Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the June 14, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:

From my friends' elevated porch you look right into the big cherry tree's upper branches and nowadays that's a fine thing to do because the tree is full of ripening cherries. Hardly ever does a cherry reach real ripeness, however, because the birds eat them. The tree is too big and irregularly formed to spread a net over. "We just get one or two cherries when we can," Anita says with pitiful resignation.

The other day I was on the porch with my friends conferring about repairs to the springhouse when a sharp mewing erupted from just below us. It sounded like a catbird but catbirds aren't found here so I thought maybe it really was a cat. Then I saw it and my heart skipped a beat, for I'd been stalking it for weeks, and here it was just a few feet away in the cherry tree. You can see the resulting pretty picture below:

Red-breasted Sapsucker, SPHYRAPICUS RUBER

That's a sapsucker, a Red-breasted Sapsucker, SPHYRAPICUS RUBER, looking just like the East's Yellow-bellied Sapsucker but with that splash of crimson on the throat and chest, as if he'd just gashed his throat and was bleeding profusely from the wound. There's a Red-naped Sapsucker east of here, with a red back-of-the-head. My old field guide lumps Red-naped and Red-breasted Sapsuckers with the much more widely distributed Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, but newer field guides assign them to different species.

Whatever the deal, I could look at that picture all day, imagining how it must feel to be a woodpecker with a sweet tooth and to be hanging there in the cherry tree with the leaves glowing so radiantly in morning sunlight and those cherries so sweet and moist and still cold from the early morning chill. The bloody-looking throat feathers inject poetic pathos into the moment. Like meeting a beautiful woman in Vienna or Buenos Aires, but there's something crazy about her, and you know that it'll all end disastrously, but right now there are those cherries, so sweet and moist and bound to warm with the morning sun.