Day-to-day log of the 2006 search season:
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11-7-05. I will be searching for ivorybills in the Pearl River this fall and winter. I originally intended to start in late September, but there was a delay due to the aftermath of Katrina. This is the location where I heard kents on February 3, 2000. The habitat didn’t seem right, but I later learned that Arthur Allen photographed an ivorybill in pine forest in 1924. The Pearl is approximately three miles behind where I was standing when I took this photo. David Kulivan’s sighting in 1999 was just across the Pearl. A lot of time has passed. Are those birds still around? Did they survive Katrina? Were their roost trees blown down? There are many broken trees in the area, including a few that appear in the photo. Stennis has a variety of habitats, such as a small slough that is loaded with Sedge Wrens and other species.
11-14-05. I have completed an initial survey of the area and am ready for some serious searching, which I will be doing mainly by kayak. I will be doing some searching in and around Stennis Space Center. There is some good habitat over here, including this area that I hiked into a few days ago. One of the areas I will be searching is Bogue Chitto, which has lots of good habitat. For example, this area somewhat resembles the site where David Luneau obtained his video. Just before I took this photo, a Pileated flew deep within the cypresses and caused my heart to skip a few beats.
11-17-05. I visited the Mississippi coast this afternoon. The devastation is unbelievable. The TV reports just don’t capture the scope of it. The worst of it was on the coast side of the railroad tracks, which were bent by the surge of debris. This house just over the tracks was destroyed. Further down the street, it looks like a war zone. Looking back toward the tracks, you can see how the path of debris was forced north by the 32-foot storm surge. All that remains of most of the houses on this street, where two people died, are slabs.
11-18-05. I spent more than six hours on the Pearl today and had my first interesting sighting of the trip. A few hundred yards up the river, a large woodpecker flew across the water and swooped very gracefully upward before landing on a tree. I tried to get my binoculars on it, but it must have landed on the backside of the trunk. I kept my binoculars on the tree, but my kayak drifted behind an overhanging tree. I saw a lot of white on this bird. Based on the angle of flight, it seems that the white was on the upper side of the wings. I will have to spend some time in that area. It was chilly this morning, but the water is still warm. So it’s not too unpleasant going out on the water before dawn. I saw several feral pigs sunning themselves on the shore. They aren’t the most alert animals. A couple of times, I drifted almost right up on them before they noticed me.
11-19-05. I spent another morning on the Pearl. I didn’t see much, but there was much gunfire coming from both sides of the river. Since a few people expressed an interest in my report from yesterday, I will describe the trajectory of the bird in greater detail. I noticed it flying from right to left across the river. It swooped in a long glide and then veered sharply up to land on the tree. It was a naked eye view, but I could tell it was gliding since the trajectory was so smooth. I have never seen such a dramatic maneuver by a pileated.
11-20-05. I returned to the area where I had the interesting sighting. The only interesting observation of the day was a loud single rap in that area. It could have been any number of things, but it was unusually loud. I continue to be amused at how stealthy the kayak is to animals on the shore. I lodged the kayak against a fallen tree to watch some pileateds foraging on the opposite side of the river. After a while, I noticed a raccoon foraging at the edge of the water. A few times, he looked in my direction, but I wasn’t sure if he noticed me. Then he started dog paddling across the river. As I watched in my binoculars, he got bigger and bigger. He was coming right at me! I tried to move out of the way when he got to within about 10 feet. Then he did an abrupt U-turn.
11-21-05. I took a day off from searching but went for a late walk in the area where I heard kents on Feburary 3, 2000. The understory in that area is filled with a shrubby tree that looks somewhat oak-like. Not being from this area, I don’t know the species. Those trees have bright red berries. Do ivorybills feed on berries? The area is absolutely loaded with them.
11-22-05. The shrub with the berries is Yaupon Holly. Holly berries are generally not believed to be as attractive to birds as poison ivy berries and wild grapes, but I have been told that birds devour Yaupon Holly berries when they ripen between late January and early February. There is some interesting habitat in this area, including a ditch that is rich with vegetation. This ditch blocked me from approaching the ivorybill calls five years ago. It now harbors lots of birds, including Carolina, House, Sedge, Marsh, and Winter Wren. A few days ago, I obtained
this photo of the area where I saw a large black and white woodpecker swoop in for a landing in classic ivorybill style. The bird flew in from right to left and landed in one of the big trees. Last week, I saw this Barred Owl hunting in the middle of the afternoon in the northeast part of Stennis, where I saw several Eastern Bluebirds and Vesper Sparrows one morning.
