The forest was filled with excited buzzing trills. It was a familiar sound, yet I could not put my finger on who was making it. Fleeting fast shadows passed between the tree tops overhead. I was still stumped. I had it on the tip of my tongue…, until my teenager triumphantly declared “Look, Bohemian Waxwings”. Indeed, there must have been a few dozen Bohemian Waxwings gorging themselves in on berries in a tree on the bank of the creek. One can never grow tired of waxwings, Bohemian nor Cedar Waxwings. Just as stunningly beautiful they are charismatic and gregarious chatter boxes that love to eat berries and the occasional good intoxication. In these times of “social distancing”, Bohemian Waxwings represent the complete opposite behavior. You will never find a waxwing on its own and typically you will hear them long before you see them. Nothing a like beautiful bird to brighten up ones day in these gloomy and anxious times.
So finally we have reached the end of the official winter season. Spring has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere, at least astronomically speaking. While the landscape remain snow covered and the creeks and rivers frozen over the forest is changing. You can hear and see the changes. There is more bird song carrying through the forest, the Great Horned Owls are nesting, and today we saw our first Canada Geese flyby in many months. We had finished our walk along the Whitemud Creek and were heading back to our vehicle. As we were crossing the parking lot, out of nowhere, three Canada geese swooped in. Circled overhead, almost as if they were looking for a place to land, and then decided not to land and disappeared over the tree tops.
Yesterday’s post was about an audacious and carefree Black-backed Woodpecker. Well, today’s post is about the damage he caused. The picture shows the “trail of destruction” he left behind. On our way back the woodpecker was gone but the handiwork of his activity was clearly visible. The woodpecker’s strategy seems to have been to focus on peeling the bark off the pine tree and then “dig” deeper at promising locations under the bark. This seems like a pretty effective strategy for a smaller woodpecker. Larger woodpeckers, such as the Pileated Woodpecker, typically seems to focus more on digging deeper into the tree, which makes sense considering their substantially larger size.
We had just spotted two glorious Pileated Woodpeckers having a feast in a stand of old growth trees. As we continued walking down the trail we met another birder. As good birding citizens we shared birding intel. We told him about the Pileated Woodpeckers and he informed us that there was a Black-backed Woodpecker just off the trail just around the bend in the trail.Sure enough. The little fella was hard to miss. At a tree trunk, right off the trail, at face height there it was – a male Black-backed Woodpecker. With its black back and yellow head patch it was unmistakable. It was busy feeling the bark off the tree in big chunks, clearly with its mind set on finding a morsel to eat. This was clearly a woodpecker on a mission and it was not the least bothered by the five gawking humans standing just a few meters away. The careless attitude of woodpecker never ceases to amaze me. A defining characteristics of most woodpeckers I have encountered in these neck of the woods is their complete absence of shyness. They really just could not care less about a human standing mere feet away checking them out.
Last weekend we went by the Great Horned Owl nesting site in the Whitemud Ravine. Since the beginning of March the female has been in her cavity every day with the male perching high up in a nearby pine tree. This time, however, there was not sight of the female in the cavity. It is unlikely that the female would leave her tree, particularly during the day. A quick scan of the nearby trees revealed that the male was sitting in the same spot where I saw him the previous week. It is even more unlikely that the male would be there if the female would have left the nest. I concluded that the female indeed must have been in the nest, but quite likely was hunkered down inside the cavity making it impossible to see her from the outside. Based on our experience from last year nesting it appears that the cavity is quite deep as it was able to accommodate the large female and two sizable chicks.
It is not often one is catches a chickadee just chilling. They always seem to be on the move, never stopping, never resting and never perching long enough for you to aim your camera, focus and get a good picture. Today it was my lucky day though as I encountered this fluffy little fellow just chilling on a branch. Maybe it had had its fill of sunflower seeds and then found this sunny spot where it just contently perched and watched the world go by.
At the same snow covered tree log where someone had placed sunflower seeds where yesterday’s Pine Siskin was having a snack a White-breasted Nuthatch swooped in for a quick bite as well. While the Pine Siskin took its sweet time staying put while it ate, the nuthatch had a markedly different strategy. As soon as the Pine Siskin had left the Nuthatch swooped in. It eyed the seeds, picked up one that had been hulled and took off. While the Pine Siskin was more of a sit and dine sort of bird the nuthatch was more of dash and grab type.
The Pine Siskins were out in full force today along the Whitemud creek. Despite the frigid temperature (-20 C) they were chirping away in the tree tops only taking a break to swoop down and gorge themselves on sunflower seeds. Pine Siskins are iconic winter birds in these neck of the woods and may look unassuming on first glance, but in the right light they are quite beautiful with bright yellows and olive green feathers.
Just as sudden as the spring temperatures arrived, they are gone and we are back in the deep freeze. This does not seem to stop the winter birds from making a racket through the forest. Most of them seem to be preoccupied with foraging. Nobody, however, seems too interested in these maple seed pods.
As we are inching our way out of the winter and closer to the first day of spring – which now is one week away (March 19) – some days definitely have spring in the air , but others not so much. This picture is just a few days old from the Whitemud creek right after another fresh layer of snow had fallen. A few mild days late and the snow is gone (again), but the temperatures are dropping again. It makes me wonder how plants and animals are dealing with these repeated false starts.