Clowning Around

Howdy folks! Last we talked, we were heading out to Dauphin Island for the Spring migration. Big thanks to Brad for manning the Intrigued Headquarters while we hopped through base camps during the first leg of our adventure. You will be hearing more from Brad as we head “back” to Dauphin. Those that do not fear the blue “wedge piece” might think we overshot as are current site is just outside Gainesville, Florida. Reminiscent of Jeep’s popular spare tire cover – “Not all who wander are lost”. Definitely not lost, we are here for a dog agility event and tomorrow we’ll start heading back through the panhandle, quick airport stop to pick up Ron and then make our way to Dauphin. Have I mentioned lately how great retirement is ha. That isn’t to say there hasn’t been a good bit of birding along the way… understatement – there has actually been a LOT of birding to the point of already being completely exhausted. Birded Kentucky, birded Alabama, birded Georgia and for our first time ever, birded northern Florida. In addition to a world class farmer’s tan, I’ve given an adrenaline shot right to the heart of the Average Year efforts (link here – note, not current). The official count now sits at 260 after adding 20 checks since are departure – several of them lifers. Feeling a lot more confident now being a mere 40 species from the 300 goal and still haven’t reached Dauphin.

I finally have a few hours to relax while waiting for the dogs to take their runs. Being on the road and a number of their energy calming walks clipped thanks to an outrageous number of Gators in this state, this event might turn out to be a clown show.

Acorn Woodpecker found at Spring Mountain State Park in Blue Diamond, NV in January 2023

Hit the jump to read more about our funny looking specimen.

Just seems appropriate to feature the “clown” of the birding world for this road feature. In a previous post, I touched upon our successful trip to Las Vegas. Clarify, the casino tables could have treated us better, but the birding was excellent. I promised B. across the pond (link here) I would do my best to get some of those finds featured prior to 2026 (I have a bit of a backlog problem). True to word, you are looking at one of those gems from the Vegas trip – so fresh, the development chemicals are still dripping off the images.

Acorn Woodpecker found at Spring Mountain State Park in Blue Diamond, NV in January 2023

For those that live in or have visited the west coast, areas along the Arizona/New Mexico border or a smidge in southwest Texas you may immediately recognize this oddity as an Acorn Woodpecker. I first learned about this Woodpecker while researching the White-Headed variety for our 2019 Lake Tahoe trip (link here). Remember thinking to myself how nice it would be if one of these were to wander over there during out trip.

Acorn Woodpecker found at Spring Mountain State Park in Blue Diamond, NV in January 2023

I also recall immediately thinking how much the post-encounter therapy sessions would cost seeing how much it looked like a #$%%!$%!!#$@$ clown. Before you start tossing around the coulrophobia label, let it be known there is nothing IRRATIONAL about my hatred of clowns. Imagine my surprise while looking at the eBird reports from Spring Mountain Ranch State Park (just west of Las Vegas) and noticing reports of this clown.

Linda: “Honey, are you okay?”
Me: “No”
Linda: “Why are you on the ground curled up in the fetal position?”
Me: “It is time for us to do what we have been doing and that time is every day”
Linda: “I’ll get the doctor, you are talking idiot gibberish”
Me: {shakily points to eBird report}
Linda; “Oh, a clown, {puts down phone”} got it”

Acorn Woodpecker found at Spring Mountain State Park in Blue Diamond, NV in January 2023

A splash of cold water to the face and a few shots of bourbon later, I was back to my normal self. Hard to pass up a close rarity, especially when trying to make up for missing the mark on the previous Average Year endeavor (link here). I needed to suck it up, face my rational fears and go after the floppy shoe wearing pecker.

Having no clue as to where this abomination was hanging out, we started in the tree lined picnic area right out from the parking lot. No success there so headed up to the visitor center in hopes of getting some insights. Along the way, a ranger stopped his truck and asked us how the day was going. “Good, but it would be even better if we could spot the Acorn Woodpecker – any chance you happen to know what area it might be found?” “Your best chance is in the ash grove” while pointing back the way he came. Now we had some badly needed optimism. Nothing found in the cluster of trees at the trailhead leading to a consultation with the map. Hmmm, there was a trail that led down to another grove on the opposite side of a deep ravine with a small stream – later we realized that was the origin of the park’s name. Problem was that it was a fairly long out and back hike and it was getting late in the day. Linda mentioned “rarity” which sealed the deal.

Acorn Woodpecker found at Spring Mountain State Park in Blue Diamond, NV in January 2023

We made our way down the trail (more like a ‘U’ as it ended up just on the other side of the ravine). STILL NO LUCK. Now this clown was really pissing me off. Optimism now waning … eh, I’d say outright crushed by now.. we began our trek back. 2/3rds of the way back Linda proclaims “You are not going to want to hear this”. Ominous words that put a chill up the spine as that is NEVER followed by anything good. “Found a post from a local birding group that says the clown is a recurring bird.. dramatic pause… in the picnic area. WTF, we just wasted 2 hours on bad advice. It was late afternoon by then – did a quick run around the picnic area and called off the search.

Acorn Woodpecker found at Spring Mountain State Park in Blue Diamond, NV in January 2023

Obvious by the fact you are seeing images of the Acorn Woodpecker, you know we went back and this time specifically focused on the picnic area. Could have done without the 70mph gusting winds rocketing out of the mountains. Talk about a surreal moment, I walked maybe 20 feet into the picnic area, looked up and immediately snapped the first shot in this post. Apparently, all my gambling luck was being saved up for that moment – the settings ended up being dead on. Got a quick burst in before it took off. Linda and I managed to find it a couple more times and was able to add a few more shots – nothing really any better than that first take. Mission accomplished, clown-face was in the tin.

Gong long, need to get you some interesting facts about this woodpecker. Although poor execution, decided to leave the above shot in so you could see how the white markings go across the forehead and pretty much outlines the black bullseye surrounding the bill. Deep black cap with a red crown rounds out the rest of the head markings.. another poor shot next just to give a visual of the backside of the head.

Acorn Woodpecker found at Spring Mountain State Park in Blue Diamond, NV in January 2023

Why the name Acorn and not Bozo Woodpecker. My guess is the naming board thought that “Clown that Shoves Acorns into Trees” Woodpecker felt too long. Unfortunately, they picked the behavior portion rather than the field marking for the official name. Find them sitting in a tree instead of stashing acorns in the tree – well it may come down to an Internet image search. According to Cornell, these woodpeckers have been known to produce trees or “granaries” consisting of up to 50,000 drilled holes all expertly stuffed with an acorn. Yikes, let’s hope none of these clowns (or any other clown for that matter) show up in our woods.

Gotta go – will catch up with you further down the road. Oh, and apologies for the continued delay in getting to all your comments (and your posts) – I appreciate them and promise I’ll respond as soon as I can.

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