Monday, March 9, 2009
WARY WOODPECKER WAYLAID!
One tenet of my personal credo is that when things get tough, the tough go fishing. Unfortunately, this philosophy is sometimes shaky—easier recited than applied. Weather, season, water conditions, gainful employment, social responsibilities, and the current state of my monetary health all hold their sway in the equation; lofty expounds reduced to the mundanely practical. When faced with an enterprise that repeatedly mires itself in failure, I therefore recall another axiom passed down from my mother—a reminder that persistence pays off. I’ve certainly had to persevere lately in my efforts to photograph one of the pileated woodpeckers which daily visit the suet feeders. As usual, Mom was right—at least my stubbornness eventually intersected with luck, although the results were decidedly mediocre. Still, a middling photo has finally been attained! The saga itself has been ongoing for months. Back in January, Giggles, a regular reader and commentator to these postings, mentioned how she’d never seen a pileated woodpecker but would sure treasure the experience. I replied that while a digital image certainly wouldn’t replace an actual field observation, I’d nevertheless take a shot of one of my pileateds for her. It was the best I could offer. There’s an old saying that the pathway to hell is paved with good intentions. My casual promise quickly turned into an astonishing string of such ludicrous flops and infuriating near-misses that I soon came to wonder if pileated woodpeckers were actually flesh-and-blood birds, or winged cacodemons who found malevolent pleasure torturing my self esteem. At the very least, I suspect that most—if not all—purported photographs of living pileated woodpeckers in the wild are completely spurious, obtained through a shameful use of taxidermy stand-ins and judicial staging. Either that, or the photographers themselves are current test subjects in the government’s top secret invisibility cloak experiments, and just figured, hey—seeing as how we’re already lurking about disguised as riverside vapors, we might as well take some bird pictures. I swear, there are no other logical explanations. Pileated woodpeckers do not do “photo ops.” It’s easier to get a picture of Jimmy Hoffa or sasquatch than a pileated on a suet feeder. What’s more, these red-headed enigmas can see through walls, read your thoughts, and using their powers of telekinesis, place all manner of inanimate objects between their hastily departing selves and your auto-focused telephoto lens. My own personal pileated will-o-the-wisps live on the island directly across from the cottage. It’s easy to sit by the front window and watch them hammer and hack their way up and down any of a dozen dead and dying snags. Their wild laughing calls—a bit derisive, if you ask me—can be heard echoing through this floodplain woodland at almost any hour from dawn ‘til dusk. Suet-feeder raids, on the other hand, are unpredictable—though possibly predicated on which room my camera happens to be residing in at the time (always a different room from me, of course), and how much scrabbling and crawling they believe I can be induced to attempt should they momentarily present themselves. I won’t bore you with descriptions of how I’ve slithered like a reptile through my own rooms—much to the delight or chagrin of Moon the dog, depending on her mood. (Should rug burn ever becomes a personal issue, contact me…I can summarize treatment options.) Or how I’ve occasionally glanced up (me in one room, camera in another) to observe a heretofore spooky pileated now parading around the box elder with the smug self-assurance of a high-fashion model on a Paris catwalk. If I thought I could get away with it on this blog, I’d claim my modest success was due to consummate diligence and exemplary stalking skills against a wary, wily opponent. Woodsman over woodpecker! But honesty compels me to admit my grandfather’s homespun observation that even a blind hog finds the occasional acorn would prove closer to the truth. Victory of a sorts was eventually mine, but I’ll be more cautious in making future promises to deliver the near-impossible. Remember…no good deed goes unpunished.