“For I long to see you, …to the end ye may be established.” Romans 1:11
As I sit roadside peering into a batch of white-blazed Long-Leaf Pines, my eyes watering and blurring from over a half-hour of anticipatory scanning, I am amazed to think that at one time, millions of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers drummed across the eastern United States. But as the forests fell, so did the numbers of Dryobates borealis. In 1973, it was listed as an endangered species. Given my difficulty in spotting one on multiple trips to their prime habitat, it is obvious that they are still in peril.
The USFWS has been making attempts to bring back this little black-and-white woodpecker here in the Okefenokee Swamp. Along the western entrance to the refuge (Highway 177), tall stands of Long-leaf Pine, the primary nesting tree of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, are managed through prescribed burns and advanced forestry techniques. And high in those trees are placed artificial nest cavities for the woodpeckers.
Bearing a white ring at the base, the pines with the artificial nest cavities are easy to spot as you drive through the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Another tell-tale sign of woodpecker activity is the oozing white sap, like melting candle wax, that drips down from woodpecker excavations in the Long-leaf pines. This sap provides a sticky defense against climbing predators, such as snakes.
I hope these efforts pay off and that one day, instead of squinting for hours just hoping to see one Red-cockaded Woodpecker, we can let an unexcited exclamation of “there goes another one. Man, these woodpeckers are everywhere!” Until then, look for the white blazed tree and hope to spot this endangered little woodpecker.