Friday, August 29, 2014

Acorn Woodpeckers, Grass Skippers, and Moon Trees

Over the past month or so I’ve taken several little “field trips” to visit the campus where Maureen works, at a huge public university. The campus is plenty scenic, and plenty historic, and it’s as good a place as any to while away 8 or 9 hours (filling the interim until my new job starts). Not looking for anything in particular, and not sure what I’d find anyway, I set out with Maureen’s camera in a bid to contribute some eye candy of my own to the blog.

The first marvel I met with was a Douglas-fir “moon tree”. The tree was grown from one of 500 seeds that accompanied the Apollo 14 mission during its 1971 lunar orbit. While this was certainly one of the more accomplished trees I’ve ever come across, it seemed modest enough, not letting the fame get to its canopy.

As a seed, this tree orbited the moon. You might say it was an astro-nut

Next, we’d heard it rumored that a family of Acorn Woodpeckers lives on campus, near the veterinary school. I started out in that direction, hoping to scope them out before Maureen’s lunch, so we could head there directly once she was free. The road was by with a stand of oaks, where, after just a couple minutes’ wait, a hyperactive set of five or six woodpeckers bounced from oak to oak, often fairly low and close.

When lunchtime rolled around we headed back over together. Now we discovered not only the nest hole they returned to again and again, but their stash spot, where they hoarded hundreds and hundreds of their namesake nut. The family was busy storing up for the dreary, barren winter months. They were also meticulously tending their inventory, sometimes removing an acorn from its cubby, and fitting it into a different hole.

The woodpecker photos above are all Maureen’s; my photographic efforts were decidedly lepidopterous. The only butterflies I found in good numbers, who were patient enough to put up with my obtrusion, were assorted members of the challenging “grass skipper” clade. Amid a patch of coneflowers, I found a handsome pair of Sachem.

As I watched them, the male performed a rather remarkable display: rapidly flying off diagonally, about eight inches, and flying right back at his mistress, as if connected by an elastic band. The dance lasted a total of about 10 seconds, with each round trip journey taking only half a second. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any video.

During a subsequent “field trip”, I came across another type of grass skipper, Woodland Skipper, gathering nectar from the lavender. These skippers look an awful lot like Sachem to my novice eye, except for the patterning on the underwing, and they lack the big boxy stigma on the upperwing. These skippers didn’t dance for me like their cousins, but being able to give them at least a tentative ID gave me satisfaction enough.


  1. Looks like you're no stay-at-home hubby there Doc Martens.

    Nice camera work. Acorn Woodpeckers are pretty common in AZ in the right habitat, but that does not preclude them from still being one of the most fun and best looking Woodpeckers. It's always fun to see the more progressive, hip OR varieties too.

    1. Thanks! I suspect that watching Acorn Woodpeckers never gets old. Not only are they some of the most rambunctious birds, but they have some of the oddest habits. The ones in Oregon only eat artisanal acorns. We didn't get a picture of the one wearing a fedora.

  2. A place for every acorn and every acorn in its place. Woodpeckers of many varieties have long suffered from OCD.

    Sweet shots all around but props to Maureen on the Acorn Woodpecker crushes.

    1. Thanks so much, Josh! Indeed about woodpeckers. They totally get me ;)