Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hairy Woodpecker - Picoides villosus - subspecies discussion

Hairy Woodpecker - Picoides villosus -  Discussion of subspecies 

Sometimes in Michigan, someone will suggest, on a birding email list, they've observed a Hairy Woodpecker with plumage matching that of the pacific northwest subspecies. Often the distinguishing characteristic used for the ID is the overall dusky tint to the white plumage compared to bright white plumage of the eastern subspecies. However, the amount of white spots on the wings is often ignored. Discussion usually turns to the prominent white spotting on the observed subject and, if it was observed during nesting season, it is suggested the white plumage is dusky as a result of the bird moving in and out of the nesting cavity; resulting in "dirty" plumage.

I've been a bit confused by the Hairy Woodpeckers at Bandon State Natural Area, and in southern Oregon generally, because I've observed more white spots on the wings of some birds than I expected. A transplant from Michigan, I anticipated seeing very little white spotting on the wings. Also, the white plumage of some birds did not strike me as all the dusky. Further experience over the past three years suggests my initial experiences were not representative.

This morning I observed and photographed a fledged male juvenile working a dead himalayan cherry tree in Bandon. This bird was had dusky white plumage and little white spotting on the wings. Also, notice the red cap covering the crown determinative of a juvenile as oppose to the adult male red plumage on the back of the head.

Compare the white spots on the wings with those of Hairy Woodpeckers in Michigan. 

Hairy Woodpecker Nest Sight at Point Aux Chenes wetland in Michigan's Upper Peninsula -  June 13th, 2010

The juvenile, observed this morning, has the least amount of white spotting that I've observed on Hairy Woodpeckers on the south coast. That may be because it is young, however, the juveniles back east have much more spotting than this individual captured in the first two photos above:

Chipper Woods Bird Observatory - Carmel, Indiana
Compare Photos:

I wonder whether there are multiple subspecies on the south coast of Oregon?

Hairy Woodpecker nest sight on Swamp Lakes in Michigan's Upper Peninsula - May 31st, 2009

Friday, July 12, 2013

Reflection on my first experience observing nesting northern waterthrush.

Northern Waterthrush Experience
A moment toward transcendence

Video shows female gathering nesting material and the nest sight with two egg.

Wet habitat is a beloved haunt; preferably dark and dank wooded wetlands dotted with tree-less fen or bog pockets. Because of this, northern waterthrush and I regularly interacted in the wooded dune/swale complexes along Lake Huron in the northeastern lower peninsula of Michigan.


Nesting season is a favored time of year; not so much the spring and fall migration seasons. I love searching for wild bird nests and observing and experiencing their nest cycle from nest building to young leaving the nest. The northern waterthrush nest eluded me for years.

One day in May 2005,  I sat quietly in a cedar swamp between Squaw Bay and Devils Lake south of Alpena, Mi. I was here before dawn of a mind to watch a ruffed grouse drumming on his drumming log nearby. Dawn approached and I could see him moving around log. Two hours later he was still walking around but had not climbed atop the log to commence drumming. Obviously, he was aware of my presence. This prompted me to move further away. No sooner had I sat down in my new location than a male northern waterthrush began singing. Then, only moments later, a female landed near a moss covered log and began gathering the moss in her beak. Then, she flew away about 30 yards. I lost her in the darkness of the cedar swamp floor.

My heart was pounding. "Just be patient ... wait ... wait ... wait." I told myself. Suddenly she was back gathering more moss. I shifted a bit and brought my binoculars up to try and follow her. Thirty minutes later, after a few more trips to the moss, I had my scope trained on the location she seemed taking the moss. Two hours later I was sure of the spot. Daily, for another 5 days, I watched her from various other locations, with my spotting scope, as she worked to build her nest. Then, she stopped the building activity and I rarely saw her. Although the male was bringing food to her at the nest sight. Two days later I approached the nest and confirmed a nest with two eggs. I observed the nest sight for another month until just before the young left the nest.

Northern Waterthrush