Background Switcher (Hidden)

On Quiet Waters

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.


Oh yes, canoeing is magical. In South Louisiana and East Texas, I think it is by far the best way to become one with nature. Sometimes I take the seat out of my solo canoe, lie down, and just drift early in the mornings or near sunset and watch birds going about their business.

And once I got to look down into a nest of prothonotary warblers that were in a dead and rotted branch, hanging by a thread of bark.

And is was from a canoe, that the possible last American sighting of the ivory billed woodpecker occurred in an Arkansas swamp.

Currently my canoe is on top of my car back from a sailing adventure last weekend and ready for another venture this weekend.

Ive only been through West Virginia only one time while on my way to Ohio. And i thought it had a very raw beauty to it. Richard from the Amish settlement of Lebanon,Pa

There's nothing better than the slow approach of a canoe for seeing the very best of the birds in action.
The gallery of cavity-nesters is such a treat.
I must get out in my little kayak...too long off the water.
Your post is a good nudge.

Loves me some woodpeckers!! And I agree, flickers are one of the most under-rated beauties out there -- for some reason often seeming a bit drab at a distance, but close up or in-hand for long-lingering looks, just spectacular... yet still outdone by Red-headeds.

I've never seen flickers or woodpeckers doing their thing, so thanks for this.

Your humor, I repeat, is superb. As one who grew up near your present location, I find the International Border b/t WV and Ohio a hysterical little touch.

Wow! What an experience! Would love to have been floating in a canoe--still waters & loads of woodpeckers! Thanks for sharing!

So glad to know the difference between the male and female Flickers. They are spectacular. We occasionally have the red-headed woodpeckers visiting our feeders and it is always a treat. Thanks for your wonderful observations.

I had a ring-side seat of a flicker pair one spring morning on my lunch hour parked in front of a tree in a forest preserve to the west of Chicago. They flew in and began dancing on and around the limbs of this tree. I'd never seen anything like it. I knew they were flickers and figured it must be a mating ritual. Sure enough, my Google research back at my desk confirmed what I saw. Such a treat!

If West Virginia is "Almost heaven" then Ohio must be Heaven, right. Now that's an international border.

Drifting along the marsh edge with the motor of the pontoon boat turned off isn't as good as canoeing but it makes for a great photo platform.
Besides Anne tends to throw her arms around in a canoe while yelling" Look at that!"
Can you say Tippecanoe?

This is one of those posts that makes me regret my single life. There are many times when being an older, chubby woman makes me virtually invisible in public, but it unfortunately is not smart for me any longer to be tooling around wilderness areas alone in a canoe or kayak as I loved to do when younger. My friends are all married with kids, and unavailable for hiking and/or canoeing. I so miss the sounds your piece've inspired me to look for a paddlers group near me. I need to do get on the water again.

Speaking of spectacular woodpeckers,just got back from a trip to California where we delighted to see a White-Headed Woodpecker,foraging on the trunk of a Sequioa in King's Canyon Park. Wonderful. The next day we saw a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers chasing around dead branches atop some kind of large pine. Again,wonderful. Linda in Texas

Posted by Anonymous May 28, 2012 at 5:37 PM
[Back to Top]