11-23-05. I’m stuck in the office today while my car is in the shop. On days that I can’t make it out on the Pearl, I take a walk over to the ditch. It’s always a pleasant place to start the day. This morning, there was the usual activity of birds in that area. I also saw a pair of White-winged Doves fly over.
11-24-05. When I arrived at the river this morning, I was greeted by a pair of otters. They were on land, and I nearly got a photo. A short ways up the Pearl, I did get a photo of some
deer as they crossed the river. I spent some time this morning on Mike’s River, which joins the Pearl a short distance from where I launch. The habitat in that area looks promising, and it seems to be visited much less than the Louisiana side of the Pearl.
11-25-05. For a change of pace, I decided to visit a site that Bob Russell recommended. About thirty miles north of Pascagoula, Rte. 57 crosses Black Creek, which enters the Pascagoula River WMA at that point. There have been ivorybill reports from that area. Due to fallen trees, the current, and a mid-day arrival, I was only able to kayak in for a few miles before turning back. The habitat looks at least as good as the habitat along the Pearl, and there seems to be a better mix of tree species. I will soon be heading back to Virginia. I will stop at a few places in Florida and post photos when I get home. I am neither surprised nor disappointed that I didn’t find an ivorybill on this visit. The odds should be much better during my next visit in January.
11-27-05. On my way back to Virginia, I spent the day at the Apalachicola National Forest. There has been a steady stream of ivorybill reports from this area. After seeing the habitat, I’m sure there will be more. One of the sites that I visited is the East River, where ivorybill calls and double raps were heard three years ago. The only birds that I saw the entire day were two Anhingas and single flocks of Robins and Pine Warblers. Amazingly, I didn’t see or hear a single woodpecker. I wasn’t overly disappointed that it was a slow day. The main purpose of the visit was to scout areas to check by kayak when I return in a few months. I’ve only been home for a few hours, but I’m already looking forward to getting back out there. I will continue to focus on the Pearl, but I will also do some searching along the Apalachicola River and other areas.
1-30-06. After an 1100 mile drive from Virginia, I arrived back at the Pearl early this morning. I first visited the Yaupon Holly patch, where I heard ivorybill calls six years ago and another observer heard them last year. I was surprised to see that most of the berries have already been eaten. Maybe they ripened early due to the warm weather. Oh well, it was an extreme long-shot that an ivorybill would return to that site. On the other hand, everything is a long-shot with this species. I spent the rest of the morning on the Pearl. There was lots of woodpecker activity, and sounds are carrying through the woods very well now that the leaves are gone. In the afternoon, I visited a channel that connects the Pearl with Devil’s Swamp. Based on the locations of all known encounters over the past seven years, I suspect that ivorybills have been using this channel as a corridor. This photo was taken looking west along the channel toward the Pearl. Devil’s Swamp is behind me and to the left. The site where ivorybill calls were heard in 2000 and 2005 is in the pines to the right. Devil’s Swamp is rarely visited and would be a natural place for the birds to seek refuge when human activities on the other side of the Pearl peak during the hunting season.
1-31-06. I spent the morning on the Pearl. The water is higher than it was in November, which makes it possible to visit new areas by kayak. I checked out an interesting little bayou that branches off the Pearl on the Louisiana side. There are others that I will visit in the coming weeks. I went about three miles up the Pearl to the spot where I had a possible sighting in November. There was lots of woodpecker activity but nothing out of the ordinary. I saw a Red-headed Woodpecker, which I didn’t see in November. Just after I got back and had lunch, there was a test of one of the space shuttle engines. The rumbling sound is very impressive. This photo shows the column of smoke coming from the test.
2-1-06. I spent the morning exploring bayous that branch off the Pearl on the Louisiana side.
Here is a shot of one of them. It’s great that the water level has risen enough to open up these areas. It gives me access to lots of good habitat. While in this bayou, I spent some time practicing taking photos from the kayak and had the perfect subject (short of an ivorybill). After lunch, I went for a walk along the ditch where I heard ivorybill calls six years ago. This photo was taken looking down the ditch toward the canal that I photographed on Monday. This gator was taking a nap in the ditch.
