Date: 10/31/19 3:08 pm
From: Russ Morgan <morganreid...>
Subject: [obol] A Halloween garden bird, for a winter
I’ve now lived through 56 Halloweens and have never really gotten too excited about it.

But six years ago on this Halloween day I fatefully decided to drive home in the rain for lunch. As I stood eating a sandwich and looking out the sliding door to my backyard I saw a woodpecker hanging low on the bark of the big willow tree. I quickly traded the food in my hand for my bins and realized the bird wasn’t just a weird flicker as was my first impression. A quick check in my field guide was followed by a call to La Grande’s resident bird whisperer and identification expert, Trent Bray. Though brief, the conversation went something as follows. “Trent, what are the chances that I have a red-bellied woodpecker in my yard?” And his reply went something like, “I’ll be there in 3 minutes!” I’m pretty sure he made it in less than that. We refound the bird together and Trent concurred the bird was indeed Oregon’s first record of a red-bellied woodpecker. A handsome female.

Exciting as it was, what happened after the initial find was every bit as entertaining. Word traveled quickly and within an hour local birders were happily viewing the new eastern visitor. I returned to work and when I came home a few hours later my driveway was cluttered with cars, tripods, scopes, cameras and people brimming with anticipation. I was sure I’d mentioned to my wife (who was at work) the possibility that the bird might generate some interest from birders but the look on her face as she later tried to pull into the cluttered driveway was priceless. I’d even gotten a call from a helpful neighbor who thought that with so many people out actively looking with all that equipment, that something must be terribly wrong. By dusk people from further away in Oregon and Washington had showed - some so late they had little chance of seeing the bird in the waning light. And so the local motels, gas stations, and restaurants got in on the action. The bird stayed and the birders kept coming.

We welcomed all birders and over the winter months we woke on many mornings to find one or more cold birders in our yard or wandering the neighborhood excitedly hoping for a glimpse. Most went away happy and all were courteous and incredibly pleasant people to be around. Though we didn’t keep a count, at least a couple hundred out of town birders from as far away as San Francisco and BC Canada made the trip to our house. It was also nice to put faces with names of many OBOLers.

The woodpecker spent the winter eating walnuts and acorns from the neighborhood trees, and shared cracked corn with the quail in our yard. We enjoyed watching her antics with other birds and fox squirrels. We also enjoyed talking to people about her. But mostly we just liked having her around the neighborhood. She was generally easy to find and over-time, she became a ‘normal and expected’ part of the yard birdlife. So much so that I took it for granted that she was going to be there. And so, ironically, on April 1st (another recognized day that I don’t get) of 2014 she reminded us that she was only a visitor and sometime after I saw her that morning, she apparently moved on. At least that’s what I’d like to think as she was never seen again. As a seasoned wildlife biologist well-versed in the comings and goings of the natural world, I never thought it possible that I would eventually come to miss that one vagrant bird and all the good things and people that had happened because of her. I’d even go further and say that the vagrant red-bellied woodpecker of 2013 really rekindled my joy for chasing and photographing birds.

Halloween to April Fools Day! And though I still don’t connect with the idea of Halloween, each year on this day I always make a point to bird my yard a little more carefully and to keep an eye on the big willow in the yard. I don’t expect that I’ll see another red-bellied woodpecker there, but I do hope.

Russ Morgan, La Grande

Sent from my iPad
Join us on Facebook!