"...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, October 21, 2017

Surveilling the Leaf Wilderness, 14 October 2017

Going into the fall search season, I determined to spend greater time in still hunts in some of the more promising Ivorybill habitat we have surveyed.  Towards that end, I recently spent nearly three hours sitting on a baldcypress hip in the 900+ acre Leaf Wilderness Area.  I pass by the Wilderness regularly on my trips to the Pascagoula River Swamp, but this was the first time I'd set foot there in nearly three years.  There one may pass through four woodland types between the highway and the Leaf River (a major tributary of the Pascagoula River):  first, upland pine forest; then a thin band of slope forest along an old river bluff; islands of bottomland hardwoods; and tupelo-baldcypress swamp forest, which comprises most of the area of the Wilderness.  It is all mostly mature second growth, with at least two relict baldcypresses that my brother Brian and I discovered when we first explored the area in 2014.

I got there well after dawn on what would become a clear, warm (70s-80s) day.  I had originally intended to surveil an area much farther south, in Elephant Man Swamp, in the Stronghold sector of the northern Pascagoula WMA; but there were many hunters there, and I had not worn any orange.  There were no hunters in the Leaf Wilderness when I drove back up there.  I hiked through the strip of pine woods, past the neglected visitor center, and over the railroad tracks; then, through the narrow band of slope forest, and into the swamp.  I moved very slowly, taking about an hour before reaching Treebeard, a relict baldcypress some 300 yards into the Wilderness.

Site (the blue dot) of my still hunt, by the relict baldcypress "Treebeard."

 Bigleaf magnolia near rotting pine snag near the visitor center.

 Moving into the slope forest from the railroad tracks.

 Pine and white oak are plentiful in the narrow band of slope forest.

 Despite what this photo might suggest, it is relatively easy moving through the slope forest.

 The slope forest ends rather abruptly, and the swamp begins.

 Woodpecker work on a hollow tupelo.

 The water here was shallow enough to make slow, steady progress possible.

 I encountered no snakes in the Wilderness that day, though my brother and I had found cottonmouths to be plentiful here on prior visits.

 I found Treebeard again with little difficulty.

 Treebeard is not the largest relict baldcypress we have found in the Pascagoula River Basin, but he was the first.

 What became my seat for the better part of three hours.  It became only moderately uncomfortable.

 I only noticed this frog sitting nearby after I'd been in place over thirty minutes.  He sat with me for most of my stay.

 My view facing west through the swamp, back towards the slope forest.

I watched a pair of pileated woodpeckers working on a cavity in a nearby baldcypress.  They moved about my area, calling and clucking to one another.  I heard other pileateds nearby, as well as flickers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and downy woodpeckers.

Though I neither saw nor heard anything suggestive of Ivorybills that day, the variety of mature forest types within the Leaf Wilderness, as well as its rather strategic location between the vast upland pine woods of the DeSoto National Forest and the Pascagoula River Swamp -- not to mention the sighting by Jack Merritt in December of 1960, somewhere in the vicinity -- make it worthy of more still hunts in the future.