Red-cockaded Woodpecker:
A rare bird's stronghold in Longleaf pine forest
By Damian Smith
© Feb. 28, 2015
@ 1:17 p.m.
A Column
     GAINESVILLE -- The red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) is truly a one-of-kind species and served as my gateway into conservation. It is the only woodpecker species in the world to make cavities in live trees and one of the few bird species found only in North America.

The male red-cockaded woodpecker has a small red patch on his head.
Photo From

     But the longleaf pine ecosystem (Pinus palustris) is necessary for the red-cockaded woodpeckers, and the decimation of this habitat has caused this woodpecker’s population to crash.

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     The longleaf pine ecosystem once dominated the Southeastern US, including most of Florida. The early Spanish explorers in the 1500s described being able to walk for days in an uninterrupted sea of grass and long needle pines. Shaped by frequent fires in the late spring and summer, it looked more like an African Savannah than a typical forest.
     The regular fires and vast area covered by longleaf pine created unique, diverse habitats for numerous plants and animals, many found exclusively within the bounds of that ecosystem. Unlike other pines species  such as slash or loblolly, its ability to survive in wet flatwood to dry upland habitats makes a forest dominated by longleaf pine an excellent choice for a variety of land-uses: wildlife, hunting, timber.
     But this isn’t the image most people visualize when they think of the Southern forest; instead, landowners, cattlemen, hunter, and city dwellers today imagine a hardwood forest with infrequent fire. The fire exclusion and destruction of the longleaf pine forest began after the civil war and led to the construction of the southern forest most people now see outside their houses. Today’s forests have caused problems for many unique creatures found in longleaf pine forests, such as the red-cockaded woodpecker, which saw its fortunes rise and fall along with the longleaf’s.
     As the longleaf pine forest declined so did the red-cockaded woodpecker populations, eventually leading to it being listed as a federal endangered species. Current populations are estimated at 1 percent, 12,500 birds, of the orginal population size.  It stands only about 8 inches with a wingspan of 14 inches and weighs 1.5 ounces. Only the males possess the red “cockade” behind the eye, with both sexes exhibiting black and white bars, a black crown and white cheeks. The territorial, non-migratory bird species lives in family groups averaging three to four animals, with a territory typically 125 to 200 acres in size.
     Red-cockaded woodpeckers exhibit a strong preference for mature longleaf pine over other southern pine species. It spends one to three years making a single cavity in a tree with red-heart rot, a fungus that affects the tree’s heartwood, in which it excavates nesting holes, drilling smaller holes to drain pitch. Groups live in loose colonies in clusters consisting of one to 20 cavities. Producing these cavities is difficult, so they aggressively defend their territories from other competitors rather than move.
    The red-cockaded woodpecker’s clusters where they live experience regular fire, with the best habitat marked by large-diameter mature pines, an open understory with few scrub oaks (also known as Turkey oak) and low shrubs to choke out the native grasses.
     The grasses are crucial for spreading the fire and maintaining an open understory, which provides the birds with plenty of insects. The birds’ cavities, combined with frequent fire, create plentiful habitat for small mammals, reptiles and insects after the woodpeckers abandon them. Larger woodpecker species, such as red-bellied and pileated woodpeckers, will take over and enlarge a cavitiy, eventually increasing the openings to later allow wood ducks, fox squirrels, raccoons and eastern screech owls to nest.
     A red-cockaded woodpecker’s presence in a longleaf stand indicates a healthy, productive and well-managed landscape, which protects the native biodiversity and provides for our other natural resources needs.
     Are you interested in having longleaf pine on your property? If so, Natural Resources Conservation Service provides technical and financial assistance. Learn more at your local USDA service center.
     PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Damian Smith has worked in both academic and government natural resource management programs with the U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station and North Carolina Plant Conservation. He is happiest when he can split his time between prescribed burns, research and land management.

Equipment guide for the Ghost Hunter
and the basics of using equipment

Digital tape recorders like the ones shown above are among the first items a Ghost Hunter will want to own.

