At first I dismissed this out of hand--I went birding on a whim at Lake Crabtree, and saw a woodpecker with a mottled brown back--I suppose it would technically be barred, but it didn't have the exacting pinstripes of the red bellied woodpeckers. Now, in all modesty, I have been living with four species of woodpecker right out back for long enough that I can tell the four easily. This was not a red-bellied, northern flicker, downy or hairy woodpecker. There was a splotch of red on the head, I didn't get a good look at the cheeks, and the back was a barky mottled texture of brownish grey, black, and a little dull white. It didn't look anything like the vivid, distinct colors of the one in my bird book.
But hang on, according to the internet, the juveniles are brownish. And the photos look awfully close. And they retain their juvenile feathers for over a year--in fact, the guide went so far as to say that any woodpecker with juvenile coloration in fall was this species. And they're supposed to be common in edge woodlands, and we're definitely well in their winter range. I am cautious about identifying birds from juveniles, since the things all look alike, but in this case, if it's the only juvenile colored woodpecker around in fall, and it's fall...
Well, hot damn, if so, that's a lifer. A lifer with a GREAT name!
I spotted a set of diving birds I couldn't identify--the males had black cap strip things, paler cheeks, a dark back and a white tail. The female was a more generic brown. They were definitely divers, but I can't find an exact match in fieldmarks that's plausible. There were also a lot of sparrows. I'm not even trying to ID sparrows for now--once you get into the little dun ones with the faded stripes, they're all the same. They were sparrowish. They were hopping around in the sedge. I assume it was sedge. It was tall dead grass in a vaguely marshy lake-edge with wet roots. It's what I think of when people say "sedge" to me, which they hardly ever do. I don't know. Someday when I'm better at on-the-spot field mark spotting, I'll try to comprehend the sparrows.
I also spotted an anhinga! This was a total score, and I actually managed to ID it in the field. They swim like the Loch Ness Monster, with just their necks and heads out of the water. (Apparently anhinga feathers are not waterproof, so they dive by sinking.) I had wanted to see one--anything called a "Snakebird" has to be cool, and I was so jazzed to see it, I didn't mind the fact that I was standing on the verge where the trail runs along the road, and trucks were screaming by me at fifty approximately once a second.
So it was a good day. Except that I walked about halfway around the lake before I realized "Oooh...gonna have to walk back!" I am smart enough to know that one does not keep going--generally you're only a third of the way around when you have this revelation--so I turned back. I have monsterous screaming blisters, but two new lifers, and blisters fade.
Edit: Okay, with different book in hand, I am questioning the anhinga ID. While I saw a dark beaky waterbird with a long neck doing the Loch Ness Monster thing, it didn't look quite the same as the various drawings of a dark beaky waterbird doin' the Loch Ness Monster thing in the Sibley guide, and I'm forced to consider that it might have been a severely waterlogged cormorant or something similiar. At any rate, it goes in the "maybe-but-who-the-hell-knows" file rather than the lifelist until I can spot one again.