Make us your home page

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

  1. Power struggle: Latvala targets Putnam's large donations from electric utilities


    TALLAHASSEE — The 2018 race for Florida governor will be about power — not just political power, but electric power.

    Scott Crellin, a trouble man for Duke Energy, works to cut tree limbs from a Tarpon Springs power line after Hurricane Irma. The utility's problems with getting power restored after the storm, and it's contributions to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's campaign for governor, have become an issue in the governor's race. [CHRIS URSO  |   Times]

  2. Authors R.L. Stine, Neil DeGrasse Tyson coming to Tampa Bay this week


    AUTHORS: Neil deGrasse Tyson, R. L. Stine, Finn Murphy

    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 12:  Author R.L. Stine attends “Goosebumps” New York premiere at AMC Empire 25 theater on October 12, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
  3. Brothers' fatal shootout at Plant City ranch draws lawsuit from survivor


    TAMPA — George "Terry" Long escaped with his life last spring when his wife's ex-husband tried to gun him down at Plant City's Rocking V Ranch.

    This Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office photo shows part of the scene at the Rocking V ranch in Plant City where two brothers were shot dead April 15 during a family confrontation. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Florida Gators' Jordan Sherit out for the year after hip surgery


    Florida Gators defensive lineman Jordan Sherit will miss the rest of the season after undergoing hip surgery earlier this week, coach Jim McElwain said Wednesday morning.

    "It's a bad deal, man," McElwain said.

  5. 5 things to do under $5: Wiener dog racing, Streetcar Festival, Clearwater chalk art, Dia De Los Muertos


    1Wienerfest: They had us at wiener dog racing. This day devoted to dachshunds features racing, a dog costume contest, food trucks, photo booth and raffles at the Florida State Fairgrounds on Saturday. Leashed dogs of all breeds welcome. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. Free admission. (407) …

    An entry in the costume contest from 2015's annual Dia de los Muertos Fiesta, or Day of the Dead Festival, hosted by Casa Tina's Mexican Restaurant.
photo courtesy Mikell Herrick