The August weather is sweltering, but the actual peak of the summer sun was way back in June. Cool fronts are already making their way into the lower 48. Perhaps the shortening days are some sort of a signal to one of the most noticeable birds at Camp Salmen that it is time to begin to mosey west to Texas wintering grounds. They are already getting scarcer and scarcer in the woods.
The Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) has vivid, contrasting black and white bars on their backside, a white underside and a beautiful bright red head and neck. These colors command attention that make them instantly recognizable, especially when they spread their wings to land. They have a distinctive dive and swoop as they lope from one tree trunk to another in the woods, then gracefully flare to make a solid, upright landing like a magnet on a refrigerator.
The grove of trees between the Pavilion and the road are a favorite place for them to hang out all summer and practice their omnivorism - eating both plants and animals. They adroitly capture insects on the ground and in the air and forage for nuts, seeds, fruits, berries and occasionally, other bird's eggs.
They also mine insects from Camp Salmen's plentiful dead trees left from Hurricane Katrina. They also make nests in hollows in this rotting wood. Sometimes you'll hear a tell-tale "knock, knock, knock" of their pecking somewhere up in the leaves. They are hard to spot because they purposely hop to the other side of the tree to avoid being seen. Perhaps they are trying to keep a favorite spot a secret for themselves.
(Ben Taylor is the Caretaker at Camp Salmen Nature Park and will be writing a monthly column to talk about some of the features that the park offers, which is open to the public. This article was published in the Slidell Independent on August 12, 2012)