5 May 2011

Pileated Woodpecker: The largest woodpecker I ever saw

Peeking over the top
I haven't been this surprised by a bird, since I saw an Osprey fishing in  a city pond.  And all  because I was totally focused on searching for a Goshawk, whose call I had heard a just few minutes before.  It is actually quite typical of me to be focused on a raptor, because raptors happen to be my favorite species of bird.  So naturally, I was scanning the trees at mid height and lower, as soon as I heard it, just in case the Goshawk had had a successful hunt.

So when I happened to glimpse a flurry of wings, my heart rate kicked up a beat, while my mind picked up on the oddity of seeing the inside of a large set of wings very low on the side of a tree trunk.   I didn't get a complete view of the bird right away, even though I immediately stepped into the undergrowth to get a closer look.   After a few minutes spent looking around, I reversed my steps, having decided that I missed whatever it was.  However, when I rounded a bend in the trail I was following, there was her bright red head right in front of my eyes.   She was on the ground not ten feet in front of me, a Pileated Woodpecker, pecking away at a fallen log just off the side of the trail. 

On the wrong side of the tree
Now my heart rate went into overdrive as all thoughts of the Goshawk fled my mind.  This species was new, very nearby and an unexpected opportunity for some close up photos had arrived.   Trouble was, there were many obstructions such as bushes, dead weeds and small trees in the way, and my camera simply wouldn't focus properly because of it.  Not that I didn't try anyway, but I knew the photos wouldn't be very good.  The only solution was obvious.  I had to move.   As she didn't seem to be bothered by my presence, or the sound of my camera anyway, I went towards her very carefully, attempting to get into just the right position for a couple of clear shots.

It didn't happen.  At some invisible point I simply got too close.  She flew off, leaving me to think I had lost her, as well as the opportunity all together.  A few swear words came to mind.   My disappointment was acute, to say the least.

What a bright head

Nevertheless, I went ahead and followed the direction of her flight, and spent some time very carefully and quietly making my way through the bushes, with every sense I have on full alert.  As it happens, I was also following the path of the creek, which winds it's way through this forest, and  it's a good thing that I did.   Soon enough, I spotted the woodpecker again not far off, just on the other side, where fortunately there was a small break from the ever present, and numerous obstacles.  This time I managed to get some decent photos.

Pileated Woodpecker Female
Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpeckers are one of the largest species of woodpecker in North America.  They are the same size as a Crow.  The female sports a prominent black stripe beneath her eye, while the male has a flashy red stripe in the same place.  If you are searching for this woodpecker in particular, look to the trees for clues of their presence.  The Pileated Woodpecker carves square holes into the trunk of a tree in search of insects, or when carving out it's home.  Also look for recently excavated fallen tree trunks. 


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