Thursday, May 14, 2009

Meriwether Lewis and the May Bird List

Each spring, we expect a fairly regular complement of avian arrivals and passers-by. Every now and then though, we're surprised by something vastly out of usual list of guests we've come to anticipate. Tuesday was such a day, when a bird appeared that, to my knowledge, had only visited us once before, many years ago.

There are birds that make us laugh out loud—outrageous combinations of color that somehow suggest frivolity. My first experience of a Western Tanager was like that—what can you say about a bird with so many colors?

Tuesday, I looked out to see this Lewis's Woodpecker perched above the suet feeder. He sat just long enough for me to get the camera and snap off one quick shot. Red face, glossy green-to-black back, pink sides, and a grayish-white collar. I've described him to a couple of people since, and they also seem impressed by his color, even only in description. I wish the photo did him (or her, apparently similar) justice.

I can only imagine that Meriwether Lewis was equally surprised at this bird, among the many new and surprising discoveries made on his famous trip in 1803-1806. Here's his description of this critter new to science. Originally Picus torquatus ("woodpecker with a necklace"), it is today named Melanerpes lewis, or "Lewis's black creeper."

Lewis's name also rests in a couple western wildflowers—Blue flax (Linum lewisii), and our alpine Pygmy Bitterroot (Lewisia pygmaea), a cousin of Montana's state flower of the same genus. I have a nagging suspicion there are many more plants and critters bearing his name, but they're not popping into my head. Please weigh in if you think of others!

The May Bird List (in progress)

  • Chukar (exotic, has been here more than 2 weeks)
  • American Kestrel (courting near the backyard, nesting at the neighbors')
  • Red-tailed Hawk (soaring nearby)
  • Golden Eagle (soaring over)

  • Rock Pigeon
  • Mourning Dove
  • Broad-tailed Hummingbird (just back)
  • Lewis's Woodpecker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Western Scrub-Jay
  • Black-billed Magpie
  • American Crow

  • Violet-green Swallow
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • White-breasted Nuthatch (until last week; hoping he returns)
  • American Robin
  • European Starling
  • Green-tailed Towhee
  • Spotted Towhee

  • American Tree Sparrow
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco: still here, as of last week, but disappearing
  • Black-headed Grosbeak (just back last week)
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Bullock's Oriole (just back last week)

  • House Finch
  • Pine Siskin
  • House Sparrow

Can I count the Lazuli Buntings a neighbor saw a couple days ago? Guess not.

At any rate, that's about 30 species, thanks to some overlap in the season. I'll have a post coming soon on new birds from two visits to Lair o'the Bear this week, along with an assortment of wildflowers we saw there.


Hugh Griffith said...

What a neat bird! Nothing else has a color combination like that.

(And I saw a Western Tanager today. Woo!)

Sally said...

Thanks for stopping by, Hugh... lucky you-- I haven't seen a tanager here in ages (they're higher up in the foothills, I think). Just ran into a birder group at Red Rocks; their tally for the morning was 47, so far.