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June 6, 2010

I have erred. What I had identified a few days ago as a Red headed Woodpecker (melanerpes erythrocephalus) sighting on Denman Island, BC was in fact, most probably, an Acorn Woodpecker. Yes, it did look exactly like this:

My friend’s fabulous bird identification blog has the added benefit of focusing on West Coast Birds, since the fabulous friend in question is currently based in Vancouver. So, the verdict: Acorn Woodpecker sighting.  Melanerpes formicivorus, for the deeply curious.

Many many apologies for leading all of my readers astray with this misnomer. In case you need an immediate reminder of what the Red Headed Woodpecker (RHW) looks like, here he is (I’m assuming it’s a HE given the beauty and allure of said bird; were it a female species, it would, most likely be brownish brown like all the rest of the females. Sigh. What can you do?):

This, by radical contrast to the Acorn Woodpecker (AW), is the RHW. Do you see how my confusion between the two woodpeckers was a mere peccadillo, a misdemeanour of the lowest possible grade? If you ask me, it takes quite an expert to distinguish between the two. In any event, here you have it. My first Bird Wrongdoing. I wish I could say it were my last, but there will be others, trust me.

I guess that’s part of the pleasure of birding. You mess up, mis-identify, look closely to find distinguishing traits between two birds that I still, for the life of me, couldn’t tell apart, you read other people’s blogs, compare your mental notes with theirs, look closely again, re-imagine yourself in that Denman Island paradise that was your vacation, and then likely make the same error again.

Birding is challenging. I’m now slowly becoming familiar with Eastern Birds (thanks to my ingenious bird group, whom I learn from every week and who continue to humble me with their knowledge, patience and the kindness they exhibit toward a novice; fyi — I have the Best Bird Group on Earth [BBGE]), but then I travel somewhere, and it turns out that, once again, I know NOTHING. West Coast Birds are nothing like East Coast Birds. It’s a whole other world! That’s the amazing thing about birds — every geographical area is a whole other universe. (It reminds me of learning Ancient Greek and being so thrilled to have made my way through Plato’s Ion, only to learn that Plato’s Greek is nothing like Homer’s greek that, in fact, learning Greek meant learning a different dialect for every author. A serious disappointment and an incredible thrill to imagine it as a lifelong pursuit, which, in the end, it didn’t end up being, but that’s a story for another time.)

What a privilege to be learning how to observe closely!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2010 3:52 pm

    If there can be sin in birding, forsitan bis peccasti. Acorn Wdpkr is hardly more frequent in BC than Red-headed; what you saw was (to my mind) an even more wondrous creature, Red-breasted Sapsucker. Enviable!

    • June 8, 2010 1:16 pm

      Thanks for your erudition, as always! Wow, my first Latin comment. What’s the diff between woodpecker and sapsucker?

  2. June 10, 2010 1:42 pm

    Sapsuckers are woodpeckers of the genus Sphyrapicus. Red-breasted Sapsucker is one of the “yellow-bellied” complex, comprising Red-breasted, Red-naped, and Yellow-bellied sensu stricto. It has a red head and breast and a black and white body and wings. I seem not to have any photos of the bird myself, but they’re readily available on line.
    rick (still a bit bleary-eyed from three happy weeks in the old countries!)

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