Tuesday, January 26, 2010

THERAPUTIC TIME WASTING

It's a bird!…It's a beast!……It's a pileated woodpecker!

Way, way, waaaaaaay back in those antediluvian pre-digital, pre-computer, pre-Internet days, I doubt there was a better device for wasting winter hours than a bird feeder. Not that I think watching birds is a waste of time, mind you. I do think it's all too easy to spend half a gloomy, snow-spitting January morning watching a pair of pileated woodpeckers hang onto your suet feeders, jackhammering at the blocks of
pressed food you put out less than an hour earlier.

I don't know about you, but no matter how often I see one, I still can't get over a woodpecker the size of a crow that looks like a red-headed pterodactyl. I gape in disbelief every time. And while we each have our own style, I do my best gaping when I'm sitting down rather than, say, washing the breakfast dishes. If the woodpeckers continue to hang and hammer, I can happily gape through a couple cups of coffee.

Of course, watching pileateds eventually leads to trying to photograph them, which is a whole 'nother category of time-wasting. Careful! If you've never tried sneaking to the window, camera in hand, and firing off a few frames before a sharp-eyed pileated spots you…you simply ain't seen spooky in a bird. Pileated are practically prescient. I firmly believe that just thinking about taking their picture often sends them
bolting. Attempting to photograph these admittedly spectacular and photogenic woodpeckers can turn from disease into addiction. My advice is to not start. Just say no to pileated portraiture.

If you must, then be forewarned…you can look forward to regular frustration, frayed nerves, humiliation, rug burns on your kneecaps (When's the last time you crawled through a house?) and possible subsequent issues with strong drink.

Yes, indeed—success of a sort is possible. I've been playing this hide-and-seek game for several years. I've managed a few semi-good photos. Even a blind hog finds the occasional acorn. I've also faced my inadequacies, and divested myself of any notion of becoming a viable candidate for winning the Pileated Stalker of the Year award. So far, I've resisted swapping my Nikon for a case of scotch…but there have been days when I've wondered if they hang up bird feeders at the better
rehab facilities.

If so…do they consider them a waste of time—or therapy?

18 comments:

Penny said...

What an incredible looking bird, I know we have loads of birds in Oz we keep being told we do but the American ones I see on blogs take the cake, this one well! and I love the cardinals, to my knowledge apart from parrots we dont have too many red birds here.

Jayne said...

Oh, if I ever actually SAW one at my feeders, I think I'd yell with glee so loudly, they'd hear me out there!

Wanda said...

To get a photo of a Pileated, I haven't crawled through the house, but I did sneak up on a window, while holding my breath, just this past Sunday and managed to get 3 photos of one near the ground.
Yesterday there were 3 small Downies and a Red-bellied on the back porch at the same time, plus visits from a male and female Hairy.
Woodpeckers seem to be everywhere I look this winter!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Penny…

It's so easy to take certain birds for granted, especially if they're fairly common. I've never quite come to that re. cardinals, as they were my mother's favorite bird, and thus I probably grew up paying a bit more attention to them than I might have otherwise. Still, around here you can see one about any given time. Right this moment, for example, as dawn gives way to morning, but before the sun has actually appeared—I'm looking out my window and can count nine male cardinals on the ground and in a nearby tree. But you're exactly right—they are lovely birds, no matter their numbers.

Pileated woodpeckers, while not uncommon, are not as easily seen…especially not close up. Unless the old ivory-bill is still around down in the backcountry of some Southern swamp, then the pileated is our largest American woodpecker. To have one latch onto your suet feeder and hang there where you can get a good, long look is just a treat.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

Do that and they'd squawk and fly off. However, there are times when I see one close, on a feeder or the side of a tree, when I can barely contain myself from making some sort of gleeful outburst. It's hard to remain quite around a big, spectacular pileated.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

I always have a lot of woodpeckers around, mostly downies and red-bellied. They're at the feeders from daylight until dusk. This year I have noticed a lot more hairy woodpeckers around. I first though it was just a single pair, then I saw three on three separate trees at the same time…and I've since seen four (two pairs) at once. So there are at least that many. I'd say there's a hairy in sight—in the trees near the front door, or on one of the feeders—perhaps three-quarters of the time throughout the day. That's never been the case before; previous winters it has been good to see a hairy once or twice a day.

Pileateds are always around, too, though most of the time the pair hangs on the island across from the cottage. They're sort of hit-and-run feeders…showing up for a few minutes, then taking off. Yesterday was unusual in that they visited several times. I did come within a hair (feather?) of getting both of them in the same photo, but couldn't get framed and focused in the second or two I had.

HEY! YOU DO KNOW WE'RE GOING TO HAVE SUN TODAY, RIGHT?

Scott said...

