Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Birding in the Rain

Birding in the rain, I'm birding in the rain... And if you can imagine that sung to a popular, happy rain tune, you'll have an idea of how I felt during yesterday's constant drizzle. But it wasn't the rain that was exciting, it was the close-to-home birding that was a thrill.

Walking through the city arboretum on my way home from working at the library (such is the life of a freelance writer), I noticed a group of American robins flitting from tree to tree, looking much perturbed at the wet weather. One robin, however, appeared none the worse for the sprinkling as it foraged eagerly beneath a pine tree, looking for what I assumed would be worms forced to the surface. But as I got closer -- that tree was near my path across the park -- the bird flew away, and I knew instantly by the rich cinnamon under its wings and the bold white patch on its rump that it was no robin. It was, in fact, a rogue bird I'd spotted several times before, but had never been able to get close enough to in order to properly identify.

It didn't fly far, and naturally I followed, my rainsuit making the loudest scuffing noises I could imagine -- exactly what you don't need when you're approaching a fidgety bird. I followed it from tree to tree to tree, and in that third tree I managed to get close enough to watch its behavior and see, without a doubt, its distinctive markings. The heavy spotting on the back and abdomen, long straight bill, red cheek swipe, double spiked tail, and curved black bib left no doubt -- I've added the Northern Flicker to my life list.

This woodpecker is the only one that regularly feeds on the ground, and it wasn't worms I saw it feasting upon -- it was ants. The northern flicker has an antacid saliva that neutralizes the acidity that is ants' natural protection. I also saw the distinctive undulating flight pattern, and watched the bird use its powerful bill to delicately pry beneath bark for morsels. Such a thrill to be able to identify a bird not only by its appearance, but by its behavior -- both of which left me unconcerned about the rain dripping down the back of my neck after craning for 15 minutes to observe this latest addition to my confirmed life list.

My life list is up to 45 -- how many bird species are on your list? Share your total in the November poll!


Josephine- said...

Wow, cool, I had no idea any of the woodpeckers pecked at anything but, well, wood! :)

Melissa said...

Different species use their bills as different tools -- drills, drumsticks, forks, you name it!

Ryan O'Donnell said...

Early last winter I saw a Northern Flicker in my back yard feeding on a telephone pole. A look through the binoculars revealed that it was pulling wasps out of the cracks in the wood where they were trying to escape the cold.