Shaw Nature Reserve

Red-headed Woodpecker with Nut

We drove out farty-far, e-ticket in hand, to Shaw Nature Reserve, the botanical garden’s wide open spaces. Instead of parking in the main lot, near the Bascom house, probably the founding property owner’s home, we drove to the Hilltop trail house. Really more of a picnic shelter than a house, once years ago Anne interned there for a bit of child learning of nature. When we park where we normally do, this trail house is about as far as we get, but by driving there, the whole southern half of the nature reserve was open for our exploration. As its name implied this trail house was at the top of a hill. So starting off, our day’s hike headed downhill to the Merrimac River, the southern terminus of Shaw.

It is definitely fall now in the woods. On this warm, but breezy day, whenever the wind blew, leaves would fall. Not too many birds are still around, a few butterflies, but mainly locusts who would fly up from the trail ahead of us, at our approach. Of these, the upland ones had yellow wings, but closer to the river, they were black and white. On the river there was a gravel bar, made larger with the low water. We hardly saw anyone on our way down to the Merrimac, but on the way back there were more. Still, less than a dozen all told and all masked.

This river is probably the one that we have canoed the most here in Missouri. Its proximity to Saint Louis combined with us usually choosing a weekend venue, led me to begin referring to it as Sodom on the Merrimac. Drunkenness and nudity, gave the boys unintended biology lessons when they were young. Once while canoeing, we passed a guy passed out at the river’s edge, sitting in a lawn chair. He was already beet red with sunburn. As we floated past, we called out to some of his friends about this condition. Their answer was, “Yea, Bob knows when to stop drinking. When he passes out, he stops drinking.”

On our way back uphill from the river, I caught this Red-headed woodpecker. It has a nut in its beak that it is about to stick in one of the holes that it has drilled. Come winter, this nut will be retrieved for food. I’ve only seen the Red-headed at Shaw and always in this part of the reserve. When I photographed the Pileated woodpecker this summer up at the cabin, I mentioned that it had been the model for the Woody the Woodpecker cartoon character. This is true, but it had actually been a Red-headed woodpecker that had provided the cartoonist the inspiration. He had spent a sleepless night in a cabin that a Red-headed had peppered with holes and then filled with its nuts. When it eventually rained, his cabin leaked.

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