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.
The rumour was that there was a Black-backed Woodpecker along the trail in the Whitemud Ravine. Although I had my doubts that we would find it we decided to go for it. To my surprise we had no trouble locating it. You just had to listen for the characteristic drumming and there it was, half way up a pine tree right along the trail. It took a while for me to realize that this was not just any woodpecker…, it was a lifer. The Black-backed Woodpecker could be mistaken for the American Three-toed Woodpecker, which I have also seen at this location. Both have the same colour pattern – black and white with a yellow forehead. The Black-backed Woodpecker has, however, an entirely black back while the American Three-toed Woodpecker’s back is black and white. It is not every day you score a new woodpecker.
Today is my first birthday as a birder. Exactly one year ago – on December 16, 2018 – I went on my first birding outing with my brand new Nikon Monarch 5 binoculars. A 45 minutes drive took me to the Beaverhill Bird Observatory where I went for a walk through the frozen forest looking for my first species of birds. This was pre-camera days and my phone served as a camera so I mainly got landscape pictures and no bird pictures. The first bird I spotted, and the #1 entry on my life list, was a Downy Woodpecker at one of the bird feeders at the bird observatory. It is fitting that today’s picture is of a Downy that I came across in the Whitemud Ravine yesterday. Downies are the cuties of the winter – petit, fuzzy and irresistible…, yet confident and not shy around us humans. Yesterday’s Downy was busy looking for a morsel to eat on a stump right off the trail. It went about its work systematically and very energetically. It was rather scruffy looking, perhaps it was a young individual or maybe it was just having a bad feather day.
Let’s go back to the same day last year… After a few hours at the bird feeders by the bird observatory I had seen eight species. Not bad for a first-time birder. In the afternoon I went on my second outing to Hermitage Park bird feeders where I saw another four species. The day’s total count ended up being 12 species. As it turns out, the next time I would add another Canadian bird species to my life list would be number 65 over a month later…, but that is a different story.
A year and 166 species later things have obviously slowed down quite a bit in terms of adding new species to the list but now I get the satisfaction of finding and re-familiarizing myself with species that I saw during last year’s winter. The Cedar Waxwings and Snowy Owls are on top of that list. Is has been a tremendously exciting year of birding and there are many highlights that I will cherish forever. As I am looking at my life list every species on it brings back memories of that first sighting. It is quite remarkable how a list of bird species can evoke vivid memories and stories of finding little (on not so little) winged treasures. I am looking forward to my next year of birding and I cannot wait to see what birds it has in store.
It was a cloudy mild winter’s day and our walk in the Whitemud Ravine started rather uneventful. If was not long, however, before we could hear the familiar drumming sound of a woodpecker going to town on a tree. That was the beginning of a nature walk with the woodpeckers. The first woodpecker was a Pileated Woodpecker in the distance. Once you spot a Pileated Woodpecker it is hard to let it go. Another couple of birders that came by shared that there were Black-backed Woodpeckers further down the trail. This woodpecker is the least common woodpeckers in these neck of the woods, so we decided to try our luck and moved on. Sure enough. One only had to listed for the familiar drumming sound and it was not long before we were able to track down the Black-backed Woodpecker (picture will be posted in a future post). This was a special treat as I have only seen this species once before in this location. From here on, things got only better. While shooting the Black-backed Woodpecker a Brown Creeper serendipitous showed up in the view finder. Further down the trail we came across a scruffy looking Downy Woodpecker only to, moments later, come across the highlight of the day, a magnificent Pileate Woodpecker looking for a snack on a stump right off trail. Wintertime is definitely woodpecker season and some days you really luck out. A peculiar nature of most woodpeckers is that they are not shy or skittish around humans and one can quite easily get close to them. I am not sure if they just could not be bothered with our presence or if they are to busy looking for food to notice us. It sure looks like they are oblivious to our presence.
Edmonton--Whitemud Park, Edmonton, Alberta, CA
Dec 15, 2019 11:47 AM - 1:52 PM
Black-backed Woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) 1
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 1
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) 2
Common Raven (Corvus corax) 1
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) 20
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 2
Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) 1