Woodpeckers Without Woods

A tail feather of a Gila woodpecker, taken in our backyard in Scottsale, Arizona on March 12, 2022. Originals: _ZFC2221.NEF to _ZFC2247.NEF

As a child in Michigan we had woods behind the house where I fell in love with chipmunks and squirrels and woodpeckers. In memory the woodies were downies and redheads but the memories are blurry at best. I was in graduate school when I got my first camera and binoculars and fell in love with woodpeckers all over again. Now in Virginia, the memories are sharper, flickers and downies and hairies.

In Oregon where I spent most of my adult life we had flickers in our urban backyard, I was always alerted to their presence since they were also a favorite of Emma’s and she would chirp at me from atop the cat tree on their arrival. On the trails in addition to downies and hairies I saw pileated woodpeckers and red-breasted sapsuckers too.

Before the move to Arizona I was intrigued when looking at real estate listings to see what looked like bird holes in the saguaros of some yards, and upon learning they were made by woodpeckers wanted to see them more than anything. So imagine my delight at arriving and finding them ubiquitous, I can sit on my porch and regularly see Gila woodpeckers and commonly gilded flickers and on rare occasion ladder-backed woodpeckers, so much more often than I saw their cousins in Oregon.

Who knew to see woodpeckers I had to leave the woods!

This is (I think) a tail feather from a Gila woodpecker, having served its duty helping its owner navigate the desert, now fallen to ground in our backyard.

I Take It You Trust Me

A close-up of the feathers on the back of the head of a great blue heron, taken at Rest Lake in Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, Washington on January 1, 2011. Original: _MG_2103.cr2

One of the beauties of the auto tour was if you sat there quietly, sometimes the animals would walk right by the car. Or even stop beside you, as with this hunting heron scanning the marsh beyond. With its back to me, a gentle breeze tussled the feathers atop its head, showing off the white strip of feathers they grow as adults.

No Shelter From the Rain

A close-up view of the feathers of a red-tailed hawk with water drops beading up during a heavy rain

A downpour on Christmas morning left this young red-tailed hawk, sitting on a signpost beside the auto tour, drenched from head to toe with water drops beading up on the feathers on its back. The heavy rain and the holiday morning also meant that I had the refuge pretty much to myself and I was able to observe this tolerant hawk at my leisure without having to worry about blocking the road.

Birds of a Feather

A close-up view of the feathers of a sooty grouse

I’m amazed by how diverse the feathers on a single bird can be in size and shape and color and function. The feathers in the upper left are wet with rain, it was pouring up at Hurricane Ridge when I came across a handful of grouse that were huddling near some trees for a little protection from the elements. I had on a full complement of rain gear and was nice and dry, and thankfully my camera and lens had enough weather-sealing that they shook off the rain as well.