“People often ask me how it is that I seem to be so much at peace. There is a primary reason — and it is available to all who wish to have it. Here’s a simple prerequisite to attaining peace at that level. I invite you to observe the beasts, birds and fish and let them teach you. Let this be a daily routine and life, as you know it, will never be the same.”
– Eddie Bo

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Day 37 - Refugio Sapsucker

Lately I have been thinking about Sapsuckers.  Locally we have the luxury of having 3 sapsucker species here in the winter.  The more common Red-breasted, and the rarer Red-naped and Yellow-bellied.  Since the Red-naped and Yellow-bellied varieties will be leaving the area soon I have been thinking I should get out and find some while they are here.

A few days ago local expert birder Peter Gaede reported two Yellow-bellied and one Red-breasted Sapsucker at Refugio Road, which is about 20 miles west of the city of Santa Barbara.  This particular area was thick with Sapsuckers last November, when it was possible to see all three species in the same day  (This is also the spot I found a Painted Redstart, but that's another story).  I don't know a great deal about Sapsucker distribution, but I am guessing there are relatively few spots where this is possible.

I left the house early and made good time to Refugio Road, taking just over 1.5 hours to make the journey (I was expecting more like 2).  Upon arrival at the usual spot, I met a nice couple with Texas license plates and British accents.  They had seen a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker within the last 10 minutes and had the photos to prove it.  This was looking good!  I was confident that if I stayed long enough I was certain to find at least one Sapsucker.

I wandered around the area for awhile.  The bird sights and sounds were dominated by a flock of Starlings and the local troupe of Acorn Woodpeckers.  After making a couple rounds, I decided to head a bit farther up the road.  That was a good idea, as in the very same tree I had seen it last fall was a young male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!  It tended to stay high in the trees which made getting a photo tough, but I did manage one that I liked.  The second photo shows the back of the bird.  The pattern of markings on the back are important field marks for separating Red-naped and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in the field.  These two species can be challenging to identify as they are very similar in appearance.

Although I did not find a Red-breasted Sapsucker today, I was happy to get the much rarer Yellow-bellied.  Last fall it seemed I could not go anywhere without finding a Red-breasted Sapsucker but for some reason they have been hiding from me this year.  I am confident I will catch up with one sometime.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, rear view

After watching this fellow for awhile, I decided to head for home.  On the way out I met local birders Nancy States and Debbie Konkel - they had also seen Peter's report and were hoping to find a Sapsucker.  I gave them directions, and hoped that the Sapsucker would still be there for them.  I got an email later from Nancy saying they had indeed found it!

As I began the ride home it immediately became apparent why I had made such good time on the outward leg - I was now riding into a brisk headwind.  The ride home was hard work.  I freely admit I pushed the bike up the last hill to home.  This was the longest ride of the year so far.

After the addition of today's 1 species, the year's total stands at 164. 

Today I rode 46.7 miles

More later,

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