Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the Pearl River

In April 2005, the most exciting news in the history of wildlife conservation came from Arkansas, where a team led by Cornell University documented an Ivory-billed Woodpecker that was observed several times. There had been many sightings over the years, including David Kulivan’s report of a pair in the Pearl River along the southern border between Louisiana and Mississippi in 1999, but sightings had been sporadic since the 1940s and usually lacked evidence or multiple sightings to back them up. The extreme wariness of the Arkansas bird suggested that populations of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers could be hiding out in other bottomland forests. Others have gotten out in the field to search for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, including a team led by Auburn University that found Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the Choctawhatchee River in Florida. Due to a leadership vacuum, there has never been a sustained effort to save the Ivory-billed Woodpecker from extinction. There is a need for an influential individual to make the conservation of this species a priority.

Having heard “kent” calls on the Mississippi side of the Pearl River in February 2000, where unusual bark scaling was discovered several years later, I knew that Kulivan’s report was legitimate and that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were waiting to be documented in that area. Since starting a search in November 2005, I have had ten sightings and obtained video footage (associated with sightings) in 2006, 2007, and 2008. A documentary of my work in the Pearl River is available on YouTube. Data from two of the videos are published in an article in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. The article is under copyright of the Acoustical Society of America, but this pdf may be downloaded for personal use (any other use requires prior permission of the publisher). The supplemental material is archived here. I obtained interesting video footage (not associated with a sighting) in 2009. Daily logs are available for the 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 search seasons and for visits after 2013. Most of the searching involved kayaking and hiking through bottomland forests, but I spent some time observing from tall cypresses that provide unobstructed views over the treetops.

I regard a sighting as definite only if all doubts are eliminated by observing multiple characteristics (such as size, fieldmarks, flight or flap style, kents, double knocks), having multiple sightings in the same area over a short period of time, or obtaining data that support the sighting. I have had nine definite sightings in Louisiana (2-2-06, 2-16-06, three on 2-17-06, 2-20-06, 3-10-06, 2-16-08, 3-29-08) and one definite sighting in Florida (1-19-07). Two of the times I heard kents in Louisiana (2-16-06, 2-18-06) were definite encounters. Michael DiGiorgio has painted Ivory-billed Woodpeckers into photographs in order to bring to life some of my best sightings. Some of my favorite photos from the Pearl have been converted into artwork. An artist has produced cartoons based on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker’s ability to frustrate bird watchers and supposed need for old growth forest.

Norway Sea Trip - Winter 2014

During the winter of 2014, I participated in a sea trip off the coast of Norway. As shown on this map, the trip began in Ålesund on February 18 and ended in Tromsø on March 9. Most of the trip was above the Arctic Circle, including several days above the northernmost tip of Norway up to nearly 72° N. Only a few people went ashore during a brief stop at Honningsvåg, but it was interesting to see that town from the ship. Although the purpose of trip wasn’t to see birds, we visited biologically rich areas with lots of birds. During my free time, I obtained lots of photos and video footage. The videos may also be accessed in this playlist on YouTube. The conditions weren’t always favorable — the ship was often moving at over 10 knots, the birds were often far from the ship, the seas were often rough, the light conditions were often poor, and the lenses were often wet — but I hope others will enjoy the scenery and birds in areas that aren’t visited by bird watchers very often. The video was obtained using bino-cam, which consists of a video camera mounted on binoculars. The binoculars provide a much better image than the viewfinder and make it much easier to get the camera on a bird. I saw a gull that seemed different from all of the common species that were seen regularly during the trip and suspected it was an Ivory Gull while watching it through the binoculars. In the video, it appears all white and has tern-like flaps that are consistent with Ivory Gull. It was exciting to see flocks of alcids with stunning Arctic scenery in the background. I never got tired of watching fulmars in flight. The northern lights were indescribably amazing on some nights, with some of the glowing green arcs passing directly above and extending from one horizon to the other.

Cruise to Alaska - May 2014

During the last week of May 2014, I obtained lots of photos and video footage during a sea cruise from Seattle to Alaska with Holland America. The videos may also be accessed in this playlist on YouTube. I saw lots of seabirds during the transit from Seattle to Juneau, including several Black-footed Albatrosses, lots of Leach’s Storm Petrels, a few Fork-tailed Storm Petrels, several unidentified Shearwaters (some with white underwings and some with dark underwings), and many alcids. I saw lots of whales and other sea mammals at various points during the trip. My favorite part of the trip was going up Mt. Roberts in Juneau and seeing Rock Ptarmigans. I was expecting the ptarmigans to be in breeding plumage and was initially taken aback by the stunning white plumage. I heard one of them calling and the video shows the field marks well enough for positive identification. I was amazed by the flight and rapid bursts of wingbeats of that species. It was difficult to track a pair through the viewfinder of the video camera as they passed in front of patches of snow during a meandering flight. There was an amusing photo-bombing by a Bald Eagle during the filming of a singing Fox Sparrow. I was blown away by the beauty of Glacier Bay. It was the first time I was able to really study the Arctic Tern. I was amused to see a Black-legged Kittiwake resting on a small iceberg.

Colorado - June 2014

I spent several days in Colorado at the end of June 2014. I obtained photos and video footage of flowers and the glass artwork of Dale Chihuly at the Denver Botanical Gardens and of wildflowers, wildlife, and scenery in the mountains in Golden Gate Canyon State Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Other Interests

Bird Watching Trip Reports
Photos from Manu National Park: Peruvian Amazon
Iguazu Falls: Near the Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay border
Photos from the Four Corners area
Photos from Big Bend National Park
Photos from Yellowstone National Park
Favorite Photo: Rio Marañon (a branch of the Amazon) near Balsas, Peru
Wakefield Park: A Hotspot for Mourning and Connecticut Warblers
Venus transits the Sun (June 8, 2004)
Rubik’s Cube and other puzzles