Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Peek-a-boo with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Ramona


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Ramona, California. December 25, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Two weeks ago I swung by Collier County Park in unincorporated downtown Ramona, California (population 20,000 to 34,000 depending upon what is included), a rather rural farming community east of Escondido. Over a million chickens are raised at one of four egg ranches (there used to be 50 egg ranches in the 1970's). One dairy remains. Wine grapes are a popular new crop. There are many avocado and citrus orchards. And Thoroughbred horses are raised.

I was seeking a reported vagrant woodpecker--the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, the form of sapsucker found primarily from the Rocky Mountains eastward. I did not find it, primarily because there was some kind of memorial or public speaking going on right in the middle of the park by what appeared to be 60-year-old hippies. (I'm much better at identifying birds than people--I wonder who they really were!).

The disappointment of not finding the sapsucker was more than made up in my mind by having a Zone-tailed Hawk dive into a Eucalyptus after House Sparrows and then be escorted out of town by a group of crows. Zone-tailed Hawks look--and fly--uncannily like Turkey Vultures, and even fly with them! It happened so fast I didn't get a photo (again!). It was my second sighting of a Zone-tailed Hawk--a rare annual winter visitor here.

So I made another stop this week and "found" the sapsucker. It was very wary, and did not want to be spied upon. The photo above is all I got as it peeked around the trunk of a California Pepper Tree (native to the Peruvian Andes, so how did it get this name?) and kept hiding from me. Still, it is identifiable from this photo. The most similar species is Red-naped Sapsucker. It is told from that species by lack a red nape, which would be at the back of the head where it is white in this bird. Also, this bird has a red throat (not visible) completely surrounded by the black border (which is visible). If this was Red-naped Sapsucker, the red of the throat would bleed through the black border onto the white cheek.

This is my third sighting of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. The first was another vagrant in Bay City, Oregon on January 12, 2002. The second was at an expected location, Walker Valley, New York on October 14, 2004.