Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Northern Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker, and Still Some Warblers Passing Through

Early mornings are much quieter now than a few weeks ago. Though nights have gotten a little cooler, crickets still sing, and a few late katydids, and the first bird songs or calls I heard this morning, well before first light – like most days this past week – were the harsh rasp of a Mockingbird, the bright, musical songs of four or five Carolina Wrens, and the sibilant song of a Phoebe.

This morning around 8:30, a small flock of about a dozen Blackbirds flew over. Then a Northern Flicker flew into the top of a tall dead pine, arriving with a hollow Quorrr call. It stayed for only a minute or two, long enough for me to admire its handsome profile, spotted breast and thick black crescent high on the breast, then flew away with another, softer Quorrr.*

Chickadees, Titmice, Downy Woodpeckers and Brown-headed Nuthatches come and go from the feeders all day long, while Cardinals and Mourning Doves usually forage on the ground below, sometimes joined by a Chipping Sparrow or two.

In one part of the woods behind our house several tall pines have turned red-brown and are dead or dying, and while I’m sorry to lose them – and wonder what that will mean for our nuthatches, pine warblers, golden-crowned kinglets and other pine-loving birds – right now they seem to be providing a bonanza for Hairy Woodpeckers, as well as for Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers. The calls of all three, and the sounds of them working on the trunks, are among the most characteristic parts of the soundscape outside right now, especially the chucking and rattling of the Red-bellied Woodpeckers and the emphatic peenk! of the Hairys.

This afternoon, I spent a pleasant, but frustrating hour or so watching warblers in the treetops, most of which I never managed to see well enough to identify. There were certainly one Tennessee and one Chestnut-sided Warbler, which may have been what they all were, but most of them moved so quickly through the foliage of the oaks, in and out of sunshine and shadow and often up near the tops of the trees, that I felt as I often do in the fall – reminded of how much I cannot see and do not know. Which is, on the whole, not a bad thing. Sometimes you see them, sometimes you don’t, but it’s a fine thing to know they are there, and even a finer thing that they remain elusive, wild, mysterious, and not easy to pin down and classify. Though it’s still frustrating!

*The species account in Birds of North America describes this call as a “whurdle” and says it is the Flicker’s “least-known and least-heard vocalization. Indeed, the mechanism of its production still needs to be established . . . . Whurdle is a soft sound that has been described as a ‘gurgling almost involuntary chur-r-r-r-r’ (Burns 1900) given on the wing.”

Wiebe, Karen L. and William S. Moore. 2008. Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornitholothology.


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