Last evening was a good night to drive up to one of my favorite places to watch a sunset. I usually pull the car over to the side of a quiet country road where the view sets my mood.
The sun was partially hidden by some billowy white clouds and was still 20 minutes from setting. My binoculars always come in handy while I'm waiting for a sunset. I was focusing in on a beautiful meadowlark, and wishing I had my camera, when another bird flew into view and landed on the side of a wooden fence post. I hurried to move my focus to the bird on the post, and just as I thought, it was a Red-headed woodpecker—and a good looking one at that!
Again, I thought, no camera when I really need it. This was only the third Red-headed woodpecker I'd spotted all summer, sitting just thirty yards from me. Tonight though, I was in the right place at the right time, and saw a bird that I usually only see in my memories.
I have to admit that I'd forgotten just how beautiful this bird is, as well as vocal. As he flew up to a weathered telephone pole, he let out a call that sounded like a loud "queeah" and when he landed he gave another single note, loud call, "kwee-oh." While moving around the sides of the pole, he clucked softly, "kerrruck." It came back to me how busy and vocal this woodpecker was and that added a lot to my memory of him. I was only seeing him in my mind, not hearing him.
The Red-headed woodpecker was once a very common sight here in Southwest Wisconsin, but now is seldom seen, and no one seems to know why. Well, it's a pretty safe bet that, as usual, it's human activity that is to blame. But how? That's the question. Red-headed woodpeckers prefer a broken grassland habitat with large trees and edges. Rarely would I see this bird in town even back when it could be seen most anywhere in the countryside. When small family farms began to disappear is about the same time these woodpeckers started dropping in numbers. They seem to be very touchy about having just the right habitat and of course the landscape has changed as more grassland is developed or planted to trees.
August is the month of yellow, as the roadsides are dotted with patches of coneflowers and sunflowers. Large stands of Canada goldenrod are starting to bloom, sending a splash of bright yellow over the green landscape. On the wooded hillsides, a few of the sugar maple trees are already showing a yellow-green blush, a sure sign that summer's days are numbered.
I hope you have been enjoying these August days and nights as much as I have. We still have some summer left to enjoy, so here's hoping you make the most of it. Be outside, enjoy the songs of the crickets, the smell of the corn tassels ad the colors of late summer.
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