4 months ago

Alabama Power biologists doing their part to protect, nurture rare bird

The red-cockaded woodpecker is making a slow but steady comeback at a site near Lake Mitchell.

On a remote hill along the shore of Lake Mitchell, a spring ritual is underway once again.

It’s nesting time for the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. And this spot, dotted with longleaf pines, is one of a few privately held sites in central Alabama with a small but growing population of the rare birds.

For years, Alabama Power biologists and foresters have worked with federal officials to nurture and improve this important habitat, with the goal of helping expand the woodpeckers’ numbers.

On a brisk but sunny April afternoon, Chad Fitch, an environmental specialist at Alabama Power, makes his way through the longleaf forest above the lake, taking stock.

Using a wireless camera strapped to a long pole, Fitch peeks into the woodpeckers’ nesting cavities, carved into the pines, about 22 feet up. He’s checking to see which ones are already occupied by the rare birds, and which ones may have been commandeered by predators or squatters, such as flying squirrels, or gray rat snakes. Smacking or scraping the tree’s trunk with a large branch or rock can help scare off the unwanted animals.

Fitch is particularly interested in nine, new artificial cavities that were added to the site earlier this year. To help increase the woodpecker population, bird conservation experts in recent years have taken to installing artificial cavities – basically tiny birdhouses inserted into mature pines – to encourage more breeding. It can take six months to a year and a half for woodpeckers to carve natural breeding cavities into the trees’ soft wood.

“I’m optimistic,” Fitch remarked. The nine new artificial cavities are in good shape, including four installed in a new “recruitment area” – a section of the 1,779-acre site that has been newly prepared to make it more conducive for woodpeckers to find and occupy.

The survival of the red-cockaded woodpecker is dependent on open, longleaf pine habitat. At one time longleaf forests blanketed more than 90 million acres, from Virginia to Texas. But extensive timbering, starting in the mid-19th century, plus decades of commercial and residential development and fire suppression have left only a fraction of the original longleaf forests intact. And with the decline of the forest, so went the woodpecker.

Over the past 20 years, however, a broad coalition of public and private partners has been working to re-establish healthy longleaf pine habitat and secure the future of the red-cockaded woodpecker. And real progress has been achieved.

According to a just-released report by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), over the past 10 years the amount of healthy longleaf forest in the Southeast has grown – from a historic low of about 3.4 million acres to 4.7 million acres. And with that growth, the number of red-cockaded woodpeckers also has grown.

At the time the woodpecker was first listed as a federally endangered species, in 1970, only around 10,000 were still known to exist in the United States – down from an original estimated population of between 900,000 and 1.5 million. Today, the number is more than 14,000.

The work at Lake Mitchell represents a small portion of that progress.

Team effort to track, assist unique woodpeckers in Alabama from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

For years, Alabama Power has cared for and improved this small section of longleaf pine forest. The care includes periodic, controlled burns to clear off undergrowth and encourage native grasses and wildflowers. A healthy longleaf forest more closely resembles a sun-dappled savannah, with widely dispersed, mature trees, rather than a densely packed pine plantation. It is also a habitat bursting with a diversity of plants and animals. According to the NRCS report, healthy longleaf forests support an estimated 900 plant species, 100 bird species, 36 mammal species and 170 species of reptiles and amphibians.

Alabama Power and parent Southern Company also have partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and others on a broader effort to expand and improve longleaf pine habitat across the Southeast. Since its creation in 2012, NFWF’s Longleaf Stewardship Fund has secured more than $37 million for projects that will establish more than 100,000 acres of new longleaf forest and improve more than 1.7 million acres of existing habitat. Alabama benefited from six Longleaf Stewardship Fund grants awarded in 2019.

During the April-to-June nesting season at Lake Mitchell, biologists from Alabama Power, including Fitch, record the number of breeding pairs of red-cockaded woodpeckers, the number of eggs laid and the number of surviving fledglings. The information is shared with state and federal officials.

If the observations show there are more birds than suitable cavities, the company works with partners to add more cavities so that each breeding pair can find a home.

