Saturday, May 3, 2014

White-headed Woodpecker

White-headed Woodpecker
White-headed Woodpecker. Hot Springs Mountain, California. April 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
Woodpeckers are my favorite group of birds and White-headed Woodpeckers are special. These are almost always associated with old growth ponderosa pine. Here in San Diego County they reach the southern limit of their range.

In the past 5 years of records in eBird, they have been seen only a few times, either at Hot Springs Mountain, where I found these birds, or at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The Cedar Fire in 2003 burned 99% (25,000 acres) of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, including all of the old-growth conifers, many of which had survived for 500 years.

White-headed Woodpeckers were also seen up to 2009 in El Prado Campground in the Laguna Mountains and Palomar Mountain. But there are no sightings in eBird from these locations since then. Admittedly, few birders are searching for them on those steep, rocky roads to the very tops of the 6,000 foot mountains.

The conifers here are just stragglers in some sheltered ravines at the top of some of the peaks. Extensive dense forests no longer exist. The conifer species include ponderosa, Coulter, Jeffrey, and sugar pine, white fir, and incense cedar, which appears to be the tree in the above photo.