The Conquering Birder!
Instead, I chose to move slowly through the new snow, taking in the sights and sounds. Almost immediately, I heard new sounds. Training my binoculars toward movement, I spotted a Red-Breasted Nuthatch. Louder than that one was a pair of Tufted Titmice--singing! The percussion section--the Downys, Hairys and Red-Bellieds--were in full force as well. It was great to be outdoors in the sun, listening to nature's symphony. While these members of the percussion family were playing snare drum, my quarry was the tympani. The Pileated Woodpecker, my perennial jinx bird.
The feeder station was active as usual, and a seed bell had been added. It was the source of much enjoyment, as the Tufted Titmice would hang on while it spun in circles under their weight. They spotted me and the scolding I received was nothing like the sweet clear music they'd been singing earlier. It's hard to believe the same bird can make such different sounds, but it does.
While it's fun to watch the antics at the feeders, I was intent. That bird was out here somewhere. I'd seen the signs. More trees with bark chips at the base. In fact, when I'd been listening to discern the source of the Red Breasted Nuthatch calls, just beyond my awareness I'd heard louder drumming. Too bad I didn't practice a bit of mindfulness right then, because when I went just a short distance down the trail, I saw fresh bark and the characteristic holes. It had been right there! This is why this bird is my jinx bird!
It didn't matter. Nothing could ruin my day. Having been forced inside due to record cold temps, I was basking in the 30 degree heat. Brown Creepers were tinkling in the trees above, the Chickadees playing everywhere. Climbing up the snow covered bluff, I decided to stay on the Hickory Trail, where I've had the most luck spotting my friend. I hadn't heard the laughter at all. Hmm. Playing the stealth game with me? We'll see about that.
Rounding a turn down into a valley, then past a gully and back up, I saw a brilliant flash of soaring white overhead against the blue sky. Red-Tailed Hawks, a pair, almost as white from below as the snow, save for the blush of tail feathers. Watching them soar away, I almost missed the prehistoric flight of a large black bird overhead. Almost.
Watching through the brush, I spotted the brilliant red crest. A female Pileated it was, quiet and working her way up the side of a tree. I watched as she hitched the entire length of the tree, then crested the top branch. Hoping she'd fly back my way, instead she sailed to the next large tree. I couldn't take any chances. Distant though she might be, the light was nice. Very nice. Waiting, watching, I had one single shot.
A little Photoshop magic courtesy of the amazing Cindy Mead makes it better!
Though it's cropped to within an inch of its life, I got another photo of my jinx bird, my second ever, before she took off once more, flying into the brush. Though I saw the area she landed, she was just impossible to find, even with that scarlet topknot.
My meeting with my jinx bird today was nothing like my encounter in northern Minnesota last month at close range. Still, anytime I am allowed to share space with one of nature's creatures I consider to be a gift. Anytime I can be out in the natural world, alone with my thoughts and the music of the birds, is a gift. It's a gift I hope I never take for granted, knowing how quickly the bulldozers could take another corner of wildness away.