"...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."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

UPDATE to the Disastrous Day of the Spiders

The Olympus lives!  Sprung to life after sitting in a rice-filled container for two days.  A few of my photos from that ill-fated day:

This young possum was the only mammal we encountered that day.

I hope to return soon, for a less aquatic experience. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Expedition: The Disastrous Day of the Spiders, 27 August 2014

IBWOH's:  Richard Ezell, Christopher Carlisle.

Summary:  An initial visit for photos with the Ancient of Days, followed by a circuitous hiking survey of the spider-infested lands immediately around Hutson Lake, soon became one of the most challenging days in the field this year.

As noted in a prior post, Brian Carlisle and I had discovered the Ancient near an old logging road that eventually led us quickly out of the forest and back to the main road into the WMA.  We had come upon the road as we made our way out of the pathless woods along the Pascagoula River.  At the time, we were only concerned with getting back to our vehicle, but upon later reflection I became curious where the old logging road might lead, thinking perhaps it snaked around the southern end of Hutson Lake to meet with one of the other roads we had hiked that day.  So, leaving the Ancient to his dawn ruminations, Richard and I continued south down the logging road, which is presently (along with the surrounding bottomland) laced with the thick, strong filaments of innumerable banana spider webs.  Soon enough we spotted an end of Hutson, which forms a reverse-C, its ends pointing directly west, towards the River.  As for the Road, it withered and faded into nothing; but the hog-rutted woods were easily traversed, and we made our way eastward cross-country, keeping the lake to our left.  I soon began to recognize the trees standing off the shore opposite, from the survey Brian and I had taken from the Lindsey.

As I had expected, we found our return blocked a mere 100 yards from the road by a deep-channeled slough, which I remembered feeds into Hutson Lake from the east.  I surmised that it, like most sloughs in the area, was short enough to allow a quick detour around it.  However, though it is in most places less than 30 yards wide, it nevertheless snakes back at least half a mile into some thick woods.  Eventually, with no end to the slough in sight, we attempted several exploratory efforts to cross the channel itself.  All our efforts were foiled by deep water, even though we were able to (incredibly) actually walk upon the thick mats of aquatic vegetation that kept us from sinking too deep into the mire.

A cottonmouth that lay coiled up on some of the floating vegetation took us both by surprise.  Richard happened to be ahead of me, and he leaped back with a yell, losing his footing in the process and thus getting pretty well soaked.  My turn came a little later, when I stepped off into the muddy water during one of our many attempts to cross the slough, and found myself in the deep channel; I would have probably gone under, if not for Richard's outstretched hand.  The dunking ruined my cell phone, and I believe my camera as well; it is still drying out, but I fear it may be done for.

Eventually we found ourselves back where we started, on the wrong side of the slough from the road.  The slough, instead of running in a straight line as I had imagined, makes its own reverse-C that shadows Hutson Lake to the south-east, forcing us in a long loop back into familiar woods on the south end of Hutson.  So, exhausted, pressed for time, and already completely soaked, we simply waded through the chest-deep brown water to the other side, and emptied out our boots.  Again.  A couple of hundred yards up the road, we dumped our waterlogged equipment into the bed of the truck and left.

Conclusions:  You can't cheat the Swamp, pilgrim.  And Richard's binoculars appear to have a liquid carrying capacity of about 1.25 cups.

We found what I believe to be a hog rubbing on a tree, which had the telltale coating of dirt; a sweet gum which showed heavy scaling near the base, which I believe to have been the work of a bear; many beaver-gnawed boles in the vicinity of the lake; and a sweet gum with healed scaling higher up, which I could not get a very good look at.  No kents, double-knocks, or interesting cavities.  Just a possum, and a cottonmouth, and more spiders than in all of Mirkwood.

(Hat tip to Richard for his contribution to this post's title.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tripartite Survey: Hutson Lake, Davis Eddy, Deaton Preserve; 19 August 2014

IBWOh's:  Brian Carlisle, Christopher Carlisle.

Summary:  It's too damn hot to hike, so Brian brought his 12' johnboat, which I have named the Lindsey in honor of Brian's wonderful wife.  We spent much time boating today, surveying Hutson Lake, then Davis Eddy, a smaller lake to the north, across the highway, yet still within the Pascagoula WMA.

We plied the waters of Hutson Lake at dawn.  Prothonotary warblers were abundant, present in numbers I have not seen since our foray into the Leaf Wildnerness some miles to the north.  The place was teeming with woodpeckers:  red-heads, red-bellieds, Pileateds.  The air rang with the raucous cries of redheads.  We observed several different Pileateds, of which Brian was able to get some nice photos.  Woodpecker drumming was nearly constant, and several times we were startled by what sounded like possible double-knocks in the distance.

The Lindsey at the Hutson Lake launch. 

 The water of Hutson Lake is a nice, deep brown, not muddy at all.  We would have a fairly clear view of a 14' alligator before being devoured.

 I fingered my knife from time to time, thinking of Brad Pitt's character at the end of the film Legends of the Fall.  A bear got him.

 An osprey, our first catch of the day.

