Wednesday, January 19, 2011

RED-HEADED DISTRACTIONS


Yesterday's breathlessly predicted spate of bad weather never quite materialized. Myladylove and I were running various errands which occupied the entire day and had us all over the county, yet all we encountered was the occasional light drizzle. It did, however, warm into the upper-30s, which melted maybe 85 percent of the snow. More snow—up to five inches—is on the way tomorrow, with temperatures plummeting to 5˚F tomorrow night. Just winter being winter…and it's probably best to keep in mind that we still have two full months of it ahead.

Today is another drippy, gray morning here along the riverbank. Since breakfast I've been watching pileated woodpeckers. As I write this, there's a male pileated whacking his way up a box elder about fifty feet downstream from the cottage—and I've just made his portrait (above) though the deskside window. Every so often he pauses in his labor to cut loose with a loud maniacal yelping, and sometimes I hear a fainter answering call from across the river. Paired pileateds keep track of one another this way throughout the day, like teenagers texting on cell phones.

Earlier, two female pileateds spent half an hour playing peek-a-boo from opposite sides of a hackberry a dozen yards upstream of the house. The birds were positioned no more than four feet from the ground on the tree. First one woodpecker would peek around the trunk, then quickly jerk back—at which point the other woodpecker did the same. This was repeated several times—peek, hide, peek, hide, peek, hide. Occasionally they flapped their wings, or shook their feathers like a dog shaking off water. Now and then they took turns yelping. They might move up the trunk a foot, or down, but essentially remained on the same confined section. After exchanging a series of peek-hides, the birds would spin around the trunk, more-or-less exchanging positions, and repeat the peek-a-boo scenario.

I don't know enough about pileated behavior to understand what was going on, but to me it simply looked for all the world like play. In my experience, pileateds rarely spend much time on or close to the ground. 


I shot several frames through the kitchen window of these carryings-on, but there's a lot of brush at the base of the hackberry and the photos don't show much. To give you a bit of perspective, the birds are actually below my eye level, and I'm shooting slightly downhill. The ground is maybe six inches below the bottom of the photo. That's the frozen edge of the river in the background. 

After half an hour, the two big woodpeckers took their goofy act a hundred feet upstream. I returned to my desk and am now trying to get some work done as I have a deadline to meet…but I'm rather prone to yielding to certain temptations, and will doubtless succumb again should my red-headed distractions reappear. 
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20 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

Glad to hear you are prone to temptation!
I wonder what those two woodpeckers are doing - trying to drill right through the trunk do you think?
You are mightily philosophical about the weather Grizz - I get so depressed when they say it is going to snow again. At present we are having very sunny days and very sharp frosts at night.

Grizz………… said...

Weaver…

I can resist anything but temptation. Re. the woodpeckers…I have no idea what they were doing. They were both females, so it wasn't any sort of mating behavior, but could have, I suppose, been territorial. Yet as I said in the post, it seemed to me more like play.

Honestly, I'm not being philosophical or stoic—I like winter and snow. The prospects of another snow storm heading our way is good news. I would want snow all the time; but a full season's worth every year is great.

Carolyn H said...

Griz: Great phileated photos! I see them regularly but can't ever seem to get a clear shot without some bit of branch in the way. I don't know why your woodpeckers were playihg peekaboo. I'll have to see if I can find something on that one. But pileateds usually drill rectangular holes near the base of a tree, so that's why you see them a lot within 4 feet of the ground.

Carolyn H.

Linda said...

You aroused my curiosity with this post, and I had to refer to our bird book to see the differences between male and female pileated woodpeckers. I wish you had shot a video of the two females. Their behavior sounds very interesting and entertaining. By the way, what is the correct pronunciation of "pileated?" Is it "pie-lee-ay-ted" or "pill-ee-ay-ted?" Curious minds need to know. :)

Arija said...

What a performance1 Who needs TV when nature puts on free entertainment. The light mist in the air even lends some mystery to 'the dance of the bobbing woodpeckers'. Really fetching shots Grizz.

Deadlines come and deadlines go, but nature is not prone to repeat performances.

Weather is always a tricky beastie, no wonder the English have i and cricket of course, as their main topic of conversation.

The Prof (of meteorology) When asked what the weather for the day would be, invited people to look out the window and make up their own mind and added that he only studied it but was no soothsayer.

People so often bemoan the weather, I on the other hand am very grateful for what we get, except in a prolonged drought, and feel that as long as we have weather, we are all right. When it stops, that's when the trouble starts.

Meanwhile, keep those toes warm . . .

Grizz………… said...

Carolyn…

I seem to have a bunch of plieateds hereabouts at the moment, though there's always a pair—regularly visible and practically constantly audible—on the long island across from the cottage. They visit my feeders almost daily, too. When I first moved here, getting a good pileated photo seemed impossible—at least I didn't have any luck. Now I shoot a lot more pileated photos than I post, many better than either of these.

