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Woodpecker Tracks and The Principle of Situational Awareness

Thursday, March 1, 2018

We're still rambling around in the ice, in the gold, blue and white wonderland. 

Soon I'd climbed so high the Toothless Lady could no longer be seen.

I saw a familiar bird take off from the snowy road, and stepped off the side so I wouldn't obscure its tracks with mine. 
I was talking once with a friend of mine, comparing notes. He said that if he were on a first date and she walked over tracks he was looking at, that would be it. It would be over, just like that. I still chuckle thinking about it.
I laughed and said the same would be true for me. If you're walking with me, don't be stomping over tracks.  When I see tracks, I stop and immediately jump off the trail so as not to spoil them. Because who knows what story is written in the snow or mud? 
Walking over a story like this is like trampling a book.

I was very pleased to find these tracks, the first such I'd seen. You might notice they are odd, long-toed, and zygodactyl. Two toes pointing front, two toes pointing back. These are yellow-shafted flicker tracks!! 
Flicker tracks are very hard to find and harder to photograph because flickers are almost always foraging in grass. They look for anthills to plunder. They do not frequent mud puddles, unless they're drinking. And a flicker on the ground in the snow is pretty rare.

Wild turkey and white-tailed deer tracks, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen. But a tableau with wild turkey, white-tailed deer and flicker tracks is a rare one indeed. You can see that the flicker hops. His tracks are paired and there are gaps between them.

A huge part of the concept of situational awareness is being able to appreciate when you've found something cool, maybe unrepeatable. You keep a catalogue of the things you've experienced in your head, and you run through it when you find something novel. Nope, never seen that before. That's cool! You note the moment. You savor it. A juxtaposition like this can make your day, if you're situationally aware. Let's all strive to be more situationally aware! As you will see, it took awhile for the true import of these woodpecker tracks to sink in on me. I was distracted by the light.

I hurried onward. There were white pines to admire, pines festooned in crystal.

Come on, sun. Hit these pines for me. 

Multiflora rose and dead pine, dignified by an icy case.

Bam. Thank you. 

A sentinel oil derrick, stilled for now, backed by glistening pines.  Like a giant drinking bird, about to plunge.

I hurried to the allee of pines in the dying light.  Slashes of low sun fell across. I didn't have time to walk it. I stopped, smiling as I remembered hugging Chet the last time we were here in the snow. He had his little red jacket on. 
I felt his presence with me. I just wished I could touch him, smell his not-so-great breath, and his honey-scented ears. 

There were a few dying rays, and I meant to catch them. No time to mull.

The sun illuminated the old barn and I knew there would be good light below.

I hurried to the lower level, where the cows once lived.

Today, the dark wood, slashed with warm sun, framed a stunning fairy world just outside. I don't expect to see something like this again. Note to self: Head to back barn in next ice storm.

Oh I hated to leave. But I had to catch the sunset, going on outside.

The old house stands stoically even as it falls apart.

I whipped around the corner to catch another image of the abandoned couch. There are a few things about this image I want to bring to your attention. First, snow on a couch.  There's that. Second, the gray cloud  shadow that looks like smoke, curling out of a chimney that probably hasn't known a flame for 50 years. Third, the poison ivy vine fuzzing the chimney's outlines, so it looks like the photo is out of focus. It's all so wonderful.

Ah, the dying of the light. I hurried out the road, which is really a driveway for the farmstead. My tracks coming in are happy, wandering, toe-out tracks. My tracks going out are straight, far apart, hurrytothelight tracks.

A white-throated sparrow surprised me by popping up out of the shrubbery and sitting for a few moments, backlit. Oh my. Oh my my my. I shot as long as he granted me the honor. Since this photo was taken, they've started to sing their quavering Poor Sam Peabody song from the thickets as night falls. I love hearing them sing before they head north to the sweet scented balsam fir forests of Canada.  Singing over the woodcock's peents and's divine.

Oh! turkey tracks! Must capture. I trotted along the side of the road so as not to compromise them.

When I got back to the spot, I studied the flicker tracks again, and wondered what the woodpecker was doing in the road. I studied the patterns. The tracks concentrated around holes in the gravel. In those holes were halved hickory nuts!

The flicker was using the frozen soil as a vise with which to secure hickory nuts for pounding open. 
In each hole was a halved hickory nut with the meat gone. Well doesn't that beat all?

Not only had I found my first flicker tracks, but I learned something too. 
There were two hairy woodpeckers under the hickory, as well, so some of these could be hairy woodpecker tracks. Again, I've never found those. 

Woodpecker tracks, like hummingbird tracks, are hard to photograph. It takes a special situation like this. It occurred to me that the deer and turkey tracks were there for a reason, too. Everyone was sniffing out the nuts from this one tree. This photo was taken about a week later, when everything had melted off. I haven't had a chance to figure out what kind of hickory it is, but the bark didn't look loose or curly enough for shagbark. Standing all alone there, it's a great big feeder for wildlife. I love knowing that. 

Here's the hickory, a photo from a couple days later. It's a living, growing wildlife feeder. 
I'll try to key it out one of these days.

I kept moving down the road, running toward the sunset. A forgotten hayroll wound up in the woods. I wondered how it had gotten there. Had it rolled down on its own? Did she jump or was she pushed?

Ahead of me, the snowy road.

And The Toothless Lady in the dying light, backed by lavender and cream clouds.  Another light painting, another unrepeatable scene.

Beside me, the unmistakable profile of Sasquatch. What else could it be? When I'm out in the countryside, I'm always Squatchin'. 

For your information, the pendulous butt of Sasquatch might just be a Canon 7D with telephoto. I've no explanation for the pointy head.

I kept an eye on the back sunset

and the lovely frieze of clouds and trees along the haymeadow

until I broke out on the county road and could see the main stage.

Had to hurry to the Shadow Barn to see what the light was doing there!

Might as well pay the Three Graces homage on my way home. 

Another highly successful excursion,  costing nothing. Powered by light, curiosity, situational awareness, and the endless quest for beauty. 

To recap: Look down a lot. Go out in new snow or new mud, after a rain. Make a habit of preserving tracks. Don't be walkin' on tracks. Follow them instead. Try not to let a track go unidentified. 

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has a field guide to animal tracks. A classic by the legendary Olas Murie, newly updated (I use the original). Treat yourself. 

Stay alert to the cool stuff. Celebrate when you find something new. Let it make your day. 


I believe that about covers it. Thanks, as always, for walking with me.


Oh Julie, the pleasure was all mine! Thank-YOU!

Thanks for the invitation.

We have had red-shafted flickers in the snow underneath our feeders all winter. It has become a game between the pine squirrel and the flicker. If the flicker is on the ground the squirrel chases it up into the weeping willow, then the squirrel climbs the willow to get to the branch where the flicker has landed to make it fly again, often back down under the feeder so the cycle starts all over again.

Awesome pictures and information. As always!🤗

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