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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Northern Bobwhite, Red-headed Woodpecker and Sandhill Crane

[Lehigh Acres, FL. Aug 2014]

The distribution of bird families in the US is not even across the Eastern and Western halves of the continent. We, in the East, are considerably richer in Warblers, Herons, and Shorebirds. However, the West wins in Thrashers, Tanagers and Quail.

For example, of all our Quail species -- Montezuma, Scaled, Gambel's, Mountain, California and Northern Bobwhite -- it is only the latter that is found in the Eastern US. And, seeing our only Eastern Quail -- the Bobwhite -- is not as easy as it used to be. In fact, since the '70's, the Bobwhite has lost over 80% of its population due to the same familiar yet fatal reasons that caused the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon a hundred years ago: habitat loss and hunting.

Thus, thanks to an invite from Bob Pelkey, I jumped at the opportunity to observe our only Eastern quail as well as observe the spectacular Red-headed Woodpecker at a newly discovered hotspot in Lehigh Acres, FL.

We start with Northern Bobwhite:

Northern Bobwhite observed at Lehigh Acres

The male of the species is a real stunner -- the face is white and boldly marked in black while the upperparts are richly patterned in chestnut and black. However, Bobwhite are shy birds and it is infinitely easier to hear the distinctive two-tone "Bob White" whistle of the male than to observe them out in the open.

Northern Bobwhite observed at Lehigh Acres

Having dipped on Montezuma Quail (but not with Scaled Quail) in Texas earlier this summer (see Big Bend Post here), it was a real treat to observe my second quail species of the year.

The main attraction, however, at this venue is the Red-headed Woodpecker:

Red-headed Woodpecker seen in Lehigh Acres

Our most striking woodpecker, the Red-headed is a real stunner with its white, black and red color scheme. It is unusual in many respects -- it is not sexually dimorphic (unlike our other woodpeckers) and it also an unusually eclectic diet consisting of nuts, fruit and insects -- the latter it not only extracts by drilling into trees but also from the ground and air.

 Red-headed Woodpecker seen in Lehigh Acres

Sadly, the one thing the Red-headed Woodpecker shares in common with the Northern Bobwhite is its conservation status of "Near Threatened" -- having suffered a precipitous decline of 65% over the last 4 decades.

The other woodpecker observed was the always delightful Northern Flicker:

Northern Flicker seen at Lehigh Acres

Finally, as this venue is not far from Harns Marsh, a quick detour on the return yielded, in addition to the familiar waders, a family of Sandhill Crane:

Sandhill Crane seen at Harns Marsh

Being generally accustomed to seeing this species in Winter when they are draped in silvery grey, the prominent ocher coloration of the crane's alternate plumage was a nice surprise and a perfect way to cap an excellent morning of birding.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

It was a special morning indeed, Hemant, and very much enjoyed your company. The sighting of the Northern Bobwhite was particularly exciting for me. Your perspective of it is significantly better with wonderful framing of the bird in the foliage. While we appeared to be surrounded by bobwhites as indicated by their calls, the birds not surprisingly remained elusive visually. I'm glad you captured the flight of the Northern Flicker. I was disappointed to have missed it myself. I hope the RHWO property remains undeveloped so the birds may have continued success in the area.