Ho-Ho-Ho Ho Hoing Away

I remember a time when a Pileated Woodpecker sighting was rare. And now, it’s a daily event, but one which I still feel blessed to experience.


Stepping out the door this afternoon, I immediately heard one hammering and realized another was drumming in a nearby tree. Within minutes, a third flew in and birds #2 & 3 sang their eerie tune as they approached #1. He chased the couple and they flew off, their flight strong, and marked with slow, irregular woodpeckery flaps.


After watching #1 for a bit, I went in search of woodpecker happenings scattered throughout our woodlot. Though they’ll eat lots of wood-boring insects and occasionally berries, seeds and suet, carpenter ants are their mainstay. Better in a woodpecker’s stomach than our home. Sometimes the holes they create are about six inches across and almost as deep.



And those holes became homes for other critters occasionally, so when friends and I see trees such as these, we think of them as condominiums providing living quarters perhaps for small birds and little brown things (mice). Included in these condo units are some smaller round holes, created by the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers that also live in our neighborhood.


Occasionally I come across trees such as this one that hadn’t been so much excavated as chiseled. Woodpeckers are just that–peckers of wood. They don’t eat the wood. But to get at their preferred food, they must hammer, chisel and chip the bark.


At the base, always a scattering of wood chips. I, of course, cannot pass up any opportunity to search through the chips in hopes of locating scat. I was not rewarded with such a find today.


Leaving dead snags encourages woodpecker activity. They become prime locations to forage, roost and maybe even nest, though I hardly think this snag was large enough to serve as the latter.


While I was out there, I did stop to admire a few other sights including the now woody structure of pinesap;


winterberries contrasted against the wee bit of snow that still graces patches of ground;


deer tracks indicating we’d had visitors during the night;



and a tree skirt of violet-toothed polypores. They are rather like the Lays Potato Chips of the natural world. You can never have just one. (Note: I’m not talking about eating them, but rather how they grow.)


It’s been said that Pileated Woodpeckers are skittish. That’s not always the case. I’ve stood beneath one for over twenty minutes, the bird intent on its work and seemingly oblivious to my presence.

The next time you are in the woods and hear the ho-ho-ho ho ho, ho-ho-ho ho hoing that reminds you of that cartoon character, Woody Woodpecker, take a look around. You, too, might be blessed. And don’t forget to check for scat. 😉

Nature Works

Sometimes when you walk off the beaten path you discover that you are actually on the beaten path. A path once created by those who walked before. Such was the case today for ten of us from the Greater Lovell Land Trust.

We began our journey by carpooling from the main road, Route 5. One side road led to another, much curvier and bumpier. Eventually, that road became a dirt road. And finally, it ended at a gate where we parked.

There were several choices of paths to follow and we choose the one closest to the brook.

early fall day

As we crossed the brook, my eye was drawn to the changing color of the maple leaves. The days have been warm and sunny, but the nights are beginning to cool down and so sugar made in the leaves during the day gets trapped there. As the leaves begin to stop their food-making process, the yellow, red and orange carotenoids that are masked by the green pigment all summer slowly become visible.

downy woodpecker's feathers

One of our docents had a keen eye today. While the rest walked past, she spotted this dinner site. Downy woodpecker feathers and body parts. Good find, Ann.

got mail

Got mail? Though this mailbox wasn’t our intended destination, it’s on the way. We wondered about its purpose, knowing it was beside a former logging/hunter camp. But still . . . it struck us as odd.

bed frame 1

Nature slowly reclaims that which was left behind.

massive yellow birch

We turned right at this yellow birch. Though we didn’t hug it, I think it would have taken two or three of us to embrace this tree. There were others equally as big or bigger–mostly sugar maples, which led a few to surmise that they were left because of their importance for sap production.

country lane

At last we were in the old neighborhood, where the path existed between two single-wide stone walls. The farmland is bordered by numerous walls that stand stalwart, though some sections are more ragged that others.

chatting in the parlor

Standing in the parlor, my friends tried to make sense of an old foundation. Trees, roots, frost, weather, critters and humans have added to the foundation’s demise, but what remains left us in awe of those who had lived on this land. We suspect the neighborhood was abandoned post Civil War, when soldiers/farmers discovered that there was fertile ground elsewhere where stone potatoes were not the number one crop.

root cellar

Within the cellar of a neighboring foundation was a root cellar.

root cellar 2

Taking a closer look, we learned that someone else has made use of it. Or should I say something else–a porcupine. The back corner is filled with scat.

snapping turtle headshape

We explored the hillside and checked out some boulders taller than us. The ragged edges reminded us that this didn’t get rolled about by the glacier, but may have been part of a boulder field left behind. Sometimes our imagination turned from the historical nature to whimsy. I see a snapping turtle head; someone else saw a frog in this stone formation.

moose femur

Another great find by the woman in blue (Ann, you had eagle eyes today!) was the femur of a moose. It had some nibble marks–evidence that a rodent had been gnawing it to get the benefit of the calcium. The circle of life dictates that something will then eat the rodent, and the calcium will continue to make its way through the food web.

Sarah's stoneMary's stoneEphraim's stone

We bushwhacked to the site of a cemetery. It was interesting to note that the two stones on the left are slate. Hmmm . . . it would have cost more money for slate since it’s not a local stone.

barbed wire

On the way back, someone spotted barbed wire growing through a tree–or rather, a tree that grew around barbed wire, another indication of this land’s use once upon a time.

shrew 2

And a dead shrew–easy to identify by its elongated snout. It was killed but not consumed, probably because it has a musky gland that makes it smell unappetizing–but it’s not until the animal has died that the smell is evident. Why after death? One of my mentors, Kevin Harding, was with us today and so I posed this question to him. He and Naturalist David Brown theorize that one shrew takes a hit for the whole team. In other words, its predators might recognize the next shrew and decide to let it live. Maybe so.


If you’ve been following my wanders, you know I can’t pass by a hobblebush without admiring it.


Three hours later we returned to the trailhead, thankful for a chance to spend time together on an autumn day and wonder how nature works.