Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Non Amuse Bouche - Red-bellied Woodpecker

Female Red-bellied Woodpecker
    I had recently made an appointment to see a dermatologist to look at my aging, spotty face which seems to be growing barnacles. Though I had been referred by my primary care physician, the dermatologist could not see me until June of next year. So, yesterday, when the dermatologist's office called with a cancellation, I dropped everything and flew there like the witch on a broom my face says I've become. The good news is that I don't have anything malignant growing on my face, though my disposition could be said to be malignant. I do have a slew of patches that are pre-cancerous, however.
     Six places needed to be blasted with liquid nitrogen. I had this done once before, which is why my physician sent me to the face expert. It hadn't been a big deal then, and time had faded my recall of the depth of the experience. Plus, my more current frame of reference for liquid nitrogen is cooking, not cancer treatment. The coolest, nouvelle cuisine chefs use "L2," as those in the know call it, when fashioning "amuse bouche" or mouth amusements. Fruits are flash frozen and soups carved into table ready, frozen sculptures when prepared with L2, also known as "dry ice." Ice cream freezes so quickly with L2 that the ice crystals are super small. When the ice cream hits the tongue, instead of melting, it evaporates filling the mouth with a blast of delightful, gaseous essence - amuse bouche!
     I can tell you that when the L2 hit my face six times, I was not amused. And, from this Cupid's pucker of a sweet bouche rolled more than delightful, gaseous essence; I swore like a pirate! I come by the inclination to swear honestly. Both of my parents were quick to launch vulgarities of the most hair curling order and didn't hesitate to do so in front of us children. My father, with an undisguised hint of pride and peculiar affection, often said of my mother that she had "a mouth like a sewer rat." They reasoned that exposing us to world class profanity at home would render swearing a blase' form of communication. Our language choices, when wanting to impress upon someone the intensity of our feelings, would evolve more highly than to just jump quickly to profanity. They were wrong. I for one, love a good, choking mouthful of the F word in times of trouble, though I did withhold that in the doctor's office.
     When I left, my face felt like I had walked face-first into a wasps' nest! Having thought that this wouldn't be a big deal, I had planned to meet my husband for lunch afterward and to do a dozen errands. I could have begged off dining in a public place with my beloved, but the errands had to be done, no matter what. Christmas is coming, whether my face looks like I took a load of bird shot or not. So, I sucked it up and went to lunch at a local diner. I held my head high and dared any customers or the waitresses whizzing by with plate loads of meatloaf and mashed to stare at my wrecked face. My prince of a husband treated me to a lobster roll, thanked me for taking care of myself and told me repeatedly that I was beautiful.
     After lunch, I had nearly forgotten the whole thing by the time I got to my car. When I saw this Red-bellied woodpecker in the trees, my amuse bouche came back completely.
     Red-bellied woodpeckers are no longer uncommon in Maine, though they used to be. Like Northern Cardinals and Mockingbirds, their population has crept northward over the past decade. Five or six years ago, a Red-bellied woodpecker reported in Maine was are rarity worth twitching, or chasing after to see.  Then, in 2004, the most wide-spread invasion of Red-bellied woodpeckers ever recorded occurred in Maine, Upstate New York and Maritime Canada. So many of them were suddenly reported on the birding list serves that it was clear the sightings were not those of simply a few, fall migratory wanderers. Why the birds came this far north remains uncertain. Possibly, breeding had been so successful in the spring of 2004 that the first year birds expanded into northern, un-occupied spaces to set up new breeding territories. It may also be that a food source, like acorns, declined, forcing the birds to look elsewhere.
     Red-bellied woodpeckers eat fruit and berries and insects. In the south, they hang on hummingbird feeders occasionally. In these photos, the bird had banged on the cracks in the maple tree several times. Their tongues extend two inches beyond the end of the bill. Twice, I saw her pull out the brown lumps you see here. I'm not sure what it was, but she liked it enough to try several times for more.
     Red-bellied woodpeckers are about nine and half inches long, the size of a Hairy woodpecker. They have a rolling 'R' call and an undulating flight pattern, both very recognizable. The bird in these images is female. Her red head patch does not extend all the way to her bill. Males have a red patch from the nape of the neck to the bill. The "red belly," is an inconspicuous patch that's barely visible for field identification. So, why are they called "Red-bellied?" I'm guessing because "Red-headed" was a name already taken. We get Red-headed woodpeckers here, but they are very rare. A siting would be twitch-worthy. Maybe next year, Red-headed woodpeckers will be as common here as Red-bellied woodpeckers have recently become. And perhaps by then, my bee-stung looking face will have calmed down enough that no one will notice that anymore, either.  

