Tag Archives: Great Dismal Swamp

Dr. Bryan Watts from the Center for Conservation Biology prepares an artificial cavity to receive a red-cockaded woodpecker in 2015. These woodpeckers live in mature pine forests, where trees may be up to 100 years old. The birds nest and roost in tree cavities that they dig and maintain. Around the cavities, the birds peck holes that weep resin. The resin protects eggs and young against snakes and other predators. © Robert B. Clontz / The Nature Conservancy.

Swipe right, woodpeckers! Endangered birds trucked to Great Dismal Swamp in hopes of matchmaking

Do endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers know what’s at risk? Sure, if I strike out on Tinder or eHarmony.com, I’d be pretty frustrated, probably gloomy. For these rare woodpeckers, not pairing up has high stakes.

The soft, melodious social calls of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers were absent from Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge for over 40 years. That is, until last fall, when biologists trucked eight six-month-old birds from the Carolina Sandhills refuge in South Carolina and the Palmetto-Peartree Preserve in North Carolina to the southeast Virginia pine pocosin forest.

Biologists tucked birds into their new digs, pre-dug artificial cavities  30 feet high in native pines, and at sunrise, pulled screens from in front of their cavities to set them free. The release marked the first significant step in the multi-year effort to establish Virginia’s second population and the northernmost public outpost of one of the country’s first federally endangered birds.


Now, most of us are pretty familiar with “the birds and the bees.” We know if the birds don’t link up, there are no chirping little ones to be found. And with no little ones, there will be no future birds, and no population. So, biologists waited with anticipation until this past spring to see what these cardinal-sized woodpeckers would do.

Did we say watching, waiting yet? Much anticipation here folks. Credit: Kelly Morris/USFWS

Did we say watching, waiting yet? Much anticipation here folks. Credit: Kelly Morris/USFWS

“Two birds paired up over the winter, but they didn’t breed, which isn’t completely off the wall for first year birds,” says refuge manager Chris Lowie. “Three males flew off, leaving three females that have been establishing their own territories.”

Enter phase two. On the night of October 21, biologists at Carolina Sandhills refuge finished trapping four males and four females. They started the five hour drive north, stopping every hour to feed the birds. In the dark hours of early morning at Great Dismal Swamp, they again tucked the young birds into new homes. A couple dozen volunteers waited in excitement, poised to assist with the release at sunrise.

When the light came, the screens came down and the birds were free to check out their new neighborhoods.

“All birds seemed happy,” Chris says. “They paired up and were talking to each other right from the start. Let’s hope they all stay!” Weeks later, on November 14, biologists brought two extra males north for the three females already at the refuge.

Dr. Bryan Watts from the Center for Conservation Biology prepares an artificial cavity to receive a red-cockaded woodpecker in 2015. These woodpeckers live in mature pine forests, where trees may be up to 100 years old. The birds nest and roost in tree cavities that they dig and maintain. Around the cavities, the birds peck holes that weep resin. The resin protects eggs and young against snakes and other predators. © Robert B. Clontz / The Nature Conservancy.

Dr. Bryan Watts from the Center for Conservation Biology prepares an artificial cavity to receive a red-cockaded woodpecker in 2015. These woodpeckers live in mature pine forests, where trees may be up to 100 years old. The birds nest and roost in tree cavities that they dig and maintain. Around the cavities, the birds peck holes that weep resin. The resin protects eggs and young against snakes and other predators. © Robert B. Clontz / The Nature Conservancy.

Here’s where “pairing up” gets interested with the red-cockaded woodpecker. This territorial bird stays put (doesn’t migrate like many of our birds) and forms groups that include one breeding pair and up to four “helper” birds. Those helper birds are typically males, and they help incubate eggs and feed young.

Previous endeavors to reintroduce the birds in Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida have been successful, with the birds populating and reproducing in these areas. At Great Dismal Swamp, biologists are closely monitoring the translocated birds, which were released from their cavities Thursday morning. Additional translocations and releases will continue once a year for a minimum of three years.

