Saturday, July 20, 2013

Back to Greer, back with a Woodpecker Rally!

After going to Colorado last year for our family vacation instead of Greer, Arizona, where we usually go, we have returned to Greer once again.  It's great to be back in Greer, and hopefully I'll have good luck with birding targets.  We are staying in a cool cabin, Acorn Lodge!

I always like to start the first morning of a trip off on a good note for my birding expeditions, and I wanted to start this trip's birding off by getting a woodpecker fix.  The perfect place to see a variety of cool woodpeckers can be found right in Greer, on the Butler Canyon Nature Trail.  This area was hit by the 2011 Wallow Fire in places, but this trail is still beautiful and the mountainsides on the eastern end of the trail are burned, but not the immediate trail itself.  While burn is devastating, the term "beauty from ashes" reigns true.  It has turned this place into a woodpecker's peck-about.  I was specifically after two species I don't see enough of during this search, the Williamson's Sapsucker and the American Three-toed Woodpecker.  

Soon after the start of my birding hike, I heard pecking coming from many directions.  Most of them were Northern Flickers and Hairy Woodpeckers at first.  I heard a Downy Woodpecker call, one that is uncommon in Arizona and another one I was also hoping to see, but ended up hearing only.

Then, one of my two targets eventually came into view.  

It was luckily an adult male Williamson's Sapsucker, one I've been hoping to see for awhile as well as photograph.  This is one of the coolest woodpeckers in my opinion (many birders would agree) and I followed it around as long as I could.

Williamson's Sapsucker (Adult male)

Further down the Butler Canyon Nature Trail, I found another adult male Williamson's Sapsucker.

The two adult male WI SA's only two of six Williamson's Sapsuckers that I found.  This species is very variable, with four different plumages that look completely different from each other.  One is, of course, the studly adult male as shown above.  Second, is the juvenile male.  It is black-backed like the adult male, but lacks the red throat and yellow belly.  Third is the adult female, which is a black-and-white barred bird overall, with a yellow belly, black breast (like the male), and then a dull brown head.  Fourth, is the juvenile female, which just looks like a dull brown and black barred-bird.  I found two juvenile males, and two juvenile females, and I was able to get a photographs of those plumages.  The adult female hid, so I plan to find her sometime on this trip to complete my Williamson's Sapsucker collection.

The photo's below show the juvenile male Williamson's Sapsucker.  This young guy was hanging out in the same area with his dad, but tended to fend for himself.  Young birds are often extremely cooperative, as this young Williamson's was.

Williamson's Sapsucker (Juvenile Male)

And here is the juvenile female.  Look how plain she is.  When I was a young birder, I know I passed this off as a "ratty young Northern Flicker".  But no, this is actually a Williamson's Sapsucker!

Williamson's Sapsucker (juvenile female)

The next woodpecker I wanted to see, the American Three-toed Woodpecker, loves to thrive in burned areas.  I was listening and looking in midst of the burned trees for awhile and was about to move on and try a different day when I heard tapping on a tree that sounded good for the bird.  As I walked toward the sound, I was having trouble finding the woodpecker whoever was making the sound at first.  When I came upon the tree, I didn't see the woodpeckers at first, but I did see tell tale signs.  They were Three-toed Woodpecker signs.

Now, the Three-toed Woodpecker has an interesting feeding habit.  It flakes off outer bark from trees to search for insect larvae.   If standing under a Three-toed Woodpecker when this is happening, you might have bark hitting your face from the high amount of it the woodpecker flakes off.  As these trees show, there are lines of flaked off bark.  I saw this before I saw the woodpecker, but my target bird eventually came around the other side of the tree...

American Three-toed Woodpecker

The flaking process usually is quiet, but I heard this bird tapping on the tree from a distance away.  When the first bird came around the corner, so did a second bird.  No wonder why it was so noisy, two woodpeckers were present!  I watched them for a long time, and observed their behavior.  They almost seem violent when they flake the bark of the tree.  I mean it comes flying down.  And they got plenty of larvae.  

American Three-toed Woodpeckers

The Bark-Flaker

Other woodpeckers were also everywhere, such as Northern Flickers and Hairy Woodpeckers.

Northern Flicker

Hairy Woodpecker

Besides the 5 species of woodpeckers I recorded, plenty of other birds were seen and heard on the Butler Canyon Nature Trail with 39 species total.  This included American Kestrel, two Olive-sided Flycatchers singing "Quick-three-beers", Clark's Nutcrackers calling in the distance (will hopefully see them later today), all three nuthatches, Brown Creeper, Townsend's Solitaire, Virginia's Warbler, singing Green-tailed Towhees, and Western Tanager.

Pygmy Nuthatch

House Wren

Red-breasted Nuthatch

 Green-tailed Towhee

Butler Canyon Nature Trail scenes:

The morans who started the Wallow Fire never read a sign like this.  And they started the fire south of Alpine, which spread north to Greer and everywhere else beyond.  Luckily most of Greer still remains, but the devastation is still shown when walking on the trail.

Here's some more birdlife back at Acorn Lodge:

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Pine Siskin


  1. Thanks for the post. We are spending the summer in Pinetop and will definitely come over to Greer and walk Butler Canyon Nature Trail. Hope we do as good as you. :)

  2. Ah envious of you and your woodpeckers.
    Great photos Tommy, great post.

  3. Great post. We learned a lot from this one. We'll try this trail again on 7/25.

    Pete Bengtson