A Pileated Woodpecker Up Close

A declining maple tree with a dead central leader was the stage. Our largest woodpecker, hammering away in decayed wood in search of ants and other insects, provided the entertainment. I see or hear these large, crow-size woodpeckers almost daily, but this was a rare opportunity for me to see one up close, one that was more interested in carpenter ants than the human audience.

The cavity and foraging bird were clearly visible from the edge of my friends driveway. Unsure of the bird’s reaction to my presence, I started shooting immediately.

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Feeding was nearly continuous and moments like this were few and far between. The red stripe on the cheek told us this was a male.

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Excavations by pileated woodpeckers leave cavities in dead and dying trees that are critical habitat for many species of wildlife. Given the location, this exquisite cavity might be claimed by squirrels or owls. Arboriculture (landscape/residential tree care) practices generally call for the removal of dead and dying trees or tree parts in order to reduce hazards and maintain tree health and longevity. However, in cases where wildlife habitat is a priority and the hazard assessment is low, benign neglect might be a viable option.

PileatedExcavation#1 Photos by NB Hunter. ©All Rights Reserved.

Tree Snags for Wildlife

This is a story about the management of a landscape tree in decline, management with an underlying theme of benign neglect.

Last summer I heard the unmistakable sound of a Pileated Woodpecker hammering on a large old white pine tree near the edge of the lawn. I was thrilled to see our largest woodpecker so close to home, but also knew that its presence was a sign of a tree in trouble. Sure enough, there was advanced decay at the base of the tree and the Pileated was foraging on carpenter ants. The probability of tree failure and subsequent damage to nearby targets was high. The White Pine was a “hazard tree” and had to be removed.

My contract with a professional arborist for removal included an unusual request. I wanted to minimize the hazard – but leave a large snag for wildlife.

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The decision to create a snag payed dividends almost immediately. A Pileated Woodpecker is a frequent visitor, foraging around new wounds as well as old ones.

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Pitch oozing from the fresh wounds on a warm day provided an unplanned photo opportunity and aesthetic experience. The fascinating world of magnified pitch droplets kept me busy long after the woodpecker had left the scene!

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Pine pitch droplet, fly and spider; the droplet is about 1/8th inch across

 

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Late Spring Highlights

Late spring is a dynamic, transitional time with seemingly endless opportunities to observe and photograph nature. There are so many things going on, all competing for attention: animals in beautiful sleek summer coats; awkward, gangly youngsters learning the ways of the world; a continuum of blooming wildflowers and woody shrubs, the latter resulting in soft mast that will nourish late-nesting and migrating birds; and of course the cold-blooded reptiles and invertebrates, responding to the warmer days that fuel their life activities. I love it all and often find myself frozen with indecision, wanting to be in dozens of different places at the same time! Anyone who has fly-fished and observed the water boiling with surface-feeding fish knows the feeling. 

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A carpet of Buttercups in full bloom on the floodplain of a small stream.

This post features some of my favorite photos from this magical time of year, roughly  the third week of June in central New York. For the most part, the photos are random shots resulting from numerous “discovery walks” where I tried to capture the full range of natural events that represent the season.

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Common Wood Sorrel

I listened to a wild turkey gobbling this morning, weeks after the prime mating and nesting season. He seemed reluctant to let go of spring and move on to the more mundane business of summer feeding and dust bathing. If that’s the case, I share his reluctance to let go, and must preserve the memories with a season-ending photo gallery.

Photos by NB Hunter. ©  All Rights Reserved.