Friday, April 10, 2015

Into the Woods–The New Field Season Begins

My 2015 field season kicked off in a spectacular way. The first project involves surveying for Pileated and White-headed Woodpeckers in the Boise National Forest. Both species are “Management Indicator Species” for the Boise National Forest. The Pileated is much more common of the two.  The White-headed Woodpecker is rare and is currently listed by the Idaho Fish and Game as a “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” with a rank of “Imperiled”. The White-headed Woodpecker is also listed as a “Sensitive” species by the USDA Forest Service.

I have 14 survey routes to complete over the next few weeks, which should keep me plenty busy. I am able to survey one route a day starting 30 minutes before local sunrise and finishing the route about 10am. I then have to hike back out and move camp to the next survey route. During last year’s surveys, we failed to detect White-headed Woodpeckers on any of the 25 survey routes, but had quite a few Pileated Woodpeckers present. The White-headed Woodpecker is rare in the forest, but we should find at least a few on survey.  We hoped our luck would change that this year.

I departed home in the late afternoon, heading to set up camp at my first survey route east of Idaho City, Idaho. My camp was right at the first point of the survey on a beautiful ridge. Red-tailed Hawks and Common Ravens soared overhead. It was great to be back in the woods. It was cool and breezy, but the clouds from the previous few days were beginning to clear.

That evening, I was arranging my gear when I heard what I was sure was a White-headed Woodpecker. I jumped up and grabbed my binoculars. I scanned the area where the call had come from and found two Hairy Woodpeckers. Their rattle calls are very similar, but I was sure I had heard a White-headed. I couldn’t believe I was wrong. I searched some more and all I found were the two Hairy Woodpeckers. My confidence was shaken… I went back to work on my gear, when, there it was, I heard it again! It had to be a White-headed Woodpecker.  I resumed my search and bingo, not only were there two Hairy Woodpeckers, but two White-headed Woodpeckers. Fantastic! I spent the evening watching and listening to both pairs. They alternated between forging independently, mixed with bouts of inter-species aggression.

In this interaction the female Hairy Woodpecker seemed to be a bit more aggressive and winning the stare-down with the male White-headed. She eventually pushed the White-headed down the branch until it left. She did not pursue.

Male White-headed Woodpecker staring up at female Hairy Woodpecker, Boise National Forest.

Male White-headed Woodpecker staring up at female Hairy Woodpecker, Boise National Forest.

Male White-headed Woodpecker, Boise National Forest.

Female White-headed Woodpecker, Boise National Forest.

On survey the next morning, I detected the male White-headed at the first point. The drought was over! At one of my later survey points I found a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers each foraging on a dead log, but I only got photos of the male.

Male Pileated Woodpecker, Boise National Forest.

Male Pileated Woodpecker, Boise National Forest.

When I arrived back at my camp after the survey, there was also a Pileated in my camp! What a great first day of surveys – White-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, and Red-naped Sapsucker among many other cool birds. The other big find was a Barred Owl hooting just before sunrise. This is a very rare breeding bird in this area. Lets see what the second day has in store!

Day 2: My surveys on the second day were along the Warm Springs Ridge, west of Idaho City. Unfortunately, my luck from day one didn’t carry over to day two. I found Hairy Woodpeckers and Red-naped Sapsuckers on survey. After the survey was over and I was hiking back to camp, I did observe Pileated Woodpeckers. I plan for a couple of days off and then launch on six days in a row next week.

Sunrise on Warm Springs Ridge, Boise National Forest.

And then … the worlds worst selfie! Maybe I should focus more on smiling than on taking the photo. Ha.Ha.

Raptor Rob’s poor attempt at a selfie!

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