Speaking of birds, Kathy Harp mentioned one of my favorite of all times in her recent blog, and I was transported back to a lookout at the top of a small mountain in Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania, home of a large old growth forest which I believe could be included in the ZONE. It was nearly 50 years ago and I watched this large bird in his bobbing-up-and-down flight across the valley below. It reminded me of the musical expression ,“ha ha..ha..ha..ha”(up one note on the fourth “ha`”) spoken even back then by everyone’s favorite bird, Woodie-the-Woodpecker.
Shortly after my sighting, I went home and immediately dug out the “bible” of the bird watching gentry to confirm my first beholding of a wild Pileated Woodpecker. The book is Birds of America, copyright 1917 by The University Society and again by Doubleday in 1936. Editor was T Gilbert Pierson and the artist who did the extraordinary color plates was Louis Agassiz Fuertes. The original paintings from which the plates were made are in a museum in Albany, New York.
Even back in 1917 it was thought that since most of the old growth forests, especially in the East, had been cut, this unique and special bird would be extinct in a few years. And for a very long time, no one saw a Pileated Woodpecker in parts of the eastern United States where it used to abound. The call of this unique bird is just like that of the Flicker, except much, much longer in duration and very much louder in report. About 25 years ago I began to see a very large and strange looking bird in the Gunpowder Falls State Park area off Franklinville Road when we lived in the log cabin in Upper Falls. I would schedule my evening run so I could be there as the sun was setting and several birds would call to each other from the old growth oaks that still stood in the park. I heard them for years but never was able to get a glimpse.
When I left my 9 to 5 for a life of leisure, I went to work part-time in a pleasure palace called Winters Run Golf Club in the middle of Belair, Maryland. Sure it was pleasure, got paid to work with all those nice folk and then free golf to boot! Early one morning, I was ready for the crowds and low-and-behold, bobbing across the valley below the clubhouse, right down number one Fairway, was a familiar figure…it was Woodie again! There are still some large, and probably old, growth forests on the hillsides around the course and it had to be living there, reappearing several times after that.
Another notable encounter was one morning when I drove into Sally’s (my beloved sister-in-law and host of many coffee klatsches) driveway in Bradshaw. As I opened the car door, I saw a huge black ant hill being torn to shreds by a very large bird.. It exploded out of there in a cloud of dust, and you guessed it, a Pileated Woodpecker going for his favorite food…ants. This was the only time I have ever seen one grounded. Three of my favorite names that are given to this crow-sized creation by locals are, Great God Woodpecker, Good God Woodpecker and Lord God Woodpecker… maybe they know something we don’t know.
And thank you Kathy, for stirring up in this old memory, thoughts of pleasant times and of another beautiful creature of the Maker but I am also sorry Kathy, unless you made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, I’m afraid he would pass up that cute and fuzzy white caterpillar for his main dish of beetles and ants that he digs out of the limbs and trunks of standing dead trees. He finds them while he and his mate are excavating, often taking three or four weeks in some rotten old tree, making a hollow, sometimes as deep as three feet. It will be used later as a place to build their nest when they deposit their half-dozen snowy white eggs and sit to wait the coming of more Pileated Woodpeckers.
The opinion of both bird watchers and noted ornithologists back in the 1920’s and 30’s was held for some time. They said that extinction for this magnificent bird was all but certain and that it was not able to adapt to changing conditions due to excessive cutting in the great old growth forests. Again it is shown to us that man is not the only creature on this earth that can and must adapt to survive. And still again, seek and you shall find, they are there in increasingly greater numbers but our vigilance is still so important to their continued survival. We must remember that we are all diminished by the loss of even one species…