Identification please

The wood chips are flying on this blustery early spring day in Point Pleasant Park.

No, the park crews aren't taking down trees in this precious green space in south-end Halifax. The workers are, in fact, hard at it widening drainage ditches along the park roads in preparation for the spring rains.

The only woodworker in sight is of the avian kind. A hairy woodpecker is earning his lunch of insects and other delicacies on a tree trunk in the southern-most tip of the park near the shore. I've watched a lot of woodpeckers at their task over the years and every time, their tenacity and resilience amazes me.

Most woodpeckers aren't hardy looking types - (the glaring exception being the outrageous pileated woodpecker). But what they lack in size and muscle, they more than make up for it in work ethic. This hairy is is aware of me and I'm creeping up pretty close camera in hand, but he continues to hammer away at the bark.

When I posted my shots of this guy on the Nova Scotia Bird Society's Facebook page, I called it a downy woodpecker. BUZZZZZZ. Wrong answer. I was quickly made aware of the error of my ways (most politely) by one of the many experienced birders. The hairy and downy are very similar in plumage with their black and white bodies and red caps. But the hairy is a bit heftier and has a longer beak, which I did know but missed with this specimen.

What's in a name?

Despite the daily and disturbing loss of species - whether naturally occurring or as a result of human activity - the variety of different animals and plants in the natural world is mind-boggling.   And I'd really enjoy being able to quickly ascertain the type and genus of everything I come upon.

But to call me less than visually perceptive would be giving myself credit. Some people can quickly make the connection in their head with plumage patterns, colour and body shape and voila, "That's a northern three-toed woodpecker, not a black-backed woodpecker." I'd be still fumbling through my Petersen guide long after many birders had identified and moved on.

 My auditory memory is more reliable. Perhaps because I've got decent musical pitch, I can pin down a bird song fairly quickly, even if it's distant and I only hear it once. But unfortunately most things in nature don't sing - so the tree that hairy woodpecker was exploring was also a mystery to me when I started writing and wanted to add that detail.

Now that's more a matter of being more excited about the bird (or insect or whatever)  and not taking the time to note the context, which is just as important. If I'd stopped, taken a good look at the tree and took some notes and detailed photos, likely I could have pinned it down.

Alas, I had to turn once again to my online support community and as usual, I was impressed by the depth of knowledge among nature lovers in Nova Scotia. Just from a Google map photo, a bird society member was able to talk in detail about the possibilities.

He did immediately identify the general species, which I truly wish was some obscure park variety. Sigh. A maple. Yes, one that has been extensively pruned and the leaves were in curling winter mode but still, a maple! Either sugar or red. 

Now Googling "how to improve your visual observation skills in 10 easy steps"....

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