Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Enjoying a nature walk with a nature expert

By STACEY COLE August 10. 2018 10:26PM

A tufted titmouse visits a feeder. (Courtesy/Cheryl LeBlanc)

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Nov. 9, 1974.

On a late October morning I stole an hour to walk with Tudor Richards, executive director of the Audubon Society of New Hampshire.

Tudor had called the day before to tell of seeing a black-backed woodpecker. I had never seen one, but my schedule was so heavy that day I could not possibly break away. To expect such a rare visitor in central New Hampshire to linger for the convenience of an amateur bird watcher was a little much. However, that’s what I hoped would happen. But it didn’t, I’ll quickly add so you won’t be left hanging in suspense wondering if I saw the bird. I did not, but I did see many other things that made the purloined hour worth taking.

As we stepped out the back door of Audubon House in Concord to begin our walk, Tudor pointed out a pair of tufted titmice just coming to their feeder. “They have arrived within the past week,” he said. “I was surprised to see them. Now I’d really be happy if they would be joined by a cardinal. We haven’t had one visit us yet.”

Then we set off to find the black-backed woodpecker. Some of you good readers may know this bird by his former name, Arctic three-toed woodpecker. This bird is about 9-10 inches long, has heavily barred sides, a solid black back, with the males sporting a yellow crown patch. It lives basically in the spruce and fir forests of the North and is an infrequent visitor in the Granite State.

Tudor led me along a path near the tree house constructed for youngsters to climb into and peek out at their world. “Must be a popular place,” I mused.

We were headed for the area where Tudor had seen the woodpecker the day before. We heard chickadees, a flying goldfinch and the call of a white-throated sparrow. We walked through goldenrod stalks to the edge of Turkey Pond.

In the distance, against the farthest shore, we saw three golden-eye ducks take wing. We were too far away to hear their characteristic whistling wings or see the water drip from their sky-bound bodies, but they were a thing of grace all the same. I always thrill to see ducks rising from a pond.

Then we turned and walked along the shore a way, always watching and listening. We hadn’t gone far before Tudor asked, “What’s that tree you are standing in front of?” I was looking at the trunk and said I didn’t know. “Look slowly up to the leaves and then tell me,” he said. I did and I couldn’t. I didn’t know. “It’s a Tupelo or black gum tree,” he said. He pointed out that the tree was not too common, as this is about its northernmost limit. The tree grows along the shores of ponds and in swampy woodlands.

Suddenly we heard the gentle tapping of a woodpecker. “Sounds like a downy,” Tudor said. “But we had better check it out.” Some minutes later we saw it, high in a dead elm, tapping rapidly.

Then Tudor began searching the ground. He was going to show me something special. It was black spruce which was reproducing itself by layering. Most unusual.

Later, he showed me black oak, and farther on, several American chestnuts. These trees do not grow very large, for they still are infected by the Japanese chestnut bark disease which destroyed all the mature trees quite some years ago. Trees get to about 20 feet in height and then the disease catches up with them and they die. Perhaps some day they can outgrow or become immune to the disease and we can once again have chestnut mast for wild turkeys.

All too soon the hour was up and I had to leave. I always appreciate an opportunity to spend a while with Tudor Richards, for his knowledge of natural history is broad.

Learning from a friend is a pleasant experience indeed.

Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at

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