Birding can make you question your very existence…

The moon from St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park. May 2017

The red-cockaded woodpecker continues to elude us. People keep posting sightings of this bird at the St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park. Most of them claim to have seen the little bugger about 100 yards along the Yellow Trail. These sightings are marked “confirmed.” Whatever that means.

We have our doubts.

We’ve set out at various times of day. Your best bet for finding one is late afternoon…so they say. So this past weekend we trudged out, yet again, on the Yellow Trail. Heat beating down on our faces, our sunscreen having lost its protective effects much earlier in the day. The sand is thick in some parts and horse hooves have bored holes to trip us up. Beware the cacti. The wind whispers its mocking hymns above us.

The Florida scrubby flatwoods

About one hundred yards in, we hear it! That twittering, broken cat toy sound of the red-cockaded woodpecker! Alas. It’s some tiny perching birds of no consequence.

Oh, they’re in there. You can’t see them. But they’re up there in the trees teasing you.

Along we walk. Bone tired, we keep on. There is hope. Always hope. The bird is out here. We will find it. Eventually, we come to this sign:

But we’ve been led by that lie before. Kept going that way for miles and miles and miles. Not a bird in sight. This time, we head east instead. When we come to this sign, we know we’ve been idiots:

The signs are, as we begrudgingly admit, meaningless. Meaningless! We are no more likely to find woodpeckers down that unimaginably long trek north as we are to find deer here. Still, we keep on our journey. We spot those white ringed trees that laugh at us. Look here, they say. This is where we’ve pre-drilled holes for those non-existent peckerwoods you’re after. Come on, keep going. Keep looking. They’re here! Really! Would we lie to you?

The white stripe of lies!

When we realize we’ve come nearly to the levee where we began, we give up, turn around, and head back. Along the main trail we spot a doe and her fawn, brazenly hanging out along the main trail instead of Deer Link where they belong, the rule flouters!

We spot a red-bellied woodpecker. He too mocks us.

We begin to think the sightings are either unintentionally wrong or outright lies. Maybe those people heard the broken cat toy twitters and just assumed it was red-cockaded woodpeckers. Or maybe they’re all just liars! Liars!

There are no red-cockaded woodpeckers here. Red-bellied, yes. Even pileated.

Pileated woodpeckers

Yes. There are mockingbirds, meadowlarks,

Eastern Meadowlark

wild turkeys. Raccoons and armadillos.


Barn swallows. Swallow-tailed kites. Great horned owls. Osprey. Even bald eagles for Christ’s sake!

Yes. That’s a bald eagle. Pretty as you please.

But there are no god damned red-cockaded woodpeckers on the Yellow Trail at St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park!

We did it! We finally saw the red-cockaded woodpeckers! About 4:20 p.m., on Friday, May 12, some twenty yards onto the Yellow Trail, we heard the high pitched tweets and then the twittering that reminds us of the broken cat toy. Hubs walked into the brush a few feet and I looked and looked and then he pointed. I stepped off the trail and looked some more. And there it was!

The red-cockaded woodpecker does exist! (And he had at least one friend.)

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