At just under 210,000 acres, Blackwater River State Forest (BRSF) is the largest expanse of sandhills, longleaf pine forest, and seepage slopes in state ownership. It’s in a remote area in the very northwest corner of Florida about an hour’s drive north of Pensacola and is a very Special Place for Francis M. Weston Audubon Society. The Blackwater River flows through the forest for approximately 30 mi (48 km). It is a rare sand- bottom stream that has been protected in its natural state since the mid–1930s. DEP has classified the river as an Outstanding Florida Waterway to acknowledge its high water quality and wildlife populations.
The Forest lands are bordered on the southeast by Northwest Florida Water Management District-owned property along both banks of the Yellow River. The District’s land acquisition along the Yellow River in 2007 was the last piece in completing a wildlife corridor that now extends from the Florida-Alabama border across Blackwater River State Forest and the vast expanse of Eglin Air Force Base eastward to Appalachicola National Forest and Tate’s Hell State Forest in the central Florida panhandle.
As with all four of these northwest Florida Important Bird Areas, BRSF is home to a large population of the federally-endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Both BRSF and Eglin host globally-significant populations of the woodpecker. As of 2011, Biologist Liz Langston counted more than 90 clusters of the woodpeckers – family groups – living in the mature longleaf pine forest at BRSF.
In the spring of 2009, Francis M. Weston Audubon chapter members began a three-year bird survey project in BRSF at the Division of Forestry’s request. Little was known of the forest’s seasonal bird diversity beyond the stellar Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Peggy Baker took the lead, dividing up the forest into 12 bird survey blocks, many larger than 5 x 5 miles in area. She and Larry Goodman led teams and recruited other chapter members to conduct quarterly surveys in each block, stopping every half mile along the dirt tracks or at changes in habitat to record all birds seen or heard. Completing the three year survey of seasonal counts in each area of the forest and providing a summary report to the Forestry Division is contributing invaluable baseline data to long-term forest management. And it’s the kind of project that could not have been completed without heroic effort by the chapter’s leadership and a cadre of enthusiastic birders.
Please join us with a doff of your favorite birding hat to Francis M. Weston Audubon’s dedication to the birds of Blackwater River State Forest!