Tag Archives: birds

Pileated Woodpecker


It was a slow afternoon at the parking lot. I was sitting in my camp chair, reading Bless Me, Ultima between talking to visitors. Suddenly something flew in front of and past me at eye level. I caught a flash of red as I looked up. The large bird had flown within a few feet of my head. My eyes followed it into nearby trees.

It landed low on a tree trunk and stood there for many seconds, maybe even a minute, maybe two. Time stretched long as I regarded the bird.

I could see its long bill and the red crest of feathers on its head. I knew it was a woodpecker, probably because it did actually bear a resemblance to Woody Woodpecker of cartoon fame. It didn’t laugh like Woody or use its beak to extract insects from the tree, but I was certain it was a woodpecker.

An older couple exited the trail across the street, and while I tried to signal them silently to be quiet and look over there, the woodpecker flew away.

The next day I told my co-worker (a third generation Californian who lives in the area year-round) all about the bird. I described it as big, woodpecker, red head. My co-worker said I’d seen a pileated woodpecker. He told me this is the bird whose pecking we hear reverberating like a jackhammer through the forest.

I looked it up in my book The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada by John Muir Laws, and my co-worker was absolutely right!

The books says the bird’s scientific name is Dryocopus pileatus. Its habitat is the forest, and it’s the size of a crow. The males and females look quite alike, with the males having a red stripe on its face under its eye, where the female has a black stripe. (I wasn’t looking for the red stripe, so I don’t know if the bird I saw was a male or a female.)

Interestingly, none of the other woodpeckers in the book have a crest of feathers on the head, so I probably would not have identified any of them as woodpeckers, unless I had seen them actually pecking at a tree. But the pileated woodpecker I saw looked like the Platonic ideal of a woodpecker.

I was pretty excited to have seen the bird, even before I knew what it was, especially since it had flown so close to me. My co-worker told me many people would give their eyeteeth to get a glimpse of that bird. I love getting paid while I’m spotting wildlife and enjoying nature.

I’ve seen the bird (or one of its close relatives) twice more since the first sighting. My co-worker saw it the other day too, and said it is probably a female, based on its smallish size. He thinks the bird hanging around the parking lot is a good omen.

I wondered why I never saw the bird in the parking lot last season. According to https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Pileated_Woodpecker/id,

Pileated Woodpeckers are forest birds that require large, standing dead trees and downed wood.

Last season we didn’t have so many standing dead trees and downed wood. I think the pileated woodpecker moved into the neighborhood because¬† now there are many dead trees and down wood. The bird is a kind of silver lining. Many trees may have died, but they’ve brought a pileated woodpecker to the area.



It’s Saturday


It’s Saturday, and I didn’t sleep well last night.

It was one of those hot and cold nights.

Although the night air outside the van cooled off, inside the van the air was warm. I guess it was too warm inside the van, or maybe my feather comforter is getting to be too much. In any case, I had one of those nights where I’d wake up too warm and push the covers off my upper body. (I always sleep with at least a sheet over my legs.) I’d doze off, then wake up cold and have to pull the comforter over me again.

During one bout of too hot, I opened the curtains over my back windows to let the cool mountain air rush in. That was delightful…until it wasn’t.

cards, chance, deckMaybe the real culprit was playing solitaire on my phone right before trying to sleep. I’m not a gambler, and in fact I dislike playing any card game with a group of friends, but something about solitaire on an electronic device grabs me and won’t let go. Winning or losing, I just want to play. This is it, I tell myself, the last game, but then I play ten or fifteen or twenty more, until I can barely keep my eyes open. Maybe the blue light interfered with my ability to sleep, or maybe the game itself overexcited my brain.

Daylight was barely a hint outside my windows when the birds started their chirping. 4:45am and the birds were already communicating at full force. I know the early bird catches the worm, but are worms out and about and ripe for catching before daybreak? Didn’t the birds get the memo that folks like to sleep in on Saturdays?

(Back in the day when I did drugs that kept me up at night, when I heard the birds singing–even if the sun wasn’t out–I knew there’d be no sleep for me.) animal, bird's nest, birds

Because the curtains were open, when the sun did come out, the light was right in my face. Sigh. So I gave up on getting anymore sleep.

I’m not exhausted. I did get some sleep. But since I didn’t get the amount or quality of sleep I wanted, I feel tired. I have to work in the parking lot today, and it will probably be busy. I told myself I’d be nice to people today and not give sassy answers when people ask me why so many trees are dead. I was hoping to feel chipper and excited, but I suspect I’ll spend the day feeling slow and dimwitted. Maybe pancakes will perk me up, or maybe I’ll need a cup of black tea.

I wrote this piece on June 4, 2016. I ended up not drinking tea, and the parking lot wasn’t too busy. I did ok. I think I was mostly nice and while my brain might have been slow, I didn’t make any major mistakes.

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/playing-game-card-58562/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/nature-animal-cute-sitting-36430/.




At one time I wrote quite a bit of poetry, but I hadn’t written a poem in years.

Writing poetry takes a lot of time for me. To write good poems, I need quiet, empty hours stretching in front of me. I haven’t had quiet, empty time in a while, so my poetry writing has mostly dried up.

The last time I wrote a poem was October 2012, when I was stuck with Mr. Carolina in Redding, CA. (You can read that story and the poem here: (http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/13/broke-down-in-redding-california/.)

But the other morning I woke up at 5am to the sound of birds chirping. As I listened to the birds, words started coming to me, so I turned on the light and grabbed my notebook.

Here is the poem I wrote:


Birds sing

before the dawn.

My first waking consciousness

is their communication.

What might they say

to one another?

Get out of here!

This is my turf!

And Hey honey!

Let’s make some babies…

The ladies answer

Chase me if you want me

or Your genes aren’t good enough for my offspring.

Later when the children hatch,

there will be choruses of

Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!

Birdsong sounds lovely to the human ear

but to birds

it’s relationship conversation.