"...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, October 25, 2015

Elephant Man: 22 October 2015

IBWOH's:  Brian Carlisle, Chris Carlisle.

Summary:  The Carlisle boys hike seven miles through wooded swamps and bottomland hardwood forest, covering much familiar ground in the northern Pascagoula WMA.  Beginning in the clear, cool hour before dawn, we followed Hollow Man Road south from the Hutson Lake area, walking quietly, stopping every few minutes to listen and observe.  Woodpecker activity was high.  We observed multiple individuals each of pileated, red-headed, red-bellied, and downy woodpeckers, as well as flickers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

 Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

 Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Towards the south end of the road, we bore hard right, down a newly-cleared trail that led us to a high bank overlooking the Pascagoula River.  From there we traveled overland, hoping to come to the shallow lake by the baldcypress we call Hollow Man; but we had come too far south, and presently found ourselves in unfamiliar woods, younger than the neighboring bottomland and swamp forest, and which included an odd scattering of middle-aged live oaks.  Presently we came out far below Hollow Man, near a gravel road and boat launch along the shores of an eddy adjoining the River.  Luckily for us, the current drought has much of the eddy high and dry, and we made our way along its shores to Hollow Man with little difficulty, encountering families of both white ibis and otters along the way. 

 A massive red oak.

 A dry cypress-tupelo swamp forest.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

A large downed limb, possibly from an oak or tupelo, showing what we thought could be scaling of the still-tight bark. 

A telling sign. 

 We believe it to be marks left by the incisors of a beaver.

 Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

 A large, mossy tupelo showing interesting scaling.  Scaling was evident on both sides of the tree.

 This could be pileated woodpecker work.

 A strip of bark on the ground below the scaling.

Dry, open cypress forest.

 Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

 Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

White ibises, two adults and a juvenile.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

This family of four watched us and made hissing noises for a few minutes before vanishing.  The fourth one slipped beneath the surface just as Brian took this photo.  

 Otter fare in these parts:  gar.

From Hollow Man we bore eastward, towards the south end of a slough complex where the titan
cypress we call Lord God Tree lurks.  With him in eyeshot, we turned away and hiked southward through mostly dry cypress-tupelo swamp forest bordered on both sides by mature bottomland.  In the late winter and early spring months, a strong channel flows down its middle, and years of flows have left the swamp floor a bizarre network of exposed roots, with the trees themselves forced into strange shapes and ways of growth by the current.  Here and there we happened upon the remains of mammoth cypresses, their stumps washed smooth by the water into the fashion of stones.

 Foot of a huge spruce pine, some yards from Hollow Man.

 The road east from Hollow Man runs through some impressive bottomland forest.

Back into the swamp.  Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

  Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

 Too bad this cavity is not about 20-30 feet higher up...

 The smooth, water-polished bones of an ancient forest lord.

Brian found this wizened, gnarled old cypress among the labyrinthine network of roots, bohemian tupelo, and polished antique stumps.

He is not as large as some we have encountered, but I believe him quite old nonetheless.

I call him Elephant Man, after John Merrick.

About 2 1/2 feet in length.  Cottonmouths seem to favor still, muddy pools in the swamp.

We came upon several of these small, modest flowers along a stretch of the dry stream bed.


After some research, Brian discovered that these are Nodding Ladies' Tresses orchids.

 There were several interesting woodpecker cavities in the swamp forest.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

 Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

After a few hundred yards, we came out on the gravel road again; but now we continued southward until it ended, making for a distant, lonely oxbow named Pierce Lake.  The road ended well short of Pierce, and we stumbled through thick undergrowth and thick woods until we spied its waters.  By that time, we had been hiking nearly continuously for about six hours.  The day had turned warm and overcast.  Knowing we had a long return hike ahead of us, we resisted the temptation to explore the woods around Pierce, and turned away, leaving him for another day.

Nearly-dry swamp forest near Pierce Lake.  Red-headed Woodpeckers were abundant here.  Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Thick cypress woods along the north shore of Pierce Lake.

Gulf Fritillary on blue mistflower.  Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Red-headed Woodpecker (RHWO) feather on a cypress knee.

Conclusions:  It is not an ideal time for the searcher of Ivorybills in south Mississippi, but it is damn near close.  (Upon further reflection, I don't know that there is an 'ideal' time.)  Deer season is not yet in full swing, though we passed the trucks of hunters and their dogs elsewhere in the WMA, and heard shotgun blasts in the woods on the other side of the River.  The day was a good mix of stalking and surveying; and we were rewarded by the discovery of new and interesting woodpecker cavities and the occasional inconclusive scaling, as well as of Elephant Man.  Finding these old relict cypresses, holdovers from another, long-vanished world, has become an unforeseen joy to us, and we now habitually scan the swamp forests for their towering presence.

No effort this challenging can long be sustained without the assistance and encouragement of loved ones and friends, particularly long-suffering spouses who worry and must give up precious time with their husbands for what many would call a fool's errand.  Brian's lovely wife Lindsey, and my own vision of loveliness Susanne, are a constant source of encouragement and understanding.  It makes all the difference.  Thanks, then, to The Wives.

We have made some good friends during our search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, most particularly Mark Michaels and Frank Wiley of Project Coyote, whose advice and opinions have been both invaluable and enjoyable.  Persons interested in current work regarding the species, as well as Ivorybill lore, would do well to dedicate some time to their website.  I also count as friends "Cyberthrush" at the IVORY-BILLS LiVE???!... site, and Bill Benish at the Campephilus Woodpeckers blog, and would like to thank them (and Mark and Frank as well!) for including our KINTS blog on their list of Ivorybill links.

Thanks also to a fellow Ivorybill enthusiast and new friend, Mr. Dean Hurliman, who has recently been a source of much encouragement.  Dean, I hope that our words and pictures find their way as needed into your art, which will surely long outlast the both of us.

So as I walk in old Ivorybill country with both my brother and those I call brother, I know that we are not alone in the Quest, and in our great hope.