Wednesday, April 3, 2013

First Pileated Woodpecker of 2013

First Pileated Woodpecker of 2013. Crayon and watercolor by Ken Januski.
Quite a few years ago we started going for walks on major holidays in the nearby (i.e. one mile away) Wissahickon Valley in Philadelphia. On one of those early walks, probably Christmas but possibly Thanksgiving, we saw a Pileated Woodpecker. Since then every cold weather holiday walk brings the hope of another.

They do nest in this area and 9 of them were found in Philadelphia in the Philadelphia Mid-winter Bird Census of early January. Over the years we've gotten better at finding them, or perhaps and most likely we just bird more. In any case they've become less scarce to us though they're still not an every day or even every month occcurence.

Still we'd seen them regularly at Andorra Natural Area towards the end of 2012. I thought we'd find one there early in 2013 and we could add it to our count of 2013 birds. But no. We didn't find one there or at any of the other nearby locations, including the Wissahickon Valley, where we often find them.

Over the years I've gotten in the habit of keeping a count of the birds I see out on walks so that I can submit them to ebird. At first I used my own abbreviations for species. Then I discovered the codes used by banders in Richard Crossley's recent birding field guide. I didn't bother to memorize them but they often include the first letters of the words of a birds name, for instance PIWA for Pine Warbler. Of course there are overlaps and so not all the abbreviations work like that.

In any case yesterday I was particulary on the lookout for one of the earliest warblers to arrive in Philadelphia, the Pine Warbler, or PIWA. I checked some pine trees in the Wissahickon near the Walnut Lane Golf Course. No such luck. I heard one candidate but decided it was a Dark-eyed Junco. And it was so cold and windy that few birds were making themselves visible.

Then I heard a nearby sound, a combination of squeal and cackle that I associate with Pileated Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers. I assumed it was a Northern Flicker. But then I saw all that black. It was the first Pileated Woodpecker of 2013!

I ended up doing one field sketch. Without a scope though  I needed to put down my binoculars each time I tried to put down some marks on paper. With a scope I can look and draw at the same time. I decided I was just missing too much of the detail of the facial markings. So I then took some photos. I wanted them so that I was clear about the facial markings and how they change as the woodpecker moves his head about.

Above is another Caran d'Ache Neocolor II crayon drawing on Stillman and Birn Delta sketchbook paper (9x12 inches). Eventually I added a bit of white gouache. I also did this with two waterbrushes rather than just using my many watercolor brushes. I'm still having a hard time with them. They always seem to shut off the water supply just when I need it. But it seems like it's worth pursuing them just a bit more because they can be convenient when out in the field.

So why did I mention the banding codes? Because I went searching for a FOY PIWA and found a FOY PIWO. There's much argument about the use of these codes, partially because they're hard to decipher for some, not all abbreviations are what you think they are, and the true names of birds are much more pleasant and resonant. Still once you get used to using them for their convenience it's easy to be amused by finding a First Of Year PIleated WOodpecker when you were searching for a First Of Year PIne WArbler. .

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