About mid-morning, as I was tapping away at my computer, I looked out the window to see a few flurries falling. A precursor to the 3 to 5 inches of wet snow expected tonight, followed by another storm on Thursday. The goldfinches arrived just as the flakes began to fall, as they have done in advance of recent storms. The birds looked dull, blending in with the gray tints of mid-winter.
As I stared out the window, letting my mind wander from my work, a sudden flash of color caught my eye. A female pileated woodpecker worked a 10-inch white pine twenty feet beyond the feeders. Her bold red crest and solid black back in sharp contrast to the flat, gray woods. As she flew to the backyard I followed her path as she landed on a red maple. Just as I glanced through my binoculars, the male flew in with great sweeping wing beats and landed on the same maple that the female had recently left. For the next hour they flew from dead or dying tree to dead or dying tree in the small woods behind our house. The male spent 10 minutes near the base of a six-inch dead white pine. He chiseled and flicked large pieces of bark over his shoulder, eventually clearing four feet of bark from the tree.
Aria and I walked back to the woods to stretch our legs and I took a few photos of the recent woodworking by the male pileated woodpecker. Insect trails and fresh woodpecker holes were clear and bright in the exposed wood. The woodpeckers seem to know in advance which trees have insects beneath the bark, as they rarely visited healthy, live trees. As we walked back to the house, the pair of pileateds flew overhead, gracefully moving through the canopy to the next big dead tree.
Just as we settled back in - me at the computer, Aria on the carpet near my feet -- the flock of goldfinches at the feeder disappeared suddenly. That always means one thing -- a predator has swooped in. There on a branch was a male sharp-shinned hawk. A beautiful bird, which sat for a few minutes, letting me get a good look through the binoculars. He was small for a hawk-- like a slender robin -- with a small bill and head, orange legs and feet, slate-gray back and head, slightly notched long, square tail, brightly barred breast, and a bright yellow spot at the base of its bill. The small birds stayed away from the feeder, so the sharp-shinned left to continue on its hunting rounds.
Sometimes I wonder if I should go back to a "regular job" -- one at an office, with regular hours and people to talk to. Then I think how I'd miss seeing a pair of pileated woodpeckers flick chunks of bark or a sharp-shinned hawk rest on a branch, taking walks throughout the day, listening to nature when I pleased, or writing this blog. Thanks to Srini for working the regular job and doing the long commute, so I can pursue my interests and work and play from the breakfast room/office. Aria's tail is going thump, thump, thump as she dreams - she agrees.