It’s a yellow-bellied sapsucker!

Local birder Mike Skram spots first-ever yellow-bellied sapsucker in Butte County; plus, Valley Oak magazine’s winter gardening tips

Mike Skram does the Sphyrapicus Slam

Mike Skram does the Sphyrapicus Slam

Photo By christine G.K. Lapado

Why, it’s a yellow-bellied sapsucker!
The local birding community is all a-twitter at the recent sighting by local bird enthusiast Mike Skram of a yellow-bellied sapsucker on Jan. 1—the first-ever sighting in Butte County.

The yellow-bellied sapsucker—a kind of woodpecker—normally resides east of the Rockies, but Skram (pictured) spotted one among some “old topped trees and abandoned fruit trees” on the Alamo Avenue side of Henshaw Neighborhood Park in northwest Chico. Since then, local and regional rare-bird-alert list-serves have broadcast the exciting news, and scores of birders have come out to see the bird.

An avid birdwatcher since 1994, Skram regularly keeps an annual list of all the birds he sights in Butte County, beginning each Jan. 1.

Skram ascribes the yellow-bellied sapsucker’s appearance in Butte County to, basically, its getting lost—“[Its] internal compass is askew, perhaps.”

“I heard a Downy woodpecker call,” said Skram of how he first spotted the lone yellow-bellied sapsucker on New Year’s Day, “and I stopped to look at it. I noticed a flash of movement [of a bird] across my path in front of me.” The bird was a sapsucker, but not the expected red-breasted sapsucker normally found locally.

“The bird just didn’t look right,” said Skram. “It was too light in the back and had too much white in the face.” It had a white throat, he added, which narrowed the bird’s identity down to an adult-female yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Skram went back the following day and, while he didn’t see the yellow-bellied sapsucker, he spotted a red-naped sapsucker, “which is also not supposed to be here.” Red-naped sapsuckers, he explained, normally reside between the Sierras and the Rockies.

A yellow-bellied sapsucker

Photo By

Skram had his much-desired “Sphyrapicus slam”—seeing the yellow-bellied, the red-naped and the red-breasted sapsucker all in a row at the Henshaw location—on Jan. 6 when he sighted a red-breasted sapsucker. (Sphyrapicus is the genus to which sapsuckers belong.)

He expects both the yellow-bellied and the red-naped sapsucker to hang out in the Henshaw Park area until the end of winter.

It’s not the first rare-to-the-West bird that Skram has found in the Henshaw area, either. Two winters ago he discovered a Harris’s sparrow in the same neighborhood.

“There’s a magic to the place for me,” Skram offered.

Get ready to garden
I just received the January 2011 issue of local organic gardener David Grau’s Valley Oak Magazine ( in my e-mail inbox. In it, Grau offers some gardening tips for the month of January.

“Welcome to the refrigerator month,” writes Grau. “Despite the gloom, I suggest you anticipate that we will have our usual February planting window.

“Almost every year the weather turns sunny and dry and even a little warm here in the Sacramento Valley. So order your spring garden seeds and plan out your garden because if you are ready, it is a great time to sow seeds of lettuce, spinach, beets, radishes, kale, arugula, peas, and more.”

In the same issue, see Nancy Heinzel’s article on making your own soil mixes for seeds and seedlings.

For open-pollinated, organic, non-GM heirloom seeds, contact Sustainable Seed Co. at or Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds at Both are based in Petaluma.