"...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."

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

February 2007 Travel Log — Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Cornell's trip report from the Pascagoula River Basin:  February 2007 Travel Log — Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

'via Blog this'

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Shallow Water, Deep Magic: Little Lake, 12 February 2016

IBWOH's:  Brian Carlisle, Chris Carlisle.

Summary:  My brother Brian and I spent over two hours kayaking Little Lake and the surrounding swamp and flooded bottomland forest, just south of the Wade-Vancleave Road (between MS Highways 57 and 63) in Jackson County, Mississippi.  The area is very near the site of a documented Ivorybill sighting in 1982, when birder Mary Morris of Biloxi observed two individuals (see Jerome Jackson, In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, pp. 179-180).  Another sighting had occurred in the area about sixty years earlier:

"Locality G embraces the great Pascagoula Swamp, a compact unit, and one well deserving of a separate volume.  On two successive days my friend, Mr. Hord, took me out by automobile to points beyond Vancleave whence we paddled in a dugout through miles of veritable fairyland, covering different routes each time.  An uncharted wilderness, this vast swamp consists of a maze of interlacing bayous and lakes in which the unacquainted would be speedily lost.  The land areas, most of which were under water at the time of our visit, are heavily timbered but without the tangle of undergrowth one might expect, and the water everywhere was completely free from debris, never stagnant, and entirely fit to drink.  In the bayous, all of which connect up with the large central Pascagoula River and its branches, the water averaged some fifty feet in depth and afforded wonderful fishing.  We saw alligators and swarms of turtles, but very few snakes indeed.  Mr. Hord told me that the razorbacks which run wild in the swamp keep them killed off.  Hunting parties from Biloxi, Gulfport, and other points find the shooting exceptionally good here, the bags of Wild Turkeys running from ten to twenty for a two or three day trip of several persons, with a few deer and even an occasional bear.  With limited time, we could not penetrate deeply enough into the swamp to find such game, but my ornithological zeal was satisfied by the sight of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a bird so near extinction that I had never hoped to see a living specimen."  (Julian D. Corrington, "The Winter Birds of the Biloxi, Mississippi Region."  Auk, Vol. 39:  October 1, 1922.)

We began our kayak of the area just after dawn on a fairly clear, unusually warm day.  The forest was not too difficult to navigate; a gentle current allowed us to skim the honey-colored water of the channels at a rapid clip or sit quietly as we chose, watched all the while by numerous red-eared sliders warming themselves on logs.  Flocks of wood ducks whizzed overhead and though the trees at the edge of our sight, their alarm calls mingling with the screams of hawks.  We saw many woodpeckers, mainly the usual suspects -- red-headed, red-bellied, downy, and at least one hairy woodpecker; yellow-bellied sapsuckers and flickers; and finally a pair of pileateds, one of which gave me a bit of a start when it lit in a distant canopy, causing me to scramble to bring the kayak to a halt.  Then I heard its tell-tale laughter, bringing a laugh from my brother as well.

I discovered that my camera batteries were dead, so I had to rely on my cell phone.  Luckily, Brian's camera was in good working order.

 We put in at a small unnamed lake that had overflowed into the surrounding bottomland forest.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

Brian was already well ahead by the time I clambered into my kayak and shoved off...

...and yet he still managed to come back around in time to snag a shot of me.  

We alternately followed channels and kayaked through the woods, moving generally south- southwestward towards Little Lake.

 Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

I was rather taken by the serene swamp forest.  Maybe kayaking through flooded bottomland is still a bit of a novelty for me.  (Photo:  brian Carlisle.)

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

After some trial and error, we found ourselves on the south edge of Little Lake.

 I pause beneath a largish cavity in a tupelo.  Signs of woodpecker activity could be easily found throughout this forest, and we were drawn to several cavities, usually in tupelos.  Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

We kayaked from the south end of Little Lake, through the cypress-tupelo swamp forest of its northern half, and back into the flooded bottomland.  We bore eastward, until with a little more trial and error (and some portaging) we found a wide, deep channel that eventually led us back to the small lake near Brian's truck.  An older man passed us in his aluminum motorboat, probably heading for a favorite fishing hole.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

After we had loaded our kayaks back into the truck, we decided that the day was still young enough for more kayaking; so we decided to head back north to one of our favorite areas, the oxbow Hutson Lake.  We put in there, and explored a "shadow" oxbow that connects to Hutson via a short channel, and takes in what Hutson may send her.  Here Richard Ezell and I had spent hours exploring in the summer of 2014, an experience that left us both completely soaked, and which ruined my cell phone.  A lone cormorant greeted us at Hutson, but few other birds made their presence known that late in the morning, and we saw little else besides more turtles.

 Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

 Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Photo:  Brian Carlisle.

Conclusions:  While we saw no suggestive scaling, and heard no kents or double-knocks, Brian and I have already found two other intriguing locations in the vicinity of Little Lake which we hope to explore in the coming months.  While there seems less variety of tree species in this far southern sector of the Pascagoula River Swamp, the maturity of the bottomland and swamp forest, combined with the historical record, have made an impression on my imagination.

It is enough to go on.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Curse Lives: Boggy Slough, and What Happened to the Camera: 26 January 2015

IBWOH:  Chris Carlisle.

