Monday, September 03, 2007

I still haven't chopped down ...

... the dead tree in my backyard. I have my reasons.

  1. The tree is close to the new palisade fence that my neighbors put up and it will take some planning, and perhaps some rope, to ensure that it falls properly.

  2. My wife is convinced that I'll fall and break my neck.
  3. It seems to function as a kind of bird porch, a place for them to sit and observe me as I observe them.

The local cardinal likes to preen there after his bath. The mourning doves (my wife in a rare burst of paronamasia has named both of them Dolores) sit on separate branches mournfully hooting. The catbirds, bluejays and mockingbirds use it as a staging ground for raids on the blueberry bush. Best of all it seems to be the preferred hunting ground for a downy woodpecker.

The downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) is a workaholic. It is a small bird about 6 inches long, or about the size of a sparrow, with black and white markings, a small red patch on the back of its neck, and a short, stubby bill.

It took me a while to figure out his call, but it is a quiet "cheek ... cheek ... cheek ... cheek" followed by a descending "cheekeekeekeekeekeekeek". He seems happy to mix with birds of the same size or smaller, like chickadees and sparrows.

As I said, he is a workaholic (just for the record, I say "he" because this little fellow has the patch of red on his neck, I have yet to see his mate) and it is delightful to watch him work. He lands near the tip of a branch,pauses for an instant as if choosing his target, then his head bobs rapidly five or six times. There's a quiet rattle as if someone were drumming their fingers on a wooden table.

Suddenly he seems to disappear. Then the branch shakes and the rattle comes again. I realize that he is working the other side of the branch. Then, just as suddenly he's back, clinging upside-down to the branch, his head moves, there's the rattling sound and he continues, slowly working his way to the base of the branch.

Several branches above him, Dolores and Dolores sit with their plump bodies and odd tiny heads, seemingly oblivious to the industry below.

I know I have to take the tree down before it falls of its own accord and does some damage, but ... perhaps another day.

I had another visitor today, one who turns up too rarely. Late in the afternoon I was startled by something with black wings fluttering past me. The garden is often busy with white or blue butterflies and an occasional monarch, but it has been a long time since I've seen a spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) and what a beauty she was.

She was about four inches across, her wings black as a moonless midnight, with a spoon-shaped swallowtail and irridescent blue hind-wings indicating her sex. Her black coloring was set-off with a row of white spots on the forewings, and orange spots on the hindwings.

She seemed even more off-balance and random in her flight than butterflies usually are, and when she came to rest I could see that one of the swallowtails was missing. I wondered if that affected her stability, or if she was still recovering from the shock of whatever accident or attack had removed it.

She sat quietly, for a few moments, giving me a chance to enjoy the fantastic coloring of her wings and admire her sturdy black body dotted with white, then took to the air. She looped around the garden a few times and then flew over the fence and was gone.

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