Thursday, August 29, 2013

Look Who Came to Dinner

Umpqua National Forest, Oregon, USA:  June 9, 2013
My photos were taken the first two times I visited the willow bush in this blog.  On my third visit I sketched instead of   photographing.  

I’ve been thinking a red squirrel has been scolding nearby.  Towards the end of the day I realized it is a sapsucker drilling willow stems and objecting to my presence.  Sapsuckers get their name from their unique habit of drilling holes into the bark of certain trees and then sipping the sap as it oozes.  I’ve even watched a sapsucker fly in with a beakful of daddy long legs and other insects, goober it well with sticky sap, and then fly off to their nest to feed their young.  
This willow patch is dense and tall.  I can’t wiggle in to get near enough to get a good photo the sapsucker, but I can see glimpses in the tangle.Then I realize there are several drilled stems close by.  The sapsucker just goes to the far off ones while I’m standing in his willow bush.  
Meanwhile three hummers are caching in on the fresh sap. When all three arrive at once, the hummers go into mad chases -- sometimes zipping by close enough for me to feel their breeze.  
Mourning Cloak Butterfly
I soon realize a big dose of patience is in order.  I can shift my camera between six different stems, but shifting always spooks the hummingbirds.  Better to pick one stem and wait. 

June 12, 2013 
Bald-faced Hornet
‘My’ willow patch has been on my mind.  It’s the second time in my life I’ve found where hummingbirds are stealing sap from a sapsucker.  It’s always hard to get good photos because of dappled sunlight coming through the willows ... and too many branches, but I want another try at it.  

It’s a bit of a struggle, but I’ve succeeded in wiggling farther into the willow patch this time.  About a dozen stems have been drilled some in front of me and some behind.  For once the temperature is pleasant.  I’m standing in ooze but not soggy enough to get my feet wet.  No birds singing, but rustling leaves talk to me. 

Zooom!  A hummer is behind me, but I don’t dare move.  Did I make a mistake by coming so far into the willow patch?  A song sparrow scolds softly, then quiets again.  First visitor -- an ant.  I have six stems in front of me, but only two I can photograph.  The second visitor is a big fly and then a bald-faced horned.  

“Zoom. Zip”  I hear a whir of wings and angry chatter.  Two hummers zip in and are gone as fast as they came.  This patch of sap wells may belong to a sapsucker, but it is obvious at least one hummer has claimed ownership when the sapsucker is away.  I haven’t seen or heard the sapsucker today, but he/she has been in here working on fresh wells.  Each well is good for a limited time, I think a day or two; then it dries out.  So the sapsucker drills new holes higher and higher on the stem, keeping the bonanza of sap flowing for days.  

Oh good!  I hear the whirr of one hummer in front of me.  First she sips off to my left, but then she picks one of the two I’ve chosen for photographing.  I’m so close!  At most ten feet.  I see her tongue darting out, gathering sap from under the frayed bark.  She works around the 1 1/2 inch stem -- then, zip, off to another stem.  

I hear hummers behind me again ... then another where I can get a picture.  I see a small flycatcher perched high in the willow .. and a new rustling, quiet movement.  What?
Much to my surprise a chipmunk peers at me from one of my two stems.  
Gone!  But not for long.  Back he comes up the branch, checking me out as he climbs.  I hardly breath. Soon the chipmunk’s gluttony wins.  He hardly bothers to look at me while his little pink tongue comes out and he licks and licks.  He finishes one stem and jumps to the next.  Cleans that one off too.  I half expect an irate sapsucker to come tearing in, but the chipmunk has chosen his time well.  He cleans off all my stems, then disappears into the dense foliage.  

It’ll take awhile for more sap to ooze, so I wiggle out of the bushes and go for lunch.

Sometimes I feel so lucky!


  1. Spectacular photos! It's wonderful to see what happens when one is a carefully positioned 'stump' - but to be able to take such exquisite photos to share with others! I feel so lucky that you posted this!

    I've seen insects, red squirrels and opossums drinking from sapsucker wells, so the hornet and chipmunk didn't surprise me, but the hummers did. Thank you (as always) for sharing.

  2. Unbelievably beautiful photos, Elva! As well as the spectacular painting.

  3. Fascinating! Will have to check willows more carefully now. Great photos and art add to interesting line-up of sap lovers. We always feel lucky when you post to your blog.

  4. Love the images and the drama too. Luck, calmness, patience, talent, studiousness...That little face with the little tongue is such a treat to see...

  5. Oh my gosh Elva.. what cool shots and especially that last one of the chipmunk licking the branch.. soooooo cute. Your story had me riveted right to the end. Love the painting too. Thanks for sharing this. Always a pleasure coming here. :)

  6. So wonderful to see how the other half lives! A fantastic set of photos and a beautiful sketch. I love your dedication to your art!

  7. Such fun! I was almost holding my breath as I read your story of the sapsucker wells. Well done! Thanks so much for sharing.

  8. Hey, another sapsucker stake-out! And such a cast of characters.
    We knew you are an artist, knew you were a photographer...and now you're sharpening your story-telling even more. Saved that little chipmunk right up to the last, leading us all along. And there it is, just lapping and lapping and showing off that tiny red-pink tongue.
    My joints wouldn't let me crouch into a willow thicket like thank you for sharing the sap-lickin'.

  9. Love this post, Elva! I shared it on my facebook page.
    Are these Rufous hummingbirds visiting the wells?

  10. Yes, Vickie. The hummers are rufous. I didn't get to see a male. They are much for fatherhood..... never stick around for the hard work.