Pileated woodpecker

The pileated woodpecker (dryocopus pileatus) is one of the most impressive birds in the forest. Crows may be slightly larger, and eagles may look more imposing, but nothing thrills me more than the cry of a pileated woodpecker. To me, they symbolize wild nature more than just about anything else in our woods.

Pileated woodpeckers are hard to see in the forest, but it’s not so much because they’re shy as the fact that they seem entirely uninterested in anything human. They mind their own business, and that rarely has anything to do with people.

According to various sites, they feed largely on carpenter ants, which they usually find in standing or fallen dead trees. That means they need a mature forest that isn’t cut or managed to eliminate dead trees. That tends keep them away from large population centers, since most people don’t want dead trees nearby. Despite this limitation, their range is large. Here’s the US Geological Survey map showing their range.

US Geological Survey figure

US Geological Survey figure

According to the USGS website, the pileated woodpecker averages about 15 inches long. It has a prominent red crest and a white throat. It’s almost entirely black, with white on the under side of its wings. But if you’re looking for a pileated woodpecker, I don’t think you will have any problems identifying it. Here’s what the USGS says: “No other living woodpecker could be confused with the Pileated.”

The best view I ever had of a pileated woodpecker was many years ago at my parents’ house. My father had cut a small pine and laid the trunk along the edge of a terrace in the back yard. After it had dried and started to decay, a pileated woodpecker lit on it and started pecking at the bark. When a pileated woodpecker pecks, it hits like a hammer. This bird means business when it feeds.

They are not rare in the woods around the mountain. I hear their call quite often, but although I have looked for an opportunity to photograph one, I haven’t been able to do it. I see them at a distance, too far to photograph, or maybe flying over the road, there and gone before I can even think of getting my camera or phone out.

Since I don’t have one of my own photographs, here’s one from online:

"Pileated Woodpecker male" by D. Gordon E. Robertson

“Pileated Woodpecker male” by D. Gordon E. Robertson

Wednesday I was able to get a poor quality recording of the “wuk” call, along with dark and shaky video of some trees where the bird seemed to be perched. I was with the dogs, and I kept walking while videoing, hoping the bird would fly. I was holding the phone vertically because I wasn’t sure where the bird was and I wanted to catch it if it flew. That’s why there are black bars on either side of the image.

I normalized the volume of the clip, which brings out the call, but unfortunately, it also brings out the jingle of the tags. Sorry about that.

Cornell University has a website with good examples of pileated woodpecker calls. If you have never heard a pileated woodpecker, go listen there and imagine yourself deep in the woods.

Climbing the walls

We get a lot of bugs climbing the walls of our house. This is probably the most common sight.


I think this is a carolina grasshopper, but I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure it would make a tasty treat for this wall climber.


The praying mantis is one of my favorites. I like they way they turn their heads to follow you, maybe trying to decide if they could take you down.

I saw this little green anole on the wall outside the front door.


These little lizards are not as common here as the blue-tailed skink, and neither is as common as they were before the cat population boomed. This one will be safe as long as he stays on the wall.

I saw a walking stick but I didn’t get a photo of it. It wasn’t the cool blue of the one Pablo saw.



Friday Felines

I love oysters raw or cooked. I found some called Daufuski the other day and decided to have oysters on a cracker with cocktail sauce for lunch. They were so delicious that Smokey came and sat next to me.

"I smell oysters."

“I smell oysters.”

So I gave him some. I don’t think he enjoyed them as much as I did, but he ate them.

"Mmmmm …"

“Mmmmm …”

Zeke can always tell when food is being handed out, but he didn’t get any that day.

"Doesn't the dog get any?"

“Doesn’t the dog get any?”

Oysters are just for me and the cat. None for the dog or Mark (Mark won’t eat them anyway.)

Hummer riot

Although we have always had lots of hummingbirds over the years, for most of this summer we had very few. In the past, a full feeder would be emptied in one day. For most of this summer, a feeder would last for two or three weeks. In the last couple of weeks, the hummers have come back. I shot this video with my iPhone through the living room sliding glass door.

