Friday, September 28, 2012

Woodpecker Days

So I am back at home, sleeping in my own bed, surrounded by my familiar stuff.  I spent a week in that lonely little park, with the cedars and the hemlocks and the jays.  But, as seems to be becoming the routine when I go off on these sojourns, the time was saturated with the presence of one kind of bird.  Last year, I had crows and pelicans.  This time around, it was…woodpeckers.

The place was lousy with them.  All shapes and sizes.  Flickers, as plentiful as robins in a city park, patrolled the grounds.  I saw downies, red-headed sapsuckers, nuthatches and brown creepers (which are not woodpeckers, exactly, but close…)  The habitat was perfect for them—mature forest with a lot of old, dead rotting stumps and, unfortunately, disease compromised trees.  All the cedars in the park were suffering from some disease that has been running rampant here in the Pacific Northwest—I don’t know if the disease IS an insect, or if sick trees host better bugs, but the woodpeckers are enjoying a windfall.

The main attraction, though, seemed to be a medium-sized deciduous tree across the road from my campsite.  This tree, which I have since determined with some certainty is a buckthorn, sported blue-black berries over which the local bird population went completely nuts.  One bird in particular, in fact. 

When we first went out to the park to scope out the accommodations, we were greeted by an ungodly loud bird-shriek.  It echoed through the entire park and made me feel like I was lost in the Amazon jungle.  Scanning the nearby vegetation for the source of the screaming, I noticed a hubbub in a nearby tree—that afore-mentioned buckthorn.  Looking up, I saw this HUGE black woodpecker with a fiery red hat bumbling through the branches.  A pileated woodpecker.  Wow! 

He made no pretense at all of remaining unnoticed while he gorged himself on those lovely little berries.  Which I suspect, because of the unseasonal heat, were slightly fermented…and I think he was a tad, shall we say, impaired?  A couple of times, when he tried to hang upside down from spindly branch tips that were not meant to support the weight of a gigantic drunken woodpecker, I feared he was going to fall right out of the tree and land on his woodpecker butt.

The following week, when we drove the trailer back to the park and set up camp, we came to realize that our previous encounter with Mr. Pileated was by no means going to be an isolated occurrence.  That bird was on a bender.  He hit that tree every day, several times a day, announcing his arrival with his loud, crazy whooping.  Eventually, I was inspired to give him a name—“Cuckoo.”

Cuckoo was really a special gift.  He wasn’t just a fascinating species available for close-up observation.  We had a relationship, that bird and I.

He would soar in, whooping and hollering, and I would call, “Cuckoo!”  And he would answer.  I couldn’t resist the temptation to drag my camera over to the tree to try to get a few pictures.  Every day, it seemed that there was better light or an opportunity for a more perfect portrait.  I started out sitting at a picnic table six feet from the tree, steadying my camera on the table and trying not to giggle.  By midweek, I was standing directly under the tree and he was in the branches three feet above my head, peeking from behind the leaves, then bursting out in full view, but never holding still long enough for me to get a decent shot. 

I laughed at him.  He laughed at me.  We bonded.

Between Cuckoo and all the other assorted woodpeckers who populated this place, I was sure the Almighty staged this encounter for a reason.  This was not just a “Wow!  Cool birds!” kind of experience.  It was total immersion.  As if to add the exclamation point to this theory, the first bird I encountered in my own back yard when we got home Wednesday was---a woodpecker. Not a common visitor to my yard, by any means.  Too remarkable not to mean something. 

But I have no idea what.  Well, that’s a lie…I have some ideas, but I’m not sure I want to share them.  Yet.  My reference books are pretty lame on the subject of visitation by Woodpecker.  And…I don’t know.  I don’t want these posts to look like a journal of “Oooh…I saw a bird (animal, insect…)  What does it MEAN?"  I guess everything has a meaning…but not everything is a message.  I feel strongly that this woodpecker encounter is a message.  I just have to figure out how to decode it. 

I’ll leave you with this—a very bad video I shot (or tried to shoot) of that darned Cuckoo.  You can’t see him very well, but at least you can get some idea of what he sounded like.  Turn up the volume if you want the real experience.  Priceless!    


  1. I swear I saw a female pileated woodpecker in the tree in our backyard just this afternoon. Like you, my husband has a gift with animals - they love him and allow him to come close. He talks to them and they talk back. It's a gift. Enjoy it.

  2. I have this wicked cartoonish image of Cuckoo, totally plastered, half off his barstool, going "here's lookin' at ya." Darn, I wish I could draw.

  3. sorry, can't help myself..... "live to the beat of your own drum".... (woodpecker)