2-2-06. I’m pretty sure that I saw an ivorybill this morning. I was drifting along in my kayak and saw a large woodpecker flush from ground level near the edge of the water less than a hundred meters ahead. It was flying nearly perpendicular to my line of sight like a bat out of hell. I immediately got my binoculars on it and saw it for a few seconds. It clearly had white patches on the trailing edge of the wings. This was easy to see since the view was from the side. Details were partially obscured by glare, but it wasn’t too bad since the bird was below and to the right of the sun. For months, I have been training myself to lock onto the wings of large woodpeckers in flight. It paid off today. Although I focused on the wings, the head was visible in the right part of my field of view. What I saw of the head was a blur, but it appeared to be all black. I initially didn’t think that I had noticed anything significant about the head — it just appeared to be a featureless black blob. After thinking about it, I realized that this is consistent with an ivorybill. After having better views of ivorybills flushing a few weeks later, I decided to regard this as a definite sighting on the basis of the field marks and rapid wingbeats.
2-3-06. It was six years ago today that I heard ivorybill calls here at Stennis. I started the day near that location but, as expected, didn’t see or hear anything. I then proceeded to the Pearl and headed back to stake out the location of yesterday’s sighting. I had a possible sighting about a half mile downstream from that site. As I reached for my binoculars, it was passing almost directly overhead. I twisted by body to stay on the bird and nearly caused the kayak to capsize — just as I caught a flash of white on the trailing edge of the underside of the wings. I do not regard this as a definite sighting.
2-4-06. In two days, the water has dropped about two feet in the Pearl. I started out this morning staking out the location of yesterday’s overflight. No such luck. It was a bit windy, and there was little bird activity.
2-5-06. Early this morning, I heard two impressive double raps, but I later learned that someone was simulating double raps in the Pearl around this date. I spent some time this morning trying out my new GPS. This is the first time I have ever used one, and I love it. I got the Magellan Meridian Gold, which basically has an odometer, speedometer, and compass. Of course, it also displays your coordinates continuously. It was nice to get some precise information on distances, which I had only been estimating crudely. I kayaked a total of 12.6 miles this morning. I used the GPS to measure the current at approximately 2 mph. I was only able to go at about 2 mph against the current without having to struggle to the point that it would be difficult to watch and listen for birds. Having this capability will allow me to make trips downstream, which I have done in the past only with trepidation, not wanting to get so far downstream that I wouldn’t be able to make it back before dark. I drove to Slidell this afternoon to watch the Super Bowl with a friend. I took this photo while driving over the Pearl on I-10. Look at the sea of trees. There are ivorybills out there.
2-6-06. Early this morning, I settled into a stakeout position in the area of the recent encounters. I had my camera ready for a flyover but didn’t get lucky today. I have had my Olympus C-740 digital camera for nearly three years but had never used it to record a movie. On my first attempt, I got this movie of a pileated. I didn’t realize that the audio wasn’t turned on and later missed capturing some strange imitations by a Blue Jay.
2-7-06. On Sunday, it was near freezing at sunrise and I was wet all day. I’m starting to get sick and will have to take it easy for a few days. Like yesterday, I spent some time at a stakeout. It was a bit windy and one of those quiet mornings for birds. This afternoon, I paid a visit to the Yaupon Holly patch. Many of the berries were gone by last week, but this tree was still loaded with them a few days ago. They’re all gone now. Those berries must be prized to have been devoured so quickly. The photo was taken in November, but the berries didn’t seem to have been touched until the past few days.
2-8-06. This morning, I took a stroll up Mike’s River. This afternoon, I launched my kayak at the boat ramp that is south of Stennis off the access road from I-10. I went north on the Pearl and took
this photo of the mouth of the channel that goes to Devil’s Swamp. The channel is to the right. The Pearl continues north to the left. The habitat looks pretty good going into the mouth of the channel.
2-9-06. The last several days have been cold and windy, and I’ve spent a lot of time sitting at stakeouts while wet. I’ve been sick and getting worse. I decided not to go out today. I stood by the river for an hour hoping for a flyover.
