Pileated woodpecker pokes head out of nest

Pileated woodpecker in aspen tree nest

Pileated woodpecker in aspen tree nest

One of the most amazing sights you can see is a pileated woodpecker from up-close.  This crow-sized woodpecker with flaming red crest is a year-round resident within Riding Mountain National Park.  Winter is one of the best times to hear and observe the flight of these beautiful birds of the mixed-wood aspen-spruces of the national park.  In particular,  the opportunity to to see the fresh bark chippings on the surface of the snow is a treat.

They use their large, chisel bills to pry out over-wintering insect larvae from their winter hiding places.  How they are able to find these over-wintering food sources is magical.

This past week, we guided a family from Winnipeg through the park (they have been coming here for 22 years) photographing a young cinnammon black bear, listening to various birds, and learning about the ecology of this area.  One of the delights was taking them to this pileated woodpecker nest, where wood chips were strewn around the ground.

Each of us has a neighborhood.  In some cases, it is urban and high density; in some cases, it is suburban and more laid back; in my case, my neigbhourhood backyard is a national park.  In my daily travels, I come across great gray owls, woodpeckers, black bears, moose, sora rails, red-necked grebes, and in the winter months the occasional northern shrike.  We create customized photo safaris and wildlife watches – no guarantees on what you might see.  But, in the words of noted American nature photographer John Shaw, “There ain’t no excuse for not being there.”  Well, we try to get out there, and be present for whatever happens, while learning together.  It’s fun and educational.

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