Investigation of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers within the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge: 2018 report
The Virginia population of red-cockaded woodpeckers is the northernmost throughout the species range and has been in eminent danger of extinction for more than 30 years. The single remaining population within the Piney Grove Preserve has responded to intensive management and is now approaching capacity but continues to be at risk to stochastic events such as hurricanes, tornadoes and disease. To offset this risk a three-phase conservation plan was developed that includes the establishment of additional breeding locations. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge was identified as a high priority site for the establishment of a second population due to its capacity for habitat management and the similarity of habitat to non-typical red-cockaded woodpecker sites in nearby coastal North Carolina. In an effort to establish a population within the swamp, habitat management was initiated several years ago and translocation of birds into established recruitment clusters began in 2015. During the 2018 breeding season, three potential breeding groups were supported within the Great Dismal Swamp, NWR (clusters S2-3, S3-3, C3-3) and nest trees appeared to be prepared by early May. Clusters supporting potential breeding groups were monitored weekly from mid-April through June but no breeding attempts were documented. During the calendar year of 2018, 18 individual red-cockaded woodpeckers were identified within the Great Dismal Swamp, NWR including two birds from the 2015 translocation cohort, one bird from the 2016 translocation cohort, seven birds from the 2017 translocation/local productivity cohort and eight birds from the 2018 translocation cohort. Two birds were lost between the 2017 winter survey and the 2018 spring survey leaving three males and seven females during the breeding season. Two translocation events were executed during the fall of 2018 including a move of four birds (2 females and 2 males) from Carolina Sandhills, NWR and two birds (1 female and 1 male) from Palmetto-Peartree Preserve on 26 October and two birds (1 female and 1 male) from Piney Grove Preserve on 8 November. Eleven birds were detected during the 2018 winter survey. This compares to seven in 2015, eight in 2016 and twelve in 2017. A total of 65 woodpecker cavities had been created within the Great Dismal Swamp, NWR by the end of 2018. Three cavity trees were lost in October of 2016 during Hurricane Matthew, six cavity trees were lost in March of 2017 during high-wind events and three cavity trees were lost during a high-wind event in February of 2018. In addition, a natural cavity was lost during the February storm and a tree was lost to lightening during the fall of 2018. The second completed natural cavity (S3-2) was being used in December of 2018.