In a clearing at the Grey Nuns Spruce Woodlot a lone American Three-toed Woodpecker was busy working away looking for a meal on a spruce tree trunk. It is only the second American Tree-toed Woodpecker I have seen, the first one was last winter at the Whitemud Ravine. No wonder this one threw me for a bit of a loop. With too much black in its back to be a Downy Woodpecker and too little black on its back to be a Black-backed Woodpecker it had me scratching my head for a minute. This one had a black back with messy white barring and white spots in the wings. The underparts were white with fine blackish barring on the flanks. The face was black with a white line behind the eye and a thin white line below the cheek. The characteristic yellow head patch that males have was missing suggesting that this was a female.
There is a spot in the Grey Nuns Spruce Woodlot, an opening in the forest where the trail takes a turn, where there is a bird feeder. Someone has scrawled “Feed Us” on the side of the feeder…, and fed they get. The other day when we visited someone had hanged several colourful bird houses in the surrounding trees. All freshly painted this prime real estate is just waiting for someone to move in.
At the Grey Nuns Spruce Woodlot we came across this paper birch tree that the Black-capped Chickadees seemed to take a particular fondness to. A handful of chickadees were busy clinging to the bark and working away with their beaks on the bark. It looked like they were looking for something on the bark and in the cervices. Occasionally a chickadee would tap at the bark like a woodpecker. I assume they were looking for food. Chickadees are known to store, or “cache,” food such as seeds. Perhaps this tree was their cache location. Either way, it was an entertaining sight.
As one wanders through through the Grey Nuns Spruce Woodlot you come across a large number of spruce seedlings with protective mesh around them. Apparently around 2500 seedlings were planted in 2019 and a total of over 11,600 spruce trees have been planted since 2016 in an attempt to return the area to its native spruce forest, particularly on locations that were dominated by invasive species. The Grey Nuns White Spruce Forest is an ecologically and historically significant area located at the outskirts of St. Albert and has been designated a Municipal Historic Resource. It is the home of many trees that are well over 100 years old, and a habitat for a variety of birds, mammals, plants, and amphibians.
I was slowly and carefully walking along a narrow meandering trail through a clear it in The Grey Nun’s Spruce Woodlot. A handful Pine Siskins sitting under a log eating sunflower seeds got spooked and took off…., except one. I assumed it would also leave as I got closer to it, but it did not. I ended up less than 2 metres from it and it happily continues eating sunflower seeds. I guess it must have found the sunflower seeds really yummy and figured it was worth the risk of staying.
It was clear and sunny day and the forest was full of bird song. The spring was definitely in the air at the Grey Nun’s Spruce Woodlot on this Sunday. My ear caught the distance reverberating and hollow sound of a drumming Pileated Woodpecker. The sound was unmistakable and the only creature in these neck of the woods capable of producing it is the charismatic Pileated Woodpecker. I decided to try track down the woodpecker by following the drumming sound. The woodpecker was not hard to find as it was perched high up on a tree stump in a clearing. Every few minutes it got to work drumming up a loud hollow sound that traveled far through the forest. It clearly was not foraging as there was no damage to the tree. It looked like it was using the sound to communicate. What was it trying to say? Was it lonesome and looking for company or was it telling other Pileated Woodpeckers in the vicinity to stay away?
I came across this female Downy Woodpecker that was thoroughly enjoying the sunflower seeds someone had left on a stump at the Grey Nun Spruce Woodlot in St. Albert. I managed to snap the following picture that nicely illustrates why woodpeckers have stiff tail feathers. Woodpeckers commonly use their tails for support when their are climbing or working on trees. This behavior is possible as a result of adaptations such as pointed, strong and rigid tail feathers and larger and stronger tail bone, lower vertebrae and the tail’s supporting muscles in comparison to other birds.