a row to flip the switch.

These blooms are some of my favorites. They are so bright and so delicate, and grow out of such an overly protective source. Notice the 2 layers of pointy spines on the cactus. The first layer is made up of 'stars' that fan out, covering most of the skin. The second level of protection comes from the fishhooks, which are quite sharp. The red at the top of the cactus looks like blood, and is the point of creation for the new cactus skin and spines.


I captured an image of this cricket a few months ago, just before I actually captured him(?). I was on my way to see my Mexican Blonde Tarantula gal, and I wanted to bring her something tasty. It felt like I was courting her. Anyway, these crickets are a lot different from the ones that I see around the yard. These look way tougher, even mean. They are also quite 'meaty' and provided for a tasty meal for one of my favorite lady friends. I think she appreciated my selection.

Click on photo for larger version.


Velvet Mite

This little critter, about the size of my fingernail, is doing one of the jobs that Velvet Mites do: eating grasshopper larvae after a rain. I love those tiny red 'glass' eyes.

These creatures only appear after the rain in the warmer months. They really stick out from the browns and grays of the ground.  I wonder why they have such thick fur, like a cuddly teddy bear. What a stuffed animal this would be.

I am fascinated by  such a creature. I admire it as a great creation, as one of the thousands that grace our planet, participating in the elaborate and symphonic balance of nature.

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all images on this page copyright 2008, 2009

Email address Joe(at)