"...the ornithologists still had serious doubts. Sutton finally put it directly: 'Mr. Spencer, you're sure the bird you're telling us about isn't the big pileated woodpecker?'

"Spencer exploded. 'Man alive! These birds I'm tellin' you all about is kints!' he shouted in their faces. 'Why, the pileated woodpecker's just a little bird about as big as that.' He held his fingers a few inches apart. 'A kint's as big as that!' he said, holding his arms wide... 'Why, man, I've known kints all my life. My pappy showed 'em to me when I was just a kid. I see 'em every fall when I go deer huntin' down aroun' my place on the Tinsaw. They're big birds, I tell you, big and black and white; and they fly through the woods like pintail ducks!'

"After Spencer's outburst, the members of the team were all believers -- not just because of his vehemence, but because his description was so accurate. Ivory-bills do not have the typical bounding flight of the pileated woodpecker. They generally fly away high and straight, with stiff flight feathers, looking very much like a pintail, and their call is a distinctive nasal kent, kent, kent -- very similar to the local name Spencer used, kint. Sutton and the others couldn't wait to get to the bayou and start searching.

"As it turned out, that was not an easy proposition..." --Gallagher, Tim. The Grail Bird: Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, pp. 10-11: "Of People and Peckerwoods."

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Walking Melkor's Road: 11 September 2018

Brian and I returned to Big Swamp on September 11, after a 9-month hiatus.  Time and money have been in short supply, and we are both family men who are mindful of our obligations.  That, and the summer has been a real scorcher down here, raising the possibility of heat exhaustion, or worse.

At Brian's suggestion, we walked the same path we did in January of this year, which would take us south through Big Swamp, more or less shadowing Black Creek on its way to the Pascagoula River.  I kept an eye out for Melkor's Pond as we hiked, but as with our last trip the Pond and its wizened guardian eluded us.  Strange, how one misses things out there.  The swamp's got its own ways, its own purposes.

Of Ivorybills we neither saw nor heard anything, nor any rumour thereof.  But the habitat, as ever, is magnificent, begging the thought in my mind:  they should be here, whether they are or not.  They should be.

High water twice barred our path, but that was a good thing, as it got pretty hot later in the morning.  I was very thankful to return to the kayaks, some time after midday.

 Yep, it's a tree.

 Typical view of the canopy in Big Swamp.

 Ring of fire:  old lightning scar on a pine.

 Extensive bark stripping on a cypress.  I could not manage a better picture.  The phenomenon is still a bit of a mystery to me, though Brian has observed gray squirrels stripping cypress bark elsewhere in the Basin.

 Swamp chestnut oak.  They will likely be in fall colors next time we're in the Swamp.

 Ye Hogge-wallow.  We encountered a family of them on at least two different occasions, and Brian caught a glimpse of tusks.  Always exciting!

 Just needs a bit of paint, and it'll be fine.

 Misty mornings in the Pascagoula River Swamp make this one of my favorite places on Earth.

 We spent a good deal of time navigating this ford, only to find our way blocked again not much farther down the trail.


The deep excavation here suggests Pileated work to me.

Brian's photos from the trip:

 Rat snake.

 My brother seems to have a thing for fungi.  Can't say I blame him.

 American beautyberry.  Apparently some people eat them.  Not I.

 Last fall, I sat at the base of the big cypress center-left, and named him Tulkas.

 Not getting my feet wet is very important.  It can be a deal-breaker, almost.
 These sloughs are usually deeper than they seem.  I believe this is one tentacle of German Slough, which makes most ventures into Big Swamp a pain in the ass.

 Great Blue Heron and raccoon tracks.

 Brian ID'ed this as a Rufous Geometer Moth.


 Cardinal flower.

 Old Ivorybill country.

 One of my favorite photos.  Brian had to stop by the roadside on our way out of the WMA to photograph the butterflies and bees.  

On another note, I am pleased to announce that my brother Brian is the recipient of a pair of magnificent Ivorybill carvings, courtesy of our friend Dean in Iowa.  The generosity of this man cannot be overstated, as he creates and sends these amazing works of art free of charge.  The two Brian received are among Dean's last Ivorybills, making them even more special.  Brian and I will be taking our Hurliman Ivorybills to the Pascagoula River Swamp in the coming months for photos, and I look forward to sharing them with you all here.