Technology doesn't have to be something that divides us from nature. It can be a tool through which we can explore the natural world...

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Tale of a Cavity Nest

"I was the camouflaged predator... she was Arnold Schwarzenegger "
A couple of springs ago a friend of mine, Jim Potter called me and said "I've found a pileated woodpecker nest on my property, would you like to come by and shoot some video?" Of course I said yes. It would be perfect for a project Jim and I were working on entitled "Inside the Box" - a film predominately about cavity nesting ducks. He took me out to the woods and after I set up my video camera, he tapped an old dead poplar snag and from an elongated hole high up on the tree popped the head of the female. We made plans to return to the nest later.

Weeks later he called me and took me out to the pileated nest again. This time he left me there alone with my video camera and went back to his house. I was in full camouflage and I was careful to remain quiet and took care to never look directly at the nesting cavity, but instead looked down into my viewfinder. After a short wait one of the young stuck his head out of the hole and began to call. I could hear the parents returning its call from back in the woods. My patience paid off and I got some good footage of the comings and goings of both parents as they took turns feeding grubs to their three offspring on that hot summer afternoon.
Male Pileated Woodpecker feeds offspring (from video)

Even though I remained silent and was careful not to reveal myself, I could tell that the wary birds knew something was up. They were careful not to take their beady eyes off of me. After the final time the female fed her young she flew just to my right. I heard the rustle of leaves to my immediate right. I thought she might have landed in a tree, but I didn't dare look - I just waited quietly, listening. After a long while, I decided that I had enough footage anyway and that I would have a look and see if the mother woodpecker was sitting there. I turned to my right and... It reminded me of a scene from the movie "Predator". I was the camouflaged predator... and the woodpecker...  she was Arnold Schwarzenegger staring back at me - her beak several inches from my nose! We both started and the bird turned inside out and flew off into the woods. It was one of those things I will never forget.
Goldeneye duck (photo courtesy Myrna Pearman)

In my film I noted that "perhaps next year a goldeneye duck will use the cavity for its nest". Sure enough the very next summer that's exactly what happened. Jim invited me out there again, but by the time I managed to get there the ducks were gone. They had fledged. Instead (to our surprise) the third inhabitant of the cavity emerged - a northern flying squirrel. Last weekend Jim took a few of us for a walk across the ice of his frozen ponds to check the old dead poplar tree once again. This time three flying squirrels poked their faces out of the hole. Jim told us that while they didn't hibernate, they were relatively inactive during the winter and would stay together in tree cavities for warmth. They are fairly common in Alberta, but are not often seen because they are nocturnal.

Flying Squirrels in winter (from video)
I think this procession of birds and mammals illustrates just how precious natural cavities are to these wild creatures.

Is there a moral to this story? A friend and neighbor of mine, Gordon Green has been farming the country along the edge of Alberta's Red Deer River Valley for most of his long life. He tells his grandchildren that if they want to be farmers they should always remember to "leave some room for God's creatures".  I couldn't say it any better than that.

1 comment:

  1. Flying squirrels intrigue me. It sounds like these were in a fragmented habitat away from large tracts of forest.
    Great story1 Great photos!