Sunday, January 6, 2019

Dispatches from Disappointment Valley

The valley of the Black Woodpeckers

Suspected Black Woodpecker work

Jebi! Jebi!
Varied Tit Parus varius
Brown-eared Bulbul Hypsipetes amaurotis
Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus
  On December 30th, I decided to check out a wooded series of valleys just outside town on a whim. I blinked, and somehow I’ve been there four times in the past week. Every time I go, I hear something potentially rare (and long-awaited)…but cannot for the life of me manage to clap eyeballs on it. I have now heard four (three) presumptive scarce species in this valley without seeing the birds. I was hoping my ‘heard but not seen’ list would shrink this year, not expand.
  On that first day (December 30th), I heard what I presume were two Black Woodpeckers (both the regular call and flight call), from the next ravine over. Instead of heading towards the birds, I dumbly stood on a bluff and hoped they would head my way or show themselves. They did not. A Goshawk sent them one valley further, and by the time I caught up to them again, a guy cutting down trees with a chainsaw clinched their retreat.
  I returned on the first day of the new year and stood in the cold, windy woods for about five hours with no sign of the woodpeckers, other than numerous examples of tree damage typical of Black Woodpeckers – large, oblong holes low on dead trees (with some noted on the trees that have been cut down). I spotted about 40 White-cheeked Starlings on the long walk back to civilization.
  On the 5th, I was cranky due to the horrendous smog (and resultant need to hike and bird in a mask), and my continuing and prodigious inability to see any of the potentially rare birds I kept hearing in the maddening valley of perdition.
  No sign of ‘the’ woodpeckers, but a Spotted Nutcracker did call twice from the tallest of the peaks that loom above the valley. Of course, not having seen the bird, which is high on my wish list, I can’t rule out mimicry from a Eurasian Jay, and definitely will not be ticking it.
  The day took a positive turn when I found a male Hazel Grouse in a remote ravine, then a dozen Eurasian Siskins feeding on catkins, both Gangneung firsts for me. Things again went off the rails with a piercing, atonal trill from some pines 20 feet directly above me. I’ve never heard the striking call before, and, you guessed it, was unable to see the birds that produced it. After extensive Xeno-canto-ing when I got home, the call that most closely resembled what I heard belonged to the Two-barred Crossbill, a record which would have been insane…had I seen the birds. Not claiming that species, of course, which it probably wasn’t. Maybe it was something much more common trying out a new call? I’d settle for Red Crossbill. Bah humbug.
  Gorgeous weather the following day, and mercifully haze-free. At 8:30 a.m., I heard a single, bassy “BOO” from the opposite side of the steep valley. Hooo was that? After more extensive Xeno-canto rummaging, I again settled on a rare species as the culprit – Ural Owl. Yaayyy, another elusive bird I came within 100 feet of, but did not see.
  Forty-five minutes later, as I was descending the final ridge before “Black Woodpecker Ravine,” I again heard the flight call of a Black Woodpecker – flying away from the whine of a chainsaw that had just started up. I didn’t hear one again all day. I took that as a cue to lie down next to a burial mound and take a sun-nap – eyes closed, ears wide open. When I returned from the land of wind and ghosts, I Spidermanned (or is it Tarzanned) my way up a super-steep and sketchy mountainside with no trail, pulling myself up an extended cliffy bit by clinging onto saplings, just to claim some small measure of victory over the Valley of Disappointment.
  Maybe I oughta let myself and the cursed site breathe a little, take a break. Maybe I should try a new, higher mountain. Maybe I should stop neglecting the lake and river. Or just maybe I should spend every free moment I have there, progressively losing my mind in the woods, one bird, one strange day at a time.
  Anyway, here are some mediocre pictures of common-as-muck birds that also live in the valley.

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