Friday, April 22, 2011

Pileated Woodpecker action on dead trees -- wow!

Pileated Woodpecker
(Photo by Noel Lee, courtesy
of Wikimedia Commons)
 Now that the snow has melted, I can finally get back into our woods to see what is going on there (I keep telling myself to get snowshoes so I could hike there in deep winter.  Oh well, maybe next year...)  The Pileated Woodpeckers sure have been busy chopping away at dead trees!  I haven't found a nest yet, my guess is they are either looking for insects, or trying out different trees to see if they are suitable for a nest. 

This illustrates the importance of leaving large dead trees for these big woodpeckers to use. The back five acres of our land are pretty much left as-is, except that I collect firewood there for campfires and maple syrup, and I maintain a trail (which will need some serious work this year. Lots of dead trees and branches came down in the heavy winds we had a while back. And the heavy snow totally flattened the wild raspberries across the trail in places -- that should make picking the fruit interesting this year! On the other hand, it will be easier for the grouse to eat the berries so close to the ground.)

Anyway, back to woodpecker holes.  (To see enlarged versions of any of these pix, just click on the picture.  I use thumbnails on my blog so it will load faster.)


This tree (on the right) was the first I spotted, and absolutely amazing! Just look at the huge holes the birds have chopped out.  There was also one at the top that was a literal trench about 5 feet long!  Unfortunately, it did not photograph well, because the sun was behind that side of the tree at the time.  But you can guess from these pix that it was HUGE!  The top of the tree had also  broken  and fallen off where the bird had chopped so far through, the tree broke.

 This next picture is a closeup of two of the lower holes. Notice that the entire trunk was covered with a small species of shelf fungus. I imagine that had helped to soften up the wood.  This is my favorite in this series of photos.    There is just so much interesting texture and contrast between the delicate fungi and those big holes!


These next two shots are of another tree I found in the same general area, clearly in the territory of the same birds.   There were more dead trees with evidence of woodpecker action, but these were the most dramatic.   A big pile of wood chips like this was at the bottom of the other tree, too. 

 This is a closeup of the base of the same tree.  I almost expected an elf to be sitting in there, the hole was so storybook perfect.  More likely the base is now so weakened that this tree will soon fall, where it will become shelter for the insects, salamanders, and other creatures that like to live under fallen logs.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spring is here, cleaning for Passover, birds are back!

I haven't had much time to write on my blog lately -- between making maple syrup, cleaning out the chicken coop, and cleaning the house for Passover, I haven't been online much in the past couple weeks.   So this is just a quick note to let all my readers know I'm fine, and very much enjoying the return of the birds.  The bird migration north is in full swing.  The phoebes that nest on my land (one in the open garage and the other under the eaves of the chicken coop) are back.  Of course, I have no way to know if they are the exact same birds that nested here last year, but we have had phoebe nests in the same areas for about 5 years now, so it is either them or their descendants. 

This is a photo I took of the young birds in a phoebe nest in 2009 -- they fledged the next day.   I liked it so much, I made it up as a souvenir postcard (you can still buy a copy in my ebay store, The Happy Rooster):

The Canada geese are back in droves, and I've seen Sandhill Cranes flying over several times now.  Monday on the way to Hinckley, my wife and I saw two pair of Snow Geese standing in two different flooded fields -- an unusual sight, we usually see them flying over on their way to Canada but rarely on the ground.  But Sunday night it was very windy so I supsect we had a  bird drop (which is different from a bird dropping) because overnight there were suddenly lots of migrating birds in the trees and bushes.  On the same day, the pond across the street was full of ducks, and I also heard them back in our seasonal woodland wetlands area, where it floods every spring.  All waiting out the high winds, I guess.

Plus there are robins, flocks of Juncos, and song sparrows, pheasants calling, grouse drumming.  I also saw a red-tailed hawk and a pair of Bald Eagles.   And the pair of starlings that nests in a hole in the eaves every year is back.  I keep meaning to get up there and plug it up, but I'm a bit old for climbing second-story ladders now.  Starlings are not really a big problem here, this is the only pair we ever see and I enjoy  enjoy seeing them sitting on the power lines and flying back and forth to feed their young.  When I do get the eaves fixed, I plan to put a birdhouse for them up there.   Otherwise, they might go compete with the Bluebirds or Tree Swallows.

Starlings, you have probably heard, were purposely released in the USA by a guy who wanted to introduce all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's plays.   There's a chapter about this in a new book, "How Shakespeare Changed Everything," due out on May 10.  (I got an advance review copy.  Since I'm not a Shakespeare expert, I found it very informative -- basically a good book with odd facts to get teenagers or newbies interested in the classics.)  The starling release has over-succeeded.  In many place they are serious pests.  But up here in the North Woods, they are just another species returning for spring.

Crocuses are blooming, the daffodils are coming up, and the frogs are out, too -- across the road is a marsh where the Spring Peepers are almost deafening, along with a species I call "clacking frogs" because that's the sound they make, likeone of those kids' clacker toys.  I've never actually seen them do it, so I'm not sure what the species is.  No singing toads yet, but I expect to hear them soon.  Last year a big toad took up residence in the flower garden outside the front window and we heard him all summer.

Yesterday I dug up my horseradish for the "bitter herbs" at our Seder (on Monday and Tuesday nights) and today I get to vacuum the rugs.   Sunday we kosher the kitchen to get rid of all leavening, bring down the Passover dishes from the attic, etc. (We order matzoh online -- it has already arrived.)   Monday we go buy fresh veggies and begin cooking for the first Seder Monday night.   So I might not get around to blogging again for a while -- until then, wishing you all a Happy Spring (or fall if you are reading this Down Under.)