Column and Photos

By Donna Jones © Feb. 26, 2015 @ 8:47 p.m.
      DIXIE COUNTY -- There is a variety of equipment for either a person on a budget or a person that wants to spend a lot of money and wants all the bells and whistles. Ghost hunting can be an expensive hobby, but you can use some basic equipment and get by with just these few items that I write about in this column.
      The first item you should use is a digital tape recorder. The purpose of using it is to capture electronic voice phenomenon or evp's. Evps are sounds found on an electronic recording that are interpreted as spirit voices that have been either unintentionally recorded or intentionally requested and recorded.
      I prefer to have more than one recorder. I like to carry one around with me and the others I place in other locations and just leave them on continuous record. When you first start your recording, state the date, time, location, and the names of the people present at the location. Also speak in a clear, normal tone and do not whisper.

Flashlights that shine red and white light, cameras and camcorders are useful tools for Ghost Hunters.

      Make sure you mark the recording, for example if you happen to cough or bang something, you state that, and then you will not have any confusion later in review. Ask questions pertaining to the location or people you know that have occupied the place. Some of my best evps I’ve captured have been when I sat my recorder down somewhere and left it running.
      The next piece of equipment for the Ghost Hunter is a digital camera. I found that as long as it has a bright enough flash and you can take clear pictures in the dark, you don’t have to buy the most expensive camera. The better the camera, the higher the ISO will be. Be aware of your surroundings because the flash will reflect off of surfaces.
      Make sure, if taking pictures outside, that is it not rainy, because not only can rain ruin equipment but it will also reflect the light from your flash. Also beware if it is foggy, because fog will look like a mist or anomaly that I call ectoplasm. And remember if you smoke, no smoking, because that can also give false pictures. Randomly take pictures and try to cover as much area as possible.
      A night vision camcorder is the next piece of basic equipment. I prefer to use the Sony camcorder with night shot and attach an external infrared light to it. Just like the tape recorder, when you start filming it’s good to state where you are, date and people present and the location. Again be aware of your surroundings, be careful of filming bugs and dust. Bugs and dust can be mistaken for orbs, and upon review, slow the video down or if you have the capability to do frame by frame you can usually determine if it’s a bug or dust.
      Dust can look like a snow storm or blizzard and bugs you can see their wings fluttering, and remember bugs are attracted to the infrared lights. There is also another form of camera you can purchase either in a regular digital camera or a camcorder and that is a full spectrum. The full spectrum can capture the range of the light spectrum that includes ultraviolet and infrared light, that the naked eye cannot see. It is speculated that entities or spirits can only be seen in these two upper and lower ranges of the light spectrum and that is why most people only see spirits out of the corner of their eyes or not at all.

Camcorders with night vision and infrared light are useful to Ghost Hunters.

      Of course that doesn’t explain the people who have had face-to-face experiences with spirits. I believe some people are more open or more in tune to spirit communication, and that explains why some people have those encounters.
      The last piece of equipment you can use is a thermometer, which is used to determine if there is a fluctuation of the temperature in the room. It is believed that if a spirit manifests they can manipulate the temperature. Look for open windows vents, or fans for possible sources of the cold spots. Move the thermometer around to pinpoint the area where the cold spot starts and ends, and if it is concentrated in one area then you may have something trying to manifest.

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      This is a good time to utilize your other equipment such as cameras and tape recorders to try to communicate. Sometimes you may not need the aid of the thermometer if there is a significant temperature change. And don’t forget you will need both white and red-lensed flashlights.
      The red-lensed flashlight is better because it maintains your vision that you have adapted for the dark and the red will not interfere with the infrared on the cameras.
      I hope I provided you here with the basics of some of the equipment used for ghost hunting.  Remember be aware of your surroundings, don’t go alone, get permission to enter places, be safe and happy ghost hunting.
      PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Donna Jones lives in Dixie County and investigates paranormal occurrences. She will be submitting columns and photos on occasion to


