Friday, March 28, 2008

Walkabout Woodpecker Music

Lately I've been going on "walkabouts" with Becker, our German shepherd, each morning. I take my binoculars to watch for migrating birds; he utilizes his built-in odor detection system to hunt for cotton rats and other fascinating fauna.

As I walked by the draw two mornings ago, I heard a woodpecker drumming, but couldn't localize it at first. The drumming made me think it was a big one, though. It was very loud and resonant.

Walking to the other side of the draw, I found my musician - a female downy woodpecker, the smallest of the local woodpecker species! For an all-too-brief time she performed for me. The first time I heard her, the drumming had been particularly low and resonant. As I watched further, I noticed that she was drumming on the very tips of the stubs of dead branches in a large, old cottonwood skeleton. She'd drum on the tip of one stub, producing one tone, then fly to another stub and try it out, producing a different resonance and tone.

As the season goes on, will she pick one favorite, or continue to create an arrangement of tones?

At one point she attracted a flicker, who flew in to see what this interloper was doing. Obviously the downy decided that it was the flicker, at least twice her size, who was the interloper, because it wasn't the downy that got chased away!

Each day I notice something just a little bit different as I walk. Rarely are the changes significant: a new bird showing up here, or a few new leaves unfurling there. An insect egg mass under a branch here, an overwintering grasshopper moving stiffly through the grass there. But as I watch, I'm getting to know our little piece of the Earth a little better each day...and I love what I'm learning.

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