Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sapsucker in Black & White

Blending in to the birch trunk was a young female yellow-bellied sapsucker.

On a recent winter's afternoon, The Zick and I were standing in her studio looking out at the feeding station. I was telling her about the pine warbler that had visited the day before, while she was out of town. Just then a woodpecker hitched around the side of the mostly dead birch tree just a few feet from the studio window.

It was a very young female yellow-bellied sapsucker and she was striking for her utter lack of color. Her plumage was composed of black, white, and grayish feathers with almost no sign of a sapsucker's telltale head or throat coloration. There was only the slightest hint of a yellow wash across her breast, but you had to strain your eyes to see it.

The gray winter day, the duotone tree and bird, all made for a pleasingly limited palette.

The female sapsucker had very little color on her.

As we were enjoying her, the pine warbler slipped in to the feeder, grabbed a sunflower heart and headed off to the woods. And this turned out to be a wise move...

Suddenly the feeder birds scattered and the sapsucker whipped around the back of the birch trunk in a flash. A blue-gray missile came shooting past the window—the adult male sharp-shinned hawk we'd had around all winter. The sharpie flew straight toward the sapsucker, banking sharply to swoop around the trunk just inches from the sapsucker. The accipiter missed the sapsucker, and did what most bird-eating hawks do near feeding stations: perched nearby to wait for things to calm down and for an unsuspecting songbird to move.

We were astonished at how fast this all happened—in just seconds. But we dared not move lest we scare the sharpie, or worst, scare the sapsucker into moving and giving the sharpie another shot. The sharpie stared holes in the birch trunk. The sapsucker held fast and motionless on the back side of the trunk, one eye peeking at us as if to say "Please don't tell him that I'm here. I'm just a boring old stub of a tree branch on this boring old birch. Pay me no mind."

The hiding female sapsucker held tight and motionless to the birch trunk.

Soon the hawk tired of waiting and moved off into the woods, no doubt looking for less wary victims.

For us it was high-five time.
Male sharp-shinned hawk waiting out the sapsucker.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Waiting for Warblers

Male pine warbler.


In the movie Jeremiah Johnson, the character Bear Claw Chris Lapp (played by The Waltons' grandpa Will Geer) says "Winter's a long time going. Stays long this high."

The old mountain dude was totally on the money with that one.

He could have just as easily been talking about this endless winter we're enjoying.

I am ready for warblers and spring. So far here at Indigo Hill, we've had exactly TWO warbler species in 2008. Yellow-rumped and pine. And it's April 15! No ovenbird yet. No Louisiana waterthrush. No palm warbler (but hey, our palm trees aren't fruiting yet).

Here are a few images of the (notice I said THE, as in the ONLY) pine warbler we've had so far. He stopped by, attracted by all the activity at the feeders, and helped himself to a few peanut bits, some sunflower hearts, and a few bill-fulls of suet dough.

Then he split for points north.

It's hard to be patient for spring's arrival—and it seems to get harder each year.


Male pine warbler checking out bark cracks and sapsucker holes in a birch trunk for insects.


Sneaking closer to the bird feeders.


Dispatching a sunflower heart. Pine warblers survive cold weather by sheer resourcefulness.

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