 The Lindsey's trolling motor aided us tremendously.

Brian steered us swiftly past the cypress and water tupelo.

We soon found this tree with bark scaling, in deep water.

The tree is very much alive.

 The bark is tight, and is beginning to heal.

 Remains of an old cypress.

 Nice gouging work on a dead snag.

Dawn on the north end of Hutson Lake. 

Brian took me to the cavity he'd discovered on his prior boating trip. 

I am still impressed by this cavity.

 Anhingas, a common sight on the lake that morning.

 Yeah.  Time to turn the boat around.

 Double-crested cormorant, another common species on Hutson Lake.  Observing their flight, I could see perhaps how they might be mistaken at a distance for an ivorybill, especially as the sunlight shines on their glossy black wings.

 Cormorant, pre-poop.

Cormorant, post-poop.

We left Hutson Lake, and proceeded north to Davis Eddy, a lake deep in the north end of the Pascagoula WMA.  There we found a trail, which we hiked for less than a mile before the heat and humidity became unbearable, around 11 o'clock.  The forest seems to get younger the farther north one goes from the highway, so that on the trail by Davis Eddy we were in mostly third-growth woods; but there were initially impressive stands of older growth, with some individuals of note.  The ground was deeply rooted in places by hogs, particularly near the oaks and hickories, which comprised the majority species.  Live oaks and willow oaks were especially common, as were groves of American holly.  Cypress of course dominated the lakeshore.

Trailhead near Davis Eddy.

Large river birch.

 Scaling on upper trunk of a living red oak.  This was 30-40' up.

Live oak.  17'4" circumference.

We returned to the boat ramp, and launched the Lindsey.  The waters of Davis Eddy are a muddy brown, unlike the clearer tannin-stained waters of Hutson Lake.  Here dwell white ibis, belted kingfisher, and great egret.

Gator (right) and gator bait. 

A small one.

With Davis Eddy offering nothing more save rising temperatures, we departed for Angel's Quick Stop for chicken fingers and Tater Wedges.  We drove on to Lucedale, then took Highway 98 West, which would take us back to McLain.  On an impulse, we stopped at the Charles Deaton Preserve near the Chickasawhay River, and drove through some pretty unimpressive cutover land until reaching a nice oxbow (with alligator), with some impressive-looking stands of mixed bottomland beyond.  We drove on, until we reached the Chickasawhay itself, probably only a couple of miles before it joins the Leaf River to form the Pascagoula.

The Chickasawhay is a wild, rugged Southern river, his headwaters up above Meridian.  I have crossed and recrossed him many times to the north, in Wayne County, where I grew up. 

 A small, clear stream empties into the Chickasawhay from the Deaton Preserve, along its east bank.

The stream flows from at least one oxbow, deeper in the Preserve.

Conclusions:  I am very encouraged by Hutson Lake.  Based on our boat trip and our prior survey, I believe the area warrants a close study over the next several months, especially when cooler weather sets in and the leaf-fall may expose signs of peeling.  I was very impressed by the peeling upon the red oak near Davis Eddy, but the area is not high on my list due to the tapering of mature forest so soon beyond the lakeshore.  I was initially disappointed with the Deaton Preserve, as it encompasses the important Pascagoula headwaters area, until we reached the oxbow; beyond it loomed a mighty belt of mixed bottomland that begs exploration.

Time constraints may keep me out of the field for at least a week, which may be no bad thing, considering we are in the "dog days" of the Mississippi summer, which can be brutal.  Hiking times are limited, from early to mid-morning; and the gloom of the swamp lingers long after the dawn, limiting visibility somewhat.

Every foray into the swamp and forest strengthens my faith that the Ivorybill yet lives.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Singing River Swamp Pilgrimage

Tomorrow, I return to the Pascagoula River Swamp with Brian Carlisle -- my brother, my longtime companion in many adventures, and my friend.  Clock is set for 3:30 a.m., so that I may meet him in McLain by 5:15, so that we may be among the great trees as they welcome the dawn.

Whatever the swamp will ask of me tomorrow, I will give.  You can't cheat the swamp, to paraphrase a famous philosopher; it's got its own ways.  But whatever it takes of the flesh, it returns to the spirit tenfold.

Lord God Bird himself.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

ADDENDUM to the Hutson Lake Expedition: Brian Carlisle Boats It, 10 August 2014

IBWOH:  Brian W. Carlisle

Summary:  I may not have mentioned here previously that my brother is, in addition to being a fine photographer, a rather driven fisherman.  He decided to take his small boat down to Hutson Lake this morning to test the waters.  What he found, in addition to an old crappie fisherman with stories of alligators, was this:

Oval-shaped cavity in a cypress.  Unfortunately, while Brian brought his boat, he forgot the SIM card for his camera, so the photos are with his phone camera.  Nevertheless, the cavity can be clearly seen, and from these other images as well:

 Side view.

I can't tell what kind of tree that is, or if it is scaling, or the bark simply sloughing off.

Conclusions:  Obviously, more work is needed around Hutson Lake.  Oh, and check your camera equipment before heading out into IBWO country.