Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Our National Woodpecker

I'm vacationing with my wife and daughter in Washington DC. Yesterday morning, as we exited the new Capitol Visitor Center and walked south toward Independence Avenue, I heard the familiar cackle of a pileated woodpecker. Tourist camera in hand, I managed to get this (cropped) photo as it flew from a massive post oak.

I then turned about 180 degrees to take this photo, just to put the scene in context.

Now, I don't know how many acres of pileated woodpecker habitat exist on the National Mall, but I've walked most of it, and it's really not that much. It's hard to imagine more than a pair or two living there. I was quite surprised to see the bird, but perhaps I shouldn't have been. The area is basically a park, and there are a lot of old deciduous trees, but it's a very urban "forest," interspersed with museums, monuments, and open spaces. Still, had I been tasked last week with driving 900 miles to obtain evidence of a pileated woodpecker in my first hour of exploring the National Mall, I'd have probably said it couldn't be done.

I suppose there's a list of the birds of the Mall, but I haven't found one. The pileated is listed as "common" in nearby Rock Creek Park, a protected area. I'm fairly certain the presence of such a conspicuous bird at the Mall is already known. But reflecting back on my unsuccessful searches for the larger ivory-billed woodpecker down in Florida's Choctawhatchee, where people I know swear they've seen ivorybills, I wonder how long it would take for a team of experts to confirm my DC pileated sighting. Probably not very long, I'll grant you. If the tables were turned and it was the pileated whose existence was in doubt, would a photo of the same quality and resolution as mine be acceptable as evidence? No. Sadly, no photos or video even as good as this exists for the ivorybill. I remain hopeful, but I'm not nearly as optimistic as I once was.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Red Hills Stream

This is from an outing last week in the north Monroe County (Alabama) Red Hills with Bill Finch (pictured above) of The Nature Conservancy, Jodie Smithem of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and USFWS volunteer Garrett Lloyd. Bill showed us this tributary to Beaver Creek that has cut a 30-foot sheer bank into the Eocene-age Tallahatta/Hatchetigbee sedimentary deposits, exposing large rounded boulder-like concretions. Some are still protruding from the bank, and others are in the stream bed. The vertical bank supports a diversity of ferns, liverworts, mosses, and both local species of Hydrangea. The following clip contains three still images and a brief video of this gorgeous spot.

Dancing Insects

I'm not sure if these are scale insects or aphids. Would love to hear from an expert on this [UPDATE: I did. See below]. Last week, exploring Red Hills salamander habitat with TNC and USFWS people, we ran across this sight. NOTE: The date on the opening title is wrong; it should say 2009, not 2007.

The rattling sound is from the autofocus on my Canon camera, which is really a still camera but with a video option.

UPDATE, 7/14/09: Thanks to entomologist Charles Ray at the Alabama Cooperative Extension System in Auburn for identifying these as the Beech Blight Aphid (Grylloprociphilus imbricator). They range from Maine to Florida, and are found on American Beech (Fagus grandifolia). Charles provided this helpful link (pdf) from Massachusetts. A quote:
"it will raise the posterior end of its body and sway when it is disturbed. This action produces a dance-like effect that occurs throughout the colony. This phenomenon has led some to refer to this species as the 'Boogie-Woogie Aphid.' It is a unique experience to see hundreds, if not thousands, of these perform this defensive, yet highly entertaining, behavior."

Saturday, July 11, 2009


A new conservation organization has been formed in Alabama, dedicated solely to amphibians and reptiles. The national organization, Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), has been around for a decade now (I attended the organizational meeting in Atlanta back in '99 and have been involved ever since). PARC has been a great success and has spawned regional chapters including Southeast PARC (SE PARC). There are so far only a few state chapters, and I'm proud that Alabama now has one. Main credit for the existence of ALAPARC ( goes to Dave Steen and Sean Graham at Auburn, who really took the initiative in pulling it together. There's an ALAPARC blog over at Several conservation initiatives are in the works, and we're having our first "annual" meeting November 7-8 at the Solon Dixon Forestry Education Center near Andalusia. Registration information will soon be distributed to a pretty long email address list as well as posted to the ALAPARC website. Plan to come if you can.

Speaking of the website, it just went up today and is obviously very much "under construction." We are in need of an experienced and motivated webmaster who's willing to volunteer just a little time here and there to make it both attractive and current. Any takers? Let me know at

Thanks to Nathan Burkett for creating the logo. Now, who can ID the turtle silhouette to species? Hint: it's an appropriate symbol for the state.