So far, so good

red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus nestling peeking from nest cavity
A week ago now, I posted about finding the nest of a red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus,) including being able to see the opening clearly enough that I should be able to spot the nestlings as they got bigger and closer to fledging out and leaving the nest. I don’t have direct experience with this species, but with others that I’ve observed, the period between peeking out and finally exiting the nest can be fairly short – sometimes only a few days. The point where they actually leave and start getting the flying thing down pat may be very brief, an hour or so before the nest is completely abandoned and they’re someplace else in the forest canopy. So the chances of my seeing this are quite slim, especially given that the nest and lake are 20 kilometers away. I may get that lucky, though I’m not holding my breath. Still, I’ve had more luck than usual this year.


I don’t know how many are in there; my Sibley guide says a typical clutch is 3-10 eggs, yet all I’ve ever seen is one head peeking out, while multiple times I’ve seen a parent with three berries in its beak, perhaps the best assessment of the number of chicks. The more the better, as far as I’m concerned, because it should mean a longer period as they individually get up their nerve to leave the nest, increasing my chances of seeing at least one do so. We’ll see.

parent red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus outside nest opening with beakful of insects
They’re striking birds, perhaps slightly larger than a robin (the American kind, which is a thrush,) and very active down at the lake. The nest is in a longneedle pine killed by lakeshore erosion, one of many in the immediate area.

parent red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus leaning way into nest cavity
This gives a little bit of an idea how big the nest cavity is, since we’ve already seen that the young are a decent size and the parent still has to lean in this far to feed.

red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus nestling peeking from nest cavity
I’m glad I switched sides to put the sun at my back. You can see that there are no signs of the hatchling down or fluff, this one pretty much looking like an adult bird of some other species, so I suspect they’re really not far from leaving the nest; thus, I’m also glad I went down there Tuesday evening. I went down yesterday evening as well, arriving too late to see much but at least confirming that the nest is still occupied. I should probably take a camp chair and some food and hang out for as long as I can, try to keep an eye on them.

tree with woodpecker nest
On packing up after sunset yesterday evening, I did a couple quick shots of the nest tree to illustrate things better. The nest sits between the two branches extending out to the right, facing right out over the water, so I have to wade out 8-12 meters to get a view of it – luckily it’s a shallow slope to the lake bottom there. On the upper branch you can see a bead which is one of the adults perching, perhaps settling in for the night. We’ll go in closer.

red-headed woodpecker Melanerpes erythrocephalus on upper branch above nest cavity
You can’t see the nest opening from this angle, since it extends directly out to the right, but it’s about 1/3 down from the top branch; that little notch in the trunk among the pine needles might be the very edge of it. None of the greenery here is from this tree, but from the one behind it. Meanwhile, you can see how popular it is with the woodpeckers from all the other holes, and as I said, this is far from the only such tree in the area.

We need a better look at that osprey:

overheated and panting osprey Pandion haliaetus hunting from perch
Had I tried wading out to get this view, the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) would have quickly taken off, but since I was already in my spot out into the lake and holding largely motionless when it came by and perched, I got away with it. While I’m pleased to be able to do video now, there’s something frustrating about having two subjects simultaneously. Meanwhile, The Girlfriend was texting me at the same moment that I’m missing the beaver sitting complacently at the edge of the neighborhood pond and enjoying its meal. [Sigh]

I’ll close with a quick shot of the sunset sky from Tuesday evening as I was packing up. It was only a turkey vulture cruising past, but for a silhouette that’s fine.

sunset over Jordan Lake with vulture silhouette

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