A Quiet Time in the Cycle

February 21, 10:30 am.

It is one of those cold, dry but sunny days. This week winter seems to have stalled yet spring has not arrived either. I decide to go out  Davis Creek to see if there are any new bird arrivals. The last few days out in this valley I have seen very few varieties of birds so have begun to wonder if perhaps some of the overwintering species have migrated away. The inconsistency of the weather, with the two weeks of above-average temperatures and then the last two weeks that have been below normal temperatures, plus hardly any rain, may have had an effect on this. An example of this is some of the overwintering raptors, like the Ferruginous hawks, and Bald eagles, these I was seeing regularly but appear to have vanished. Even our White-tailed Kites no longer are commonly seen everywhere, even though they are residents here.This appears to be the quiet time of winter when there is a lull between the overwintering species of migrants which have left and the early spring migrants which have not yet arrived.  What is left here are the year-round resident birds.

So today I am all ears trying to hear whatever I can that is out there in the trees and grass.

First I hear the sound of loud drumming on a small valley oak, Quercus lobata, covered with lace lichen, Ramalina menziesii. It is the unmistakable sound of a Pileated woodpecker. This is our largest California woodpecker, it is 16.5 inches from head to tail and has a wingspan of 29 inches. This is a substantial bird but when he begins to hammer with that powerful bill, the chips begin to fly! It is hard at work trying to pry out something from the inside of that tree-maybe it’s searching for a favorite food of carpenter ants. It is such an active and entertaining bird and I spend 10 or 15 minutes observing the way it moves around the tree. There is something dinosaur-like about its movements. 

Then I hear another drumming sound, this does not sound like loud hammering but short and slow tapping.  The squeaky rattle call alerts me that it is a Downy woodpecker. This is our smallest California woodpecker with a length of 6.75 inches and a wingspan of 12 inches. The contrast in size between these two species is remarkable.  the tiny Downy woodpecker is hanging onto the end of a slender willow, Salix spp. , branch and appears to be using its tongue to get something out of the end of it! It Maybe it is looking for small insects and sap too. I have fun watching both of these lively resident birds busily foraging for food. 

The rest of my walk is much less exciting. There is a small group of deer that run ahead of me on the road, a Red-shouldered hawk calls in the distance, yet I get the sense that things are waiting, it feels like the calm before the storm.

It is hard to believe that in just three weeks spring will be here.

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