Friday, July 9, 2010

The Undiciplined Walker

River Forks county Park, Douglas County, Oregon: June 15, 2010

Where to walk? Dale was a little surprised when I chose River Forks Park, a large, groomed county park near us. I was curious if the American rubyspot damselflies are flying yet … or has our late spring and high water delayed them.

As soon as we parked Dale headed out for some serious exercise and I headed off in a different direction. It’s not that I don’t need the exercise as much as he does … but I figure I can check out the rubyspots in the process. Off across the lawns I go and straight to the spot where fishermen just barely keep a path open through the blackberries and down to the river. Three days ago the Umpqua was full of sediment. It is clearing but still very high for mid June.

No dragonflies or damselflies, although I did find four empty damselfly nymph casings. I found fresh raccoon tracks in the mud. An osprey calls somewhere near me

I hustle back to the van to drop off my camera, the two four-leaf clovers I found along the way, and two nymph casings. But I flush a sapsucker out of an ornamental birch that grows near where we parked. What kind? I only got a brief glimpse.

I actually succeed in walking briskly for another 15 minutes before another sapsucker distracts me. A sapsucker is basically a woodpecker with a very special feeding behavior. They drill holes in the bark of trees and then ‘suck sap’ and eat insects that are attracted to the sap. Some holes, usually roundish holes, go around trees. Others drill vertical rows of squarish holes. Which sapsuckers drill horizontal rows of holes versus those that drill vertical rows of squarish holes caught my attention several years ago. Progress sorting it out has been slow. Most books are vague on the subject. In Yellowstone I’ve observed this Williamson’s sapsuckers drilling vertical rows of holes in the top of a small Douglas fir. In Oregon I find lots of old holes, but not fresh ones– that is, until today. By now I realized the ornamental birches that border the long parking lot are pocked with horizontal rows of old sapsucker scars. This sapsucker flushes out of a birch where the sap is still oozing. The bark beneath the holes shines wet and reflects the blue of the sky. Little pockets of sap glisten in the bottom of each fresh hole. Maybe I’ll finally get to see an Oregon sapsucker at work, but first I need to figure out which kind I’m watching.

I hurry back to the van to get my camera and monopod, then I stand quietly near the fresh holes. Soon my patience is rewarded. Two red-breasted sapsuckers take turns flying in to their seep. They never stay long, and usually take off in the direction of an old snag at the edge of the park. What puzzles me is that sometimes they arrive with a mouthful of food -- daddy long leg spiders, I think. I have read that sapsuckers eat bugs that are attracted to their ooze. Perhaps they are checking other sap wells too. Do daddy long legs like sap? More to learn. At least I have now observed red-breasted sapsuckers drilling horizontal rows.


  1. A beautiful sketch. I always like to find evidence of the Yellow-bellied sapsucker that winters here. Those holes are amazingly neat. All the same in a row. I would love to take a walk with you some time. I would learn a lot.

  2. Lovely painting and words! I wish I could add to the sapsucker knowledge but I'm limited to admiring their handiwork.

  3. I have actually found myself observing wildlife more closely. Waited and waited and watched a robin snag a worm - the photograph is on my blog and I am very proud of it. Keep teaching us, I love it!

  4. I thank you three for the wonderful support you are giving me.

    Cherishing this earth is so important. It cheers me to hear others are looking to.