Immediately prior to this there were even more, but apparently some of them were not comfortable with my being so close. Only a few came when I tried shooting outside. The feeder was full in the morning. I shot this in the late afternoon, when it was nearly empty.

I love these little birds, but they don’t share much of the love with each other.

Lucy gets a new bedroom

I have been slowly and sporadically writing about the dogs I have had through the years. I intended to do it chronologically, but I’m going to jump forward in time to our most recent dog, Lucy.

Lucy was my mother’s dog. The story of how my mother, who was not a dog person, ended up with Lucy starts back in 1999, when I returned to live at my parents’ house. I moved back home mainly because my mother and father had health issues, and I thought it would be better for me to be closer than a two-hour drive. I should probably have stayed in the Huntsville area, because I was still working in Huntsville and had to stay over there all week. I could have kept my house in Alabama and just come home for weekends. But I didn’t.

My father died in 2000, after I started building the house where Leah and I live now. We moved in right after we got married in 2005. After that I was worried about my mother being lonely, so I encouraged her to get a dog for company. One day while I was in Huntsville, Leah and her father took my mother to a dog rescue and she came home with Lucy.

Lucy and my mother soon accommodated to each other, and even though my mother never really became a dog person, she grew really attached to Lucy. Lucy sat with my mother while she watched television, and eventually she slept right beside her when they went to bed. I think Lucy provided a lot of company and comfort for my mother when she would otherwise have been alone.

Here’s Lucy making herself at home on my mother in the assisted living facility.

lucy on my mother

A couple of weeks before my mother died, Leah and I took Lucy home with us. At least one of the staff at the assisted living facility where my mother stayed for a few months said he wanted Lucy, but we decided that since I was the one who encouraged my mother to take Lucy, we (notice how “I” became “we”) should take her.

We brought Lucy with us when we saw my mother. Occasionally we put her up in the bed to let her snuggle.

lucy on the bed

Lucy has some characteristics that are hard to take. She barks a lot, which is not uncommon for little dogs, but we think it has also caused Zeke to bark more. She is food obsessed. She tries to eat the food Leah puts down for the cats (Leah says she’s a pain in the butt). She tends to nip your fingers when you give her food by hand, a trait I’m afraid my mother made worse. My mother couldn’t bend down very far, so she tended to drop treats so that Lucy had to snatch quickly. That tendency made my mother even less likely to try to hand a treat directly to Lucy, so she always dropped the treat and Lucy had to snap to get it. So Lucy is used to snapping to get treats. Lucy is also harder to train on the leash than any dog I have had.

But the worst behavior is that she poops in the house. I have never had any problem house breaking any dog I have ever had, up until I got Lucy. I’m afraid we tend to blame my mother for this problem, too. My mother was completely deaf in one ear due to surgery, and had a pretty significant deficit in the other ear. We assume that initially Lucy might have barked to be let out, but when my mother didn’t hear and let her out, Lucy ended up relieving herself in an out-of-the-way place inside. Eventually Lucy got used to doing it, and now she does it in our house. Not always, but too often. We have always been careful to take the dogs out frequently and to pay attention to their behavior so we can tell when they might need to go out. We take Lucy and Zeke out a lot, but it has not kept Lucy from doing her business inside.

She has done it while we are out for a few hours, and she has done it during the night while we’re in bed. She did it last night, and that was the last straw. The only solution we could come up with was a kennel, so now Lucy has her own little den where she’s going to spend the night and stay in while we’re out.

Here’s Lucy trying out her new kennel.

lucy in the kennel

She went into the kennel voluntarily. She didn’t seem to be spooked when I closed the door. We’re going to try to make sure she sees it as a positive thing rather than as punishment. We’ll see how it goes Monday night.

I have to admit that it has been hard to get used to having Lucy around. Neither of us can find much to love about her, but she earned her keep when she lived with my mother.