Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Sunset Woodpeckers

Sunset in January often suggests a temporary unknown. Darkness comes quickly when the sun falls behind the mountain and with it the temperature drops quickly. There's often no hint of how fast things will change or whether the harsh winds will follow. Clear skies at days end is a guarantee that cold is coming.

I just came in from a real quick walk with Karl, the wonder dog. I wasn't in a rush but the temperature is already down to 11 degrees and Karl likes the wood stove more than snow and ice on his feet. He's one of those modern day dogs that doesn't have the spunk my old beagle Barney had. Barney could run rabbits, foxes or coyotes for hours from afternoon on into the night and then spend the rest of the night finding his way back home. Karl, in contrast, thinks a good distance from the back door is the mailbox at the end of the driveway. He only makes it that far if he feels certain there's a good chance of being carried back to the house. He's too big for carrying very far but house dogs are like that.

It's been quite an afternoon already and rest seems good. I went to the Vermont Farm Show this afternoon. It's a three day annual event held in Barre and it draws exhibitors and visitors from far and wide. I just about got home and a bird missed the feeder and bounced off the kitchen window. I got up and looked out and there in the snow, twitching a wing, was some type of woodpecker, Hairy or Downy, I couldn't quite tell. I don't know if you have ever watched the Dog Whisperer on the animal channel on TV but here at Vermont Flower Farm we have the Woodpecker Whisperer. That would be Gail, my loving, jack-of-all-trades wife. If she could find a reliable day stretcher that really worked she'd be more exceptional than she already is. With birds that are down for the count she is really something else.

One mention of what had occured and Gail went into action. She has a portable dog kennel we used when Karl was a pup. It's lined with a flannel sheet puffed up irregularly to accept a fallen body no matter what shape it's in. Out the door she flew with Alex, Karl and me all peering out the window hoping to see a wing flutter or maybe even see her get bit like the time she saved the baby pileated woodpecker from a cat. This bird showed little encouragement of making it. Alex and I could hear a very sad "Oh no, poor thing." even through the window. The bird didn't move as Gail gently slid it into the kennel and backtracked through the snow and into the house. Like spectators at a sporting event, Alex and I ran for a visual inspection.

The bird lay motionless on the sheet, one wing splayed out away from the body, its head at a strange angle. It made us wonder if it was finished, done for, expired, just plain dead. Gail placed the kennel on top of the dryer in the utility room and affirmatively told us to leave. The Woodpecker Whisperer made it clear that the bird was in precarious health and poking it with words or fingers wasn't going to be at all helpful. We both obeyed like good schoolkids, all the time hoping that she could revive yet another fallen flyer.

Half an hour went by. Forty five minutes went by. We knew that Gail's experience has taught her that it takes a good hour for dizzy, injured birds. The time approached and we slid on our boots and headed outside. These are not good moments because you just don't know what will happen when you open the kennel door. Gail held the kennel and I opened the door. As I reached in, there was an explosion like a fine Springer Spaniel putting up a woodcock in the swamp off Lanesboro Road. The bird flew almost parallel to a maple and then turned its wings, landed and began doing the typical woodpecker climb up the tree. Every foot or so it shook itself. Something was not quite right. Ten or twelve feet higher and it pecked at a bug, then it pecked again. Recovery is golden! The Woodpecker Whisperer had succeeded yet again. This was a Hairy Woodpecker, a fairly common bird that is one of the janitors of the forest. It eats bugs and in so doing slows down some infestations. This Hairy has another day to enjoy life.

From the moutain above Peacham Pond, where the temperature has dropped to 8.1 degrees and my description of the Vermont Farm Show will have to be put on ice until later.

With gardening thoughts,

George Africa

No comments: