"...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."

Monday, January 11, 2021


I feel readers of this blog are owed an update, after the incredible journey my brother Brian and I have shared here over the last several years.  This will likely be the last entry, unless news comes to me of pertinent developments regarding the Ivorybill in the Pascagoula River Basin.

While I have not made any updates to this site in well over a year, Brian and I have both together and separately made several forays into the area, usually in areas we have already explored.  We did manage a day in the field in the past year in an area new to us, in the extreme south end of the Pascagoula River WMA, not far from its border with Ward Bayou WMA.  Images from that trip, and others, can be found in my brother's photography page on Facebook, called The Humble Hiker.

Many readers may not be aware of the significant impact of Hurricane Zeta on the Pascagoula River Swamp, which occurred in late October of last year.  Many of the roads and trails were rendered impassable by downed timber, and some were only barely cleared in time for the beginning of the state's annual deer hunting season a month later.  Again, Brian's photography page on Facebook provides some images of the destruction, including an update on our favorite baldcypress, the Ancient of Days, and how he fared through the tempest.

I suppose the end of this blog begs the question:  do I think there are Ivorybills still in the Pascagoula River Swamp?  I honestly do not know.  I have seen some things that I could not explain, which at best suggested the presence of the species; but never did we find definitive evidence.  But we were searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack, and moreover a needle that could easily move.  I remain open to the possibility that Ivorybills still live there, and am convinced that the area is one of the last best places for its continued survival.

My hope with the blog was always to provide a record for others who might attempt a search of the area.  The Pascagoula River Swamp is a vast, changing landscape, and information can rapidly become outdated, or lost.  Perhaps others will trek the Swamp, and find useful the information contained in these digital leaves.

We did not find the Ivorybill.  What we did find, however, was a magical landscape that challenged and changed us in ways we could not have foreseen.  I like to think I am a better soul for the experience; it is certain that I am a more humble one.  I count myself fortunate to have experienced for myself this place, and letting its timelessness swallow me whole.  

Thanks to Mark Michaels, who I count as a friend, and who provided invaluable guidance, especially as I was attempting to understand Ivorybill foraging behavior; Becky Lumpkin Stowe, of the Nature Conservancy, who gave us valuable advice and direction regarding locations to explore; and Dean Hurliman of Iowa, artist, hopeless romantic, and kindred spirit.  Thanks also to 'Cyberthrush' for linking to us on his blog, and for other help over the years.

Thanks to all who have come here and shared in our adventure.  For much of my life, I wanted to search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  

So, I did.

-- Chris

P.S.  I think a new adventure may be beginning for me and mine.  If it happens, I will let you know.

Monday, October 21, 2019

A Day of Firsts: Sanctuary Lake II: October 5, 2019

Brian and I trekked the pathless bottomland and swamp from Davis Eddy to Sanctuary Lake on a muggy Saturday morning.  I wanted to explore Sanctuary from the north, and hoped we might find a relict baldcypress there.  We didn't, but the habitat was beautiful, and we moved through the relatively open forest with ease.  The area around Davis Eddy, in the northern part of the Pascagoula River Swamp, is rapidly becoming another favorite of mine.  Birds weren't notably active, but we did spy a bald eagle, flying low over the River, the first one we have seen in this area in our five years of exploring here.

All photos are by Brian Carlisle, unless otherwise noted.

In this rich bottomland forest, we found our first hornbeam (not pictured).  We have likely seen them before, but not recognized them; Brian used an app on his phone to help in its identification.  I am continually impressed by the biodiversity of the Pascagoula River Swamp.

 Sanctuary Lake.  As of this writing, the rains have already begun, and come Spring (if not sooner), the lake will be full again.

 Photo:  Chris Carlisle.

 Photo:  Chris Carlisle.

 Photo:  Chris Carlisle.

 We made our way north-east along the shoreline, startling a small herd of wild swine, which disappeared quickly into the tall grass of the lake bed.

 A young copperhead, the first one we have encountered in the Pascagoula River Swamp.  In my experience, they are more common in piney woods.

