• Two wood storks and an osprey vie for prime real estate on a light fixture. Photo by Pat Foster-Turley/For the News-Leader

Pole dancing’ around here is for the birds

If you are a high-flying bird with some prey below you, some of the best real estate around is the top of a well-placed pole. There, you can scan your surroundings and get a great view of your next meal. But, as with all good pieces of real estate, there is a lot of competition involved in claiming these places.

When Bucko and I sit at our favorite spot off Heckscher Drive, we love to watch the activities on the poles around us. One particular utility pole is in a parking lot near the St. Johns River, and it gets a lot of action. One day, as a storm rolled in, we kept track of the visitors to this pole. The first comer was a seagull, calming sitting on top of the pole and minding its own business until an osprey swooped in to claim the turf. The osprey ruled the roost for a few minutes, but not for long. A group of wood storks flew by in formation, looking for a place to land. Most of them headed for the beach, but one spotted the pole. The osprey was outclassed by the larger bird and flew away to give way to the wood stork.

Meanwhile, the other wood storks found nearby poles and lined the road, one bird per pole, down the length of Heritage River Road. Soon enough, the whole group of wood storks flew off.  Across the water, on a channel marker, the evicted osprey was patiently waiting. When the pole was vacated again, the osprey flew back to it. This whole progression of birds to pole happened in only a few minutes. Lots of pole dancing going on, for sure!

Another cold day, shortly thereafter, we arrived at our spot to see an osprey on the pole. This time a wood stork flew in, but the osprey didn’t move. The wood stork took an adjacent spot on another offshoot of the pole. Then another wood stork flew in, so the situation got more interesting. This second wood stork had no flat place to perch and kept sliding down the arm of the fixture, toward the osprey’s perch. The osprey held its ground as long as it could, then flew back (in disgust, I’m thinking) to its far away perch on the channel marker.

There’s often a lot happening below this pole, too. The resident great egret, snowy egret and little blue heron are usually all stationed on rocks beside the river, looking for prey in their own distinctive ways. The egrets stand motionless, staring at the water, while the little blue heron takes a more active role, climbing around the rocks and spearing something hidden there. Maybe crabs? We never tire of watching all this activity. It’s the same cast of characters every time, but as varied from day to day as any soap opera.

We used to have another favorite pole-watching spot at the North End (Dee Dee Bartels) Boat Ramp on Amelia Island. The light fixtures around the parking lot were fine vulture roosting sites, and often we would see a number of the poles claimed by these large birds. But alas, vultures are messy birds and their droppings must have become a nuisance or perhaps caused damage to the lights. Well, the problem was solved, from a light-maintenance perspective, anyway. The county recently installed bird guards, also called bird spikes, on all the good perching spots. Once, after the installation, Bucko saw a single vulture trying to balance on the spikes (drat – he didn’t take a photo!) but we have not seen that since. The bird spikes work and the vultures lost these preferred roosting spots. Oh well, there are still many trees around that will just have to do.

As we drive around the area, we always watch the poles along the road and we often have new sightings. When hawks are migrating, the poles attract them as occasional places to rest between flights. When it is spring nesting season, some poles attract pileated woodpeckers trying to make holes to raise their brood. One particular pole near Amelia’s Attic has hosted a successful brood of woodpecker babies for a couple of years now, much to the staff’s amusement.

So, keep your eyes on the poles around us and maybe you can see some “pole dancing” too.

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