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Waiting for Mr. Lewis

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bill and I have a thing for Lewis' woodpeckers, another dream-bird of our childhoods. For me, it's all tied to color. A green, pink, crimson and silver woodpecker. Who wouldn't dream of seeing that? But this creature looks and flies just like a crazy little crow, dressed up for Mardi Gras.
Last year, ever-resourceful BOTB found someone online through the New Mexico Rare Bird Alert who was kind enough to suffer a phone call to find out where we might see Lewis' Woodpeckers near Taos, New Mexico. He gave us exact directions to a road north of Arroyo Seco. We arrived there in mid-morning on a November 2006, and three Lewis' woodpeckers appeared out of nowhere as if called to cue.
This year, we trekked to the same spot, same grove of cottonwoods, but it was afternoon both times we went. No woodpeckers. Bill was uncharacteristically pessimistic. "They're gone. I know they're gone. It just doesn't feel right here."
I was uncharacteristically sunny. "I think they're morning birds. Let's give it a try tomorrow morning. I know they'll be here."
While we were waiting for the Godot woodpeckers, a compact falcon stormed overhead and fetched up in a cottonwood. I swung my lens up, sensing it was something good, and caught this:and then this:
A little adult male merlin. Yummm! Not a great shot, but diagnostic. We very rarely see blue adults back East.

Another dream-bird, one I haven't seen for at least five years, one I'd been pining for, showed up--an evening grosbeak, uncharacteristically all alone, like the merlin, thankfully masculine--oh, those colors!
Melting. Rapture. You wear your golden coronet well.As the sun set the second afternoon while we were waiting for Mr. Lewis, a shorebird flew in to the seep beneath the woodpecker's cottonwoods and landed with a harsh scraping cry in a grassy puddle. A common snipe! It allowed us to creep close and capture its onyx eye and creamy stripes. Perfect camouflage.At this point, I'd like to see a Lewis' woodpecker, but I'm pretty darn happy with all the other birds we've seen instead. Bill is more goal-oriented, and he was still fretting. A small band of sheep burst through an open gate, thundered across the road right next to us, and began to graze in the late afternoon light. Oooooooh. Sidelight. Zick: Clicketyclickyclickclick. Woodpeckers forgotten. I looove backlight. It doesn't get much better than this.

On our third try, in the bright morning sun, yaks grunting from the yurt next door, we rolled up, got out of the car, and a lone Lewis' woodpecker came flapping in, looking like a truncated crow. Ahhh. He lit in the top of a cottonwood, and promptly came down within lensrange, and commenced to preen for about a half-hour.
This is just a ridiculous bird. Silver, pink, green and crimson. OK. Who thought that up?
Over the next few days, Bill and I would stumble into Lewis' woodpecker Valhalla--apple orchards along a river not far from Embudo, New Mexico. We saw them fly over, land in the apple trees, exit the orchards with big chunks of frost-burned apple in their bills. One even flew over our rented adobe house in Arroyo Seco on the last morning we were there, while we were shooting pictures of tame magpies in the back yard. But this was to be our only opportunity to photograph one, and we grabbed it. Be sure to get my fluffy pink flanks in this shot. They are especially filamentous today.

Another magical sight while waiting fruitlessly for the woodpeckers: a crow against the rising moon.Not to be trite, but: I think one major secret to happiness is wanting what you've been granted, what you've already got. Pink, green and silver woodpeckers are just the marischino on top of the big, rapidly melting sundae sitting right in front of you. As a certain goal-oriented someone I love has told me (again and again and again): Life is good. Slurp it up.


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