Woodpeckermania 2004



My birding goal for 2004 was to be less goal oriented.  Quickly failing that, I decided that one of my goals would be to see all North American woodpecker species, all twenty-two members of the family Picinae.  


It started as an obsession with finding a White-headed Woodpecker during a February trip to Southern California.  I was successful.  Soon thereafter, I read an article about the “Woodpecker Wonderland” near Sisters, Oregon in the March 2004 edition of Winging It.  Eleven of the twelve woodpeckers that nest in Oregon can be found in this area. I decided Sisters would be my backup location to find woodpeckers I missed elsewhere.


For the White-headed, I had to hike through snow and ice about a half mile, uphill both ways, to the maintenance shop at Mount San Jacinto State Park.  I heard the pecking for minutes before I found the bird.  When the ranger said “dead tree”, I did not know he meant the one lying on the ground.  After scanning the trees, I saw movement and looked down to find the woodpecker on a fallen pine only fifty feet away.  


At trip end, I still needed Williamson’s Sapsucker, Lewis’ Woodpecker, lifer Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers, and the Arizona and Texas specialties.  By fall, I planned to set up temporary residence in Sisters if need be.  Obsessions are wonderful; everyone should have a couple or three.  


In August, I was fortunate to add the University of Nevada in Reno and Las Vegas as a client.  I got my Three-toed Woodpecker in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness/Sisters area and the Arizona Woodpecker, Gilded Flicker, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker at Madera Canyon and the Saguaro National Park as byproducts of business trips to those Nevada cities.  It was my first visit to the Saguaro National Park.  Awesome!


In early November, I attended the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harlingen and picked up fifty plus Golden-fronted Woodpeckers as the last nail in the coffin of this obsession.   John 22, Picinae 0!


My 2004 Gila Woodpecker was fairly rare.  There is a small colony of Gila Woodpeckers established in the palm trees of a park in Brawley, California, far from the Saguaro cacti of Arizona. 


Bruce Smithson, Danny Thorpe, and others from the Lower Cape Fear Bird Club helped me find my lifer Black-backed Woodpecker near Mono Lake.  It was a classic pose!  Two birds side-by-side, one a back view and the other a side profile.  It was a bird guide picture, if my camera had not been in the SUV.  The Black-backed had been a grudge bird….I looked for it many times without success.


I saw two Three-toed Woodpeckers at a burned out camp at Round Lake near Sisters. I watched the second fly behind a large tree and I moved in position, expecting her to come around the trunk.  She did and I got a look in direct sunlight from five feet.  I could count the toes!  Yes, my camera was in the rental car. 


There was a lot of pecking and I scored a lifetime supply of Hairy Woodpeckers at the same site.  The burn was ugly and heart rending but the woodpeckers were there!  I learned a lot this year about the drought and wildfires out West.  Ugly…but great for woodpeckers.


The full title of the Sisters’ article is “Woodpecker Wonderland: There’s a whole lotta flakin’ going on in Oregon’s Eastern Cascades” by Steve Shunk.  Steve is a birding guide based in Sisters.  He assisted me by e-mail with locating the Three-toed Woodpecker. His company is Paradise Birding (steve@paradisebirding.com). 


My favorite bird was a little female Arizona Woodpecker.  I was sweating bullets over missing this species after being shut out around Madera Canyon for a couple of days.  She popped up on a tree in front of me; I wanted to hug her! 


There was virtually no luck involved.  I knew where to find the birds, had backup locations and the determination to stay as long in Sisters or Arizona as needed to complete the list.  I say 'no luck' since I found duplicates of species in different locations for all except the Three-toed.


What was involved was the help of others - the ranger at Mount San Jacinto, my fellow bird club members, and Steve Shunk - plus money and many frequent traveler points.


The goal achieved, I have decided my goal for 2005 will be….errrr…to be less goal oriented.




The author, John Ennis, is a full time healthcare consultant and a part time birder, who wishes that it were the other way around.  He lives in the Wilmington, North Carolina area. 

John B. Ennis ã 2005






The Birds:


January 1

Northern Flicker

Sunset Beach Twin Lakes, NC

January 1

Red-headed Woodpecker

Sunset Beach Twin Lakes, NC

January 2

Pileated Woodpecker

Wilmington, Greenfield Lake, NC

January 2

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Wilmington, Greenfield Lake, NC

January 2

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker


January 24

Downy Woodpecker

Fort Fisher, NC

February 9

Red-naped Sapsucker

Santa Ysabel Mission, Santa Ysabel, CA

February 9

Acorn Woodpecker

Kit Carson Park, San Diego County, CA

February 11

White-headed Woodpecker

Mount San Jacinto State Park, CA

February 11

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve/Covington Park, CA

February 11

Nuttall's Woodpecker

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve/Covington Park, CA

February 12

Hairy Woodpecker

Mount San Jacinto State Park, Idyllwild Area, CA

February 14

Gila Woodpecker

Brawley Cattle Call Park, Imperial Valley, CA

March 3

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve, Southern Pines, NC

July 13

Williamson's Sapsucker

Yosemite National Park, Tenaya Lake, CA

July 15

Black-backed Woodpecker

Mono Lake, CA

July 17

Lewis's Woodpecker

Mines Road Junction near Livermore, CA

August 8

Three-toed Woodpecker

Round Lake, Mt. Jefferson Wilderness Area, Sisters, OR

August 22

Gilded Flicker

Saguaro National Park, Tucson, AZ

August 22

Arizona Woodpecker

Madera Canyon and Santa Rita Ranch, AZ

September 7

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

Madera Canyon, Florida Wash, AZ

November 9

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Zapata Rest Area, TX