“Locust grove”, for me, will always be an evocative description. The Olde Homestead has a locust grove – a magic place just beyond the railroad tracks that as a wee child defined the rear boundary of my world, since I wasn’t supposed to cross on my own and potentially get hit by a train. When I was with my parents, though, then we could go to the locust grove, which was an amazing place – dark and cool and flanked with elegantly corrugated trees. Birds I have seen there include a Barn Owl, Pileated Woodpecker, and a rapidly-flying-away-thing that may or may not have been a Woodcock or Snipe.

But I never saw a Red-headed Woodpecker there. Indeed, the only Red-headed Woodpecker I have ever seen on the Olde Homestead was a dead one, under a maple of the yard when I was – maybe 5? 6? (Any idea, Mom?) Dead birds, of course, do not count for life lists, and so Melanerpes erythrocephalus has remained a frustrating gap in my life list.

So I was delighted to hear that Central Park had a locust grove; and even more delighted to hear that an immature Red-headed Woodpecker was there. Red-headed Woodpeckers, usually immature, not-very-red-headed ones, winter in the park from time to time. They’re acorn lovers, fond of open woodlands, forest edges, and fields with scattered trees – so in a pinch, Central Park is not a bad place for a young bird without an established territory, especially one that might be feeling the pinch of unusually low acorn crops throughout much of the eastern part of the continent.

Still, the Central Park locust grove is not much of a grove, only two strands of trees stretching from the theater along the edge of the Great Lawn. Not a candle to the Olde Homestead grove. The flocks of Blue Jays seemed to like it well enough, though, and plenty of other woodpeckers – Red-bellied, Downy, and a Northern Flicker. No Pileated, of course. But there was a lingering Hermit Thrush. And, after I walked it’s length twice and was getting ready to give up, the young star.

The neat thing about immature Red-headed Woodpeckers is that, without the bright flaming beacon of “Look no further! You have identified this bird!”, it’s easier to appreciate the rest of the bird’s aesthetics, like the patches of white adorning the wings when they fold over the back – patches that, in younger birds, often have random black splotches that allow for a degree of individual identification*. This particular individual looks a tiny bit like it has a Metroid character on its back. Sort of. If you squint.

The Gray-head moved up and down his chosen branch in plain view, to my delight, for long enough that I had to leave before zie did. On my way out of the park, I only had enough time for a quick look at the south side of the Reservoir, decorated in festive winter Hooded Mergansers, Shovelers, and Buffleheads. A single Pied-billed Grebe was mingling with the Mallards.

It’s amazing what you can see in an hour before work.

Birdstack list

*Which would later contribute to the realization that there are actually TWO immature Red-headed Woodpeckers wintering in Central Park.

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