Red Headed Woodpecker Count

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Today’s extremely handsome target species, the rare Red-headed Woodpecker. (Photo copyright Randy Mooi)

We are not a bird watchers per se but we do love a good birding event since it gives us a chance to do some naturalist stuff which we really do enjoy, no matter the species. This trip was almost as rewarding for us as the turtle rescue event with a lot less stress.

Our trip was organized by IBA Canada IBA meaning Important Birding Area. When we found out they could use volunteers we jumped at the chance. And I am so glad we did! We met at 7:00am at our neighbour’s house.  Harry Harris is the retired former Conservation Officer for our rural municipality (county in American) and he’s an avid birdwatcher. We were divided into groups so we could each cover an area. Our objective was to survey the area and find as many red headed woodpecker pairs as we could. We were armed with binoculars, and a recording of the territorial drumming and squawking they make to be sent out via a loud speaker. Our area included the town of Alonsa.IMG_2923

And off we went. We drove up and down backroads in Alonsa I didn’t even know existed. That included one long stretch with grass that reached up to the hood of my truck. We were searching for the favourite habitat of these gorgeous birds. They like grazed grass below a stand of mature trees that also includes a few dead ones. They especially like the dead aspen that is soft and normally full of delicious bugs. We had success at our third stop.

The woodpecker is highly territorial and apparently not very discerning because playing that call brought the males right to us, bristling with hostility and drumming and squawking at us as if we were mortal enemies to be frightened off. They would pause a short distance away and glare at us trying to figure out what was going on. Obviously we were not male woodpeckers but we sure sounded like them. We would confirm them by sound and by sight. If we got a male doing the territorial thing, we assumed there was a female nearby even if we didn’t actually see her.

The local farmers, being both inquisitive and watchful, drove by to check us out and one stopped to chat. Once they knew we were bird watchers, and not castle rustlers, they relaxed and had a good laugh. The cattle also found our antics quite fascinating.

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And so it went, driving from place to place, running the recording, waiting for a response and then making careful notes with the GPS on the exact location of a pair. We saw lots of other birds as well. It was fun being with real birders who could spot a little nondescript brown bird and actually know the difference between Chipping, Vesper and Savannah sparrows.

My favourite “other” bird that we saw was this darling fledgling American Kestrel. The baby bird stayed very quiet, clinging to the tree while we snapped a few pictures. Unfortunately the camera can’t distinguish the way the eye can so the picture ended up showing only the silhouette.

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We also saw a family of sharp tailed grouse and fledgling sand hill cranes. We are so lucky to live in such a fine birding area. Bird life positively teems here and we found a new appreciation for our beloved home.

After driving about for several hours we joined all the other birders at Hollywood Beach for lunch. This location resulted in an impromptu shore bird count session. I learned there is a difference between a Caspian and a Black Tern and there are at least five different kinds of sandpipers. I must admit I was more interested in watching the bird watchers than watching the shore birds. The shore birds kind of all look alike to me but enthusiastic excited people are fascinating and uplifting to be around. It was overall a great day and we plan on attending several more of their bird counts and birding events as summer progresses. If you are the kind fascinated by bird watching species details you can check out all the different species at the IBA website.

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