Zoodles Visits School
Zoodles Animal Education inspired and educated Whispering Winds Charter School students, staff and parents on Monday (Feb. 23). The animal ambassadors of the day included an Eastern Gray Kangaroo, an Indonesian Blue Tongue Skink, a Bearded Dragon, a Chinchilla and a Ball Python Snake.
 Students participated by asking and answering questions. Among all the intriguing animals, the Eastern Gray Kangaroo was the favorite. Zoodles Animal Education travels among the U.S. educating people of all ages with specific animal ambassadors.
Published Feb. 26, 2015 @ 8:07 p.m.
Photos and Text by Shawn Royce

FWC seeks input on plan
for conserving 60 Florida species

This picture of Roseate Spoonbills and their baby is among those provided by the FWC. Several of the imperiled species can be found in the Tri-County Area of Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties.
Photo Provided

Published Feb. 24, 2015 @ 7:37 p.m.
     FLORIDA -- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has released a draft plan to conserve 60 fish and wildlife species, including the Florida burrowing owl, roseate spoonbill, Big Cypress fox squirrel, Florida bog frog and blackmouth shiner.
     The Imperiled Species Management Plan is an innovative new wildlife conservation model for Florida. The draft plan combines actions targeted to protect each of the 60 species with broader integrated strategies benefiting multiple species.
     The process of determining how to best conserve dozens of Florida’s imperiled species listed currently as either state-threatened or species of special concern began in 2010, when the FWC adopted the new model. It conducted Biological Status Reviews of the 60 species that did not already have a draft or final management plan and then completed 49 Species Actions Plans to address the needs of all 60 species, including 37 to continue being listed as state-threatened, five as species of special concern, three that have been federally listed, and 15 being removed from the imperiled species list because they did not meet the criteria for being listed as state-threatened.
     The big-picture approach, developed over multiple years by FWC staff in conjunction with partners and stakeholders, focuses on improving imperiled species conservation by filling in key information gaps and emphasizing cooperative efforts with other agencies, private landowners, stakeholders and the public. The FWC designed the draft plan to achieve conservation efficiencies and accountability by identifying key priorities and measurable goals.
     The draft plan is available online for public review and comment. Visit, click on “Imperiled Species” and then scroll down to “read, review and comment” on the right-hand side. The initial period for public input lasts through March 13.
     “Florida has a diversity of imperiled species, from the American oystercatcher with its striking black and white plumage and bright orange bill, to the Santa Fe cave crayfish that lives entirely in below-ground aquatic caves. Preserving Florida’s rich biodiversity of species for future generations is the goal of the newly drafted plan,” said Laura Barrett, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management Plan coordinator.
     “With this plan, the FWC invites our many partners and the public to play prominent roles in conservation of imperiled fish and wildlife,” said Barrett. “Effective long-term stewardship of 60 species in this rapidly growing state requires all of us to work together on critical issues such as species monitoring, habitat conservation and education and outreach efforts.”
     The draft plan includes summaries that serve as introductions to the 60 species, some of which are familiar to many people but others that are less well-known. Each one-page summary includes a species photo, description and Florida range map, along with the animal’s status, identified threats and conservation approaches.
     What species are included in the plan? Here’s the list:
     • Mammals: Big Cypress fox squirrel, Eastern chipmunk, Everglades mink, Florida bonneted bat, Florida mouse, Homosassa shrew, Sanibel Island rice rat, Sherman's fox squirrel and Sherman’s short-tailed shrew.
     • Birds: American oystercatcher, black skimmer, brown pelican, Florida burrowing owl, Florida sandhill crane, least tern, limpkin, little blue heron, Marian's marsh wren, osprey (Monroe County population only), reddish egret, roseate spoonbill, Scott's seaside sparrow, snowy egret, snowy plover, Southeastern American kestrel, tricolored heron, Wakulla seaside sparrow, white-crowned pigeon, white ibis and Worthington's marsh wren.
     • Reptiles: Alligator snapping turtle, Barbour’s map turtle, Florida brown snake (lower Keys population only), Florida Keys mole skink, Florida pine snake, Key ringneck snake, Peninsula ribbon snake (lower Keys population only), red rat snake, rim rock crowned snake, short-tailed snake, striped mud turtle (lower Keys population only) and Suwannee cooter.
     • Amphibians: Florida bog frog,Georgia blind salamander, gopher frog and Pine Barrens treefrog.
     • Fish: Atlantic sturgeon, blackmouth shiner, bluenose shiner, crystal darter, Key silverside, harlequin darter, Lake Eustis pupfish, mangrove rivulus, saltmarsh topminnow and Southern tessellated darter.
     • Corals: Pillar coral.
     • Crustaceans: Black Creek crayfish and Santa Fe cave crayfish.
     • Mollusks: Florida tree snail.
     For more on Florida imperiled species, go to and click on “Imperiled Species.”

