July 14, 2009
I got a call from fellow Augusta Bird Club member Stephen Pietrowski yesterday, about a strange-looking woodpecker with a reddish crown that has been appearing in his back yard lately. He thought it might be a Three-toed woodpecker, a species which is found in the northern forests of Canada. It has never been reported in this region, so if true, this would have been an amazing sighting. So, this morning I went out to investigate, and after a half hour or so, the bird in question finally showed up. I managed to get a few photos from fairly close range while it was there, but of course the angle of the sun detracted from the quality of the images. Just as Stephan said, the crown is all red, unlike any other woodpecker around here except the Yellow-bellied sapsucker, which is a winter bird. After looking at it for a few minutes, however, the size and plumage left no doubt in my mind that it was just a Downy woodpecker, possibly a juvenile with some kind of hormonal imbalance.
After returning home and consulting my National Geographic Complete Birds of North America (the biggest of all my bird reference books), I learned that both male and female juvenile Downy woodpeckers "have a pale red patch in the center of the crown, more extensive in the male." (The same is also true for Hairy woodpeckers.) I'm surprised I didn't know that before; you learn something new every day. Anyway, thanks to Stephen for bringing this curious bird to our attention!
I forgot to mention that I finally saw some Purple martins a couple weeks ago, at the home on Springhill Road just north of Staunton where they usually reside, another first of year sighting. There weren't as many of them as in past years, but maybe it was the wrong time of day.
Here is a birding Web site that would have been very useful to Jacqueline and me six years ago: Birding Oaxaca Mexico. It's now included along with the other Wild Bird Web site links.
FACT CHECK: My brother John informs me that the photo of the Spoonbill I posted on July 1 was probably taken in Louisiana in 1998, not in Florida in 2000 as I had thought. I may replace it with a better photo if he sends me one.