Thursday, January 05, 2012

In Red headed Woodpecker Country

January 4 marked the last day of the 112th Christmas Bird Count. Since 2004, I have conducted winter bird surveys outside of an official Christmas Bird Count circle in an area of high natural integrity, the terrific managed woodlands in the Niangua Basin. Last year I wrote about the disappearance of the red headed woodpeckers here, not a gradual decline but an abrupt absence of them in the winter bird survey results. In 2004, I counted no fewer than 100, and by 2010, I didn’t detect one.

In 2012, they’re back, and in droves. The chuckling call of red headed woodpeckers surrounded me yesterday morning, so many I had to write quickly to record all of them and the rest of the suite of wintering birds—chickadees, red bellied woodpeckers, tufted titmice, brown creepers, and 17, no, 20, and then 3 more red headeds…they were everywhere. Flying from white oak to post oak through the woodlands, their chuckling undoubtedly masked the high-pitched “zeep!” of tiny golden-crowed kinglets that may have been around.

The goal of my survey was to cover as much ground as humanly possible in one full day, and to beat my last year’s count total of 36 species for one 3,700 acre area. I normally don’t spend time birding in old fields with cedars and blackberry brambles, but I did yesterday knowing that I can always find sparrows there: Song, Lincoln’s, and Field Sparrows congregated in a little island of sericea stalks, 5 ft tall cedars, and scraggly little bluestem. Field sparrows were also hanging out in a shrubby area of a big dolomite glade, one of the few glades that haven’t been burned this year. On Christmas Bird Counts, it’s a common practice to count birds that visit bird feeders, so my non-natural community birding in the old field counts, even though I normally don’t go birding in old fields. The intact natural communities should provide sufficient food, water, shelter for birds that in this heterogeneous landscape, they don’t need old fields. But the sparrows hang out there anyway.

High winds picked up in the afternoon, and I never picked up either ruby crowned or golden crowned kinglet or a hermit thrush, darn it, but the gadwalls and wood ducks in the spring pushed my list to 38 species. Of course, spring birding is only a few months away, that magical time of year when the migrants travel through the Ozarks to their breeding grounds in Canada, allowing us to see boreal forest species in all their brilliant spring plumage without having to fly there ourselves.


Pix at Under the Oaks said...

Allison I am so glad your blog is back on my Google Reader. I have been following and reading you a long time as Rural Rambles. Then recently I didn't see your blog, I believe you took it private. I retired my Rural Rambles blog and went to Wordpress but I check my Google Reader every dang day AND there you were this morning! We have at least three Red Headed Woodpeckers that visit or reside on our "Tiny Ten" acres and they come to the bird baths for sips and hit our suet too. We have never seen a RH Woodpecker until three weeks ago. We live just South of Jeff. Had lunch with our neighbor yesterday at her house and a Red Head flew right in front of her kitchen window. Must have been one of ours ;) Thank you for the Name/URL option in your comments!

Allison Vaughn said...

Thanks so much for reading! Red headeds are just spectacular birds--I don't see them up here (north of Jeff), but it's awesome that you're seeing them there. They were really common at my feeders when I lived in Osage Beach. I just love those birds!

Anonymous said...

We had a large male red headed wood pecker this morning in a dying tree outside our home at Stone Bridge Village (Ledgestone Country Club) in Branson West. He was simply beautiful!