May 15

What is it about a tree anyways?

Many bird species seem to come to this ponderosa pine during the time I sat and watched. (Thomas Bancroft)

Many bird species seem to come to this ponderosa pine during the time I sat and watched. (Thomas Bancroft)

I was bumping and jostling along North Wenas Road, a dusty dirt road with lots of potholes when I saw a silvery flash near the top of a lone Ponderosa pine. The pine sat in a sea of sagebrush and grasses, a towering dark green monolith in the expanse of short brownish green. I pulled over to scan the tree with binoculars and see what might have made the flash.

As I raised my binoculars to my eyes, a Lewis’s woodpecker flew out from the tree making a broad circle over the road and back into the tree. The whole time it was squawking. It landed by a second woodpecker and I could see the two of them flashing their wings as they greeted each other. Courtship! It must be spring.

Within seconds of seeing this, a red-shafted flicker began its boisterous call. At first, I thought maybe the Lewis’s woodpecker could call just like a flicker but the flicker kept calling over the next few minutes. Eventually, the flicker popped out on a dead branch near the top of the tree so I could confirm that it was a flicker and not the woodpecker imitating it.

While all this was going on, a bullock’s oriole made a brief appearance near the top left side of the tree. Its yellow feathers glistened in the afternoon sun and I could see it looking back and forth into the foliage at the top: a nice male with its black back feathers and black eye stripe. After just a second or two, it dove back into the dark green foliage. I heard the gruff scratchy notes of the oriole as it hopped through the foliage.

A European starling sat on one of the dead branches along the left side of the tree and began to give its screech call. At first it startled me, for I didn’t think this was quite the right habitat for a starling, but sure enough it was sitting in this ponderosa pine.

As I watched this menagerie, I realized that both an American robin and a house wren sang in the background. I couldn’t tell if they too were in the tree, but they definitely were part of this meeting place. A pair of red-tailed hawks came over the crest of the hill behind the pine and began to circle lazily on the thermals rising from the sagebrush expanse. They too called a few times.

You can listen to this meeting place in the backcountry outside of Ellensburg.

As I sat listening, I realized I could also hear crickets calling too. The tree reminded me of a coffee shop where so many people come to meet, often oblivious to others who have come to meet too. I smiled and tipped my hat to this old ponderosa pine and its important role as gathering place. I wonder how many decades it has served this function in these rolling hills.

I would love to hear if you have seen a tree function in a similar way for wild things?

4 Responses to “What is it about a tree anyways?”

  1. Sandy says:

    What a wonderful find, Tom. Wish I had a tree like that!

  2. Kim says:

    I’ve enjoyed looking at your images Tom and then found your blog. I wish everyone understood the value of a tree, such a beautifully written post, thank you.

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