If you consider your image of a Pileated acceptable but not great, you set standards too high for yourself. I think it's fine! I've got a pair of Pileateds in the general neighborhood around my house, but they NEVER come to my suet feeder. You are so lucky! Incidentally, I lived in central Florida for seven years, and Pileateds were much more common there than they are here in the Mid-Atlantic. I used to see them routinely pecking on utility poles in my suburban neighborhood, and they often pecked on metal flashing around chimneys to make even more racket.

Richard said...

Love your description of sceeking through the house. That also has some advantages to finding places you haven't vacumned in a while.

My problem with this woodpecker is that by the time I get my camera that have decided to move on to taunt me from the trees.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Scott…

When my daughter graduated from university a few years ago (it took her just 3-1/2 years to earn her degree in psychology), she had a 4.0 average (same as high school), was a member of the National Honors Society, Psych High, and about a half-dozen similar "high achievement" organizations, was on the dean's list, was class valedictorian, and was graduating summa cum laude—and she stood in front of God and about 3000 parents and friends and blamed me—in the sweetest possible way—for teaching her to be such a perfectionist. I blame my father, who never did anything halfway.

There are times when I wish I could slack and accept…but I can't. I know I can produce better pileated shots because I have (once or twice) and because I've see far better photos taken by others. Now I don't get all hinky about it, but I do have a higher standard in mind and compare what I manage to what I desire.

There are pileateds all around here. I have at least a one pair on the island across from the cottage. There's another pair I see up on the hill. All the riparian woodlands and woodlots have pileateds, and when you get into the big hill-country forests of the southeastern part of the state, there are plenty of pileateds there, too.

I've heard plenty of tales about pileateds which decide to "work" the side of a house or garage, and all the noise and damage they can do. If you've ever seen the huge pile of chippings when a pair decides to excavate a nest hole, you can understand why a homeowner might be concerned. I guess they're pretty hard to discourage, too, once they decide your cedar siding is a good meal, drumming, or nest hole site. It's probably a good thing I live in a stone house!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Richard…

Not only do you get a worm's-eye-view of dust-bunnies under the couch, but you find lost dog toys and chew-bones, missing house slippers, books, and stuff you'd forgotten you owned. I believe every homeowner ought to make a crawl-through inspection of their rooms every year…it can be enlightening and/or shocking.

Hey, I understand completely about seeing a plieated and not being able to get the camera and get back into place before they leave. I go through that almost daily. Sometimes I'll hear a pileated squawk, which they often do as they land in a tree prior to hopping over to the feeder. Hearing this alert, I dash for the camera THEN look for the woodpecker. It work's about every third time—and if my luck continues, I manage a frame or two before something spooks 'em and they fly off.

giggles said...

Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiice....

And lt least your type of time wasting is theraputic.....

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Trust me, I have other forms of time-wasting that are neither therapeutic nor fun. :(

Carolyn H said...

Griz: How very cool! i have pileated woodpeckers here on Roundtop, but I've never been able to entice one to a feeder of any kind. The closest I came was when one was swooping a red-bellied woodpecker that was in the feeder. Mr. pileated didn't want the feeder for himself, but he didn't want the red-bellied in their either!

Carolyn H.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

If you'll excuse the pun…there's a definite pecking order among woodpeckers. The hairys whack the downies, the red-bellied whack the hairys and the downies, the flickers whack evenybody, and the pileateds come around every so often to show who's really the boss. I'd like to know where redheaded woodpeckers fit into the mix, but though there are a few around, I've never seen one here. But the above Woodpecker X Five Follies plays out every day.

I don't know why pileateds like my suet feeders, BTW, just that they began coming to the from almost the first day I hung them out. There are lots of large, dead trees up and down the river, so presumably ample food. And I just fill the feeders with those commercial blocks, at about 70¢ per. They're likely a woodpecker's version of junk food, and you know how good junk food tastes.

Bernie said...

I love this photo, well done. Thank you for the "bird" lesson. I have learned so much from you and Wanda especially all the beautiful sights and sounds from living a quiet life surrounded by nature... I get such pleasure from visiting you both......you sound like a very proud father and so you should as your daughter sounds awesome.......:-) Hugs

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

Proud father? Oh, you bet! But the credit really belongs to my daughter. All I did was chauffeur her around and watched her excel. I was the luckiest of fathers to have such a daughter…and blessed beyond all deserving.

I'm glad you enjoy visiting the riverbank; you're always welcome.

Kelly said...

...you're so lucky to have a pileated at your suet feeder! ....and it's therapy most definitely!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Kelly…

The male was here today more often than the female (it was the other way around yesterday) but I never managed a single photo. What can I say…the pileateds like me. (Actually, they like me for my suet. Alas, I feel so abused!)