Monday, March 2, 2015

Lessons in the Longleaf Pine

A short respite is in order, for all of us who are tiring of endless snow and bad news in Ohio's forests.  Strictly as educational nature therapy, I booked a trip to Florida and met up with birding buddy, Greg Miller.

Red-headed Woodpecker
 It was not long before he suggested birding in the big pines.  Old Growth Forest in Florida?  Count me in.  The first half mile of the walk was filled with rambunctious Red-headed Woodpeckers. Six of 'em.  Go ahead, throw me in the brier-patch.

Our location in the Ocala National Forest

As orientation, we were north of Orlando and west of Daytona.  The Daytona 500 was going on, but the only races that interested us was seeing who could find the first rarity.

Paisley Woods
Pro-tip: take a photo of the map in the parking lot.  I can't tell you how many times this has come in helpful, especially once you are away from the parking lot ... and lost. It also is a good way to document where you saw that magnificent life bird or plant.

The overview of  piney woods habitat

The importance of Longleaf pine habitats is lost on most tourists to Florida.  While thousands crowded the stands at the Daytona 500, Greg and I virtually had the woods to ourselves.  These old growth pines were once the predominant species of inland central Florida as they tolerate and thrive in a fire ecology.  Once common place, now scarce due to lumbering and urban sprawl. These rare spots of protected forest harbor other rarity species, too.   For interesting info on Longleaf Pine ecosystems: go here.

Bachman's Sparrow serenades from a deadwood perch. 
A high pitched song which I could not recognize turned our attention to the grassy woods on our left.  There teed-up singing, "Here kitty, kitty, kitty" was a Bachman's Sparrow. It is easy to miss this grassland bird in the winter, but the pleasant ambient temperature (high 60's) must have convinced this male to burst forth in song.  Well played, Bachman, well played. You were a worthy life-bird.

Look for white bands painted on "nest trees".
We were after another bird however, the elusive Red-cockaded Woodpecker.  The pines marked as nest trees pulled us deeper into the woods.  This is another bird I have tried to see, and missed, before.

The towering Longleaf Pine
Have you ever heard of Warbler-neck?  One can really get a cramp from too much tree top scanning in an Old Growth woods!  These trees are so magnificent, I wouldn't have even cared if we did not find the bird.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker
But we did find the bird!  A female was fussing about feeding in the pine and she posed for my brief and lucky shot.  The large white cheek patches are the diagnostic mark of the Red-Cockadeds, both female and male.  As you can see, she doesn't have any visible "red".

Greg Miller birds. 
A big thanks goes out to my friend and pro birding guide, Greg Miller.  Check out and his upcoming trips! I wouldn't have found these birds without his expertise!

Once a Weedpicker...
The giant plates of bark, over sized cones and the nearly foot long needles of the Longleaf Pine were nearly as exciting to me as the two life-birds.  These Old Growth forest habitats are under the protection of our National Forest system.  Unfortunately, National Parks and Forests often fall under the latest whims of industry and politics.  Many of our so-called protected  forests are under the siege of gas-lines, fracking and timbering.  The eco-services provided by Old Growth woods cannot be understated.  We must permanently protect the last of these amazing trees and the fragile ecosystems they harbor.  Once common place throughout the south, the Red-Cockaded is a high prized sighting for any serious birder.

Let's make certain we provision them with enough habitat for future generations.


  1. Love those Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Piney Grove Preserve, a TNC property in VA, is a wonderful place to see them. Sorry to have missed you all when you came through VA. Next time. I think maybe your Bachman's warbler label should be sparrow?

  2. Thanks Lee! You are correct, I mis-labeled my blog labels! I have it all fixed up now, thanks to you I guess I owe you a piece of pie when we get together at Biggest Week of American Birding.