Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Last Kiss of the Setting Sun

(Click on photos to enlarge for best view)

With the last light of the setting sun Gus and I set out for a walk Sunday evening. After a lazy day spent inside the house I am not just eager to get outside, my spirit is craving it. We head up the road to the newly developed section of the neighborhood. While the roads have gone in, there are no houses up here, so it is a pleasant place to take a walk through the desert on paved roads. We meet others coming out of this neighborhood on our way in, but soon we are alone. A glance to the east reveals storm clouds building over this extreme north end of the Santa Rita Mountains, but nothing ever comes of it. I am counting birds while Gus walks the dog but, I am surprised at how few birds I am seeing. Normally there is more activity up here.

We take a little loop road that brings us nearer the canyon’s rim. While Gus goes on ahead with the dog, I stay to photograph an agave blossom that is just opening to the desert sky. While the “stem” extends 6 or 8 vertical feet, the blossoms alternate off the sides like a many-armed cheer leader with pompoms. The blossoms seem to blush from the last kiss of the setting sun.

I see a gilded flicker popping in and out of a hole in a saguaro. It disappears inside, then turns around to peer at me with only its beak and eyes peeking out. Ahead of me I see Gus and Blossom disappearing around the corner in this forest of ocotillos. As the desert swallows him up, he appears more ghost than human.

The sinking sunlight casts a warm light on the slopes of the Santa Ritas causing the old Helvetia mine to glow like an ancient marble city on the mountainside. I hear a few cactus wrens and in the distance, the call of a Gambel’s quail. Mourning doves dart overhead at breakneck speed in a hurry to find roosts for the night.

While Gus heads back home, I continue on up the hillside to where the pavement ends and the new road construction continues. A huge piece of machinery stands like a relic at the edge of desert and road. Nearby a bright blue porta-potty sits in stark contrast to the soft greens and browns of the desert. Here I am finally alone with the desert and sky. Here the desert wind blows softly across my face. I stand silently on the side of the road and the desert comes alive around me. First a desert cottontail hops out into the road.

It starts out casually...

... then decides to run,

... but halfway across it stops to sniff something interesting.

After a bit it continues on its way.

(enlarge and look for the bunny hopping back behind the porta-potty)

Behind me there are curved-billed thrashers skulking about in the scrub and cactus. One flies to the porta-potty and sits on top of the roof preening itself. I suppose it is doing its nighttime grooming before bedtime. In the soft dusty sand nearby the big machine three cactus wrens are doing the same thing. They fluff and twist in the sand, giving themselves a dust bath before darkness falls. I watch them amazed as they fluff themselves up, then dive joyously back into the dust again.

All the animals seem intrigued by the human machinery. I’m sure when it is running they flee for their lives, but now they can’t seem to get enough of exploring it. The cactus wrens fly up and climb about on various machine parts. Even the rabbit hops up on the tractor tread and sniffs around before hopping down under the wheel. This would be dangerous if the machine were it motion, but for now this monster stand silent. I wonder if they animals are trying to figure this thing out, or if they are thumbing their noses at the machine in defiance of when it is awake and noisy. Do they think it is alive or dead? Do their minds even comprehend this concept?

The silvery song of a black-throated sparrow breaks into my reverie. I find him perched on a dry ocotillo singing an evening lullaby. The nighthawks dip and dive overhead foraging for their evening meal. Then, as another bird flies towards me I think it is yet another nighthawk, but as I focus my lens on it I realize that what I am seeing is not a nighthawk, but another small hawk. I snap off a few quick pictures before it disappears and when I get home I am able to confirm it is an American Kestrel. As it flies off into the west I am captivated by the beauty of the setting sun here in the Sonoran Desert, which in now my home.

Photographer's Note: All of todays photography is by Kathie with the Nikon D80 70-300mm lens. Some images have been cropped and enlarged. Sunset is auto enhanced which brightened it a little.
Birds seen on this walk:
Location: Sycamore Canyon Neighborhood
Observation date: 8/10/08
Notes: S. Rustling Leaf from Bronze Hill south up the mountainside into the newly developed neighborhood (there are no houses up here yet). I saw most of the birds near the top where the pavement ends.
Number of species: 13

Gambel's Quail 2
Kestrel 1
White-winged Dove 1
Mourning Dove 9
nighthawk sp. 4
Gilded Flicker 1
Purple Martin 5
Cactus Wren 5
Curve-billed Thrasher 4
Black-throated Sparrow 6
House Finch 3
Lesser Goldfinch 1
House Sparrow 6


Anonymous said...

That sunset is absolutely stunning. Got to be your best yet.

Anonymous said...

I love your walking narrative and photos.

We used to have nighthawks here and I used to listen and watch them flying. They make quite a noise when diving.

kjpweb said...

What a relaxing walk! And the sunset? Oh my - what a beauty! Kudos!
Cheers, Klaus

Pappy said...

Did you take your Coffee? Pappy

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Kathie- that was a fabulous post, pictures and words. Wish I was there with you. Your sunset is magnificent! Would you share the settings you used on your camera to capture that?

Deborah Godin said...

A thoroughly enjoyable post, and very nearly as refreashing as a walk itself! Thanks for the guided tour of your 'peaceable kingdom'!

Doug Taron said...

The whole thing is good, but the agave closeup really struck me. Excellent stuff.

John Theberge said...

Great sunset photo, very lovely end to your walk.

Doug Taron said...

By the way, I tried the prickly pear jelly on salmon. Yum! You achieved a good texture on the jelly.

bobbie said...

Your second photo, of the mountains, and the sunset at the end are absolutely stunning. A very nice post, Kathie. I enjoyed your walk.

Mary said...

Wow. Great story-telling, as usual. I just adore those bunny shots. You live in a beautiful place...