Wednesday, May 12, 2010: Woke up at 0500 to start the day. 0500 still feels like 0400 as I just about got used to the time difference while I was up in Pensacola. Met Michelle at the FWC office just down the road at 0530 and loaded up the truck to leave. Michelle works as a Biologist I here on the WMA and is also the other person living in the trailer/cabin with me. Today’s job was to go monitor RWC nests to see if any eggs had been laid. The RWC’s live in what’s referred to as clusters. A cluster consists usually of only two birds (a mated pair) and sometimes three with a helper male from a previous year’s hatch. What’s startling about these birds is that they require approx. 300 acres of pine flat woods per cluster. They also are the only woodpeckers to dig out holes in live trees (some birds take advantage of these holes and make their nests in them as well. Flying squirrels do the same). We had a total of five clusters that needed to be checked. I drove the truck out to the first cluster while it was still dark and dragged a spotting scope and tripod out to the trees that the birds were roosted in. About 20 minutes after light, the birds came out of their holes and began foraging. Every bird has been banded with a specific combination of colors on their legs. It was our job to spot the color sequence to find out which birds were roosting in these trees and to find out if a bird from another cluster had moved in. Spotting the birds with the spotting scope sucks. Not only is it hard to just make sure you’re looking at the right tree, but 90% of the time the scope is zoomed in to far or is out of focus. By the time you get the bird into focus and start looking at his legs, he zooms over to another tree so that you must repeat the process. After chasing the birds through palmetto thickets and finally getting band combinations, it was time to look inside the roosts. For this we used what’s known as the “peeper”. It’s essentially a retractable PVC pipe that can extend to about 60 ft. On the end is mounted a camera at a 90 degree angle and at the bottom is a camera. The pole is extended up a tree to the hole and then the camera is pushed inside. From there it is possible to tell what’s inside the roost. Over the course of the day we found about 7 eggs inside roosts (2 roosts with 3 eggs each and 1 with only 1 egg). One of the nests that were checked already had chicks inside. On the way back to the trailer, we ran into two people banding blue bird chicks. I was able to watch as the last of five chicks were banded and put back in the nest.
Once back at the office, I essentially had nothing else to do but had only worked for about 5.5 hours. I was offered the keys to the truck and asked if I wanted to drive around to learn the WMA and get paid for it. I gladly accepted. I drove around the WMA for about two hours before my stomach decided it was time to stop. After returning the truck, I hopped in the Jeep and headed back to St. Cloud for groceries. They farm sod of all things out here so there are always sod trucks coming down the two lane highway. On the way back, I passed one of these semi’s coming from the other direction. The wind of us passing each other was strong enough that it snapped the rubber hood clamp on the Jeep clean off. With the hood threatening to pay me a visit through the windshield, I was forced to limp back to the trailer at 45 mph. After I got back I grabbed a quick bite, and headed out fishing. Took the fly rod and fished a creek nearby as well as a canal on the other side of the WMA. The creek had nothing but gar in it and I missed a big bluegill in the canal. I fished till dark and then came back. Over the course of the day I saw: 3 deer, 2 rabbits, 8 quail, 3 Osceola turkey, 1 gator, 1 turtle, 1 Sandhill Crane, 1 Swallowtailed Kite, 9 RCW’s, 3 Hawks (of some sort), 2 armadillos and 5 bluebird chicks. Gotta be up at 0500 again tomorrow