You know, I've been a pileated fan—though with less daily viewing opportunity—all my life, and found any number of their rectangular holes, plus have now watched them make a few. But none I recall were any closer to the ground than maybe 6-8 feet. These birds—and I watched them "play" on several trees—stayed 2-4 feet from the ground. They would just each peek and jerk back several times, flutter, squawk, dart at each other, sidle up or down the trunk a foot or so, flap a wing or wings, raise their crest, circle the trunk (always staying on opposite sides) then do it all over again. I don't know how long they'd been doing this before I spotted them, but I watched 30-45 minutes, while they played on several trees I quit watching when they flew farther upriver (but could still see them doing the same routine up there) and about an hour later saw a pair of pileateds—almost surely the same two birds, though I'm not certain—cross the river to the wooded island. I expect that playing behavior (or whatever it was) went on at least two hours.
Really puzzling. If you do find out something, I'd sure appreciate hearing.

Grizz………… said...

Linda…

Don't get your hopes up on video—though I can actually shoot it via the same Nikon camera body (an old D-70) I used to take these still shots. I'm just not a video sort of guy. This would have been a good place for it, however, as words and a photo badly miss what I watched.

You regular hear "pileated" pronounced both ways by folks who ought to know. I've just looked through a half-dozen of my dictionaries—including the "P" volume of the usually definitive Oxford English Dictionary. The consensus is…well, there is none; both choices are listed, with some dictionaries putting "pie-lee-ay-ted" first while the others choose "pill-ee-ay-ted." I can tell you it comes from the word "pileus," which is a word that referred to a sort of skullcap worn by ancient Romans and Greeks. FYI, and for what it's worth, I say "pie-lee-ay-ted."

Grizz………… said...

Arija…

Nature's show is daily and constant, and I succumb easily. Unfortunately, those who pay me for my drivel insist I meet their deadlines…even when lingering to woodpecker-watch is sooooo alluring.

Re. weather, the professor was a man who understood his limitations and mankind's less-than-complete grasp (thank God!) of the weather. That it can still surprise us amid all our fancy technology proves my point. I hope it remains so forever.

George said...

Of all the birds in the avian kingdom, the pileated woodpecker has a special place in my heart . They are so huge in comparison to the other woodpeckers, and they border on the majestic. A little noisy, of course, but I'm the kind of guy who prefers yelping woodpeckers to teenagers on cellphones.

Grizz………… said...

George…

I'm just astonished every time I see a pileated as they are simply spectacular.

Our dinning table sits beside a window which overlooks the river and various bird feeders. Pileateds—along with downy, hairy, red-bellied, and flicker—often feed on the suet block that hangs less than a dozen feet away. When seen at such close range, they look formidable—yellow eyes and swordlike beak…with more than a hint of the pterodactyl. And they're simply huge!

Hey, when you live beside a river with resident Canada geese in the throes of mating, a passel of great blue herons, assorted ducks, the odd kingfisher, plus blue jays and crows, a bit more noise from a pileated woodpecker or two is no big deal…and the whole cacophony mess still beats a gaggle of yabbering teenagers—with our without their cellphones.

giggles said...

Cool, fabulous photos!!! Very nice. Neat to be able to watch them "play...." *jealous* Thanks for sharing!!!!

Grizz………… said...

Giggles…

Nothing like a case of pileated envy to draw a comment from one of my favorite semi-lurkers. ;-)

I'll have to post such woodpecker shots more often.

giggles said...

:-)

Grizz………… said...

Giggles…

:-O

´¯`·.¸¸.·´¯`·.¸¸·´¯`·.¸ ><((((((º>

Scott said...

I love the "mirror image" pileated image! We have a few here in our natural area in the PA Piedmont but, since in the north pileateds are birds of "big woods" and we're so suburban, I feel lucky to have any at all. One's been hanging around my house for the last few weeks, but I rarely see it. Thanks for sharing! And, by the way, a new beaver just appeared in our suburban stream and has taken to doing what beavers do: cutting down trees we can ill-afford to lose.

Grizz………… said...

Scott…

Quite honestly, I was amazed to find pileateds here, within spitting distance of the city limits. I've always considered them a "big woods only" bird, too. The reason, I'm sure, is the riparian woodlands which act as a safe corridor along the river all the way downstream from a large woods and longtime reserve several miles upstream. I wouldn't be surprised if these aren't possibly the most urban-dwelling pileateds in the county—though the streambank woods continues for a few more miles below here, becoming narrower, with more houses scattered along various portions.

There seems to be one or two families of beaver upstream from here, and I occasionally (like maybe once a year) see one swimming along—generally in spring when older young get kicked from the clan and go looking for their own territories. My experience with beavers elsewhere tells me you may have a real problem on your hands discouraging them from cutting your waterside trees. Beavers are tough to control, once they make their minds up. I wish you luck. Drop me a line if you need a good recipe for beaver stew… :-)

Hilary said...

Oh they're beauties. I've never seen a pileated woodpecker but have heard them a couple of times. Lucky you to enjoy the antics of two of them. Lovely shots.

Grizz………… said...

Hilary…

Thank you. I'm getting better—or at least luckier—at capturing images of these spectacular woodpeckers. But they're still tough. However, there are a number of them around, so I can mess up regularly and still manage the occasional photo.
They are really fun to watch.

Joy K. said...

These birds are tops on my "most want to see" list. I'm just outside the normal range, but I live in hope of a pileated woodpecker with a questionable sense of direction.

Grizz………… said...

Joy K…

Don't give up your pileated hopes! If I can see a bald eagle here, right outside my cottage door—which I'd have said would never ever happen no way no how—you can look up one day and see a pileated woodpecker in a cottonwood. Believe it!