Tuesday, June 28, 2011
One good outing in a boat can be absolute magic for the soul. Forget chicken soup. I need the sound of trickling water under a canoe hull, the gentle rock of a boat on calm water.
A couple weeks ago, we mounted an expotition to North Bend State Park, not far over the West Virginia International Boundary with Ohio. About nine years ago, a dam went in, making a long, meandering flooded lake with lots of fascinating elbows and appendices to explore.
David and Mary Jane, Chet Baker's West Virginia parents, alerted us to this place, and all the birds they'd found nesting there made us anxious to explore it. So they brought their huge aluminum canoe, and graciously took our kids in it, while Bill and I zooped around in our one-man canoes.
Get a load of these reflections.
It was immediately clear to us as birdwatchers that we were entering a gallery of cavity-nesting birds the likes of which we'd never experienced.
For the flooded trees all died at the same time, and this made for easy excavation by flickers, red-bellied, hairy and downy woodpeckers.
Flickers, in fact, were going nuts all around us, courting and fighting. These two males engaged in some terrific stunts and dances, vying for a single female. See their black malar marks, or "moustaches?" Those small black dashes on the side of their faces (not the breast crescent; both sexes sport that) mean they're boys.
The males kept engaging each other, approaching, posturing with bills erect. There was a whole lot of woika woika woika-ing going on.
The female flicker's the top bird in this photo.
Very noisy and amusing, they were. What a treat to see flickers breeding--outnumbering the starlings, which compete for the cavities the woodpeckers dig. This is one of North America's most ornate birds. All the spots and dashes of jet black on warm brown plumage--they wouldn't really need the golden underwings and tail, or the white rump, or the gray toupee, or the little vee of scarlet on the nape...but flickers have it all.
Sometimes when I see a flicker on the ground I'm reminded of Africa's beautiful hoopoe, which is why I sometimes call flickers the American hoopoe. But usually only to myself or to Bill, because most people have no idea why I'm calling a flicker a hoopoe.
Good grief, they were spectacular. I love this photo--it captures the crazy antics we witnessed as the three birds chased and swirled above the mirrored water. Yes, that's gold in the spread wing of the lower bird. Oh, for a bigger lens, better light, closer approach. But you get the idea.
But flickers weren't the only woodpeckers nesting in the flooded forest of North Bend State Park. There were red-bellied, hairy and downy, pileated too. And then there was the most beautiful woodpecker of all...Bill's totem bird.
The place is absolutely lousy with red-headed woodpeckers. I hope you're swooning, because we sure were. Red-headed woodpeckers are durn rare any more. Why the loveliest woodpecker must be our rarest...sigh.
More of these red, white and jet beauties anon.