The work is paying off. In 2003, when experts first started counting, there were 14 red-cockaded woodpeckers at the Lake Mitchell site. Last year, officials counted 32 adults that produced 13 fledglings, bringing the population to 45.

“We’ll be going out about once a week, until the end of June,” Fitch said. “We are hopeful the woodpeckers will use the newly installed cavities and move into the new recruitment site. We are very optimistic they will use it.”

If all goes as planned, it will be another, small step on the red-cockaded woodpecker’s slow but steady comeback trail.

Learn more about Alabama Power’s environmental stewardship efforts at www.alabamapower.com. Click “Our Company,” “The Environment” and then “Stewardship”.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

6 hours ago

Chuck Martin endorses Republican Russell Bedsole in Alabama House District 49

Russell Bedsole’s Republican candidacy has received a boost in the Alabama House District 49 special election.

This seat, covering parts of Bibb, Chilton and Shelby Counties, was vacated by the resignation of State Rep. April Weaver (R-Brierfield), who left the legislature to join the administration of President Donald J. Trump.

Bedsole led the pack in the GOP primary held last week, finishing ahead of second-place Mimi Penhale and third-place Chuck Martin. Since no candidate got a majority, a runoff will be held on September 1.

On Wednesday night, Martin endorsed Bedsole in that runoff via a Facebook post.


Martin led Bibb County in primary votes and finished with a competitive 24.25% overall.

In a release, he expounded on why he is publicly backing Bedsole.

“After thoughtful consideration, I am endorsing Russell Bedsole to represent District 49 in the Alabama House of Representatives,” Martin stated. “Like me, Bedsole has deep roots in District 49. I believe he will be a strong voice for Bibb, Shelby, and Chilton counties, and he will fight for our communities’ conservative Christian values in Montgomery.”

Bedsole, a longtime deputy sheriff in Shelby County and an Alabaster city councilor, has already been endorsed by the likes of Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego and the Alabama State Fraternal Order of the Police in the race.

“It is an honor to be endorsed by Chuck Martin,” Bedsole commented. “As a representative of District 49, I will fight for pro-life and pro-Second Amendment legislation, along with funding for developing crucial infrastructure, in the Alabama House of Representatives.”

Penhale, the legislative director for Shelby County’s legislative delegation, has taken an unpaid leave of absence from her state government job to run for office. She has been endorsed by the Alabama Farmers Federation.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

7 hours ago

License plate to support Alabama business proposed — Must meet 1,000 application benchmark

A license plate that will support Alabama small businesses will be created if 1,000 apply for one by July 31.

Funds from purchasing the plate will be given to Main Street Alabama, which will in turn provide workshops and grants to small businesses around the Yellowhammer State.

The tag can be applied for here. A $50 fee accompanies the application.

“With this program, individuals can show their dedication to their favorite small businesses, who in many cases are their friends and neighbors, with a tag that gives back to them with workshops and grants focused on strengthening their business,” said Main Street Alabama state coordinator Mary Helmer in a statement.


Helmer added, “Small businesses keep it local by consistently sponsoring the local baseball team, providing gift baskets for the local charity drives and creating jobs in their community.”

Main Street Alabama is a non-profit entity and an offshoot of Main Street America organization.

The artwork on the tag was created by Chris Seagle, a graphic designer based in Birmingham.

The idea for a car tag supporting small business originated among a group of elected officials in Jefferson County.

Casey Middlebrooks, a member of the group and a Hoover City Councilman, said that his fellow officials “felt Main Street Alabama had the statewide presence and resources to facilitate support to small businesses throughout the state.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

8 hours ago

Ivey urges Alabamians to complete Census — Billions in funding, congressional seat at stake

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) on Friday released a video public service announcement urging Yellowhammer State residents to complete the 2020 Census.

The deadline to complete the Census recently was moved up to September 30, meaning there is less than seven weeks left for Alabamians to either self-respond or respond to Census Bureau field staff.

Leaders from the public sector, as well as industry, economic development, charitable and civic organizations, have warned for months that Alabama has a lot on the line during the 2020 Census response period.

Projections have shown the state will lose a congressional district and corresponding electoral college vote — likely to a far-left state such as New York, California or Illinois — if Alabama’s response rate continues to lag.


