Saturday, January 19, 2019

Signing off from Success Valley

The valley of mixed emotions
Black Woodpecker Dryocopus martius
Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
  *Typing breathlessly.* I had a battle plan for finding the Black Woodpecker this morning – return to my raised observation perch stupid early, to get up there for a chance at surveying the valleys before the busloads rumble up. After a 45-minute sweaty scramble up the slopes, I got to the platform as the winds built. D’oh. In spite of being alone and having commanding views into three valleys, I had a foreboding tickle as I settled into my stakeout.
  After only 20 minutes in the birdless wind, caustic despair boiled in my loins as the sun tried to rise above the slopes. I won’t see the bird. Will I really come all the way back up here tomorrow? WTF am I doing up here? My resolve was tested further when a woman materialized on the platform, making a complete set of bizarre noises, unaware of my presence. Then I heard someone's ridiculous hip-mounted ‘trail radio’ blaring from the valley floor below. Was Noisy Woman the vanguard of an inevitable crush of sloshed hikers?
  Drrrt! The flight trill of a Black Woodpecker jangled out through the smog, and from quite close. I panicked, and bolted up the hill towards where the trill came from…then checked myself, and noticed I was back in the dense, closed-in woods. I forced myself to breathe deeply a few times, and headed back down to the only spot where I had a chance of seeing a Black Woodpecker in flight. When I got back down, the woman was gone, the wind had ebbed, and the flight calls were back. Then I heard a loudish pecking – not the machine-gun bursts from last weekend (for display?), but the steady thunking of a foraging Black Woodpecker.
  I ceased breathing as the knocking stopped and the flight calls got ever closer…why am I not seeing itit sounds so fuggin' close. Then nothing. Nothing for 30 seconds, or maybe it was 10 minutes – whichever it was, my breath was held the entire time. Two chattering Eurasian Jays broke the stalemate with an aggressive pass at a dead tree, flushing a black, crow-like bird into view on the far side of the valley. It called, brrt brrt, and perched upright. I got the bins on it with trembling hands. Big black bird. Red crown. Ivory bill. Yellow eye. Black Woodpecker! This isn't real. It let out a squonky song as I watched it, then proceeded to forage for about ten minutes, before brrting off in a poof of sparkling purple ghost-smoke.

  I saw it. Seventh time’s the charm! This bird has me feeling good. You could punch me in the throat right now, and I’d giggle.
  On my way down the hill, I heard (what sounded to my ears like) a Spotted Nutcracker screeling from a high peak...but still not ruling out a Eurasian Jay acting goofy. Also heard another odd finch call.
  With hours to kill before the bus, I went for a Ural Owl nosy. I faffed along some deer trails, and ended up lying down in the woods for a bit to eat fistfuls of celebratory jelly beans. There was some interesting tree damage in one stand of old pines – large, flaked-off sections of bark. Probably nothing...
  As I came around a sharp bend on the way out, I almost stepped on a Eurasian Sparrowhawk that was feeding on the trail. It blurred up into a tree, trying to lug its prey along. It failed, and the headless, half-plucked horror torso of an Oriental Turtle Dove fell at my feet with a hollow clumpk. When I was far enough down the trail, the sparrowhawk retuned to its brunch feast. Impressively large kill for such a dainty raptor, I thought!
  Anyway, I saw the Black Woodpecker. I saw it. What the hell will I do with my Sunday now? Time to head higher into the hills I guess.

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