"...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, December 28, 2014

Rising Waters: Eastern Borderlands, 28 December 2014

IBWOH:  Chris Carlisle.

Summary:  A five-and-one-half-hour survey of the lands east of Hutson Lake and Lake Hollow Man, following the north-south line of the old logging trail between the two lakes.  Several long, narrow fields, planted in ryegrass, are interspersed with prime stands of mixed bottomland forest, and with a network of wooded sloughs and small lakes.  Dominant tree species are water oak, swamp chestnut oak, sweet gum, water tupelo, baldcypress, and spruce pine.  The eastern edge rises to mature upland pine forest, eventually giving way in its turn to a much younger, monoculture pine plantation on private property.

We have surveyed much of this area before, but the eastern edge is new to me, and I was well pleased with the quality of the mature bottomland forest I often found myself in.  The sloughs and small lakes in the area are on the rise, due to recent heavy and sustained rainfall.

After a long drive through the dark and the intermittent rain, I began my hike at 6:30.  Dawn came around twenty minutes later.  It was muggy, and as the temperature rose to near 70 degrees (Fahrenheit), I was soon sweating under my flannel shirt.  The rain held off for the duration of my hike, though the sun only occasionally shone through a tear in the blanket of clouds.

Most all the usual avian suspects were present.  The area is infested with red-headed woodpeckers.  At times it was difficult to hear any other birds over their ubiquitous rrruuuuukkkk's, the resident blue jays demonstrating their entire repertoires, and the screaming of Cooper's hawks.  Pairs of wood ducks whistled at whiles through the trees overhead.  As for Hutson Lake itself, cormorants have laid sole claim to its waters, at least for the day.

The predawn forest. 

A woodpecker totem-tree. 

Rye grass field. 

Heavy scaling and some excavation to a dead snag. 

 I had a Milky Way bar, in tribute to the memory of Jack Kuhn.  

Another woodpecker totem-tree (right). 

El Tenedo del Diablo -- Devil's Fork. 

 One of many wooded sloughs in the area.

The forest wears the rags of summer like a mourner's cloak. 

I spied beyond this grove another monolith -- a titan cypress.  High water prevented me from getting close enough for a photo. 

Loblolly pines, a sure sign that the bottomland forest is ending. 

Hollow Man's lake has engulfed him. 

Conclusions:  I heard no kents or double-knocks.  Despite the leaf-fall, which has opened up much of the forest to human eyes, I found no peeling or excavations that I felt could be considered diagnostic of ivorybill feeding behavior.  I must admit to feeling discouraged.  More than once, I found myself muttering, "Where are they?  They should be here."  I may have exhausted my search efforts in this particular area, which due to the quality and extent of habitat, I have long considered prime ivorybill real estate.  There were signs of human hunting activity, however, in the form of spent shells and shell boxes; but I encountered no hunters personally, and the sounds of gunshots were to the west of the river, and farther east, on private property.

I may return to the area in January, if only to install a game camera, which my brother Brian feels could be an important component of our overall search effort; and I have begun to come around to his thinking on the matter.

Still, the question remains:  where are the ivorybills?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

An IBWO in a Gum Tree

I wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and in particular my new wife Susanne, who was so instrumental in getting the Quest going this year, and who picks up the pieces after long days in the Wild; my fellows in the field, IBWOH's Brian Carlisle and Richard Ezell, both currently working out in the Gulf of Mexico, who have made it such a remarkable year; my friends Mark and Frank of the Project Coyote team, from whom I have learned and continue to learn so much; Dr. Jerome Jackson, who has been kind enough to take time out of his schedule for the occasional correspondence with me; and to all my fellow ivorybill enthusiasts, and those around the world who have visited the site.  Thank you for being a part of our adventures so far!

Speaking of Project Coyote, please join me in wishing them good stalking as they return to the field yet again in the coming days.  If you haven't already, be sure to check out their site www.projectcoyoteibwo.com.  There is much to be learned there for any serious student of the remarkable Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which continues to captivate us from the shadows.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

IBWOs on the Isle of Orleans

View from our honeymoon hotel window.  We found this Audubon print in a museum gift shop on Royal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Survey: Dace Lake and Big Lake, Pascagoula WMA, 8 December 2014

IBWOH's:  Brian Carlisle, Chris Carlisle.

Summary:  After an absence of over a month, I returned to the field Monday morning, this time with my brother and fellow searcher Brian.  Our focus was the area just to the north of Mississippi Highway 26, in the small north end of the Pascagoula WMA.  We had explored the area even farther up, near the extreme north end around Davis Eddy, on 19 August.  There the mature hardwood forest slowly gives way to much younger growth, with Davis Eddy itself dominated by small cypress domes.  Here, however, the forest is older, surrounding the oxbow Dace Lake (named "Dacy Lake" on area signage) and the smaller Dace Eddy.  From Google Earth, one can discern a number of old logging roads in the area, which is also bisected by two power lines running northwest to southeast.  A wooded slough and creek flows roughly north to south through the forest's middle.  The main road runs near the eastern boundary of this tract, providing access to the imaginatively-named Big Lake, another large oxbow, and leading eventually to Davis Eddy.  To the west lies the Pascagoula River.

