My brother is awesome. He would use a Pokémon analogy to describe my Big Year quest. (Click on the underlined hyperlink if you need a refresher course on what Pokémon is) Like Ash Ketchum, in the mid-1990's Kev and I were Pokémasters, owning hundreds of trading cards of Japanese-anime style creatures, and spending the days after Christmas absorbed in a fictional world playing the latest Gameboy color version of Pokémon Red and Yellow. We had to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each character in order to pit them against other Pokémon in battles. It's kind of like the real-world food chains... kind of. I didn't deviate too far from my bird interests... there were plenty of bird Pokémon:
Family has always been really important to me. They have supported me unconditionally through everything I have done. Some interests, like Pokémon I have shared with my brother. Other things, like my interest in birds has been my own calling, which I have followed passionately. My enthusiasm has permeated into the lives of my immediate family, affecting each person in its own way- some more than others. My mother incorporates birds and shed antlers into our home decor. My dad has always been on the lookout for cool bird things at antique shops- surprising me at Christmas with a unique taxidermy piece, or a vintage bird book with cool illustrations. My brother has always helped me spot birds. He has a better eye than I do, and can spot the slightest movement at 50 yards in the brush or spotting a hawk a half mile away. I've always been impressed, and never said 'no' to him joining me in the field.
I've had the privilege of birding with my brother twice this year when I have passed through Houston, once in January and again in April. Our most recent adventure happened this past weekend, when his fiancé Paighton joined us just north of Houston at W G Jones State Forest. We ventured out into the forest in search of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, a bird I'd missed multiple times in Florida in January.
The Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCWO) is an endangered woodpecker of the Southeastern United States, found in mature pine forests. Males derive their name from a red patch of feathers near their ear, which is hard to observe in the field except at close range. Over-harvesting of pine forests have reduced the number of diseased trees that RCWO use to excavate nesting cavities. I learned they are the only woodpecker species to nest in living trees, thus the oozing sap protects the nest cavity from snakes, forming a sticky barrier. Conservation programs include creating artificial nest cavities, which are closely monitored by biologists to help re-establish populations across their range.
Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are also unique in that they form family groups, where the young from a previous year will help construct cavities and raise the chicks. I never knew that! This particular location is noted as the "most urbanized" subpopulation of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Bordered by subdivisions and highways, about 10 family groups of woodpeckers inhabit this area. We were fortunate to spend just over an hour in the afternoon hiking around the trails here, and encountered a pair of RCWO busily feeding on insects under the bark on the pine trees. How cool, to share this experience with Kevin and Paighton!