Sunday’s Visitor

Our yard, our neighborhood, much of Clarksburg and surrounding area along the West Fork River is filled with large, old trees — almost a mixed hardwood and conifer forest, even though we are in town — and many of the normal animal residents of such forests can be seen, at least from time to time, in our yard. Red squirrels dance from tree to tree, a fat groundhog resides someplace in the far back yard and in summer scurries close to the house to pilfer vegetables from our tiny garden, and lately a large hawk, a Cooper’s hawk perhaps, has been lurking in the trees overlooking our bird feeder.

There are other woodland creatures around as well. Ever since we moved to Clarksburg we’ve been aware of pileated woodpeckers in our neighborhood. It’s not that they abound, but we see or hear them with some frequency — distinctive drumming, more rarely a hysterical laugh, from someplace unseen, sometimes near, sometimes far; a fleeting glimpse of a large black body with flashes of white on its wings, gliding among the trees; a red-crested “hat” barely seen among branches or leaves just beyond the edge of the yard.

From time to time one drifts through our yard, sometimes perching for a while on some bare branch or an old stump below the retaining wall. Occasionally they’re more obvious. Once, only very briefly, I saw one on the bird feeder outside the dining room windows. It cleverly clung to the side of the feeder opposite the house, perhaps not hiding but not easily visible, then flew away before I could get my camera.

I don’t know if the birds we have seen each time have been the same one or two individuals, a resident pair perhaps, or if various birds pass through from time to time. I have not seen any evidence of a nest, and don’t know the birds’ territories. In any case, they are quite elusive for such large animals.

But Sunday one startled us by spending a surprisingly long time visible from our dining room window. Well, partly visible anyway. It seemed to be entertaining itself, flitting up and down a dead branch on a tree in the next yard, showing itself spottily through the hemlock branches as it scattered scraps of bark onto the ground below.

Pileated woodpecker hiding

Pileated woodpecker hiding

Can you see it, that speck of red there among the green near the far right edge of the picture? You might have to click on the picture to get a better view.

After a while the bird flew away and I returned to other tasks. But about a half hour later it returned (or another arrived?) and started grazing on a main branch of a large maple. She (I think it’s a she — she seems to lack the red “moustache” of a male) was kind enough to stay clearly visible for some time, although generally staying in the shadows and occasionally slipping to the other side of the branch.

Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

I don’t claim to be a skilled nature photographer, and my camera is only a “point and click” digital with limited zoom capabilities, but at least I managed finally to capture an image of “our” pileated woodpecker.

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4 thoughts on “Sunday’s Visitor

    • Yes, they are big. The books all say they’re a little smaller than a crow, but that seems a bit too small to me. But I think that what is really striking about them is how slowly, and elegantly, they fly, at least some of the time.

  1. What is in the upper left hand corner of the picture labeled “Pileated woodpecker hiding”? When I click on it to make the image larger it looks like a large wooden red bird.

    • I hadn’t noticed this. Thanks for pointing it out. Lisa & I both enlarged the image and stared at the “bird” for a while, then I went outside and stared at the tree where the “bird” seemed to have been.

      There’s nothing on the tree, so I don’t think it could be a wooden bird, unless it fell or otherwise left.

      So I thought it might be an actual hawk or large owl. I haven’t seen any large owls around, but we’ve had some large, reddish hawks around here the past few months. But somehow it just doesn’t look like a hawk to me, although I might ask a birder friend of mine to look at it in case my ignorance of hawks is preventing me from seeing it.

      But for now I think it’s a wonderful optical illusion composed of patterns of sunlight on a tree trunk filtered through, and partly obscured by, leaves and branches, all of which together create the image of a “large wooden red bird”. I can see what looks like the same spot of reddish brown in a little different location at the edge of another picture I took that day, but that spot doesn’t have any resemblance to a bird at all.

      Anyway, thanks for pointing this amazing image out to me. I might never have seen it if you hadn’t.

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