"...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, May 24, 2015

Flight of the Kuhn: The Road to Red Swamp, 25 May 2015

IBWOH:  Chris Carlisle.

Summary:  I returned to Big Swamp this morning after about a month and a half absence.  Work constraints, family duties, gardening and animal husbandry have kept me busy, and promise to again; so I decided to seize the opportunity for another trip to the field, this time to explore the third path from Black Creek landing, a path leading directly south towards Red Swamp, along the southwestern edge of Big Swamp.

I had spent a few extra minutes the night before trying a new method of securing my kayak, the Kuhn, to my sturdy little Nissan Frontier pickup.  There was some mild excitement when, as I made my way eastward this morning along Highway 98, the Kuhn slipped through its ratchet straps and lifted off.  I glanced into the rear-view mirror in time to see the kayak do a somersault some eight or nine feet above the blacktop before bouncing wildly to a stop in the middle of the road.  With a sense of calm known to those who hope for the best and expect the worst, I turned around on the four-lane highway and pulled off the road near my boat.  Luckily, traffic was nearly nonexistent on the normally busy highway, so I was able to safely drag it back to the truck and secure it as I usually do.

The sun had already risen when I launched the slightly battered Kuhn into the calm waters of Black Creek.  The waters were rather low in the surrounding swamp, the northernmost finger of Red Swamp.  Mosquitoes were only bothersome, though deer flies and horseflies joined them to make life generally annoying for the warm-blooded.  Few clouds broke the dawn, and occasional fresh breezes helped make things more comfortable.

I noticed on the long drive down that birds were very active, and Big Swamp rang with their songs and calls.  I made the quick crossing of Black Creek and stowed the Kuhn in its usual thicket, and set off.  The trail quickly turned southward, and I passed the other two as they forked off to the east.  The trail held a more or less southerly course, between Black Creek to the west and a series of sloughs to the east.  For about two miles I held this course, which led through some of the most impressive mixed bottomland forest I have had the pleasure to explore.

Green ash, I think; an uncommon species in this area. 

Swamp chestnut oak canopy.  There are many individuals of this species here, of large size. 

I spotted this beaver work on a young sweet gum on the other side of a shallow slough, and crossed it to get a better look. 

 I'd disturbed this yellow-crowned night heron while crossing the slough.  He flapped off,  but  returned to wait patiently until I left.  He was most gracious to allow me to get a decent photo.

Typical view on the first half mile of trail, which was very easy to follow.  There were no signs of recent human activity that I could tell. 

Evidence of woodpecker work was easy to find.  This is on a living sweet gum of medium size.  The vine is poison ivy. 

Sweet gum is a dominant species here.  I encountered many of respectable height and girth. 

 Smallish woodpecker cavity in a living water oak.  A very large woodpecker was feeding nearby, and I am fairly certain it was a pileated.

Crown of a downed spruce pine, showing extensive woodpecker work. 

Considering the presence of needles, the pine probably fell within the past few months.  Most of the bark was still tight, though some sections were loose enough to be peeled away by hand. 

Not sure whether the bark scaling was done before or after the pine fell.

The excavations here suggest to me pileated or smaller woodpecker work. 

 I did not see any evidence of beetle infestation.

 Poor quality photo of an oblong nest cavity, long disused.  

 Natural cavity, high in a cypress or water tupelo.

 Another canopy view.  

Some lovely swamp forest, probably kept open by periodic flooding of Black Creek and the surrounding creeks and sloughs. 

 Every tree is unique, but some are more unique than others.

 A dark cypress grove can be seen beyond the oaks, along with the glint of water.

Unexpectedly, a strong creek came into view to the west, between me and Black Creek.  Looks like someone's water heater is marooned among the driftwood. 

After a couple of miles, the trail faded into the open swamp forest in a point of land formed by a bend in the creek that had appeared to the west.  The creek flows more or less southerly, paralleling Black Creek, only to bend north-eastward.  I could not tell where the dying trail might have once forded the unnamed creek, though there were a couple of points where I could perhaps have crossed without difficulty; but recalling past misadventures, I decided not to take my chances alone in the trackless regions of Big Swamp, a policy that has served me well so far.

I did briefly leave the trail on the return hike, to explore the cypress grove that lay to the east.  Access was easy, and the slough was shallow, its waters dark red and relatively clear.  On the alert for cottonmouths, I instead found a turtle.

This fellow was not at all disturbed by my sloshing about. 

 He actually seemed a little sleepy.

 Turns out, he has only one eye.  

Somebody left the door ajar. 

Heavy woodpecker work on a recently-dead snag. 

 Another poor quality photo of a large cavity, this time about a dozen feet up in a dead pine snag.

 The only other reptile I encountered:  a southern black racer.

 After sticking his head into the ground for a few seconds, he rose again to peer at me.

 An encouraging sign recently posted at the landing on Black Creek.

 As I drove away from the landing through Red Swamp, I spotted a pair of white ibis, in the same area where I first saw the species last year, with my friend and brother Richard.

Conclusions:  Today I had the pleasure to explore some of the most impressive habitat I have yet encountered.  It was, at times, a solemn and spiritual experience.  Once, standing alone near the fading tendrils of the trail, I could not help but think that any people that would willfully destroy such magnificence is a lost people.  I hope to return to this timeless place, again and again, though it is probably beyond the practical limits of my search area.