Friday, December 16, 2011

Red-bellied Woodpecker, really?

 Yesterday took a real unexpected turn.  Just as I was growing restless with being indoors on a sunny day, my "bird alert" phone rang. The excited voice of Catherine Barrett on the other end told me that Anne Hughes had just located a Red-bellied Woodpecker on the lower Rennies River. I dropped everything in a flash and rushed over to the site.
There were already five cars in the lot and ten other birders on the scene. I must be really slow! The RB Woodpecker was nowhere to be seen.  The group had begun to spread out and  search the whole area.  Having birded this area before I knew that there were often numerous little birds around so I decided to entertain myself with them while waiting for the woodpecker to return to the original spot where it was seen. I was alone for a while when Chris Brown came around the bend. He said that he thought he had heard the bird in the area so we walked along quietly eyeing the tree tops and backyards.  It was Chris who spotted a bag of suet hanging on a deck post. He saw movement.  We both got our binoculars on it and presto, there it was! In the first picture above it is easy to see the RB Woodpecker and the small male Downy Woodpecker in the back right waiting for its turn at the feeder.
We were busy watching and making calls to rally the group back to this spot when a resident "reved" up a yard machine and began to move and dump large rocks.  The clatter was enough to scare the woodpecker away from its meal.  The other birders were returning, one by one but we could no longer see the bird.  Todd Boland had joined the group and walked around the bend in the boardwalk. Within moments he called out that he had the bird. The now three birders including me hurried along closing the distance between us and the target. There it was sitting high in the tree picking at something in the bark. Every now and then it would move out into the light and away from the clutter of the branches.
 We watched and marveled at this beautiful bird. I noticed that when it would stop knocking and picking at the tree it would raise its head as if to check out other places to move. Then in a burst it would fly.
This time he only took a short hop to a nearby tree.  When I saw the underneath of this bird, particularly in the picture I couldn't help but think of Neil Diamond's song, "Heartlight."  The chorus is very fitting. "Turn on your heartlight,
Let it shine wherever you go, Let it make a happy glow, For all the world to see." Our Red-bellied Woodpecker was our own ET.

 The last time I saw the Red-bellied Woodpecker was while sitting in my sister's backyard in Little Rock, Arkansas in 102 F heat watching the woodpecker work its way around a light pole. The year-round range of the Red-bellied Woodpecker is from middle America east to New England. What was it doing here?  Well, we have had swirling winds around the island coming from every possible direction for the last three weeks. This male woodpecker is not here alone.  Two other Red-bellied Woodpeckers have been reported in Newfoundland since early November.  These were found in Rocky Harbour on the west coast and in Lumsden in Central Newfoundland. And now here is our beautiful male visitor right in the heart of St. John's.
The area was aflutter with woodpeckers yesterday. There were five yellow-shafted Northern Flickers, a Downy Woodpecker and of course, our guest of honor. 
More people began to gather under the trees but this didn't seem to bother this Red-bellied Woodpecker from gleaning any food it could from the bark.
 It worked its way around and up and down the dead trees.
On occasion its red belly would shine in the sunlight.

After about fifteen minutes of feeding away, it threw its head back and lifted off once again. This time it flew some distance away but was quickly relocated by the keen eye of Bruce Mactavish. More calls were made and more birders were showing up by the minute.
Much like the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child," it takes a tight-knit community of birders to share an experience like this with as many interested people as possible. When a special "arrivant" like this is found, everyone plays a role in the sharing experience and caring for the bird.

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