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It may be noisy on the Woodpecker Trail at Point Reyes.

Woodland drummers, acorn woodpeckers rap out a message of persistence and providence-first patiently drilling the hard wood for insects, later hammering in nuts to store for lean times. The birds are loud, raucous, fun to watch, and busiest now through June with nesting activities and territorial battles. One of the best places to see them is at Point Reyes National Seashore, 40 miles northwest of San Francisco.

Look for these easy-to-spot birds near the Bear Valley Visitor Center off a newly reopened self-guided trail, or in the replica of a Coast Miwok village. Bring binoculars for close-up views. Spring boasts sunny and mild weather; it also often brings exotic fallow and native blacktailed deer into meadows near the visitor center-look for them in early morning. The robin-size woodpeckers have scarlet crowns and dark bodies with white rumps and wing patches. Listen for their distinctive ja-cob, ja-cob call, and look for them in pine, oak, and Douglas fir trees. Flint hard bills and thick neck muscles give the woodpeckers hammering power; thick skulls and thin cushions of air protect their brains.

You'll note them in family groups of up to 15 birds. Territories center around "granary" trees, whose bark is studded with the birds' store of acorns-sometimes thousands of nuts in a single tree. (The trees aren't damaged, because the nut holes are shallower than the thickness of the bark.)

Find a granary tree and you'll know acorn woodpeckers are nearby. Like feathered F-16s, they swoop down to attack squirrels, jays, and other woodpeckers unwise enough to steal from the cache of nuts. In spring, look for tennis ball-size nest openings in snags or trees near the granary. The Bear Valley Visitor Center (open 9 to 5 daily, from 8 weekends) offers free trail maps and a woodpecker display. Look for woodpeckers near picnic tables in an adjacent grove of Douglas firs. Or hike the easy 1-mile interpretive Woodpecker Trail loop, which begins near the Bear Valley trailhead.

You'll also spot big colonies around Kule Loklo, a replica Coast Miwok Indian village that's about a 1-mile loop hike from the visitor center. Coast Miwok Indians once lived here in tule reed and redwood plank structures like the reproduced ones. From noon to 4:30 on April 27, you can watch dancing and a prayer ceremony as part of the village's Strawberry Festival (strawberries were one of the year's earliest seasonal foods gathered by Miwoks). Point Reyes National Seashore is about a 1 1/2-hour drive north of San Francisco. Take US. Highway 101 to the Sir Francis Drake exit near Larkspur and head west 20 miles on Sir Francis Drake. Bear Valley Visitor Center is off Bear Valley Road, just west of the town of Olema.
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Title Annotation:Point Reyes National Seashore, California
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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