Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Of Sapsuckers, Lemonade, Observing Birds, and the Perfect Gift

[Immature Yellow-bellied Sapsucker with Poison Ivy berries, Del Haven, NJ Wednesday, December 16, 2020.]

I've bemoaned to a couple friends that we've reached a point in the year where I could do my eBird checklist before going out to visit my local patch (roughly Cox Hall Creek north to Green Creek and from Delaware Bay to about a mile inland, Cape May County, NJ), and it would be within a bird or two of being spot on. This is as much a product of having birded this patch or at least a portion of it nearly daily all this pandemic year, save some not so fun trips to the hospital.

Make lemons into lemonade, right? What better chance to not just list birds, but to observe them? So I decided to redouble my efforts in that regard, spending time with the commoners as it were, seeing how they spend their day, often starting with the pair of adult Bald Eagles which leave the hidden-away east end of Fishing Creek Marsh at dawn, usually flying over my house on their way to Green Creek Marsh and the Bay to sit in the sun and then catch a fish, and fight over it.

Today a sapsucker drew my attention, and taught me something.

[The sapsucker was feeding on Poison Ivy berries, not a surprise since this is a very popular food source for birds. What it was doing with them, however, surprised me.]

The lemons-to-lemonade thing was something I was also forced into last spring while I went blind from rapidly accelerating cataracts, and being essentially blind by May with no "elective surgeries" allowed because of the pandemic, I decided to see just how far the birding-by-ear envelope could be pushed. It can be pushed very far indeed; the experience changed me.

[The sapsucker brought some of the Poison Ivy Berries to a hole-riddled telephone pole nearby and cached them. Did you know sapsuckers cache food? I didn't until this morning.]

Sapsuckers, being beautiful, somewhat scarce, and often hysterical, are birds I usually give some time too, and this one I stayed with for about 30 minutes. It fed on Poison Ivy Berries, no surprise there, but it was also caching them in holes in a nearby telephone pole! I had no idea they did that, even though many woodpeckers do, so I looked it up in a book that is always near at hand (Ehrlich, Dobkin and Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook.) Sure enough:

[Read the section on diet.]

Well, I'll be darned. I love watching nature, always have, always will, and the learning is part of the prize.

[You need this book, and so does the birder in your life. North American ornithology on your desk, readable and authoritative. It may be getting long in the tooth, but it's hardly out of date.]




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