Saturday, November 17, 2007

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Since the Kissimmee Prairie sparrow drive was canceled I had a little time to arrange for another birding fix. Fortunately, fellow birder Danny Bales was available to shepard me toward a long sought after Life Bird.

Danny helps with the monitoring of the various colonies of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (RCWs) out at Hal Scott Preserve located just off of SR 520 from Highway 50 near Christmas, Florida. He was gracious enough to drive me directly to an active colony located in the sprawling nearly 9,000 acres of pine and scrub flatwoods.

I had been considering a bike trip out to some of the sites after missing the bird when I ventured out last year at dawn with my wife, Carolyn. We got there just a little late that morning and all we heard were some knocks as the birds fed out in the pines.

Knowing the habits of some of these birds, Danny brought me straight to a couple of marked trees which identified the active nests of several RCWs and mentioned which spot would be best to try and get a shot of these fast moving woodpeckers. Knowing when they arrive back at their cavities, always made in living pines, helped a lot.

Robins and Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) Warblers signaled the evening feeding patterns typical of the area and many Bluebirds and Pine Warblers joined the fray of birds either heading toward roosting points or feeding just before dark. Tiger mosquitoes were cloying and quite large.

Before we staked out our spots to get pictures of the RCWs, we walked around the scrub to see if we could scare anything else up into view. We were hoping for sparrows but I suddenly noticed a bird flying out from a tree about 70 yards away. It sure FLEW like a woodpecker.

Closer inspection through the binoculars confirmed that it was a RCW, my first ever! I tried to get closer but it flew off away from where we needed to be in a short while so we did not follow. We decided heading back to the nesting trees would be best, just in case.

Just around 5 PM, the sounds of RCWs were heard and the male made a quick flight toward his home. Many birds followed, including several Bluebirds that seemed intent on chasing the bird after it landed in several spots. Danny was 50 yards from me as it flew in close to him and indicated that this was the bird.

It finally made a return to the nesting tree and began to peck around the entryway, just as Danny said it usually does. I had mere moments to get any shots of of the bird as it kept it's back to me. I did manage one 3/4 profile.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

It flew off again and was still harassed by the Bluebirds. Once it came back to the tree, it dove into the cavity and was done for the day. I almost had a better shot. If only it had stalled for 2 seconds more.

As we headed back to the truck, the female flew in and dove straight into her tree. The day was done for the woodpeckers.

Someday, I will head back out to try again. However, getting the first Life Bird in many, may months was reward enough.

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