"...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 23, 2016

The Land Between the Rivers: Pascagoula Headwaters, 24 September 2016

In the dawn hours of Friday, September 23, my brother Brian Carlisle and I kayaked up the Pascagoula River to its headwaters, where the Leaf and Chickasawhay Rivers meet.  It was a place I had longed to visit.  The area is protected by the Nature Conservancy, in the form of the Charles M. Deaton Preserve, named after one of the founders of the Conservancy's Mississippi chapter.  We kayaked upstream from the boat landing near the bridge at Merrill to a sandbar on the Chickasawhay side.  A couple of minutes of scouting yielded the tail end of a trail, which we followed west-northwest, paralleling the Leaf.  The habitat is young to middle-age hardwood forest, dotted with baldcypress, and occasional sycamores of considerable size.  Many songbirds made their presence known, but I did not feel the woods there held much potential in terms of ivorybills.  We explored for a half hour or so, then made our way back to the kayaks.

After driving around for a while along the roads to the east of the River, we found ourselves at the launch site we had used in 2015 to reach the heavily forested lands around Booger Hole Slough, possibly (to my knowledge) the northernmost lake in the WMA.  A large flock of turkeys greeted us from the big sandbar on the opposite bank.  We put in, kayaking upstream much further than we had last year, until we reached a very large, densely forested island in the midst of the Pascagoula River.  Since it is not named on Google Earth, I have called it Pree Island, after nearby Pree Eddy.  It is managed by the Nature Conservancy.  The forest there is fully mature bottomland hardwood, with a nice mix of oak, sweet gum, and sycamore, with baldcypress in the lower areas and near the edges.  Not much woodpecker work evident, though as with any patch of forest here this time of year it is difficult to spot due to the leaves.  After exploring a clear, cool stream that divides the island from the mainland to the east, we launched back into the Pascagoula.  Exhausted from kayaking upstream and hiking Pree Island, we allowed the River to carry us downstream.

Brian stands at the cofluence of the Leaf and Chickasawhay Rivers, where the Pascagoula River is born.  The Pascagoula is the largest free-flowing river (by volume) in the lower 48 States. 

(Photo:  Brian Carlisle.)

 Grove of black willows near the Chickasawhay River.

  Brian along the bank on the Leaf River side.

 Downstream view, heading back to the landing.

We floated our kayaks along the shoreline for a good part of the way upriver to Pree Island.  The water level is very low.  Burn bans are in place for most of the counties of south Mississippi.

This shallow stream is currently all that separates Pree Island from the east bank.  During seasonal flooding, it will become a broad arm of the Pascagoula.  

Amidst the sweet gums and saw palmetto on Pree Island.

NOTE:  I am currently working from a smallish, borrowed laptop computer until my desktop PC is repaired.  Until then, blog entries will tend to be brief, like this one.