Last year when we camped
here at McDowell we had the honor of a close encounter
with three javelina. You can see photos
One bravely ventured quite close to the camper; the other
two stayed back 20-30 feet but well within camera range. I'm still hoping to
see one or more in the park again this year but that hasn't happened yet.
Instead, this seems to be the Year of the Coyote or, more correctly, the
season of coyotes for us. We've seen and heard them many times at
both Estrella and McDowell Parks since our arrival in the Phoenix area back in
December. We occasionally see them in this campground but more often we hear
them singing their unique chorus -- at night when we're in bed or during the daytime when we're
running, hiking, or cycling on the trails in the northern part of the park.
Two coyotes cross the road in front of our camper; another
coyote is in the desert at right.
Cody's usually alert to their scent or sound but by now he's stopped
growling every time he hears or sees them. In fact, sometimes when he's lying
outside the camper a coyote will pad soundlessly through the desert only a few
yards away and he doesn't move a muscle. I don't know if he's losing his sense
of smell or he's just so used to them that he ignores them now. He seems to
sense that they aren't playful like dogs.
I've also seen more long-legged Black-tailed Jackrabbits here this year than last. They
move too fast for me to ever get a decent picture of one on the trail or from
the camper (I see a lot from the three "bay windows" that surround my computer desk).
There are also more common Desert Cotttontail Rabbits that are several inches
It's common to "run into" horses on the trails at McDowell; equestrians love
the place as much as cyclists, runners, and hikers.
I've also had the good
fortune this year and
to spot several "wild" horses in the park. They
aren't like feral horses in the wilds of Wyoming or Montana or on some islands along the East
coast. These horses come from private ranches on the east and north side of
McDowell Park but they are allowed to wander and forage within the park -- then
they apparently meander back home for the night.
Blue, red, and yellow flagging (for a bike or foot race?)
marks the Pemberton Trail today.
This afternoon I was riding our mountain bike on Pemberton Trail along the
north side of the park near Stoneman Wash. I'd already realized (too late) that
Sunday is not a good day for a trail cycling newbie like me to be on
single-track trail at McDowell. I didn't have any problems on the wider
sections of the trail, just the narrow, hilly, rocky ones.
There were just too many other cyclists out
there on this gorgeous weekend day, mostly young and fast guys with lots of testosterone. Although I
enjoyed my long ride it was stressful wondering when one of those hot shots
would come whipping around a corner or down a narrow hill toward me. They also liked
to come up from behind with no warning so I could move out of their way.
They should have been on the competitive track, which is built for speed. When
I politely suggested that to one young man he said the Pemberton Trail, which
for slower travel by hikers, runners, cyclists, and equestrians, was "more
fun to ride" than the competitive track.
More fun for whom?? Not for me when I'm paranoid about every curve and
hilltop where I can't see who's coming toward me on such a busy day on the
trails. I feel more confident riding on trails than I did before this trip but
it's still a big learning curve until I develop my skills better.
The lesson I learned today is to ride on weekdays when there are fewer
cyclists on the trails. Duh. It's more fun to run then, too.
Besides the perfect weather today, the other two great things about the ride
were all the coyotes I could hear in the distance -- and the five wandering
ranch horses I almost ran into because they were right in the middle of the
Wandering horse alert!
I got off my bike when I saw the horses right up ahead so I wouldn't startle
them and so I could get
I was able to follow closely enough walking my bike to get several photos before two cyclists came up behind
me and rode right through the
herd. Grrr. The horses ran off into the desert and I couldn't get any more good
shots of them. That was the only time I saw them during this trip.
YOU SILLY BIRD!!
Several days ago I noticed a hummingbird sipping nectar from a flower on a
shrub right out the windows surrounding my computer desk. Jim made some nectar
as fast as he could and hung one of our hummingbird feeders just outside my
window -- about four feet from my face. We didn't get much action at the feeder
until today, however.
After my bike ride I was working at my desk when I noticed a bird checking
out the feeder by flying close several times. Hummingbird feeders are designed
for eensy, feather-weight hummingbirds. Their little wings vibrate at a rate of
about a gazillion times per second, keeping them aloft so they can feed without
landing on the narrow, rounded perch that encircles the bottom of our feeder
(you can see it in the next photo).
We've seen only one hummingbird, the
Juice Nazi (a take-off on
Seinfeld's Soup Nazi), wrap its tiny feet around the
tubing and sit there to feed or claim the feeder as his and his alone. When
other birds came close, he'd swoop out at them to drive them away, then go sit
on the metal ring again. Comical for a day
or two, then we really felt sorry for the other hummers that were too
intimidated to feed.
But I digress. Hummingbird feeders are designed to discourage other visitors
so it was particularly entertaining this afternoon when a gorgeous male
came to feed. He may have
smelled the sugar water and got curious or perhaps he deliberately sought out a
hummingbird feeder because he's learned to steal food from them before.
Pretty boy: bright red cap on head, striking black and white stripes on
He can't insert his beak into the "flower" until he's
Now woodpeckers can't keep their wings moving fast enough to remain aloft
when they feed like hummers do. This guy had to have some solid footing, and
that was hard to come by. It was really comical watching him hanging upside
down on the metal ring as he tried to get upright.
I took a couple dozen pictures of him through the window. Unfortunately the
window has a screen so some of the photos aren't as clear as through regular glass. But
you get the idea.
Poor fella had a tough time gaining a foothold on the narrow, smooth perch
but he was one determined bird. He kept at it for several minutes, twirling the
whole feeder as he clung tightly, until he finally was able to stand on the
round tubing long enough to get his beak into the little "flowers" where he
could get some syrup.
Not only did the woodpecker provide Jim and me with entertainment he also
served as a lesson in tenacity. Like a good endurance athlete, he simply didn't
give up until he accomplished his goal.
Well, the first time he did. After taking some long, long sips of nectar he
flew off. I saw him return two more times this afternoon but he gave up both
times after several minutes of failing to balance correctly on the metal ring.
Not so tenacious after all -- probably because he wasn't as hungry the
subsequent times and the effort wasn't worth the diminishing reward.
Or maybe I'm reading too many human characteristics into his behavior!
Gila Woodpeckers have a symbiotic relationship with saguaro cacti,
killing destructive insects and creating cavities for nesting:
I saw several of these distinctive male
woodpeckers with their bright red caps at Estrella Park in December but
didn't know what they were. I was hoping this fella would return to our feeder
but we never saw him again while we were there. We didn't see a lot of
hummingbirds this time, either. Most of them may be even farther south for the
Next entry: come along with us as we visit three
ancient Indian dwelling sites north of Phoenix
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil