I flushed a pair of northern flickers during my first short walk along a logging trail up the mountain from camp. Thankfully it was short walk.
We had just been introduced to camp, settled our belongings in our tent cabins and were free for about an hour before dinner. During my walk, I found a downed log and sat among the pines and aspen to feel the silence. The silence is powerful in this place. We don’t realize how much noise we encounter in our everyday lives until we step into a pristine wilderness of this kind. Even the ground was silenced with a cushion of fallen needles.
The walk seemed simple enough--up and down. But I learned an early lesson about marking your trail. Boulders, trees and logging roads all look the same after a while. A later hike with others showed me I had taken the wrong fork. Except for the persistence of the dinner bell which I used for orientation, I’m not sure how long I might have wandered before finding camp again, not to mention the embarrassment of having others search for me on my very first day on the mountain. As it was, I was a little late but happily present for dinner.I encountered this red-shafted northern flicker early that same morning. I had stopped to get a better look at another woodpecker which naturally took flight. Before I could continue, the flicker landed near me (to appease me, of course) and flew to an even closer perch while I photographed him.
Northern flickers prefer feeding on the ground even though they also climb trees. According to Cornell, ants are one of their favorite foods. This woodpecker's large size surprised me, maybe because it was the closest I have ever been to a flicker of any variety. They range in size from 11-12 inches, the red-shafted variety being found in the west while the yellow-shafted form is familiar to us in the east.
The distinctive characteristics of the red-shafted form are the red mustache (male), the reddish central feather shaft and the salmon red tint under wings and tail, which is seen in flight. (In the yellow variety, the same areas are yellow instead, except for the mustache which is black.)
In camp we often heard their high pitched calls even when we didn’t see them.