Constantly time and space align in ways we occasionally recognize:
through bare limbs before spring leaves–
a pileated woodpecker feeds from a dying tree snag





rainy and gray
silhouetting day
up hops a yellow-bellied sapsucker



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“Spring,” among many lively things, is opening your door

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to the calmed design & geometry of a northern flicker

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 who so often before flashed its cottony behind
in sudden, startled flight from the woodsy floor & lawn.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




   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.  


Hairy Woodpecker


Downy Woodpecker



The Red-bellied Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker I’ve seen along Little Crum Creek. 

Its spring call is so lush and ruffling  that we can often spot one through new leaves. 

But now, in late fall, it is particularly conspicuous, sometimes drumming loudly on tree sides and departing dramatically from every landing.

Red-bellieds visit rarely enough to warrant announcement when one hits the suet to set it swinging.  Its strong tail and grasp then steady the cage for feeding.

We can tell these males by the full red caps running all the way to their beaks.  A female’s red streak ends at the nape.