PAT NEAL’S WILDLIFE COLUMN: A cacophony of wilderness vexation

DAYLIGHT ON THE river comes mighty early these days.

It is a peaceful time of day to watch the stars fade away as the sunrise glows across the mountains.

I like to listen to the silence of the wilderness.

Silence is one of the rarest things on Earth.

Unfortunately, silence can be very brief in the wilderness.

There is the pinging call of the boreal owl. It sounds like someone beating a metal wedge that’s stuck a round of firewood.

There is the low hooting of the great horned owl.

It sounds like a drunken person trying to imitate a foghorn.

Once the owls stop calling, it’s only a matter of time until a murder of crows flies out of its roost like a cawing black amoeba in the clouds.

This evil portend always seems to wake up the woodpeckers.

The pileated woodpecker is a red-crested forest pest about the size of a crow.

This is a normally shy bird that spends it’s time jackhammering massive holes in dry snags in search of bugs.

Woodpeckers perform a wilderness public service that rids the forest of insects and provides nesting cavities for other birds.

That is, until their mating season, when woodpeckers begin a destructive practice of drumming on dry wood.

This can be an old snag, a telephone pole or wood-paneled dream home — all the while shrieking an obnoxious call that sounds like a housecat with its tail caught in the door.

Woodpeckers repeat this performance for hours each day for weeks on end until the baby woodpeckers hatch.

Baby woodpeckers can make even more noise with their constant demands for food.

Meanwhile on the forest floor, other birds are making even more noise.

The winter wren, though tiny, makes up for its small size with a long-winded call that can be loud enough to require hearing protection for us sensitive types.

The song of the winter wren is not the bubbly symphony of nature you might think.

The latest scientific research suggests that like most birds, the winter wren is engaged in a viscous form of trash talking other wrens in an effort to win a mate, establish a territory and defend the nest.

Winter wrens may be offensive, but at least they do not occur in flocks.

The pine siskin is a drab little bird with a dismal little call that flits about in huge flocks eating the seeds of trees.

These tiny birds are easily frightened by almost anything.

As is typical with most birds, they can have a bowel movement when they are alarmed. It lessens the payload on takeoff.

Finding yourself under an alarmed flock of siskins can be a queasy nature experience.

You might think it is raining, but it is not.

Don’t look up.

While watching birds in the rain forest can be pointless exercise in frustration and disgust, watching birds on the river can be even worse than that.

The water ouzel, or dipper, is a small drab, gray bird about the size of a tennis ball, with the unique ability to walk under water.

The rest of the time they stand on the rocks and bob up and down like they are about to have a seizure, while yammering away with a bothersome twitter that just seems to get on my nerves.

At least the dipper does not eat fish.

As the days lengthen, the baby salmonids begin their migration to the sea.

This triggers a migration of saw-billed mergansers upriver to eat what is left of our endangered fisheries, forcing me to become a birdwatching guide.

I’ll continue this chirping springtime review in my column next Wednesday.

Until then, don’t look up.


Pat Neal is a North Olympic Peninsula fishing guide and humorist whose column appears in the Peninsula Daily News every Wednesday.

Pat can be reached at 360-683-9867 or [email protected]

The “Pat Neal WildLife Show” is on radio KSQM 91.5 FM ( at 9 a.m. Saturdays, repeated at 6 p.m. Tuesdays.

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