"...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."

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Mud Lodge: Woodpecker Island, 19 January 2016

IBWOH:  Chris Carlisle.

Summary:  I strongly desired to return to the Cypress Creek area after my initial survey of December 10, 2015, and after the report of double-knocks by my friend Richard that same month.  I arrived with my kayak at the landing before dawn on the cold, clear morning of January 5, and was greeted by the sight of half a dozen hunters and their dogs.  I do not begrudge hunters the use of the area, but I much prefer having the woods to myself.

My goal was to kayak upstream on Cypress Creek, to the bend where Black Creek flows into it, a distance of about two miles.  From there I would land on the east bank and set off overland a half mile across Woodpecker Island, making for a north-south trail that runs much of the length of the island.

Google Earth view of the area.

Temperatures were just above freezing, with little wind.  Cypress Creek was up slightly.  I kayaked upstream with little incident, though I had to work harder than before to paddle against the higher volume of water.  Woodpecker activity was high on both sides of the creek; Pileateds were especially active, and I heard and observed multiple individuals during my journey upstream.  Once, I had to quickly and clumsily ground the kayak against a muddy bank, in order to get a clear view of what turned out to be a large pileated woodpecker working the top of a distant water oak.

Mud was the order of the day.  The few exposed banks along the creek were slick with brown mud.  I brought the kayak to a stop along one such bank about halfway to Black Creek, and slipped and fell hard a few minutes later while returning to the boat.

I found the area opposite the mouth of Black Creek much as I remembered, though high water now allowed passage over and beyond the fallen tree that had blocked further travel on my previous survey.  I pulled the kayak ashore in a narrow defile (thick with cockle-burrs) and into a small thicket as best I could, shed my life-vest, and set off on foot.  Not long after, I heard the sound of outboard motors on the creek to my north-west.

A small shed squatted in the muddy woods nearby; it appeared to have been used recently.

I had expected to have to rely on my compass exclusively to guide me eastward to the island's main trail, but found instead that a flagged way had been chopped through the woods.  My route wove along and to the south of the flagged route; the woods on that side of the island are fairly open and easy to navigate, probably due to frequent flooding by Cypress Creek.

I found few large trees initially, with water oak predominant.  The trees were bigger the further east I trekked, and the ground less muddy, leading me to believe that the western side of the island floods fairly regularly.  My overall impression was of a forest still recovering from the last logging operations, which were (I believe) a selective cut in the 1950's.

Long, deep sloughs presented a challenge, but eventually I found my way to the north-south road.  After short forays to the south and the east, I decided to return to the kayak; it was now late morning, and the return trip to the truck would take a couple of hours.

South on the island road.  The young forest gives way to even smaller trees and boggy thickets a couple of hundred yards further.  ATV activity is, obviously, relatively heavy on the island.

I enjoyed kayaking downstream.  Earlier, three boatloads of hunters had passed me, heading south on the creek.  It did not look like their hunt had been successful.

Conclusions:  I was disappointed that the island's forests appeared younger and less fully developed than bottomland in other parts of the Pascagoula WMA.  I was more impressed by the forests on the west bank of Cypress Creek -- in Red Swamp, in and about the mouth of Red Creek, and Black Swamp, extending from the mouth of Black Creek.  Those areas also seem to get the most attention from local hunters; perhaps I will return and explore those parts this year.

As before in this area, I encountered large numbers of woodpeckers, including multiple individual Pileateds.  On Woodpecker Island, the Pileated is King; but I saw and heard no trace of the Emperor.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Wrap-up: Ivorybill Year 2015

I have decided to keep this summary of our Ivorybill search year 2015 brief.  It was only our second year of searching for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in south Mississippi; as such, much of the material already published on this blog speaks for itself.

I believe our greatest success has been discovering and exploiting access points to Big Swamp, in the central Pascagoula River Basin.  The purchase of kayaks has been well-rewarded, and the vast bottomland and swamp forest of this remote area has slowly begun to reveal its secrets.  The extent of quality habitat amazes me, and it is my hope that further exploration by us will one day be of use to others.  Large areas of Big Swamp still lie unexplored by us, particularly in the central and far southern reaches.  I intend to expand our knowledge of those parts in 2016, though due to the large area involved, the pressures of time, and our limited resources and manpower, I doubt we will be able to explore it all.  I also hope to be able to further explore Black Creek, an important tributary stream of the Pascagoula River.

Our search methods have become a bit further refined, thanks in part to our friends at Project Coyote, whose work we follow closely.  Diagnostic Ivorybill feeding sign still eludes us.

Importantly, my brother Brian was able to secure a game camera in 2015, and we began working with it late in the year.  It remains to be seen whether or not our latest effort to set the camera on an interesting pair of cavities in Elephant Man Swamp was worth it.

