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Hooded Mergansers

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

January 31,2012 Red-cockaded Woodpeckers

I got interested in writing a blog after finding "Blogspot" on the internet and then finding a great daily blog by Judy Bell... "Travels With Emma".   We've never met Judy, but know that she's a volunteer with the National Wildlife Refuges, an avid (and very knowledgeable) birder, and that she often writes about places we've either been or know about.  I hope our paths actually cross one of these days.

The other day she mentioned... rather off-hand... about some experience with the Red-cockaded woodpecker.  This got me to thinking about when Bill & I were volunteering at Carolina Sandhills NWR in the fall of 2003.

Wildlife refuges usually are established to save, or at least help out, an endangered species.  There are over 550 refuges in the USA and each one has a focus... a specific plant, animal or habitat that in in danger of becoming extinct.  Some refuges have more than one focus...  more than one species live there that are in trouble.

Carolina Sandhills, which is located in South Carolina, has the Red-cockaded woodpecker.  This little bird will nest only in mature longleaf pines...  and these pines exist now only in very scattered patches of managed forest.  The Carolinas, Georgia, parts of Florida and some States along the Gulf are the only places this bird lives.

I can't remember all we did while there, but as often is the case, I got involved in the education programs that the refuge offered.

We often had students from colleges and even high schools come to the refuge on field trips to learn how we managed for the continued existence of this bird.
This biologist is showing the kids an artificial nesting box.  To encourage birds to nest, the biologists would construct a nesting box, cut out a hole in the pines, insert the box and ... voila! the bird doesn't have to do all the work of constructing a nest.  Bill did some of this work while we were here....  but I couldn't find any pictures of him way up on a ladder inserting a nesting box in a tree.
I can't remember what this instrument is for but I think it was to be able to see into the nest while standing on the ground.
We always had kids who were interested in what was going on.  The biologist would take the time to explain about prescribed burns and other means of management.

This isn't a really good example, but this is a pine tree with a nest in it.  The white stuff oozing down the tree trunk is sap.  The bird uses this kind of tree because of the sap.  The sticky sap keeps away predators...  including insects that could infest the nest. 

The white band painted around the trunk of this tree indicates that it is a tree with a nest in it.  Not all the trees with paint have an active nest.

This is where my story gets interesting....
Each bird nesting in these woods has been trapped, banded, and released.  The above picture is nearly actual size.  Each of those pieces of colored plastic is a band that indicates something...  sex, age, nest... whatever.   The colors are uniform no matter which bird wears the bands on its legs.  A bird can have 2 or 3 bands on each leg...  each one indicating specific information.  They are very light weight and do not deter the bird's habits in any way.

This particular forest had a nice population of birds.  The Great Dismal Swarmp refuge was in need of a couple of birds to replenish their breeding stock after a hurricane had destroyed some habitat.  The refuges work together on some projects.... 

Enter Bill and Sharon...

The biologist needed to trap 2 birds for this project.  While they are fairly certain which bird lives in which tree, our job was to go into the forest before dusk, sit under a tree and watch a specific tree.  We were to watch the bird fly in for the night...  and record the colors of bands on each leg.  We don't have to do anything about actually capturing the bird...  that will come later...  so...  each night we'd find a cozy spot to sit...  and we'd wait for the homeowner to return.

This was the easy part...  they even have a distinctive "call" so we'd know when the bird was in the area.  Then...  quicker than the wink of an eye...  that little sucker would zap right into that tiny opening.  In for the night...

Bill would say...  2 year old female...  bird #1786...   or some such thing.  I would say...  HUH?  You actually SAW the bands????  On BOTH legs?????

This went on for the whole week of survellience.  I mean, we DID use binoculars and all, but I NEVER saw the bands on those tiny legs. 

We (or rather Bill) did gather enough information to determine that the biologist would be okay trapping this particular bird (and that's another story)...  and he did...  and that bird went off to Virginia to live happily ever after.

I know...  I call myself a birder.  And I love watching all manner of wildlife...  but... I'm not kidding myself.  I'll never be an expert.  But you know what?  The birds I watch don't care...  as long as I put out the black oil sunflower seeds.

That's All for Today....






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