Santa Cruz Sapsucker

For some reason I have a sapsucker blindspot in Santa Cruz County.

I have done more international birding over the past few years but because of Corvid 19, I have been forced to bird inward. And I kinda like it. And the focus of my county list has been Santa Cruz.

A resident (human, that is) along Trout Gulch Road in Aptos had reported a red-naped sapsucker, coming in to feed on an old apple tree in his yard. I wanted to boost my sapsucker numbers because my current Santa Cruz sapsucker count stood at: 0.

The home owner is a bat biologist and birder who knew the difference between a hawk and a handsaw, and for that matter a red-breasted from a red-naped sapsucker. He was kind enough to let me bird from his driveway. He had even set up a camp chair for visiting birders. This highlights the friendliness of the Santa Cruz birding community that is not just about seeing a rare bird but also repaying the favor so others can see a rarity as well.

This stretch of Trout Gulch was very birdy, with expansive views of the skies above. Red-tailed hawks circled above and a pileated woodpecker called from the trees across the road. A merlin hightailed it to the south and five high flying swifts moved south. As I waited for the red-naped sapsucker to appeared I became immersed with the micro avifauna. The Anna’s hummingbird had his feeding route and returned to the prominent percent in front of the house. A pair of Oak titmice flew in to investigate a possible nesting nook.

Within the first 30 minutes of my wait, I had a sapsucker! This was a new county bird but but it was the more common red-breasted sapsucker and not the desired red-naped. It flew into the old apple tree and perched on an apple and pecked at it from below. This was a promising sign because the two sapsuckers fed at this tree.

The red-breasted sapsucker having an apple lunch.

This gave me hope that the red-naped was still in the area and it was only a matter of time before the bird would return to the apple tree. So I sat down in the camp chair and sketched to pass then time.

A pencil sketch of the “titmouse” tree. I love to sketch with pencil. It is such a basic tool and the foundation of so much work.

I first sketched the bole of the tree to my right. it was riddled with sapsucker holes. This was the tree that the two oak titmice investigated and I added the potential nesting cavity into my sketch. I next sketched the twisted old apple tree that the sapsuckers favored (but so did the chickadees and juncos.)

I waited for three hours and I decided to end my wait, knowing full well that the red-naped would appear just after I left, with no one to witness it’s continuing existence.

But the experience was so much more that adding a sapsucker to a county list. It was about being in a moment in a beautiful yard, watching the yardbirds and talking with a bat biologist. And it was all made possible by the red-naped sapsucker that refused to show itself in the old apple tree on Trout Gulch Road.

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