Sunday 16 November 2014

Acorn Woodpecker/Face of a Clown

Nov 15 2014 Cedar Hill Golf Course Victoria BC. Sunny 5c
I never ever thought I would have the opportunity photograph an Acorn Woodpecker in BC. I may have missed the opportunity had I not bumped into 'Birder Girl' Melissa at 64th Ave last week. She encouraged me to get off my butt and get over to Victoria and search for the bird. Thanks Melissa.
So I put out the word for a companion to share the costs of going over to Vancouver Island. I rose at 5 a.m and met Mike Tabak at the ferry at 6.30 a.m. Mike has been birding since he was a kid and is a wealth of knowledge. On the trip through Active Pass he pointed out Ancient Murrelets, Harbour Seals and Sea Lions.
We arrived at Victoria's Cedar Hill Golf Course at 8.30 a.m. A number of Victoria birders were already there and were very helpful in showing us around. We looked and looked but found only Chestnut-backed Chickadees, some singing Golden-crowned Sparrows and a Hermit Thrush. Eventually the woodpeckers turned up, unfortunately just Downy and Hairy. The area where we searched for the Acorn woodpecker is predominately Garry Oak. The species flourishes in and around the rocky outcrops of southern Vancouver Island. Cavities in the older trees provide valuable nesting sites.
If we thought we would just roll up and find the Acorn Woodpecker we were in for a surprise. At one point we thought we were going to have a blank. Eventually three hours later Vancouver birder Michael Preston and his family found the bird and called us over for a look. We spent the next few hours watching and photographing the bird pluck acorns off one tree and cache them in another. It was an amazing sight, the birds antics drawing quite a crowd, most of whom weren't even birders. Here are some of the results of a fantastic days birding. The bird only came close once, many of the shots are from quite a distance but overall it was an exhilarating experience.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)
The Acorn is about the same size as a Hairy Woodpecker. Here it is stashing a shelled acorn in a crevice of a Garry Oak.

I have cropped this image quite a bit to show off the "Clown Face" of this very characteristic bird.

The bird was busy all the time, hardly taking a moment to rest. The normal range for this bird is Washington State south to Mexico. This is the first record for Vancouver Island. Another bird was recorded this week in Powell River so perhaps there are more out there. Keep your eyes open.

This is the closest the bird got to us and was from the first few frames I shot. I didn't hang around very long before flying up to a stand of oaks.
I'm glad I made the effort and the trip was fruitful arriving home in time for some taped Footy. Until next time, Good Birding!

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon


  1. Dear John,

    I am so glad you got out to Victoria to see this gorgeous woodpecker and were successful! Thank you for sharing these gorgeous shots. I love their clown faces as well!


  2. I am having so much fun, it must be the blue skies. Today I spent the day after two Harris's Sparrows just to see if they have different markings. That's my next post. Say hello next time you see me.

  3. Nicely done! I would have joined you if I was in town. Great pics as usual.

    Mike A

  4. Such great images. We actually had the first Canadian sighting over 18 years ago in our backyard in Maple Ridge, but only managed a few far-off looking pictures with our cheap camera. Since then this bird has always been a favourite of ours.

    Glen & Helen