We had no audio encounters involving kents or double-knocks (DK's) in 2015, with one exception:  my friend Richard Ezell and his son, Nick, heard distinct double-knocks in the area of Cypress Creek and Woodpecker Island, in central Big Swamp, while hog hunting in December.  No recording was obtained, but Richard is a skilled woodsman who has accompanied us in our forays into the Pascagoula River Basin before, and is familiar with most local bird species and their calls.  

The search for the Ivorybill aside, 2015 revealed to me a world little-known to most people, even those living within an hour's drive of it.  Exploring the magnificent forests, kayaking the creeks and the mighty Pascagoula, standing in the shadow of mammoth cypresses... these are in themselves experiences worthy of seeking out.  Though I would not have gone to all the trouble if it had not been for the sake of the Ivorybill, now I would go even knowing for sure that the bird is truly no longer there.  It has always been a bit of a spiritual journey for me, but now more than ever I find my spirit renewed after a day in the swamp.  The effort has taken much from me, but much has also been given in return; I would not be the person I am now had we not undertaken this task, now two years in.

Will we find the Ivorybill in 2016?  Well, I am as hopeful as ever, even maybe a little more so.  But I will be satisfied if we are able to further explore this corner of the Ivorybill's historic range this year, and in years beyond.  At some point, we will be able to say with a degree of certainty whether or not we believe the Ivory-billed Woodpecker still haunts the forests of south Mississippi.  That point, I can say with some certainty, lies far yet in the future.

We continued to grow as photographers.  Brian's photography is particularly good.

Bogue Chitto NWR, 24 January 2015.

Dace Lake, 3 March 2015.

Flood stage on Black Creek, 5 March 2015.

German Slough, 31 March 2015.

Big Swamp, 13 April 2015.
Big Swamp, 24 May 2015.

 Big Swamp, 13 July 2015.

Big Swamp, 13 July 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

Pearl River WMA, 3 September 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

 Otter Pond area, 17 September 2015.

 Otter Pond area, 17 September 2015.

Otter Pond, 17 September 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

Upper Pascagoula River, 17 September 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

 Booger Hole Slough, 25 September 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

 Pascagoula River, 25 September 2015.

 Curtis, the Ancient of Days, and I.  4 October 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

 Curtis and I on Hollow Man Road, 4 October 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

Lord God Tree.  4 October 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

 Storm clouds above the Pascagoula, 13 October 2015.

 Goff Dead River, 13 October 2015.

Near Goff Dead River, 13 October 2015.

 On Hollow Man Road, 22 October 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

 The otter family of Hollow Man Eddy.  22 October 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

 Brian and Elephant Man.  22 October 2015.

Cavities in a large tupelo.  Elephant Man Swamp, 22 October 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

Moon over Dace Lake, 29 October 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.) 

Pierce Lake, 29 October 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

Bottomland forest near Elephant Man Swamp.  3 November 2015.

 Flooded WMA road near Cypress Creek, 22 November 2015.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

Kayaking flooded bottomland forest near Big Lake, 22 November 2015.

 Cypress Creek.  10 December 2015.

 Titan Swamp.  10 December 2015.

Near Sandy Slough, 10 December 2015.

Elephant Man Swamp, 26 December 2015.

As noted, we continue to correspond with, and draw inspiration from, our friends Mark and Frank at Project Coyote, and wish them further successes in their adventures and discoveries in the Louisiana wilderness.  I have also had the pleasure of corresponding with others in the Ivorybill community, including Cyberthrush at the Ivory-bills Live???!... site, and Bill Benish, who runs the Campephilus Woodpeckers blog.  In addition, words of encouragement and friendship in the "Ivory-Billed Woodpecker -- Rediscovered" Facebook group have been at times a balm to my spirit.  Thanks, guys! It is an honor to be part of this larger effort; I only hope we have contributed in our own small way, and can continue to do so in 2016 and beyond.

Then there is poet and carver Dean Hurliman, whose spirit must regularly soar far from the workshop where he crafted the Ivorybill that now hangs above the desk as I type these words.  You have honored me with your friendship, sir, and it means the world.

The Hurliman Ivorybill.

Thanks to Richard Ezell and Curtis Holland, Jr., for joining us in the swamp.  We hope you will return with us, and right soon!

Thanks also to Mrs. Sheri Ezell, and to Mrs. Lindsey Carlisle, for allowing your husbands to accompany us to where those of Good Sense fear to tread.

Thanks to my lovely wife Susanne, for wishing me well without fail as I rummage about the closet at three in the morning, and for love and encouragement since Day One.  Love, if it weren't for you, I would only have dared to dream this.  I will continue to try to be home at a decent hour on those search days.

Finally... Brian, my brother.  We stand shoulder to shoulder in this, what many would call a fool's errand.  But we will always have it; and in years to come, we will not have to look back, and wonder. We will know.

To those who follow this journey here at our "Kints" blog:  thanks for coming!  I hope you will keep sharing in our adventures in old Ivorybill country.  We fully intend to continue the Quest.