Yellow-shafted Flicker

moon phase Week of 04/09/2006 Favorable days for planting.

From the dark, moonless sky last night came the familiar calls of migrating Whistling swans, also known as Tundra swans. They passed overhead in the night, and I couldn't see any of them, but it sounded like there were about 20 and they sounded close by. Their soft calls sound almost like a high-pitched sigh—"woo-ho, whoo-woo, woo-ho." A large flock of a hundred or more swans can sound like a heavenly chorus.

Yellow-shafted Flicker

Many people see a flock of big birds and simply assume they are geese, because they're what we're used to seeing in the spring. However, if you look a little closer and listen carefully, you might be surprised at what's really there. Sandhill cranes and swans have larger wingspans than geese, but from a distance their flocks look similar. The bugling calls of the cranes sound nothing like a Goose or a Swan. The Swan calls are distinct too from Canada geese, but sound a little like the smaller Snow goose.

I get lots of questions about sounds in the night, especially in the spring when many birds are passing through, and other animals start moving around. It's good to hear new owl stories, and hearing someone's impression of the owl's hooting noise is always fun. Often as not, a sound heard in the darkness can be identified with just a little detective work. I ask where they heard the sound, and what time of day or night. What's the area like—are there trees, a pasture, field, creek, pond or marsh? Together, often as not, we'll figure out what or who made the sound.

Today there was a new sound that I haven't heard since last summer. High up in the trees came the loud chatter of a Yellow-shafted flicker—"Wick, Wick, Wick, Wick, Wick, Wick!" I didn't see him until later in the day, when he called from a tree in the front yard. Then it was easy to find him in the leafless branches. How strikingly handsome he was, with his spotted breast, yellow shafted tail feathers, and a small patch of red on the back of his head. I haven't seen this woodpecker as often as I once did, and the call of a flicker always went hand in hand with a lazy summer day. When I was a boy, flickers were often called Hammerheads, because of their large heads and their ability to hammer holes in dead trees.

It's good to know there are still flickers who return in the spring, but I'm beginning to have doubts about their cousin, the Red-headed woodpecker. They were once an everyday sight in the Kickapoo Valley, but are becoming rare. I've seen only two near La Farge in the past 3 years, and I didn't see any last summer at all. I'm hoping to get a glimpse of the beautiful Red-head this year.

There lots of garden work to do and yard work too, if I want things to look nice this summer. It's hard work, but there's nothing like being outside when the weather warms up. That fresh air really gives my Spring fever a jump start.

Naturally yours,

Dan Hazlett

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