Icky Trunks with White Stripes

I get to throw in a new bird from time to time here at Intrigued and on those rare occasions like with the last I go crazy and give you two birds back to back. I know, I know, a lot to take in when that happens ha. You may need to sit down for this in case it becomes too overwhelming – today we are featuring .. wait for it … wait for it.. grab on to something sturdy… the THIRD new bird in a row. Think my heart may have skipped a beat just typing that as I do not think that has ever happened in the 14 years of this here blog. What’s up with all the counter clicking as of late, one word “pressure”. My brother Ron is coming on strong with his counts. 40 new birds when he met us Texas the year before, 20+ new birds from our birding trip to southern Alabama last month and now I find out he just tinned a new one over the weekend. I claw and claw at the dirt, but I just keep losing ground. The only thing going for me is he has a blog (link here) and as a result, he doesn’t get official credit for the +1 until it is featured there – that’s the agreed upon rules (link here – see rule 6!). Taking advantage of his posting sabbatical, let’s officially turn my counter.

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker found at Blackwater River State Forest near Milton, Florida in April 2021

You may have noticed, that you are not actually looking at a bird (although you may have been fooled by my previous blurry finger painting shots of birds and thinking it is in there somewhere ha). You are correct in this case, that is a tree trunk – a longleaf pine tree trunk to be specific. This particular specimen happened to be located in the Blackwater River State Forest in the Florida panhandle near Pensacola. This one happens to have a large white stripe on it with an ID. Over the years we have learned this is a sign you are likely to find something like this higher on the trunk.

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker found at Blackwater River State Forest near Milton, Florida in April 2021

Not always this amount of discoloration, but typically a patch of icky goo with a suspicious hole in the middle. I purposely took this shot due to how surprisingly extensive it was. Linda and I have hunted down these holes for over 6 years now. Traveled to the swamps of Georgia, the luscious forest of North Carolina, braved the heat of Arkansas, twice to Conroe, Texas, risked the suspension of the RV on something they called a road in Louisiana and a number of places in between those while on a birding mission – Linda would refer to it more as an obsession.

Tomato tomauto – hit the jump to reveal the catalyst for our many adventures.

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker found at Blackwater River State Forest near Milton, Florida in April 2021

And there it is in all its glory – the reason for the white stripes and the weeping sap. Over six years chasing a small essentially black and white Woodpecker. That is the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, a bird that has been on the federal endangered list since 1970 and has a “Red Watch List” conservation status since 2014 (link here). It has also been in my top 5 birds to get list since I learned about them before heading out on our trip to Georgia in 2015.

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker found at Blackwater River State Forest near Milton, Florida in April 2021

I can now officially cross that off my list in large part thanks to Linda – the exact percentage of the +1 credit is hotly debated at the dinner table these days as … need to be careful here if I want dinner anymore .. getting to a particular place doesn’t automatically mean you can tin a specific bird in said area. Uncontested is the fact that Linda got Ron and I to the general area where one was spotted – as she has done many times in the past – actually more like “all” the places we have hit in this quest. Specifically in this case, we were birding Blackwater River State Park. A wonderful place by the way and where we met Dale, the Clearwater Audubon’s Field Trip Chair. A wonderful lady that was birding with her friends. She even followed up after our meet and provided an open offer to help us in our birding efforts the next time we were in the area – will cover that in more detail in a future post on that State Park. Upon our return to the RV, Linda asked us if we were interested in a Red-Cockaded sighting at the nearby State Forest. Pretty sure I was stunned by her calm demeanor in which those words were uttered and simply stared trying to run through my complex Linda algorithm that attempts to deduce whether she is yanking my chain or being truthful (from a coding perspective, that synapse algorithm must by a thousand tractor-fed pages long). “I guess” – never let her know how excited you are or it will go into her “crazy birder” stories she brings out at all our social gatherings.

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker found at Blackwater River State Forest near Milton, Florida in April 2021

She plotted the course to the area and we embarked on another Red-Cockaded quest. I wasn’t to confident on this one as I still wasn’t entirely sure she was telling me the truth or not – a recorded sighting a mere 8 miles from where we happened to be – seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately, based on our crappy Mercedes GPS the road it directed us to turn off on was a closed muddy logging road. German automakers need to learn how to make a good GPS and a damn American sized cupholder – I have visions of Germans driving around aimlessly trying to follow their craptastic GPSes while suffering dehydration from the mere 3 ounces of fluids they could actually fit into their cup holders.

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker found at Blackwater River State Forest near Milton, Florida in April 2021

Now we were in pickle. Linda decided to continue on and see if there was a real cross-road we could use instead. “I guess if you want to” – again, keep that excitement under wraps. Sure enough, we found a nice road and made our way parallel to the supposed sighting. Eventually I noticed the white bands on the trees – no other indications, just the white bands and some lettering on some random trees near the road. I tried to match those up with the tell-tale sap weeping – difficult as I think Linda was driving like 80mph. Eventually we lost sight of the trees with the stripes and decided to slam on the brakes, pull the emergency brake to initiate a 180 degree screeching turn and then smoke the tires to right us back the way we came. This is where the sighting credit gets a bit tricky. On our way back, a Woodpecker flies up on our left and lands on a tree. Linda shouted there it is and I quickly pointed out it was a Red-Headed – still took the picture as Ron and I had not tinned one for the trip yet. As her window was down now, we continued on until I heard very distinct squeaks seemingly coming our way from the left. I had her pull to the side of the road and Ron and I jumped out cameras at the ready.

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker found at Blackwater River State Forest near Milton, Florida in April 2021

Sure enough, TWO Red-Cockadeds flew up onto the trunk of the very tree she had come to a stop under. Okay, my true excitement had finally slipped out. There was the very bird I had been hunting for so many years. A quick check of the key feature – the large white patch on the cheek paired with the ladder striped back. One dove into the hole before I could get a picture, but managed to tin the one that stayed outside – keeping an eye on us by the way. It eventually flew off to another tree which we got shots of as well (see the images without the sap) before heading off deeper into the forest. Mind you I (well, a large part Linda) had just handed Ron a bird I’d invested and incredible amount of time to find – have I mentioned in the past that he owes me bigly (link here, here and here) hehehe. In jest of course, definitely enjoy getting to bird with Ron from time to time.

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker found at Blackwater River State Forest near Milton, Florida in April 2021

So, some more background on the bird. I mentioned the large white patch. The name comes from a feature that is referred to by Cornell as nearly invisible. Hey ABA, do you think White-Cheeked Woodpecker would have been a better name for us field junkies!?! Oh well, the males have a red streak referred to as the cockade on the top border of the white cheek. I challenge you to see it on the male image Cornell has on their website. Cockade comes from the ribbon worn on a hat. They purposely choose live longpole/leaf pines, preferably ones that are infected with red heart fungus which softens the wood per Cornell’s Cool Facts list. Linda became horrified when I told her the reason they peck the tree and cause the sap to flow around their holes – it “helps to keep tree climbing snakes away”. Hold onto anything you can, Linda put the pedal to the floor when she heard that tidbit. They are somewhat social birds as the sons create family units around their parents – the female offspring tend to move out and start their own units. The best way I can tell you to find them is to use the conservation signs, either the white banding or in the case of the tree above, ribbon. Thinking that last shot is a new nest forming (takes two years to complete). All I could see was a small impression and maybe a little sap flowing.

Sorry for the rather lengthy post – so excited to officially get this long quest in the books. Take it easy everyone and good luck on whatever happens to be on your target bird list – time to figure out what new bird to add to my top 5 list.

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