2-10-06. Feeling a little better, I went out for a few hours this morning and was careful to stay dry. I went out again this afternoon and got caught in the rain but found some interesting
foraging sign in Devil’s Swamp. Chisel marks are visible in
2-11-06. It was sunny this morning, and I returned to get a closer look at the foraging sign. I don’t have much experience with foraging sign, but several birders have pointed out that it looks like pileated work. There’s a great deal of it in this area, which is fairly close to where I heard kents six years ago.
2-12-06. I spent this morning and early afternoon trying to reach Perch Lake. I put my kayak in at the Curtis Johnson boat launch, which is just south of Stennis. I headed south until just before the
I-10 bridge and then turned north on Wastehouse Bayou. At certain points, the current was
so strong that I was barely moving forward. I thought it would be necessary to turn back. There are some
impressive cypresses along this bayou, including one that
you can see through. The current was no longer a problem once I reached
Perch Lake Bayou. I came upon a huge cypress fallen across the water and lifted the kayak over it.
Later on, the bayou became much narrower and more fallen trees became a problem. It also became unclear
which fork to take, and I was concerned about getting lost. I will make another attempt later this week.
I was told that there is some interesting habitat to the north of Perch Lake.
The trip there and back was 11.8 miles. Due to the current, it felt like at least twice that distance. I barely have the strength
to sit up and type this.
2-13-06. This morning, I kayaked up English Bayou and quietly drifted back. I was a nice morning, but I didn’t see or hear anything interesting other than a few otters, including this one that cooperated for a photo.
2-14-06. I made another attempt to reach the area north of Perch Lake. This time, I kayaked down to a point on the Pearl to the east of my destination and tried to reach it on foot. Things got off to a bad start right after I came ashore. I moved the kayak across a small stream and was ready to start walking when I realized that my GPS had fallen out of my jacket pocket. My first thought was that it had fallen in the stream and floated out into the river. I hurried over to the river and saw something floating just downstream that could have been it. I ran back and grabbed the kayak and headed after it. Right where I expected to see the GPS was a huge gator but no GPS. I continued a ways down the river and searched for a while but eventually gave up. Just in case, I returned to shore and found it bobbing in a mud puddle. Yep, it’s definitely waterproof. So off I went in the direction of Perch Lake. After slogging for about a half mile in water that ranged between knee and waist deep, I took photos of what was
behind me and what was ahead of me. The going is very difficult through this kind of habitat. There were several bayous to cross, and it was hard to find places that you could get across without swimming, which I didn’t want to do with a camera. No wonder the ivorybill remained hidden for so many years!
I finally came to a deep bayou
and decided that I was too exhausted to go on. Even though I didn’t make it to Perch Lake, it was interesting to use the GPS to hike into
a place where I would get lost forever without it.
2-15-06. I woke up feeling the effects of yesterday’s adventure and decided to go a little easier today. I had the pleasure of a visit by a searcher
who has expertise in habitat and foraging sign.
We took a walk in Devil’s Swamp, where he was impressed by the amount of foraging sign, such as this tree, which is surrounded by a pile of
wood chips. On one of the trails, we were greeted by
this cute little critter. My visitor also took a kayak
ride in one of the areas where I’ve seen ivorybills. He gave the habitat a positive assessment and encouraged me to keep searching there, even though there have been no encounters for more than a week.
2-16-06. Early this morning, I was drifting along the left bank and flushed an ivorybill from near the left bank in good light. It flew nearly directly away from me on rapidly beating wings. It was a lot like the Luneau video but in perfect focus and without the pixelation. I clearly saw the brilliant white trailing edges of the wings that nearly met in the middle. Late in the afternoon, I returned to the area and pulled into the opposite bank for 90 minutes. During that time, I only heard a pileated call once, and that was immediately after I heard three kents from an ivorybill. It seemed clear that the pileated was reacting to the ivorybill. That pileated is smarter than some of our kind — it knows that ivorybills still fly.
