Today after lifting twenty trap nets on a local lake and doing spleen and kidney-ectomies on a bunch of unfortunate fish (sampling for the latest fish disease, VHS, to come our way), I decided to leave work early. I had a book to pick up at the library, and when I pulled up to the combined library/city hall/license center I remembered my driver's license had expired on my birthday, and I needed to renew the license tabs on the Subaru. And it's payday tomorrow, so I could do that.
Minnesota has been issuing special habitat license plates for a while now, and last year they unveiled four new designs. I had decided a while back that when I had to buy license tabs I would get one of the new plates. I was torn between one that featured a chickadee, and one that featured a lady's slipper, our state flower. It was a close race, but the Hermit already had the chickadee plates, and a botanical plate just seems so...cool. :) Although there is some pink overload in the background...why not bog green, like where these flowers grow?
When I arrived home I installed the new plates, then Sally was insisting that I take her to the pond. Of course I could not resist. After all that, I had exactly twenty minutes before I had to drive back to the school and pick up Calvin and his buddy from baseball practice. I had heard an unusual bird song from the (new and improved) back yard, so I grabbed the binoculars and a beer and sat at the table we had set up out there.
I don't think I saw the singer of the unusual (and still unidentified) bird song, but I did see something flitting around in a spruce tree. It was difficult to zero in on it because it was one of those little birds that is constantly flitting. I started thinking of possibilities in my head: Yellow rumped warbler? This early? Then I thought: Golden crowned kinglet. A possibility, and definitely in the size range. I finally saw the eye line, and a flash of yellow on top of the head. YES!!! I'm sure golden crowned kinglets are everywhere, especially in the spring, I had just never gotten a good look at one! LIFER!!!
Then it was time to make the fifteen mile drive to school. I must have been especially attuned to the look of the trees along the road a couple miles from our house, because I noticed a bird out of the corner of my left eye. It was sitting in an aspen tree near the road, but sitting differently than most birds: it was parallel, not perpendicular, to the tree branch it was on. It was also an unusual size, maybe blue jay size but definitely not blue jay. I had to slam on the brakes and back up.
I did not have my binoculars with me, so I'll have to rely on what I saw with my naked eyes. The sunlight was doing weird things with the bird's back, maybe highlighting some iridescence. But what I saw was dark, with a light front, and a woodpecker-like bill. Its level of wariness was also notable: it did not fly even when my car was about thirty feet away and stopped. I studied it from every angle I could, and I have to go with my gut feeling: Black backed woodpecker! They are uncommon, but definitely not improbable around here as I have seen them before.
Sometimes you see the best things when you're not really trying to see anything.