Saturday, August 22, 2015

Acorn Woodpeckers on the Tuolumne River

It's been a while since Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) have graced these pages. I see them often, flying from tree to tree along the my walks on the Tuolumne River, but only occasionally do they perch low enough for some half-decent pictures.
We took a short drive upriver today to Turlock Lake State Recreational Area, a complex that includes the fairly barren lake itself, and a nice campground in a separate property on the Tuolumne River about 10 miles downstream of La Grange.
I was pleased to see the campground full, as our state parks are often an under-utilized resource in our state. The river was low, but that made it easier for kids to play in the water (and of course not one of them had a life jacket; shame on their parents). I must have been a sight among all the swimsuits, an old guy with a camera looking nowhere but up.
The Acorn Woodpeckers are creatures of southwest oak woodlands. They live, work, and breed cooperatively, knocking thousands of holes into old snags (granary trees), and filling the holes with acorns for food storage. Sometimes they will drill into eaves for the same purpose, causing a lot of damage. Some members of the group will stand guard over the granary trees, keeping out the troublemakers who would steal their food. They have a very distinctive waka-waka cry.
The Acorn Woodpeckers are fascinating birds that are holding their own against human encroachment. Where granary trees are removed, they simply start using buildings for storage. Oak woodlands themselves have been declining in California, as many of the oaks are not regenerating well. That could be a future problem for these interesting acorn hoarders.

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