Posted by: atowhee | May 12, 2018


My eldest son and I birded Upper Bidwell Park and into Chico Canyon today.  The park goes from oak chaparral in the lowlands up into riparian canyon and semi-arid foothills habitat.  At the lower elevation you get willows, live and valley oak and scattered digger pine, higher up the pine dominate along with scrubby live oak and California buckeye, now in bloom.   Other plants include poison oak, invasive blackberry, manroot, redbud, ash, cottonwood, feral fig trees (thanks to the birds spreading seeds), invasive vetch, bigleaf maple, wild grape.  In the dried grasslands there are lingering wildflowers including California poppy.  A couple vernal pools stl had some water and that attracted Cliff Swallows from a large colony under one footbridge across Chico Creek. Among the oaks the Acorn Woodpeckers are plentiful. trumpeting and laughing repeatedly.  They were also fly-catching.  Watching through the grass and vetch I would set off a wave of insects scattering before me, both grasshoppers and various flying critters. There were also three species of butterfly on the wing, including swallowtails and an occasional dragonfly along the creek.

The chat chattered and seemed to impugn our dignity as we sat next to the creek and ate lunch in the shade…temp climbed above 85 today. Summer is already here.  I have passed hayfields where the mowing is done, the hay already bailed.


The Acorn Woodpecker is a marvelous respite from modern people and their woes.  First, they do not pollute the atmosphere beyond tiny quantities of methane.  Second, the are not capitalists, they are communitarians.  Each colony of Acorn Woodpeckers is organized for the greater good.  All the females lay all their eggs in a single nest.  Then the females take turns incubating all the eggs.  Once hatched the whole colony of adults help feed the young.  No “mine” or “yours,” it is all “ours.”

There are dozens of these woodpeckers at Upper Bidwell Park here in Chico so I spent some quality time with these communist neighbors of ours.  First, you might take this as an ordinary wooden building  (people hereabouts think of it as the rod & gun club).  I listened to some of the long-time locals (acorn woodpeckers) and they assure me it is a peerless granery:AC-BLDG2AC-BLDG4_LIAC-BLDG3ac-bldgACRN BOLD2ACRN BOLDDACRN-AI mentioned all the insects about.  The woodpeckers were fly-catching, grasshoppers and woodpeckers alike were hopping.ACRN-BMy son and I found an active nest hole.  Here’s a sequence showing the adults delivering food to what must be tiny nestlings as it begins with an adult stuffed into the nest, doing nursery duty, waiting for relief from the next grown-up nthe schedule.Acrn holeAcrn hole3acrn hole4acrn hole5acrn hole6acrn hole7Finally the next adult arrives, replete with caterpillars in its beak, first bird leaves.acrn hole8acrn hole9acrn hole10This bird goes to nest hole and eventually goes head-first down to the nestlingsacrn hole11acrn hole12acrn hole13acrn hole14acrn hole15Later another tasty insect pizza is delivered…no telling how many different adults we saw while we watched the procession, rarely more than a minute passed without an adult arriving and delivering…acrn hole18acrn hole19acrn hole21acrn hole22And then we realized that one flight up there was a starling family using the apartment upstairs:twonests_LIstarl-1

It’s great seeing Spotted Sandpipers when they’re actually be-spotted and not their nondescript post-breeding selves:SPOTTDSPOTTD2


Bidwell Park–upper, Butte, California, US
May 12, 2018.  31 species

Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)  2
Mallard (Northern) (Anas platyrhynchos platyrhynchos/conboschas)  12
California Quail (Callipepla californica)  4
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  1
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)  6
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)  2
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)  X
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  1
White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatalis)  1–first for the year
Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)  1
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)  20
Nuttall’s Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii)  1
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)  1
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)  1
Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)  1
Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)  4
California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)  8
Common Raven (Corvus corax)  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)  1
Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)  60
Oak Titmouse (Baeolophus inornatus)  3
Bushtit (Pacific) (Psaltriparus minimus [minimus Group])  1
White-breasted Nuthatch (Pacific) (Sitta carolinensis aculeata/alexandrae)  1
Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus)  1
Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)  1
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)  X
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)  X
California Towhee (Melozone crissalis)  X
Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens)  1–first for year
Red-winged Blackbird (Red-winged) (Agelaius phoeniceus [phoeniceus Group])  X
Brewer’s Blackbird (Euphagus cyanocephalus)  2


  1. Fun article. learned a lot. As you know, we have a number of active acorn woodpecker communities on the property, with a very friendly one around the house. We watch generations of babies come to the birdfeeder with parents each year. This year in March a trio of buffleheads stayed briefly at our salt pond (the one we all took a dip in years ago). I’ll keep your blog in my favorites so I can keep up with you. Valuable for learning southern Ore birds, since we now have a second home there. Went to Agate Lake (where you took Jessica’s class) and saw brown and white pelicans and many other shore birds. Best to you and Kate, Evelyn

  2. Love me some acorn woodpeckers. Happy to put up with “tiny quantities of methane”. Great series of pics.

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