Burnett: Return of the northern flicker another sign of spring

On Sunday, I woke up early as usual and decided this was the day to take my coffee out to my putting green for the first time this year.

  • Mar. 6, 2012 6:00 a.m.

On Sunday, I woke up early as usual and decided this was the day to take my coffee out to my putting green for the first time this year.

After chipping and putting a few balls, I felt the mild spring air and smelled the tell-tale lovely aroma of the frost free soil in my garden beds.

I paused for a moment from my golfing to sit and sip my coffee on my garden bench which was still dusty from a winter of misuse. And low and behold, I heard what I call the best indication spring has arrived.

This indicator comes not from the calendar nor does it come from the emerging snowdrops or hellebores—it is the sound of the colaptes auratus.

Commonly known as the northern flicker, this member of the woodpecker family is one of the few species that migrate south.

When they return, they seem to want announce their arrival with an almost continual chorus of a distinctive loud rolling rattle that rises and falls in pitch each lasting about seven seconds.

They also make a short “kyeer” sound, about half a second long, that immediately tells me spring has arrived.

Years ago on my radio show, I held a contest asking callers to give me their imitation of this familiar call and needless to say we had some fun with it.

Even though the flicker is a woodpecker, it gets much of its food from digging in the soil and forest litter with their curved beak for ants and larvae of various sorts.

Because of this, don’t expect flickers to come to a bird feeder unless of course you stock it with those preferred delicacies.

But if you have any trees and large shrubs that emulate forest conditions,  you can expect to find them.

Otherwise you have to be content just to hear their call which I find very pleasant indeed.

•••

We have a guest at our home for the time being by the name of Tikka.

Tikka is a female border collie cross who, like all pooches and other animals for that matter, need bathroom facilities, which in our case happens to be our lawn.

It is of course wise to “pick up” daily to avoid the unpleasantness of stepping on “things” and to avoid the possibility of other disagreeable manifestation such as disease.

But it is the silent liquid toxins from the female gender of the canine species that really ravage turf.

Therefore, along with the picking up it is wise at this time of year to give the areas of concern a good soaking to leach out the toxins hopefully avoiding the typical brown patches.

If at the end of the day these patches appear then a scraping away of the dead grass along with a light dressing of garden soil and an application of lawn seed will have the lawn back in order by June.

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