“Complete your 2020 Census today,” Ivey said to begin the new PSA. “We only have until September 30.”

“Without you, Alabama stands to lose billions in funding, a seat in Congress and economic development opportunities,” she continued. “It only takes minutes to complete. Go to my2020census.gov or participate by phone or mail.”

The governor concluded, “Be counted — if not for you, for those in Alabama who depend on you for a brighter tomorrow.”


Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

8 hours ago

Report: Birmingham golf tournament Regions Tradition canceled for 2020

A report from WBRC in Birmingham on Friday says that the yearly golf tournament Regions Tradition has canceled the 2020 edition due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The event organizers say it will be back in early May of 2021.

WBRC says they were told by a “source close to the tournament” about the decision to cancel the 2020 version.

The tournament had previously been rescheduled from its normal late spring/early summer slot until September due to COVID-19 concerns.


Regions Tradition is a tournament on the PGA Tour Champions circuit, a series of competitions held each year for golfers over age 50.

According to Alabama NewsCenter, the annual Regions Tradition tournament has an economic impact on the Birmingham area between $20 million and $25 million every year.

The Tradition was first held in 1989 and is one of the five major golf tournaments on the Senior Circuit.

Regions took over as the event’s sponsor in 2010 and relocated the tournament to the Birmingham area beginning in 2011.

Steve Stricker won the tournament in 2019, a title he will now keep for two years.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

9 hours ago

Jefferson County health officials say coronavirus pandemic precautions will continue into 2021

Two impactful figures in Jefferson County’s healthcare system advised on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting precautions such as mask-wearing will remain a major factor in public life at least through the end of 2020.

Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson and CEO of the UAB Health System/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance Will Ferniany briefed reporters on coronavirus information during a Friday morning videoconference.

“This pandemic is not going away by the end of December,” warned Ferniany.

Wilson said it was “very likely” that he would push to keep a mask order in place across Jefferson County “through the flu season” which would indicate the ordinance would stay in place at least through the spring of 2021.


“We have pretty good evidence that our face-covering orders, and our help from the public wearing face coverings, has made a difference,” remarked Wilson.

“We still have a ways to go but we’re starting to bend the curve downward,” Wilson told reporters.

The remarks made by Wilson and Ferniany are similar to what Mobile County epidemiologist Dr. Rendi Murphree told Yellowhammer News in recent days.

Ferniany said that UAB is making a significant investment in rapid testing that should be ready for action by the end of the year, the availability of which should make dealing with the virus more manageable.

Wilson highlighted a standard he felt more people should understand.

The county health officer said that any person exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days, even if they go out and get a test showing they do not have the virus.

“Fourteen days is the maximum amount of time from being exposed to the virus where you could still develop symptoms,” Wilson said to explain the policy.

Ferniany said UAB Hospital is currently treating around 90 patients, down from a peak of 130. He relayed that 40 of the COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized are in the ICU.

RELATED: Alabama coronavirus update: Hospitalizations begin to decrease, new cases falling

The executive also said that the toughest aspect of caring for COVID-19 cases currently is the shortage of nurses. He said the hospitals he oversees are down “several hundred nurses” with the partial explanation that traveling nursing companies are luring workers away with higher wages.

Wilson reported additional good news for Jefferson County. He said that the area is not experiencing a higher rate of black citizens dying from COVID-19 than white citizens.

“So far we’re not seeing a racial disparity in terms of deaths in Jefferson County,” he relayed.

“Forty-one percent of our deaths in Jefferson County with COVID-19 are African American. The African American population is 43%,” Wilson stated.

Yellowhammer News asked Wilson what kind of benchmarks he would need to be passed to trigger a loosening of coronavirus precautions and whether that would be dependent on a vaccine.

“We’re not going to be out of the woods for quite a long time,” Wilson responded.

“The bottom line will be the amount of disease activity we have in the community, and the trajectory of that,” he continued.

With respect to the vaccine, Wilson replied, “It is really hard to predict what is going to happen with the vaccine: How effective is it going to be, how widespread we’re going to be able to vaccinate people and how soon. There are way too many unknowns for us to say much about that.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95