This week I’ve been focused on avoiding ANY activity that would cause some form of injury up to and including the very painful hangnail. That means no working on Project Auuuunooollldd, no work to shore up Serenity, no constructing the new mailbox support structure and definitely no cleaning tubs or vacuuming (long story but that one cost me major damage to the shoulder some time ago). Oh, and doing dishes and cleaning up after myself is right out (hehehe). What’s left with all the fun stuff banned… well, you blog. You probably already noticed I am way ahead of schedule at the moment, but sitting and typing is about the safest activity I can pick. Luckily, the post topic hopper is pretty full.
I promised you a break from Henderson, but that didn’t mean you were free from birds. This post has been on my mind ever since the day before we headed out to Vegas. That Saturday a friend of ours (John Best) put a post on Facebook that he might have heard a Pileated Woodpecker while hiking out at Forest Park Nature Preserve. The minute Linda relayed that message to me we were headed for the car with the Beast in hand. If you are new to the blog, the Pileated Woodpecker was on the TOP of my bird wish list. John’s wife actually thought she had seen one at our house one day but I originally dismissed it based on the mere fact I had NEVER seen or heard one in the area from the day we bought the land. Not to long after that I was busy apologizing to her because one flew into our yard one cold Sunday morning. That was followed by chasing that damn bird through our entire 15 acres trying to get a decent shot .. big failure on that endeavor – did I mention I was in my jammies at the time (Linda had quite the laugh). My only other sighting of this bird was in the Porcupine Mountains (link here .. at the bottom). Once again unable to get it in the tin so no checkmark. Very frustrating, but maintained hope that one day I’d be able to shoot it.
So, there Linda and I were standing in the park trying our best to locate a large black bird with a red head. Look to the left, look to the right, look up, look down, walk a ways and repeat. Nuttin’! Beginning to think John might have been mistaken we were just about to give up when we heard a loud call ring out from atop the hill to our left. Pileated Woodpeckers have unmistakable calls that rivals the Sandhill Crane squabbles. I need to stop doubting the Bests, that’s for sure. Only problem was finding a way to it. This isn’t a free ranging park and there didn’t seem to be any paths leading up in that direction. A huge relief when we found a winding trail further down the main path. The hunt was on. Halfway up we stopped for a bit to wait for another call. 5 or 10 minutes later we heard it again this time followed by a jackhammer pounding against wood. Of course, it was coming from the top of the hill so we continued our climb up the steep hill – kudos to Linda for sticking with me. Once at the top we started a more thorough scan. all of sudden we see movement from a large black bird…
Ladies and gentleman, I introduce you to the reason for a very prestigious check mark. There it was in all its glory, the long sought after Pileated Woodpecker. The tree canopy put the Beast at a disadvantage both in the lighting conditions and the amount of interference. The ISO was jacked up to provide enough shutter speed to keep most of the blurring down and there was a lot of foot focus going on in desperate attempts to get a straight line of sight to the bird.
This guaranteed there would be no gallery shots, but definitely good enough to qualify for a check mark. You should have seen the blurred shot I got while running around our lot in my PJs – you could tell it was black and had some reddish in it, but saying it was a bird was reach. Linda probably thought I was a kid in a candy store running up and down the trail trying to get as many shots as I could.
Hit the jump to read more about the prized Pileated Woodpecker
There were actually three of these birds in the area. Similar to when we spotted one in the Porcupines, they tend to fly low to the ground and land on the side of trees in the 6 to 7 foot high range. This might be due to the large wing spans – the lower part of the forest has less branches making it easy to navigate those big wings from tree to tree. Linda was quite surprised at how large they were (even though I had repeatedly told her to look for large black birds in the Raven category). Without a good reference it is hard to get the feeling for that wing size in these images.
The Pileated is the king of the woodpeckers in the US (to preempt my brother, the Ivory Billed species is extinct). Their beaks can do a number on trees. This is one of the reasons I doubted one was near our house having traversed every inch of the forest and never spotting anything bigger than a standard Red Headed or Flicker hole. To be honest, I never saw any in Forest Park either.
How about a shot of the top of the head
I totally blew the following shot from a composition perspective. I finally got my preferred shot of the head across the body but didn’t notice that twig in the line of focus – dammit! Hard to fix plain bad in the digital darkroom but put your hand over the right side of the picture and it will look a whole lot better.
Hey, Brian, give us some facts – we want the facts!! Okay, okay. Let’s check our friends over at Wikipedia. They enjoy tasty carpenter ants and beetle larvae along with the standard nuts and berries the forest has to offer. I can see where forest owners would be concerned about their destructive abilities, but they probably do more good than harm to a forest. They are non-migratory – did not know that – and tend to stay in the same place year round with their mate. This implies another trip to Forest Park is in order.. this time with the tripod. The Pileated tends to drill rectangular holes that are leveraged by a large array of forest wildlife for shelter and feeding. Their range is basically the Eastern half of the US with a swath across lower Canada. Their body length averages 17 inches with a wing span in the 26 to 30 inch range. Speaking of wings, I was pretty proud of the following shot.
It is hard enough to get a body focus on a moving bird with the Beast in good conditions, but tracking it through the brush was a monumental task. It does give a good view of the coloring under the wings. Always trying to go that extra mile for my readers I managed to pull off a top shot as well (again, not the easiest one to pull off through the leaves)
Finally, I am proud to say the Pileated Woodpecker enjoys a Least Concern conservation status. Apparently a common bird but definitely not in the parts Linda and I have been hanging out it. Time to close this post out and give the legs some Trigger Point therapy and massage. I’ll have to endure the Trigger pain by thinking of which new bird to put at the top of my list
Can’t thank John enough – appreciate it!