"...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."

Monday, May 9, 2016

Stronghold Stakeout II: 6 May 2016

I returned to the Stronghold for another stakeout and survey of the territory, accompanied this time by my brother Brian.  Unlike my prior visit, temperatures were in the upper 50's (Fahrenheit), with low humidity and a mostly sunny sky.  There had been no rain to the area for the previous four to five days.

We were on the trail as the sun rose.  The fair weather really brought out the birds, and the bottomland rang with their calls.  Red-bellied woodpeckers (RBWO) were very conspicuous, Pileateds (PIWO) somewhat less so; of red-headed woodpeckers (RHWO) there was no sign.  Once, I spied a pair of pileateds flying over the trail behind us.

(Two years of searching have left their mark.  I have noticed that, where before my gaze as I walked was usually on the ground around me, now I walk with my eyes on the middle to upper boles of trees, and on the openings between them, constantly turning to glance behind.  This is not a good thing, considering.)

Not long into our hike, we were pleasantly surprised to find a pair of swallow-tailed kites atop a sweet gum, watching us with seeming indifference.

 (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

 Another shot of woodpecker work upon a sweet gum near trailside.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

(Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

Arriving at the scaled sweet gum (I refer to it as the "scaled sweet gum" only to be specific about the tree, not to imply that Ivorybill scaling is involved -- more on that later).  We decided that he would stake out that tree for an hour, and I would backtrack up the trail some, and stake out a lightning-struck oak for an hour.

Brian took the following eight photos of the tree with his Nikon:

I snapped a couple more near the base:

I made my way back up the trail, and found the lightning oak without too much trouble.  It is a large red oak, probably around 30 years old, that had suffered a lightning strike sometime during the latter half of 2015.  Much of the bark upon the lower bole was blown off, with the sapwood splintering into long strips in rather spectacular fashion.

Photo taken 10-4-2015.

The tree is still alive, though doubtless its days are numbered.  I positioned myself some 20 yards from its base, and settled in for an hour, during which I neither saw nor heard anything odd or unusual.  No woodpeckers came to feed upon the oak, although RBWO's were active nearby.

At length I rose and approached the tree.  Using my "bully horn" (a water buffalo horn, sold as a dog chew toy), I performed a series of double-knocks upon the hard live sapwood, at roughly 40-second intervals, for about ten minutes.  I felt the sound carried well upon the exposed wood.  It was not long before a RBWO swooped in to a nearby tree, and about five minutes in, a pair of hairy woodpeckers (HAWO) began calling nearby as if in answer.  But I heard no DK's in answer to my own.

Brian and I met back on the trail.  He had nothing to report, and I was disappointed to learn that he had not heard my anthropogenic double knocks (ADK's), which I felt should have carried well.

We made our way back northward up the trail, determined to explore an area north of one of the three or four elongated fields found within the Stronghold.  A downed water oak lies across the way, forcing foot traffic through brush and woods on either side.  We walked around the ruined remains of the tree's lower bole, where much exposed wood still stabs upward from the stump, free from rot.  On a whim, I took out the bully horn, and performed a few ADK's in the manner I had earlier.  To our delight, a pileated woodpecker wheeled through the forest to land in a nearby tree, and hopped from tree to tree within eyeshot as I did both ADK's and imitated "nonspecific" woodpecker tapping.

We made our way to the field, and followed a wide path through slough-crossed bottomland forest, dominated by sweet gum, water oak, spruce pine, baldcypress, and tupelo, typical of the area.

 Medium- to large-sized cavity in a tupelo.  (Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

(Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

We neither saw nor heard anything else of interest during our visit, and left the area before noon.

Regarding the "scaled" sweet gum:  I feel very comfortable in attributing the work on the lowest 2-3 feet of the tree to beavers.  There is, as I stated in a prior post, a beaver dam within 50 yards of the tree.  Also, I do not at this time rule out lightning as a contributing factor, possibly even the major factor, in the bark removal higher up the bole and along one of the larger lower limbs.  Due to the nature of the bark removal, though, I could with great certainty ascribe it to Ivorybill work, if there were other trees with similar scaling in the area.  As of now, I have not seen any; so the tree must for now remain an enigma.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Stronghold Stakeout: 1 May 2016

I determined to return to the area I call The Stronghold, in the northern Pascagoula WMA, to stake out the area around the sweet gum that I photographed on my last hike, and to survey the swamp and bottomland forest in the vicinity, to see if there were any other trees with similar work upon them.  I hoped to arrive earlier than I did on my last visit, so as to be on the trail with the sunrise, and to be in place for a two-hour stakeout no later than 7:30 a.m.

A line of strong storms moved through south Mississippi in the afternoon hours the previous day, but had pushed on through towards Alabama by early evening.  I arrived at the trailhead a little after 6 a.m.  The sky was overcast, with no wind and very high humidity:  light mist hung in the air for the duration of my stay, fogging my camera lens and making some photographs less clear than I would have liked.  Adding to the usual gangs of mosquitoes were numerous deer flies, usually not so prevalent in the swamps and bottoms (they are murderous in the pine uplands here), and I applied as much 100% DEET as I could.

 Sentinel:  A lone white ibis stands guard atop a baldcypress snag near a slough crossing along Hollow Man Road.

 Woodpecker work on a dead limb on a live sweet gum along the trail.

 View from the trail of the sweet gum I spotted on my last visit.

 Pine snag in the vicinity of the sweet gum, upon which I had an intriguing but ultimately inconclusive sighting on my last visit.

I arrived back at the sweet gum around 7:45 with little adventure, and after taking a few more photographs of the tree, I settled in for a two-hour stakeout.

Birds were somewhat less active than on my last visit, and woodpeckers even less so.  I only heard one Pileated woodpecker during my entire stay, though I saw and heard several Red-bellied's (RBWO).  Before staking out the area around the gum, I made a quick expedition westward, over a beaver dam and through some open bottomland dominated by oak and sweet gum.  I was not able to get far before a deep, wide slough blocked my progress.  There I made the following recording of some blue jays making some interesting calls:

I heard no woodpecker knocks during my stakeout, only distant drumming.  A RBWO fed nearby for several minutes before moving off.  After two hours I rose, and performed a series of SK's and DK's upon the exposed sapwood of the sweet gum, using a "bully horn" (a water buffalo horn sold as a dog chew toy); all I succeeded in attracting was a RBWO, possibly the one that had been in my area earlier.

Another line of storms were heading into south Mississippi.  I determined to explore the bottomland in the vicinity, and struck out on an eastward path, towards a crossroads dominated by a weird-looking red oak I call Devil's Fork.

Screen capture of my approximate location on the trail to Devil's Fork.

 Turkey vulture atop a snag along the trail to Devil's Fork.

From Devil's Fork I turned northward, and after a couple of hundred yards I left the trail altogether and headed westward, into the bottomland.  The going was difficult enough, but made more so due to the extensive flooded areas, forcing me into directions I did not want to go in.  Sweet gum is a dominant tree in the normally drier areas.

 Dead snag.

Medium-sized cavity in a sweet gum.

My survey yielded no trees with suggestive scaling, and my only encounters of note were two fat raccoons and a lone wild turkey.  After an hour and a half hike, I came out onto the trail again, and returned to my truck.

The leaf-out is making it extremely difficult to spot woodpecker scaling.

My brother Brian and I visited the area on 6 May.  That trip report will be up soon.