Tuesday, August 05, 2014

A Place For Redheads

Here's a Florida state park that knows how to manage fire-dependent habitats.
I'm never surprised when I visit one of our Florida state parks and walk away happy with what they are doing. Generally speaking, our parks are well managed with the health of the ecosystem as the main priority.
So, even while expecting great things, the beautiful pine savanna's on the long pretty drive into Ochlocknee River State Park reassured me that THIS park has its act together.

Fire management and fire-dependent ecosystems are a whole series of posts in their own, but this one is about a bird... a general group of birds I guess, but especially one species.

We'll get to the dinosaurs birds in a minute, but first, take a look at these pine savannas. Without fire, this high ground along the Ochlocknee River would gradually become a hardwood, mostly oak forest.
Which is fine...unless you are a Red Cockaded Woodpecker who only nests in mature pine trees, or a gopher tortoise, or a palmetto, or a scrub lizard, etc.
These guys need open woods.
Providing habitat for this threatened species (Red Cockaded Woodpecker) is a major goal of the park service here according to their literature.
 Red Cockaded Woodpeckers are neat, but they are not the bird of this post.

You see, whatever your reason for good fire management, you don't just benefit the target species, you benefit a whole range of critters and plants that depend on fire to remove the hardwoods like oaks that would eventually shade the forest floor and produce the "brown desert" found beneath open hardwood forests.
In the picture above, the ground is covered with forage plants, gall berry, deer tongue, wire grass, palmettos, and a host of others.
The pines show evidence of the recent burn, but their fire resistant bark protected them.

A forest like this is loaded with habitat and food for all kinds of critters, but it is an especially good place for woodpeckers.
There's dead snags, old trees with decay, fruits and berries ... its an awesome place to be pounding trees with your specially reinforced bill and skull combo if you get my drift.

I like Red Headed Woodpeckers so much I was stoked just to see this one high up in a pine tree on a morning hike. What was really stoketastic was ... there were a lot of them.
They were a constant companion on my walk but always high or a little distant for my Canon EOS 70D/250mm lens combo.
There were whiny fledglings too ... how cool is that!

I don't consider myself a "real" birder.
I keep no life list.
I can identify a bunch of birds, but not the way dedicated birdwatchers can by a brief glimpse, or even more awesome by subtle differences in song.
I am content with knowing those are warblers in my winter woods and leave it at that. They are legion and they all look alike to me... mostly.
(Note: let me get a sharp photo of one, and then I WILL find out who it is.)
I don't own a spotting scope.
I don't like binoculars.
really don't  have any use for a lens that's not attached to a camera.
I don't do group birdwatching, ...the last thing I want is lots of company when I have camera time in the wild.

Having ranted said all that, I really like birds.
They can fly.
Who doesn't like that?
Also, the fact that more and more, fossil evidence points to them as downsized dinos, makes me love them actually.
 Maybe I am a birder, just not a normal one.

In any case, among the birds that really make my day, and sadly, not very often anymore, the Red Headed Woodpeckers are up their with Bald Eagles and Swallowtail Kites.

Here at Pure Florida Head Quarters, we have Pileateds, Red-bellies, Downy or Hairy's... or both (see, real birders would know), flickers, and the occasional Ivory-Billed woodpecker.

We NEVER EVER have Red Heads.
In 26 years on this deadwood studded mostly wild ten acres, there has never been a Red Headed Woodpecker sighting.
So I was pretty happy to be surrounded by them at Ochlocknee.

After hot hours and a few miles of summer morning hikes, seeing lots of woodpeckers at a distance, Sara N. Dippity chose to ride with me on the way out of the campground.
At the dumpster of all places ...

As I was leaving the park after a two night stay, I pulled up to the big green campground dumpster and stopped just long enough to toss in a bag of trash.
When I glanced left to make sure I was clear to pull out on to the dirt park road ... there they were... an adult AND a fledgling Red Head!
I shot a few distant shots right away, then I eased the JEEP a little closer and shut it down to avoid lens vibes. I set the Canon EOS 70
D on full auto and blasted away at 7 frames per second.
The woodpeckers, one high and one low then moved out of the shady side of the pine tree and into the morning light.
Oh sweet Sara.
After a bit, the adult flew away and the fledgling followed.
I drove on towards St. Marks and Hickory Mound knowing that whatever else happened, this day was already a success.

Adult Red Headed Woodpecker

Chatterwhiny Fledgling Red Headed Woodpecker

I'm going to be a ginger just like my Dad.

(More Sara N. Dippity ... just checked TimesuckerBook Facebook and artist and master birder Julie Zickefoose posted about Red Heads today also ... check it out!)


threecollie said...

Oh, how I miss them! The Red Heads that is. We used to see them all the time, but now it has been a couple of decades since I spotted one...and you know I was always looking. Great shots. Great post.

Julie Zickefoose said...

I can feel your pure adrenaline rush as you lined up those red-heads in your new lens, in perfect light. Shots to envy! I have yet to get a good photo of a juvenile, but I keep trying. Jumpy little things! I love this post, and the homage it pays to the sustained human effort it takes to create and maintain a habitat for ones so specialized. Nature abhors an open understory, but without it, there will be no woodpeckers with red heads or cockades. Thanks for the link...I linked to you, and smile at the coincidence of our both posting on our favorite woodpeckers on the same day.

Marilyn Kircus said...

Great post and gorgeous birds. I only saw two of them and those very briefly while volunteering at Okefenokee NWR who also manages thousands of acres of fire dependent system. Last winter, there were too many rainy days and getting every unit scheduled for a burn was really hard to do.

Now I'm holding my breath, waiting for your pictures of your ivory-billed woodpecker.

lisa said...

I so agree with you on the fire management in our parks! If some of the other states did the same, maybe they wouldn't have quite so many problems with fires. The pictures of the Woodpeckers are just beautiful.

Mark P said...

I tried to comment on my phone, but apparently it didn't work. Anyway, did you know that there is apparently a substantial reward for proof of the existence of a living ivory bill? That would be an amazing find.

The redheads are real beauties.

R.Powers said...

Well, okay... maybe not Ivory Bills ... maybe in Cuba. We're not that far away.

roger said...

you do wield that camera quite well. forest mismangement (fire suppresion) in western forests has contributed to the current flock of wildfires.