A walk in Massachusetts


I took a walk last week in Bradford, which is just south of the Merrimack River from Haverhill. It was a hot day to start, but most of the road was shadowed by trees. I went down South Cross, Boxford and Lily Pond Roads, to the Four Corners Golf Course, and turned back, an easy four miles, but I went slowly because there was so much to look for and to see.

The first highlight was a spotted turtle, a species I’ve never seen before. It was half submerged in a duck-weed dusted pond. There was one yellow spot in each of its smooth, dark scutes. It slide into its protective waters before my camera could replace my binoculars. A little later, a muskrat made a brief appearance, mouth full of greens. It also dove when it got wind of me. Butterflies and dragonflies and damselflies were all over. At one point, I heard an unrecognized bird call, and glanced around to see high up and far away, but unmistakably, a pileated woodpecker, Dryocopus pileatus. At last! I didn’t get my bins on it before it flew, but the red of the crest, the black of the body, and the huge size were all clear in that brief look as it clamored up a trunk. This is our largest woodpecker, one not seen here in the city. It was a life bird for me, but the view was too quick to be satisfying. I back-tracked, but got nothing, and then continued on.

A little later, I heard these high-pitched sounds that I took to be baby birds, but they seemed to be coming from a very thin dead tree. Not until a downy woodpecker, our smallest woodpecker, arrived with beak full of bugs did I see the hole. Here the female flies off to get another mouthful for the insistent young ones inside making a racket.
This stag beetle was on its back when I noticed it at the base of a tree. I helped it over.

And then, on the way back, near where I’d see it first, practically right above me, a big black bird came swinging its wings slowly over the road to land on a dead tree in clear sight. A female pileated woodpecker. The shoulders were incredibly broad from the back, the neck thin. The beak was a wedge of strength (I’ve seen plenty of their big rectangular holes in trees). If you want to get some idea of what a winged lizard might have looked like — way, way, way back in the day — this is it. I managed to get this shot as she powered up another tree trunk:

Yow! That was awesome.

At the end of my walk, looking for beaver (turned out they moved away at least a year ago), I saw this:
The last of the days wonders, small but spectacular. Another thing I’ve never seen before, the male ebony jewelwing damselfly, Calopteryx maculata.

2 Responses to “A walk in Massachusetts”


  1. 1 Melissa June 2, 2010 at 8:57 am

    So glad you finally had a close encounter with a pileated. They are bizarre & powerful birds, all right.

  2. 2 amarilla June 2, 2010 at 11:15 am

    Thanks for the wedges of strength, they inspire, as does the beautiful fanned-out woodpecker’s wing.


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