Jamestown Island Va. 16 October 2014. Every now and then you’ll run into what seems to be a moving convention of birds of a feather. Birders often talk about waves of warblers, a fairly common occurrence in spring and fall migration when birds are moving en masse and they seem to be all around, I’ve experienced it several times.
Today I found myself in a gathering of representatives of the Picidae family; the woodpeckers, I think it was just coincidence, not a migratory wave; but whatever the reason, it was memorable.
This was our last day in Virginia and I had the day to myself again. For the purposes of this posting, it’s sufficient to say that the State of Virginia, in and around tidal waters, is a great place for finding birds. I spent a few hours on the botanically and historically rich Jamestown Island, stopping now and then to examine trees like Blackjack and Post Oaks, Persimmons and Black Tupelos, and exploring in general, trying to imagine how this looked as the capital of the Virginia Colony in the mid 1600s. Making my way out to the once strategic end of the island known as Black Point, meant passing through an open glade of Loblolly Pines where I could hear the churring calls of two or three Red-headed Woodpeckers. That certainly stopped me in my tracks and moments later I was rewarded with one landing on a decaying tree trunk nearby.
But there was more to this place than Red-headed Woodpeckers, I also noticed a Downy Woodpecker bashing noisily at something overhead and, if the Downy was bashing noisily, a Pileated Woodpecker was positively pounding, if not axeing, a pine tree just across the way. Words don’t do its efforts justice, if a picture’s worth a thousand words, then a comic-book illustration with blurred action, sprays of wood chips and Bam! star-bursts would be more like it! It was soon evident that there were, in fact, two Pileated Woodpeckers when they started calling out to each other with their rather slow mezzo-soprano laugh . They hung around for quite a while but were last seen flying away, one chasing the other like two overweight crows. The soft ‘chfff’ call of a nearby Red-bellied Woodpecker and a yellow flash overhead, the under-wing of a Northern Flicker completed the woodpecker clan gathering.
I lingered to watch the Red-headed Woodpeckers for a long time. In Ontario they are a rare treat and a rapidly vanishing species. A pity since, in a world where looks count, they are really quite spectacular.