My First Encounter with a White-Breasted Nuthatch

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and Sergeant Margie and I were off to the American River Bend Park before 7:00.  It was overcast, windy and chilly all day, but it didn’t rain while I was out with the dog.  We’d gone to the park for an impromptu fungus crawl.  It still needs to be a little more wet for the mushrooms to come out in full force, but I did get to see lots and lots of polypore fungus, yellow Wax Cap mushrooms, Japanese parasols, Ink Cap mushrooms, oyster mushrooms; an array of black, orange and clear jelly fungus; and several different kinds of lichen, including crusty lichen in its early softer stage.  We also found lots of Earth Stars, an Earth Ball, some Bolete mushrooms (“Russian Reds”), and several different kinds of bract fungus, including the variegated “Turkey Tail” kind.

We also came across a lot of Wild Turkeys, including some strutting males; and a herd of Mule Deer, including a mama who I think might have been pregnant (she was sooo round), and ho came out of the thicket to “challenge” me and Sergeant Margie to keep us away from the younger deer around her.  Near the camping area, we saw several pairs of Mountain Bluebirds, some Spotted Towhees, and a pair of White-Breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis).

According to various internet sources: “…The White-breasted Nuthatch is a common bird of deciduous forests and wooded urban areas. Known as the ‘upside down’ bird, it is often observed creeping headfirst down tree trunks while searching cracks and crevices for insect food. Nuthatches are monogamous and defend a territory throughout the year. The female White-breasted Nuthatch rarely strays far from her mate and stays in constant vocal contact when they are more than a few yards apart playing the dominate role as “watchdog”, leaving the male more time to concentrate on hunting for food. They are feisty birds, and pairs generally defend a territory of 10 to 30 acres. They feast on seeds and insects found in trees, and many times will hide seeds from feeders in tree bark for a snack later in the day or breakfast the next morning… It’s the only species that can ‘walk down a tree.’ It needs no tail support because it has incredibly strong feet! …The fanning of the wings and swaying by the nuthatches is thought to act as deterrent to anyone moving too close to their nest. Nuthatches compete with squirrels to nest in tree cavities… White-breasted Nuthatches eat mainly insects, including weevil larvae, wood-boring beetle larvae, other beetles, tree hoppers, scale insects, ants, gall fly larvae, caterpillars (including gypsy moths and tent caterpillars), stinkbugs, and click beetles, as well as spiders. They also eat seeds and nuts, including acorns, hawthorn, sunflower seeds, and sometimes crops such as corn. At birdfeeders they eat sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet, and peanut butter… Females build the nest on their own, lining the nest cavity with fur, bark, and lumps of dirt. She then builds a nest cup of fine grass, shredded bark, feathers, and other soft material. White-breasted Nuthatches often reuse their nest holes in subsequent years.”

 I’d seen pictures of these birds before, but never saw then in the wild.  They’re quite dashing looking — and really noisy.  Papa stood watch near the top of a tree, and mama worked on her nest in a hole in the crook of an elbow-like limb of a tree very near the ground.  She stuffed stuff into the hole, and then fastidiously moved it around.  I saw her take bits out and place them on the limb, then come back for them later.  It was so much fun watching her; I had to get some video of her work.

Here’s the video of the Nuthatch:

Here’s some video of the mama deer:

Throughout our walk, we also found three or four Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies.  Most of them had just hatched and were trying to pump up their wings.  One of them still had a patch of chrysalis stuck on his shoulder… which, if he can’t shrug it off, might be his death knell.  He won’t be able to fly with that thing stuck on him.  We also found a chrysalis near the ground that hadn’t hatched yet.  It’s unusual to find those so close to the grass, but it was tucked in between some fallen logs, so I guess it was safe enough there…

Overall, we ended up walking around for three hours (which is a long time for me to be on my feet without a break).  I got some good photos and video clips, and a goodly amount of exercise, so I felt it was a good walk.