"...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."

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Swamp Watch: 22 March 2017

I have been absent over-long from the Pascagoula Swamp, due largely to obligations to my day job and the demands brought by Spring to small-time gardeners like myself.  I managed to get back afield for half a day, though, and headed down to the Hutson Lake sector of the Pascagoula WMA, an area I call the Stronghold.

Much of our efforts in the Pascagoula River Basin have been exploration -- surveying remote pockets of bottomland and swamp forest habitat.  I doubt that we will ever visit every corner of the Basin, but as the number of places new to us decreases, the most promising ones become fixed as sites for longer-term survey and surveillance.  The Stronghold is such a place.

Deer were moving near the trailhead in the pre-dawn gloom.  I was far along the old logging trail I call Hollow Man Road at sunrise (around 6:30 A.M., Central Standard Time), bound for the network of sloughs where I'd had an intruiging but inconclusive experience almost a year ago.  Temperatures were in the upper 60's (Fahrenheit), with a nice breeze.  Early cloud cover cleared out by mid-morning.  Bird activity was very high, though I do not think the Spring warblers have yet arrived; and of woodpeckers, I saw or heard all the usual suspects:  downy, red-bellied, red-headed, and pileated woodpeckers, as well as flickers.  I believe the yellow-bellied sapsuckers have left these parts, though, and there was no sign of hairy woodpeckers, which are in any case uncommon to rare in the Basin.

A great egret and a pair of catcalling kingfishers greeted me as I settled into a nook at the base of an oak overlooking a sun-dappled slough.  It was 8 A.M., and I planned on a 2-hour watch.

You can follow some of my progress along Hollow Man Road in the next four videos:

In April of last year I found a sweet gum that appeared to me to exhibit dramatic woodpecker scaling.  I have since concluded, after some correspondence with a forester friend, that lightning likely was the cause, at least initially; though it is possible that some of the scaling was done by woodpeckers, I can not with any degree of certainty attribute it to Ivorybills.  The sweet gum has died.

 Excavation into the still-hard sapwood.

 Large sections of bark are beginning to separate from the sapwood, although the bark still retains much of its strength. 

 Superdominant red oak near the trail. Spruce pine in foreground.

 New and impressive beaver dam.

Observation post for my two-hour watch.

Moon over the Stronghold.

I was treated to a nice show after only a few minutes of sitting very still:  a pair of otters.

They didn't spend much time watching me, and went on about their business.

A barred owl came along not long after the otters disappeared.  He spied me soon enough.

I guess it decided I was up to no good.

A strong breeze created a brief shower of catkins.

Unlike my still hunt there last year, I heard no kent-like calls or Campephilus-style woodpecker knocks, and had no possible visual IBWO encounter.  But on the hike back north I was treated to this:

 The swallow-tailed kites have returned to the skies above the Basin.

As well as a feral hog just off the trail, a blackish individual I believe I may have encountered in the area before.  The wind shifted as I tried to get a photo, though, and it trotted off into the underbrush.

I hope I can get back to the Stronghold soon for another still hunt like this, while the days are still pleasant, and the forest loud with the conversations of birds.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Breakout North: John Goff Slough, 2 March 2017

I was fortunate enough to be able to get out into the field this past Thursday, after a three-month absence.  My good friend Richard Ezell and I headed back down to the south end of the Pascagoula WMA, where I hoped to do a little more exploring in the area between John Goff Slough and the Pascagoula River.  (I have since discovered that the south end of the Slough may also be referred to as Files Pond on old USGS maps, but I will continue to refer to it as John Goff Slough.)  The remoteness of the area and the excellent habitat continue to intrigue me, and I also hoped to perhaps find a way around the northern tip of the ancient oxbow, and to explore along its old outside shoreline.

The day was clear and cool, and blustery.  The swamp and bottomland forest was noisy throughout our hike with the groan and crack of the great trees as they bent in the wind.  We bore northward from the trailhead, between Lice Lake and the River.  Beyond a long, slender lake (unnamed on Google Earth), the trail ended; but we easily navigated the relatively open bottomland, keeping the River in view to our left.  Broad swathes of sand in the woods hinted at past flooding by the Pascagoula.  Eventually we found a trail again, which turned out to be one I had walked before.  We continued northward, and I was pleased to find that the trail did indeed wander around the northern tip of John Goff Slough.  Richard and I followed it another mile or two before venturing out into the muck of the old lake bed for a closer look at the baldcypresses and tupelos, then turned to follow the trail back.  Our total hike that day was six miles.

The water of John Goff Slough looked very low to me, though the River and nearby lakes seemed full enough.  We found no woodpecker scaling of note, and heard no kents, SK's, or DK's; but we saw and heard Pileated, Downy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, along with sapsuckers and flickers.  I continue to be impressed with the quality of the habitat there, though, and I hope to return to continue my survey of the Slough's outside shoreline.

Near the trailhead.

Pascagoula River from the east bank.

Typical view of the bottomland between the River and John Goff Slough.

Richard and a very large water oak at trailside.

The area to the north of us is clear-cut, privately-owned land.

Old woodpecker cavity on a downed baldcypress.

View of the dry swamp forest from the muddy northern edge of John Goff Slough.