Fellow birder, Don Reimer  has an article on Red-bellied woodpeckers in a local paper. If you want more detail about these beautiful birds, click here: Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1939)


  1. Great post, Robin, as usual. Hope the funky spots on your face fade before the holidays. Nice info on the Red-bellied Woodpecker. I believe the red belly was probably more apparent on dead skins when the birds were first described.

  2. I'm having trouble posting,but trying again.I
    really like the red bellied woodpecker and did see them when we lived upstate N.Y. Great shots,she seems very comfortable in that tree noshing...bmc

  3. Hhhhhmmmmm, Hilke. Do you suppose a couple of hundred years from now, some ornithologist will be studying the dead skin of a grumpus robin robinsonus and say, "Those red spots were much more obvious when it was alive?"

  4. Not to worry, bmc, you got it! Thank you.

  5. Re: Red-bellied Woodpecker name.
    I have heard that the bird was named in the days of "shotgun" bird study.
    The bird in hand showed the belly, rather than the head, thus, Red-bellied W.
    (I didn't see this in the Reimer article, but it maybe hidden there someplace.)

  6. What a dreadful thought that the bird was thusly dubbed when headless and all that showed was the nearly hidden red breast blotch! I wonder what a scientist would pick to describe me if I were found headless and later examined.....must get on the treadmill now......

  7. It is funny the things we pick up on. I for one was in wonder at your husbands undying support sitting in a diner with a train wrecked face. I love it and of course the beautiful shot of the bird as well. Love it!

  8. Pretty birdies. I miss New England fauna...
    Oryoki Bowl
    December 16, 2010 12:04 AM

  9. Super entertaining,,,,,, and educational....

  10. I wuz just zapped today, too. My, but don't that smart with a hangover?

  11. oooooooh, I imagine that was a nasty wake up call! I'll remember to not inbibe to excess in advance of my next appointment. I'll wait and double up after the fact. That IS what you meant, wasn't it?

  12. VClark, That is an interesting phenomenon, isn't it? And, my husband should get an award for that act of courage and support. He could definitely get a better date than that mess he was with.

  13. Ouch! (That's me wincing over the "L2"-blasting your face took) and Ouch! (That's the tree wincing as the woodpecker does her thing).

    At least the face-resurfacing is over. You don't have to do that again anytime soon, right? And you'll be all smooth and pretty again by Christmas.

    Thanks for tutoring me on this woodpecker. What I don't know about birds would fill volumes--so I'm always delighted when you post something like this. Now I can at least say that I know this much about this one particular bird!

    Gorgeous pics, too. Rated. D
    Yarn Over
    December 16, 2010 11:06 AM

  14. Gorgeous photos!! Scary L2 !!
    Just Thinking...
    December 16, 2010 11:14 AM

  15. Ouch, Robin! I hope that L2 business is over for good. I admire your spirit, picking up and taking flight like a bird to see the beauty in nature and introducing to us the lovely Red-bellied woodpecker. All the best this holiday season. ~R
    December 16, 2010 12:19 PMFusunA

  16. Cute Woodpecker! I think if you stuck with the story that you bumped into a wasp nest all the Birders out there would have thought you were being so heroic in snapping your photo! Actually, I thought you were heroic when those ignorant hunters did their dirty deed. Either way, I hope you feel better.

  17. Oh, funny HG! Wish I had thought of that. It would have made a better 'war' story. Thank you for wishing me well.

  18. "I held my head high and dared any customers or the waitresses whizzing by with plate loads of meatloaf and mashed to stare at my wrecked face."

    nice...I love the photos thrown into all of your posts, you tie together your interests so beautifully
    Y Heron
    December 17, 2010 12:41 PMYHeron

  19. HG, Yhernon and FusunA, thank you very much for reading, viewing and commenting. I could not ask for more. Well, that's a lie> I could. I'm wondering if that bird in the red hat wasn't actually Santa in disguise, checking to see if I had been naughty or nice. In which case, I should have asked for a new bathrobe, perhaps.