2-17-06. I returned to the area where I had the encounters yesterday and flushed an ivorybill from the right bank as I was still working my way upstream. This sighting was similar to the sighting of February 2, but I only saw the white trailing edge of the right wing. I spent the rest of the morning in the area. About an hour later, I had an excellent view of an ivorybill flying low over the water as it crossed the river from left to right. I clearly saw the white trailing edges of both wings. Later on, I flushed a large pied bird from behind a fallen tree and heard wingbeats. I didn’t notice the location of the white since it happened so fast and the bird was partially obscured by the fallen tree, but I regard it as a definite sighting on the basis of the way the bird flushed, the proximity to the other sightings that day, the extensive amount of white on the wings, and the way the bird dropped down into cover.
2-18-06. I returned to the hot zone very early and stopped upstream to listen for a while. While drifting with the current, I heard kents coming from just behind a fallen tree on the left bank. I quietly nosed my kayak right up to the bank. The kents kept coming from behind the tree. A Robin was scolding from just above. It apparently didn’t know what to make of the unfamiliar beast on the ground below. I sat there yards from the bird with my camera in hand, hoping it would move into view. While the ivorybill directly ahead continued calling, kents started coming from directly behind me from the treetops on the opposite side of the river. This was an inopportune time to discover that there are two birds. The one in back of me started making scolding calls and then high-pitched calls, and the one in front of me became quiet. So much for what seemed to be a golden opportunity to get a photo. Seconds later, a gunshot went off not too far away, an animal came crashing through the brush and water, and then it started pouring rain. I realized that it was time to go get a video camera. If only I had gotten it a day earlier. I might have gotten a photo of the bird behind me by simply pointing the camera over my shoulder and shooting away. I kept my attention focused ahead in case the bird behind the fallen tree flushed, but the bird behind me seemed to be up in the trees and might have been in view. In a kayak, it is difficult to turn around and look behind, but a blind shot would have been worth a try. Hindsight — both literally and figuratively in this case.
2-19-06. This was my first day in the field with a video camera. After having several encounters in three days, I had high hopes of getting some data but didn’t have any luck.
2-20-06. It took just two days with a video camera to get some data. As I was paddling through the hot zone, I noticed a large woodpecker perched about 15 feet above the ground just as it started to fly back into the woods. I clearly saw the white trailing edges of the wings. Since my goal was to get data, I immediately decided to stick with my routine — continue paddling upstream of the hot zone, stop there to listen for a while, and then drift quietly back downstream. I changed my mind when the same high-pitched calls that I heard two days ago started coming from the direction where the ivorybill had flown. I pulled out my video camera and started drifting. When the calls stopped, I pulled into the bank opposite of where the calls had originated. I kept the camera running in case there were more calls. Then I noticed movement in a tree deep in the forest. I tried getting the binoculars on it with my left hand while keeping the camera running with my right hand. I never got the binoculars on it, but I zoomed in the camera when it seemed to be pointed in the right direction. I managed to get video of the bird perched, flying a short distance to the right, and flying a longer distance to the left.
2-21-6. I took three birders into the hot zone, hoping they would see or hear one of the ivorybills. In order to minimize disturbance, I would have preferred to take one birder at a time. Due to constraints on cars and boats, four of us went in with my kayak, a small canoe, and a large canoe. We flushed a large bird from near the bank on the way in, but nobody got a good look at it.
2-22-06. A birder from South Carolina took me and a friend for a boat ride way up Wastehouse Bayou today. It was much easier and faster than my kayak trip up there.
2-24-06. Searching for ivorybills has it ups and downs. This was one of the down days. I was starting to feel really
at home in my kayak. Maybe I had gotten too confident. I rolled it over this morning. I couldn’t believe how
fast it happened. The current dragged me into some overhanging branches, and the kayak was upside down
in an instant. I was in over my head, and my binocular strap was caught in a tree branch. My first reaction
was to worry about losing my binos, but I quickly realized that I better worry about saving my hide. As I struggled
to reach the bank, a Turkey Vulture flew over and I said to it, “Not today.” I managed
to get everything over to the shore, but my binos, camera, and video camera are toast. I stripped out of my clothes and hung them up to dry after wringing them out. They were fairly dry in less than an hour.
2-25-06. Since I ended up in the water yesterday and it’s raining today, I decided to rest up and run errands, including replacing lost equipment.
2-26-06. The water is dropping rapidly in the Pearl. I went for a kayak ride up a bayou this morning and then had a little trouble getting back.
