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Unmoved by the russet flagging rump of a parent’s coaxing,
a fledgling gray catbird stakes its steadfast perch in the rain.

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Downstream from our usual window on life in and around the water, Little Crum Creek flows into Ridley Park Lake.

101_3484edcropBThis deeper, wider, stiller body attracts a variety of life less commonly spotted in our shallower, quicker narrows upstream.

About now, you could easily encounter sunnies, carp, red-eared sliders, toads, green herons, geese, a great blue heron, and maybe a snapping turtle (… any Parkers out there care to add to this list?).

Lately, four double-crested cormorants have been fishing the lake.

Submerging for 20 to 30 seconds in pursuit of prey, they surface anywhere from 20 to 30 feet away.

Between feedings, the cormorants stand atop a dam at the far end of the lake, drying in the sun. 

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A Sharpie stands on one leg over Little Crum Creek,

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a small bird in clutch,

 

 and soon takes cover in the evergreen

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for a long leisurely meal. 

Lots of birds have frequented Little Crum Creek’s feeders this winter:

Blue Jay, Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, European Starling, House Finch, Goldfinch, assorted Sparrows, Mourning Dove, White-breasted Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse, a few Woodpeckers—Downy, Red-bellied, & Hairy—and several opportunistic Hawks—Cooper’s, Red-tailed, Sharp-shinned, & Red-shouldered.

Any one of them could lift one’s spirit from the desolation of winter dormancy.

But the absence of another really drew me out to the invigorating cold.

Hoping to discover why we never see the Pileated Woodpecker on Little Crum Creek, I set out for the snowy trails of Ridley Creek State Park.

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There the Pileated first announced itself with distinctively powerful drumming.

Slow and deliberate, like the strike of an axe, it was much louder than we are accustomed to hearing from smaller woodpeckers.

After scanning the bare trees and creaking limbs awhile, I finally spotted one.

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In subsequent visits, I followed the Pileated’s loud laughter from tree to tree.

It made many stops over a large area of dense woods, increasingly gaining more ground than I could cover.

It especially seemed to love chipping out large rectangular holes in the larvae-rich trunks of dead tree snags.

Woodchip piles littered the snow.

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I’ve seen similar evidence in the Crum Woods of Swarthmore, just a few suburban blocks from the headwater spring of LCC.

But the thin corridor of LCC runs a residential course.  Trees are generally younger and increasingly fewer downstream.

Property owners often remove dead ones before they can mature into rich old snags on which the Pileated depends for food and nesting.

Fewer trees, over smaller areas, where snags are scarce … these are probably sufficient reasons to explain the Pileated Woodpecker’s absence from Little Crum Creek.

But even its absence highlights something about our place in the region.

And now I have some clues for how to find one.

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To see a nearby Pileated Woodpecker in action, check out this cool video from Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, just about a 30 min. drive from LCC.

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   Before January’s snow drove one to the backyard suet, I’d been wondering if the Hairy Woodpecker mingled indistiguishably here with the Downy.  The two are said to be nearly identical, though the smaller Downy is much more common. Then first sight of the rarely visiting Hairy dispelled any doubt.  Even with tail tucked beneath the feed, he clearly outsized the other. This Hairy Woodpecker appeared occasionally, for about a week, and I haven’t seen him since.  

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Hairy Woodpecker

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Downy Woodpecker

 Back in November,
when autumn’s trees unveiled winter’s bare-limbed vistas,
new hawk patterns appeared over Little Crum Creek.

Which hawk, then, was daily greeting sunrise above a nearby field: 
the customary Cooper’s or the newly suspected Red-tailed?

One day I watched one bolt from its branch for a mid-air strike,
but hawk and prey suddenly vanished in a snowy cloud of feathers.

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While the Cooper’s Hawk seemed to preside over spring and summer,
the Red-tailed’s claim began to mount in fall.

I’d frequently spot one abandoning a perch,
its namesake tail fanned in flight.

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Another soared,
intermittently flapping,
in high wide circles above the field.

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Soon closer visits permitted better scrutiny. 

Based on the belly’s vested coloration
and relatively short tail feathers,
these two, above & below, look like Red-tailed Hawks.

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For contrast,
consider the thinly-streaked belly & breast coloration
plus the long, thickly-banded tail feathers
of a mid-December Cooper’s Hawk
in the following two photos.

(Its tail feathers seem too rounded for the lookalike Sharp-shinned Hawk.)

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In January, and now February,
this accipiter has seemed scarce. 

But count on seeing a Red-tailed just about any day.

Since December’s late snowfall, this buteo’s been our most prominent raptor.

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2 Blue Jays

Try counting birds …

in the Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb. 18-21.

It’s simple: 

Take 15 mins, count the birds you can identify, and submit the numbers online. 

If new to this, you might be surprised at how easily you can learn to identify the most common birds where you live.

The GBBC website has everything you’ll need.

Especially helpful are some identification tools like the “Tricky IDs” page and the option to enter your location to see a regional checklist of birds.

Use that checklist to see pictures, read behaviors, and hear songs at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a popular place to research birds.

Even if not participating, the GBBC has a lot of great information for getting to know our neighbors.

In town or city, nature is always on the wing out our windows.

And at least a small part of it will be counted along Little Crum Creek.

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6 Mourning Doves, Little Crum Creek

 

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All of a sudden, come late fall & winter, summer’s slender cardinal seems a few ounces plumper. In fact, he’s light as ever, puffing his  feathers for warmth.

Daily, several Downy Woodpeckers busily satisfy their cravings for bark-dwelling insects by scouring the tree sides of Little Crum Creek.

But, next to gray squirrels, the female Downy has also been autumn’s most frequent visitor to nearby suet cakes, often lingering until a peckish male, aggressively flashing his distinctive red patch, dispatches her for his own hasty feeding.

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