My recent camping trip to the Mojave Desert of southwestern Utah was slow on birds but I didn’t come home “skunked” either.
Most folks think St. George is the hottest place in Utah with the lowest elevation. They’re wrong on both counts. That distinction belongs to Beaver Dam Wash in the extreme southwest corner of the state where the elevation is about 2178 feet compared to the average elevation of St. George of 2800 feet. One of the major indicator species of the Mojave Desert is the Joshua Tree, a type of yucca whose trunk is made of thousands of small fibers (thus it lacks annual rings) and can live up to 1000 years. They have bayonet-shaped evergreen leaves that taper to a very sharp point and are arranged in a dense spiral at the apex of the stems. This photo was taken near Beaver Dam wash.
The distinctive common name of this tree was bestowed by a group of Mormon pioneers in the 1850’s because its unique shape reminded them of the Biblical story of Joshua as he reached his hands into the sky in prayer (works for me…)
As a child in the 50’s my family drove the 1400+ miles between northern Montana and southern California twice every year (long story) and as we traveled south from Cedar City to St. George (long before Interstate 15 was built) it was always a competition between the five of us to see who would spot the first Joshua Tree. My mother adored those trees. Looking back I suspect it was an effort by my parents to keep us rambunctious and bored kids entertained and mostly out of trouble. Back then it was a long, slow and tortuous trip.
1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
Here’s a closer look at a spiral leaf cluster at the end of one of the stems. Notice how the older leaves hang down when they die. These trees help to provide critical habitat to many species of vertebrates and invertebrates including this Yellow-rumped Warbler (butter butt) but sadly Joshua Trees are critically threatened by climate change and their long-term survival hangs in the balance.
1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in
One morning on the dirt road leading to Beaver Dam Wash we found this adult Red-tailed Hawk perched in a dead Joshua Tree. I was amused by how much the remaining cluster of hanging dead leaves resembled a faux tail on the hawk.
1/1250, f/11, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM @ 220mm, not baited, set up or called in
Here’s a look at the bird and setting at only 220 mm. The setting moon was still bright in the sky this early in the morning so I hung around for quite a while as I waited for it to get low enough to include in some of the images I took of the hawk with the longer lens. I was barely able to include it by using my zoom lens at 220 mm and shooting vertically but…
1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 400, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in
the hawk took off before the moon was low enough to include in a shot like this. Cropped differently (and awkwardly) this image includes half of the moon up top.
After a day and a half of looking for birds on this trip and mostly failing to find them we put our tails between our legs and came home. It’s a beautiful and unique area and we enjoyed the sights as we explored mostly back roads but it was the weekend and lots of other folks had the same idea (since I retired I’ve become much less fond of weekends and holidays).
As I often say, bird photography isn’t easy.