We had boots on the ground a little after dawn (6:30).  Low temperatures the previous night were in the 40's (Fahrenheit), with highs predicted in the 60's and no rain.  Due to the ongoing deer hunting season, we wore blaze orange vests.  Due probably to it being a Monday, hunting activity was light, and we only saw one hunter in our immediate vicinity along the forest road.

There has been little rain in the region over the past month, so many of the sloughs were dry, making the going pretty easy.  Trails closed to ATV's and other vehicular traffic are common here, thankfully.  We parked Brian's truck at Dace Lake first, then headed west along an old trail that passed through a forest of very large, widely-spaced water oak, willow oak, red oak, and spruce pine, eventually emerging through a grove of black willows onto a sandbar on the east bank of the Pascagoula River.  Bird life was abundant, especially woodpeckers.  We saw and heard several different pileated woodpeckers, and for the rest of the day heard and saw red-headed, red-bellied, and downy woodpeckers, as well as yellow-bellied sapsuckers and a flicker.  We observed two different barred owls, and at least one red-shouldered hawk.  Kinglets, gnatcatchers, and yellow-rumped warblers were very active among the cardinals and chickadees.  Flocks of robins, cedar waxwings, and blackbirds continually moved through the area.

Typical growth near Dace Lake. 

Dace Lake, as seen from Brian's truck. 

View to the east of Dace Lake. 

Rye grass field. 

Dry slough. 

Sandbar on the Pascagoula.  

A pair of killdeer were the only ones there to greet us. (Photo:  Brian Carlisle)

(Photo:  Brian Carlisle)

Large cavity in what I think is a maple. 

We backtracked along the trail, then drove along the road a while observing the bird life, eventually parking again and hiking out past the south end of heavily-wooded Big Lake to the large shallow lake at the extreme east of this part of the WMA.  I am calling that shallow lake Kestrel Lake, after the kestrel we viewed hunting there.  Beyond that, the forest begins to thin out, and the sounds of civilization grows closer; so we backtracked again, making our way back to the truck.  We wrapped up the trip with an early lunch (courtesy of my brother) at the convenience store in Benndale.  (The fried catfish strips are excellent.)

The trail as it opens up at Kestrel Lake. 

Wildflowers on some very boggy ground near water's edge. 

 Brian has identified them as cowslip, or marsh marigold.  According to Wikipedia, "all parts of the plant are poisonous and can be irritant.[sic]"

Conclusions:  This area sees fairly heavy use by humans; although litter is not as noticeable here as in other areas within the WMA (such as McRae Dead River), it is still easily spotted.  We saw one deer stand.  I was not terribly impressed by the size of the trees in this area, although there are numerous oaks of considerable girth.  I saw no significant woodpecker scaling, and we heard no kents or double-knocks (DK's).  But I was glad to be out in the bottomlands with my brother again, and it was a really lovely day, with no biting insects, no spiders, and no snakes.  Visibility in the forest is much improved with the leaf-fall, making it easier to look for tell-tale scaling, and for large woodpeckers lurking in the forest canopy.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

For Treebeard, Leaflock, the Ancient of Days, and Hollow Man

Dwight Norris posted the following article on "The Ivory-billed Woodpecker -- Rediscovered" group on Facebook:

Visions of Glories Past; Manhandled Mobile River Basin Sadly Diminished; in Hidden Places, Hints at Wonders of Long Ago
(Address:  www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2014/12/visions_of_glories_past_manhan.html#incart_river )

I was moved to write the following response:

"I've stood beside several giant cypresses such as the one in the photo -- relicts -- in the Pascagoula River basin.  All were spared the axe and saw because they are hollow.  Passenger pigeons and Carolina parakeets likely roosted in their crowns; they likely were touched by the hands of Native American hunters, and saw the movements of Native tribes, for hundreds of years.  I put my own hand on their trunks, and wonder what a forest full of such giants must have looked like... and imagination fails me.  I am moved from awe to sadness, and feel the need to offer some kind of apology for the colossal stupidity of my species.  But it would be akin to a former Nazi offering an apology to someone who lost their entire family in the Holocaust.  It is a wrong that can never be erased, until the victim survives and thrives, and the wrongdoer vanishes completely from the face of the earth."

Will we as a species ever regain our perspective, and see beyond our own immediate want?

Brian Carlisle and Treebeard, a relict cypress in the Leaf Wilderness and a living, breathing link to an older world.