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The red-cockaded woodpecker was once common throughout the southern U.S., from southern New Jersey to Florida and west to east Texas and Oklahoma. As mature pine forest habitat was cutover, and forest management practices changed over the first half of the century, the woodpecker’s population significantly declined, spurring its protection in 1970 under the Endangered Species Act. By 1994, just 4,200 red-cockaded woodpecker breeding pairs remained. Today, in response to new conservation science, recovery, and habitat restoration programs, there are 6,400 potential breeding pairs. Credit: USFWS

Virginia’s only existing population is at The Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove Preserve in Sussex County, where the population has grown from 11 birds in 2002 to 67 adults in spring 2015. Having a new breeding colony “will help protect the Virginia population against loss from catastrophic events such as disease and storms, and put the bird on the track to recovery,” says Lowie. So…swipe right woodpeckers!

Partners in the Great Dismal project include the Service, The Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary, The Nature Conservancy, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, North Carolina Department of Transportation, J. Carter and Associates, and other local groups. Funding for the effort comes from the Service’s Cooperative Recovery Initiative, which focuses on restoring threatened and endangered species on national wildlife refuges and surrounding lands.

 

Check out other recent efforts:

 

The view from above – an aerial tour of Hurricane Sandy recovery and resiliency sites: Day 5

I’m Rick Bennett, Regional Scientist for the Northeast Region. This week, I am part of a team taking to the air to tour some of the locations that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Each evening, I will be sharing a little about what we saw, the projects on the ground and how we are working to ensure the coastline and the surrounding communities are #StrongAfterSandy. (Keith Shannon/USFWS)

I’m Rick Bennett, Regional Scientist for the Northeast Region. This week, I was part of a team that toured sites that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Each evening, I shared a little about what we saw, the projects on the ground and how we are working to ensure the coastline and the surrounding communities are #StrongAfterSandy. (Keith Shannon/USFWS)

The last day of our trip surveying Hurricane Sandy recovery and resiliency sites focused on the more than 112,000-acre Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The projects at the refuge will install, repair, or replace water control structures on some of the many ditches that have been dug throughout the refuge – some dating back to the days of George Washington. Increased control over water levels at the refuge will not only create a habitat more resilient to large storms, wildfires, and drought, but it will also help protect the city of Chesapeake and the Deep Creek community against flood events.

It was an awe-inspiring week, being able to see the scope and vastness of the projects that will help create a more resilient coast – benefitting so many communities along the way. It was also great to meet with staff and partners at the refuges and other project sites and see how dedicated they are to both the natural resources and the wellbeing of the residents that live in the surrounding cities and towns. And thanks to pilot Dale Fowler for giving us such a smooth ride!

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A tool to hunt fires in the Great Dismal Swamp?

It’s been two years since a lightning strike sparked the Lateral West Fire that burned at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge for four months. The fire burned over 6,000 acres in Virginia and North Carolina as more than 400 firefighters from local, state and federal government agencies worked to extinguish it.

Our friends at NASA’s Langley Research Center have begun a project to design and build equipment that could help locate fire sources within the Great Dismal Swamp. Check out how Mike Logan, an aerospace engineer is leading a team to design an build an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle to do just that, which could help put out fires in the swamp and possibly save money.

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A firey tornado rages off Corapeake Road in the Lateral West Wildlfire on Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. The fire burned in the scar of the 2008 South One Fire in a restoration area for Atlantic white cedar. Credit: Greg Sanders/USFWS

The following story was originally published on the NASA website: 

You could say that the idea came to him in a cloud of smoke.

Over the summer, Mike Logan, an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center, put a group of students to work designing and building an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that could one day help to snuff out fires in Virginia’s Great Dismal Swamp.

The origins of the project go back to August of 2011. A lightning strike in the swamp sparked a blaze that ended up burning for four months. At one point, wind pushed the smoke as far north as Maryland. Logan, who lives due north of the swamp in South Hampton Roads, often found his house in the path of the acrid cloud.

“After choking down a few dozen clouds worth of peat bog smoke, which I found out I’m allergic to, I thought, you know, there really ought to be a better way,” he said. Head over to the NASA website to keep reading this story >>