Great Performances Slated
Actors in the Williston Community Theater are performing “Knowing Cairo,” a play by Andrea Stolowitz. In this play, Rose (played by Gail Deckant), an elderly German-Jewish New Yorker, is a screamer. Approaching 80, she has managed to scare away an array of caretakers with her overwhelming antics. That is until her busy psychoanalyst daughter, Lydia (played by Nancy Perez) hires Winsome (played by Twanda Miller), an African American woman, who proves to be Rose's match. When Lydia realizes how close the two have become, she suspects Winsome of being a clever grifter. But is her suspicion based on truth, or merely produced by jealously? Alternately funny, moving and disturbing, this play raises questions of trust, race and family obligation. Performances are March 14, 15, 21 and 22, starting at 3 p.m. each day at Williston Middle School, 20550 N.E. 42nd Place in Williston. Tickets cost $12 for adults and $6 for children.
Published Feb. 24, 2015 @ 8:47 a.m.
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Seahorse Key closes until July
Published Feb. 24, 2015 @ 9:17 a.m.

     GULF OF MEXICO -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Monday (Feb. 23) the seasonal closure of Seahorse Key, the site of the rookery of approximately 20,000 birds in the Gulf of Mexico off of Levy County.
     When the staff of Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge says, “Wildlife Comes First!” they are serious. Seahorse Key, its beaches, and the 300-foot perimeter are posted CLOSED from March 1 through the last day of June.
     The beaches will be accessible again starting on July 1.  
     The parent birds, after breeding, building the nest, and incubating the eggs, then have to travel across the Gulf to freshwater in order to gather food for their young.  This is a time the birds need refuge from human intrusion, therefore, charged with the care of our nation’s wildlife, the federal agency closes Seahorse Key, a part of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, for the nesting period.
     The next Seahorse Key Open House will be July 11, from 9 a.n. until 3 p.m. Some young birds will remain for everyone’s viewing. Visitors are adviced to bring a camera and the family. For more information, call 352-493-0238.

By Myrtice Scabarozi © Feb. 24, 2015 @ 12:27 p.m.

     LEVY COUNTY -- The Log Cabin Quilters met Thursday (Feb. 19) at the Levy County Quilt Museum -- 11050 N.W. 10th Ave. (near Levyville, kind of on the way to Judson from U.S. Alt. 27).
     Quilting was done on both of the quilts in the frames. The small quilt should be finished in another week or so. Other quilters were busy with their own projects.
     Correctional Officer Greg and the boys were out from Lancaster Correctional Institution's Youthful Offender Rehabilitation Program. The yard was in need of a little work as the weeds are growing in spite of the cold weather. Thanks Lancaster.
     There wasn’t much going on at the museum this week. The cold weather kept us indoors. We ‘re looking forward to warm days so we can sit in the swings or rocking chairs and enjoy the fresh air on the porch. Come out for a visit when it gets warmer.

Cheri is working on a new tote bag.
Another use of jellyrolls
B.J. made the log cabin squares with a star and Ailien added a little to them and made a table runner.


SAT.   FEB. 28   1:17 p.m.
Levy, Dixie, Gilchrist counties

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