The Bird that Stayed

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, May 20-26, 2017)

Sometimes on a bird walk, with bird songs all around, and lots of  little flying shapes flitting through the trees, your leader stops, cocks her head to listen, then points into the woods, and says, “blue-winged warbler” or “Red-eyed vireo.”  Everyone raises their binoculars, and the lucky person who actually spots the bird says, “See that first little pine tree? Look to the left of it, the third tree down, just to the right of that dead tree?  The vireo is on a branch at about 11 o’clock, about half way up.”  And you raise your binoculars, crane your neck, and then, just as you’ve found the tree, your spotter says, “Oops, it flew.”

On the north campus bird walk May 9, a pileated woodpecker took pity on us.  It was hammering hard on a tree, trying to find the carpenter ants that are its main food.  When we came along, it just kept hammering, right in plain sight, even as we all inched closer, and Lucy raised her long zoom lens and followed it around the tree to get some fabulous photos.

Pileated woodpecker numbers in eastern U.S. declined sharply in the 18th and 19th centuries with the clearing of eastern forests.  Numbers have increased again with the reforestation of New England, though the species is still listed by Audubon as “uncommon” in Massachusetts.  Audubon speculates that the pileated “may be adapting to second-growth woods and proximity of humans.” http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/pileated-woodpecker.

And that’s what we’ve got at Lathrop–second growth woods and humans who like to live close to nature.  Using grants, resident donations, and resident volunteer work, we are  making our forest paths more accessible to resident walkers, and we are removing invasive plants so that our  woodpeckers, vireos, warblers, bobcats, foxes, snakes, and frogs can find the food, cover, and nesting sites they need to stay in our forests. And it’s so nice when one of them stays still enough for resident walkers to get a good look and some fabulous photos.

The Land Conservation Committee welcomes new members no matter what their level of mobility.  We have a good time together, and there is lots of important work to do. Contact walvoord@nd.edu.

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