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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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Yellow-bellied Peanutsucker

This lovely female yellow-bellied sapsucker has been visiting the peanut feeder irregularly during the past two weeks. Yesterday I caught a couple of images of her, shooting through the studio windows.

Back in 1992 when we first moved to this old farm, my birding mentor, Pat Murphy, gave us a homemade peanut feeder as a wedding gift. Her husband Bob had made it. It was mesh hardware cloth in a cylinder with the cut-off ends of a croquet mallet as the top and bottom. Peanut feeders like the one shown here were not commercially available in the U.S. at the time. However over in Europe, especially in the U.K. peanut feeding has been the central feature in any garden 'bird table', as they call them.

We got our first sapsucker that winter visiting Pat's feeder. What a thrill that was. Sapsuckers at our feeders have been few and far between since then. They are fascinating birds and I love the swoopy way they fly. In fact you can often identify a sapsucker just by the way it swoops into land in a tree. Of course the long white wing strip is pretty obvious, too.

We'll keep the peanuts out and hope the sapsucker feels like sticking around the farm until spring calls her back northward.

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