Summary:  I returned on an unusually warm and muggy day to the far south of the Pascagoula Wildlife Management Area (PWMA),  hoping to explore the bottomland and swamp forest north of Lice Lake.  I arrived just before dawn, and was able to drive over halfway to the lake, where I had discovered a trail late last year.  Unfortunately, deep water overflowing from nearby Boggy Slough blocked my passage to the lake.  Although I had brought my kayak, Boggy Slough does not flow near Lice Lake, and I was of no mind to navigate the flooded forest alone.  I decided that I would explore Boggy Slough on foot, while I was in the area.

The flooded road.  I waded out until the water was nearly up to my knees -- too high for my Nissan Frontier to drive through.

The forest there is primarily younger bottomland, interspersed here and there by mature cypress-tupelo swamp forest.  Numerous deadfalls led me to think that the area suffered more from Katrina than areas further north in the Pascagoula River Swamp.  My route took me along Boggy Slough for a while; then, following an old logging road, I came to Sandy Slough.

 I neither saw nor heard any other people in that part of the PWMA.

 This large, V-shaped swamp chestnut oak (center-right) was among the few larger trees I encountered here.  Elsewhere in the PWMA, especially in the north (Hutson Lake) sector, trees of this size and larger are much more common.

 Along Sandy Slough.

 Pileated woodpeckers are common in the Boggy Slough and Sandy Slough area, as they are in much of the PWMA.

 At the limit of my hike.

Feeling a bit defeated, and having been generally unimpressed by the forest I'd explored, I got back in my truck and headed first east, then north, to Elephant Man Swamp, to retrieve the game camera my brother Brian and I had set exactly a month before.

A truck belonging to a rabbit hunter was parked near the trailhead, and his hounds yelped and bayed not far off; now and again one of the dogs passed through the woods nearby.  I found the water in Elephant Man Swamp had receded somewhat since our last visit.  I dragged the kayak on down to the slough and put in, expecting the going to be difficult; but the paddle downstream was as easy and uneventful as it had been before.

I found the tree soon enough:  a large tupelo with an intriguing pair of cavities.  Not seeing the camera, I panicked, thinking that it had been either stolen or somehow torn loose from the tree Brian and I had put it on.  

Then, I looked up:

The water level in the swamp had fallen so much, the camera was now about 7-8 feet above my head, though it was still 4-5 feet deep, too deep for me to stand up in.  Floating under the camera, seated in the kayak, I could barely touch it with one of my paddles.

I sat there for a few minutes, listening to the baying of the rabbit dogs in the distance, knowing what I had to do.  I texted my brother, who was at work at the time:

But you know, after a day that so far had not yielded anything of interest, I couldn't leave empty-handed; and we'd been anxious to see what (if anything) the camera had recorded.  So:

The procedure took about 15 minutes.  I still wonder if the rabbit hunter had spied me clinging for dear life to the tree, and what he might have thought about that.

I finally got home a couple of hours later.  I whisked the camera inside, leaving all my other gear in the truck.  I opened the camera to retrieve the memory card, and found this:

Rusty brown water spilled out of it onto the kitchen counter.  The lower battery posts had corroded.  At some point over the past month, the water level in Elephant Man Swamp had risen even higher than it had been the day we set the camera, and the unit was at some point at least partially submerged.  Without much hope, I took out the memory card and inserted it into my desktop computer:  sure enough, it held no data, nothing.  The game camera is ruined.

Conclusions:  At this point Brian and I are ill-disposed to invest in a new camera, and will probably return to good old-fashioned stalking and simply staking out promising woodpecker cavities and feeding sites.

Some say there is no such thing as the Curse of the Ivorybill.  As for me and my brother, though, we believe.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Stuck in Goff Basin: 22 January 2016

IBWOH:  Brian Carlisle.

Summary:  Brian had long sought to return to Goff Basin, which we had last explored on foot with some difficulty in 2014, and which I had kayaked through on my way to Goff Dead River in 2015.  It is particularly challenging terrain:  deep sloughs filled by both a nearby creek and regular flooding by Goff Basin Eddy make foot travel nearly impossible in all but the driest months.  The bottomland and swamp forests of the area are fully mature second-growth, including healthy stands of water oak, laurel oak, willow oak, swamp chestnut oak, tupelo, and baldcypress, as well as some large river birch to be found nearer the River.

Heavy rains passed through south Mississippi the day before.  Brian arrived in Goff Basin before dawn to find ground that in July will be hard as a brick now had the consistently of lemon meringue.  It was not long before the front tires of his Toyota Tundra sank rim-deep, and quite some time passed before an older gentleman in a much smaller and much older Toyota pickup came by and pulled Brian's Tundra free.

Brian was still able to explore part of the area through mid-morning, and to take a few photos.  The following images are all by him.


Christmas lichen, a welcome bit of color in the grey January landscape.

A golden-crowned kinglet can be seen on a branch just to the left of the tree trunk in the middle of the photo.

Bark is stripped from the upper reaches of this baldcypress.

A squirrel nest in the fork of a baldcypress.  The thin cypress bark nearby has been stripped, and looks to have been used for nest material. 

More color in the somber winter swamp.

Conclusions:  Brian and I are considering a return to Goff Basin this year.  I would like to kayak and/or hike to the north/north-east, towards a large, heavily wooded slough.