Tag Archives: pileated woodpecker

Leaving the Mountain


Today’s the day.

After twenty-one weeks on the mountain, today is the day I leave.

What I will miss:

Deep silence

A steady paycheck

A safe place to sleep at night

Having giant sequoias for neighbors img_6344

Laughing with my coworker

The opportunity to see Steller’s jays and pileated woodpeckers

My creek sanctuary

Trees upon which I can hang my hammock

What I won’t miss:

The smell of pit toilets

Cleaning the smelly pit toilets

Idiots (although I know I can encounter dumb folks anywhere)

Being required to be friendly when I want to be left alone

The twenty-five mile round trip to the post office

Intensely curvy mountain roads

Answering the same questions repeatedly

The plague of flies I’ve lived with most of the summer

Sap on my windshield

What I will be glad for:

Frequent hot showers

Cell phone service

Internet access

Easy communication with people I love

Access to ice that doesn’t involve a twenty-five mile round trip

Activities I am eagerly anticipating:

Reuniting with friends

Attending my first opera

Collaborating on my first mural

Self-publishing my first book

Visiting new places

Nolagirl says the trick to fighting off depression is to keep moving forward. Today I’m taking one step, two steps, three steps, four into the future.

Goodbye mountain. I hope to see you next year.


I took the photos in this post.

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 becauseĀ  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.