Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Return of a bird worth saving

I feel the same foolish pride about the restoration of the local red-cockaded woodpecker population that I do about being one of the first loyal diners at the old Farmer John's Cafe.

Foolish because, of course, I had nothing to do with the success of either one. Pride because I did have sense to recognize something good right from the start.

So my day was made Tuesday morning when Vince Morris pointed from the cab of his pickup to a ridge near the northern edge of the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest.

"That's where it all began,'' said Morris, the state Division of Forestry ecologist who supervises the restoration program.

"And you were there.''

Nine years ago on that ridge, I watched Morris install a cigar box-sized home for woodpeckers in a square hole cut in the trunk of a longleaf pine.

I remember him telling me about the plan to import woodpeckers from the large population in the Apalachicola National Forest. I also remember thinking it seemed like a lot of trouble for a few small, drab birds.

But red-cockaded woodpeckers were a federally endangered species (and still are, though they have lost that listing on the state level). In Croom, the population had dwindled to three solitary males and one viable breeding pair.

And now? Morris has counted 20 potential breeding pairs during the ongoing spring population survey.

That number has plateaued over the past year, probably because a booming population of flying squirrels has taken over so many woodpecker nests.

But peering into just a handful of cavities with a camera mounted on a telescoping pole, we were treated with the hopeful sight of four grape-sized eggs in one nest, and three tiny, pink chicks in another.

So there it was, right before our eyes: screeching, open-beaked proof of the benefit of the much-derided federal Endangered Species Act. (C'mon, now, you didn't really think you were going to get through an entire column without a dose of liberal politics, did you?)

And, because the act requires preserving the habitat of vulnerable plants and animals, even greater benefits were all around us.

We nearly lost the red-cockaded woodpeckers in this country because we nearly lost our prime pine forests. Woodpeckers nest only in mature pines. They flee their homes whenever the undergrowth of hardwoods grows tall enough to hide hawks and other predators.

That was true throughout most of Croom a decade ago. Since then, frequent controlled burns that simulate natural forest fires have reduced the tangle of medium-sized oaks to a knee-high layer of seedlings.

These are mixed with native shrubs, wiregrass and wildflowers such as the daisy-like green-eye, and tiny purple puffs called sensitive briar.

This is better for all species, including the gopher tortoise, that require longleaf pine habitat.

It's also better for hikers and everybody else who uses the forest. With the oaks gone, the terrain has a park-like feel, with tall pines growing from a carpet of green, the hills like gentle ocean swells.

Morris took it in with obvious, and well justified, pride.

"This is just spectacular habitat,'' he said.

Return of a bird worth saving 05/01/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 10:35am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Blake Snell shines as Rays beat Mariners to end skid (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell delivered the best outing of his young career and the Rays offense continued its home run-hitting ways for a 3-0 victory Sunday against the Mariners in front of 13,354 at Tropicana Field.

    Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) with starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) after the top of the seventh inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.
  2. No touchdown, but fun lesson for Bucs' Adam Humphries

    Bucs

    It didn't end up being a touchdown, but one of the Bucs' biggest hustle plays in Thursday's win over Jacksonville saw receiver Adam Humphries scoop up a loose ball just before halftime, after what looked like an incompletion but was correctly ruled a Jameis Winston fumble.

    Bucs WR Adam Humphries runs to the end zone with QB Jameis Winston trailing -- his alert play wasn't a touchdown because teammates cannot advance a fumble in the final two minutes of a half.
  3. Bucs' Demar Dotson should be back from injury next week

    Bucs

    The Bucs got good news on starting right tackle Demar Dotson, whose MRI showed only a mild right groin sprain and should be back at practice next week.

    Bucs tackle Demar Dotson, shown last year when he signed a three-year contract extension, should only miss a week of practice with his groin injury and can return healthy for the Bucs' season opener at Miami in three weeks. [Octavio Jones | Times]
  4. Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dead at 91

    Obituaries

    LOS ANGELES — Jerry Lewis, the manic, rubber-faced showman who jumped and hollered to fame in a lucrative partnership with Dean Martin, settled down to become a self-conscious screen auteur and found an even greater following as the tireless, teary host of the annual muscular dystrophy telethons, has died. He was …

    In this Sept. 2, 1990, file photo, entertainer Jerry Lewis makes his opening remarks at the 25th Anniversary of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon fundraiser in Los Angeles. Lewis, the comedian whose fundraising telethons became as famous as his hit movies, has died according to his publicist. [Associated Press]
  5. Mastermind of lottery rigging scam that netted millions faces 25 years

    Nation

    DES MOINES, Iowa — For a decade, computer programmer Eddie Tipton reliably showed up for work at the central Iowa office of the Multi-State Lottery Association and earned the confidence of his co-workers, a team of technicians entrusted to build computers used to randomly pick numbers for some of the most popular …

    FILE - In this June 29, 2017, file photo, Eddie Tipton, the former Multi-State Lottery Association information security director who admitted to masterminding a scheme to rig lottery games that paid him and others $2 million from seven fixed jackpots in five states, is seen in court in Des Moines, Iowa. Tipton is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, Aug. 22. (Rodney White/The Des Moines Register via AP, File) IADES501