"...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, July 8, 2015

The Taming of the Slough: Central Big Swamp, 3 July 2015

IBWOH's:  Brian Carlisle, Chris Carlisle.

Summary:  After a sweltering June, temperatures moderated somewhat this first week of July in south Mississippi.  The more favorable weather, along with decreasing rainfall, prompted my brother Brian and I to attempt a further exploration of the central area of Big Swamp, where in May we had been foiled by the high, rushing waters of German Slough.  I hoped to be able to cross the slough, find the long north-south ATV trail that bisects the heart of Big Swamp, and thus finally explore the expanse of bottomland forest at our leisure.

We kayaked across Black Creek at around 7 a.m., hid our boats, and set off eastward at a brisk pace, passing the usual vaguely familiar landmarks that one must make note of in this kind of country:  oddly-shaped roots, deadfalls, weird tree trunks, rushing streams.  We came upon the slough that had brought us to a stop before; sure enough, the waters had receded enough for me to cross, my cost being merely water-filled boots.  Brian, however, took an alternate route.

I should note here -- for the curious -- that I wore no insect repellent of any kind for the duration of our time in the swamp, and only had to wave away the occasional mosquito.  The droves of bloodsuckers that had accosted me earlier in the year are an unpleasant memory.

Birds were fairly active, though as the day grew warmer they took to longer periods of quiet.  I heard red-headed and red-bellied woodpeckers, and we both saw and heard pileateds on the return hike, the latter spotted after stalking the source of some rather ominous, heavy tapping from a cluster of oaks.

Sole claimant to an abandoned boat near Black Creek.  Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle. 

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle. 

Photo:  Brian Carlisle. 

Photo:  Brian Carlisle. 

Photo:  Brian Carlisle. 

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

All that remains:  a crown of poison ivy. 

What was a rushing slough in May now permitted relatively easy passage, if one was willing to endure hiking in wet boots.  I was. 

Brian's alternate route, a bit downstream.  The swamp will have its due, though. 

 View from the Other Side.

Getting shut of about a half-gallon of swamp water (per boot).

 Cypress roots exposed by years of rushing waters.

Beyond the slough, the trail bore generally eastward through some impressive forest for several hundred yards, until we found ourselves at last at Big Swamp's north-south ATV trail.  We elected to bear left and head northward, hoping to come upon one of the large oxbow lakes that dominate the north end of Big Swamp.  There were signs of ATV activity upon the trail, though we never found out where they had come from, or where they had gone.  Numerous smaller trails snaked off the main one, and at length we took one that led eastward.  The day grew fine and hot, with only an occasional breeze to tease the treetops. We walked slowly, my waterlogged boots making an embarrassing loud squinch with each footfall, and indulged ourselves in a close, careful survey of this place.
A magnificent superdominant red oak.  There are many such, in this forest.

 Woodpecker project near the trail.

Small chips likely mean small bills at work here, or maybe Pileated. 

An odd bridge, formed by a length of steel pipe cut in half.  It may have been used during the last logging of the area.  The steel was rusted through in spots, but was still serviceable to foot traffic. 

Brian discovers another Grandfather cypress. 

Colorful millipedes busied themselves about his mighty foot.  Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

 Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

I am always awed and humbled by them, who without voices yet speak of an older world, which few but their kind now remember.  Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Strange networks of reddish-colored hanging rootlike growth are fairly common in the lands round about the Pascagoula River. 

At length, we found ourselves passing through some younger forest, until we stood upon a bluff high above the Pascagoula River -- on the wrong side, as usual:  a nice sand bar gleamed invitingly at us from the far bank.  We retraced our steps back to the main trail, and continued up it for a ways, still hoping to come upon one of the oxbows.  But the heat was beginning to get to me, and we had hiked a long way, at least two miles; and the time was getting past 10 a.m.  After exploring an overgrown field near the trail, we decided to head back.

At the crossing, I waded back into the water, and Brian made his way to the downed tree he'd used earlier as a bridge.  I was about halfway across when I heard a yelp, and heard my brother exclaim, "I'm getting my boots wet!"  I didn't understand what he meant, until he explained that there was a freshly-shedded snakeskin in the bushes he was making his way through.  He ended up crossing the slough behind me, getting only a little less wet than me.  

Photo:  Brian Carlisle. 

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

 Genus Crinum, Florida swamp-lily.  I spotted this one on the bank of a slough, where we rested and cooled ourselves on the return hike.

Brian discovered this little nest near the trail on our return hike.  The mother fled, so we could not determine the species. 

Conclusions:  We neither saw nor heard any evidence remotely suggestive of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers:  no feeding sign, interesting tree cavities, double-knocks, or kents (although it is probably too late in the year to hope for more than an occasional vocalization).  It should be noted, however, that the scope of our survey was limited to the areas along and in close proximity to the trails.  We are still in the very early stages of the investigation.  I hope to return, to follow again the north-south corridor, to find the lakes along the northern border, and eventually to follow the trail south, where (from the look of things on Google Earth) numerous creeks and sloughs coil through the bottomland to challenge and confound rambling bipeds.

Hopefully, too, I will not suffer for two days from shin splints.

Likely this will be my only foray during the month of July. August will bring even hotter days, but hopefully drier feet.  We'll see.