This slough connects Davis Eddy, near the Pascagoula River, to Big Lake to the south.  In the Pascagoula River Swamp, everything is connected, it seems.

 Cardinal flower, a personal favorite of mine.

 A flash drought has afflicted much of the South recently, and the Pascagoula River Swamp was not excepted.  This is a small pond near the main WMA road going to Hutson Lake.  I spied several pieces of driftwood there on the drive to Hutson, and on the way back suggested we stop and have a look.  We often make an extra effort to bring interesting pieces of wood home with us.

 We assumed these holes were made by turtles, or something.  Brian picked up a large piece of wood that lay near one of the holes, and that Something bellowed loudly from underground.

 We did not know that alligators would dig holes such as these.  Now we know better.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Summer's End: Sanctuary Lake, 22 September 2019

If I study the Pascagoula River Swamp on Google Earth long enough, I'll see things that I've somehow missed for years.  Such was the case with the large lake just above Big Lake, in the northern sector of the WMA (Wildlife Management Area), just above Mississippi Highway 26.  Brian and I have kayaked Big Lake before, in November 2015, during a time of high water (trip report here); we had followed the swollen creek north from the lake, until we were within sight of Davis Eddy.  But the larger, heavily wooded, and more remote lake to the north-east of Big Lake has drawn my attention on Google Earth of late, so I decided to check it out.  My plan was to put in at the single boat ramp near the southern tip of Big Lake, kayak to the north end, and drag my kayak across the narrow spit of land to the bigger lake... hoping all the while that it would prove more navigable than nearby Bird Lake had.

For once, my plan worked, more or less.  Low water limited my kayaking in Sanctuary Lake, my name for the otherwise nameless body of water that was my target.  I exited the kayak after only a few minutes and wade through nearly knee-high mud to the ridgeline hugging the lake's southern shore.  I made my way along it, through thick woods and brush, until I was able to wade into the muck again, and walk among the cypresses and tupelos of a normally flooded, very impressive, and very beautiful swamp forest.

 View from the boat ramp.  I had the lake to myself, until some fishermen began arriving after 10 a.m.



 Magnificent bottomland and swamp forest crowds the shoreline.

 I put in to Sanctuary Lake here, the only open spot I could find.  Here I would, on my way back out, watch an anhinga leap into the water from the stump in the center of the photo.  I never saw him come up again.
There were literally dozens of wood ducks in this lake, their cries of alarm at my presence almost drowning out the roosters crowing in the distance.

 Working my way through a thick stand of young baldcypress on the lake's southern edge.  Pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers worked the trees on both shores of the lake.

At length, I came upon a large, diverse group of birds feeding in a series of pools:  wood ducks, white ibis, great egret, snowy egret, little blue herons, a great blue heron, and a lone wood stork.
The wood ducks were the first to flee, led by a watchful sharp-eyed male who spied me spying on them.
 Ibis are usually among the more easily photographed wading birds for me, and these nice fellows proved no exception.

 Pre-flight.  Lift-off momentarily.  The diversity and large number of birds here, and the richness and remoteness of the place, led me to call it Sanctuary Lake.

Here I left the certainty of dry land and ventured into the mud, drawn by the beauty of the trees.
The places I walk in the Swamp sometimes give me the feeling that I'm the first human to set foot there in a very long time.  Probably vanity, but it is a nice feeling.

Likely my farthest extent.  It is very tiring work, even in such motivating habitat.

 Cardinal flowers could be seen here and there on dry ground beyond the water's edge of both lakes.  My photos do not do them justice; their vibrant red looks washed out in my images.  But they are easily among my favorite flowers.

 Beautiful strangeness.

 On the ridge overlooking the Sanctuary.  Possibly left by a duck hunter.

 The return journey to the boat ramp.

 I'd forgotten how lovely Big Lake is.

While I heard no kents or double-knocks, and saw no unusual scaling or nest holes, the quality of the habitat at Sanctuary Lake warrants further exploration, so I am considering coming at it from another direction.  If nothing else, I suspect a titan cypress may be hiding out there.  More later.