2-27-06. In order to get a better video, I’m going to need every edge that I can get. Today I tried going out in full camo. It definitely works. This Barred Owl allowed me to approach to within twenty feet. I sat there and watched it for more than twenty minutes. There are definite signs of spring in the Pearl. The amount of bird song picked up noticeably this morning.
2-28-06. I visited the hot zone this morning. Since it has cooled off and there were some hunters out there, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt if I got out of the kayak and took a look around. On two previous visits, I heard kents that seemed to be coming from a particular point. I got the coordinates of this location and used my GPS to get there. I went ashore a ways to the east and slowly hiked in with the sun at my back. I made a few lengthy stops to watch and listen with the video camera running. This panorama gives an idea of what the habitat is like. I didn’t notice any trees that seemed to be good candidates for a cavity. It was a very quiet morning for woodpeckers.
3-1-06. I only had time for a quick kayak ride this morning before running to give a talk at the University of New Orleans. The first migrant passerines of the season were there to greet me — a Northern Parula and a Yellow-throated Warbler.
3-2-06. This evening, I gave a talk about my search at the Pine Woods Audubon Society meeting in Hattiesburg. The audience showed lots of interest and enthusiasm and asked good questions.
3-3-06. It was a nice but relatively quiet morning. It’s going to be tough to relocate these birds.
3-5-06. The ivorybills have been heard a few times this week but have not been seen since February 20. I returned to the area where the video was obtained and took wide-angle and zoomed photos. In the wide-angle shot, it’s easy to see that the bird was far off (about a hundred meters) and deep within the cover of trees. This bird kept hiding behind branches and peeking around at me. There is no way that a pileated would behave that way.
3-6-06. I have recently had two visitors in the swamps. They thought they heard double raps the other day but weren’t sure since they were far off. One of them had to head back home to Ontario on Sunday afternoon. The other one is planning to stay for a while. This morning, we did some measurements of the tree in which the ivorybill was captured on video.
3-7-06. This morning, I heard something that is rarer to my ears than ivorybill kents —
the song of a Blue Jay. It’s only the second time I have heard this song. I don’t have the best audio equipment, but parts of the song can be heard fairly well. Before paddling back to Stennis, I took this photo while standing next to the tree in the video and looking in the direction where I was sitting that day. There is no way that a pileated would be so wary (constantly peeking from behind branches) in a tree so far back in the woods.
3-8-06. I went for a walk through the swamp today. In the flooded hardwoods, the water is less than knee deep in most places, but I still get an eerie feeling walking around out there. It’s a bit unnerving walking into a place that your instincts tell you to avoid. We have had beautiful spring weather lately, with migrants starting to come through, but it’s supposed to storm tomorrow.
3-10-06. This morning, I saw a large dark bird flush from the bank on rapidly beating wings. Due to glare from the sun, I wasn’t able to detect field marks, but I regard it as a definite sighting on the basis of the rapid wingbeats and the fact that there were several previous sightings in the same area, including a bird that flushed from the exact same spot on 2-17-06. A visitor was just behind me in his kayak, but he did not see the bird. Later on, I saw my first Swallow-tailed Kite of the season.
3-11-06. I was visited by two ornithologists today. It was interesting to go over the video with them last night. They had driven a long way, and we planned to meet at dawn this morning, but they stayed up late watching the DVD and stepping through the video sequences on the computer. Since one of the visitors was not a U.S. citizen, I was not able to get them into Stennis. We launched our kayaks at a remote site and didn’t get to the better areas until fairly late the morning. I was hoping for some action after the possible sighting yesterday, but we had no such luck.
3-12-06. For the second day in a row, it was windy and hard to listen for birds. The only interesting sighting was a Swallow-tailed Kite cruising through the swamp. A birder who previously spent three months searching in Arkansas has been here for nearly two weeks. I had high hopes that he would see an ivorybill because he knows his way around in the field. He came close a few days ago. He was right behind me when I had a possible sighting. He has decided to head back home, which means that tomorrow will probably be the day that the ivorybills decide to come out and play again.
3-13-06. Ivorybill searching has its ups and downs. This morning, I noticed water in my kayak. After returning to the boat launch, I found a small crack in the hull. I must have hit one too many submerged logs. I’ll try to patch it up. Hopefully, it will hold for a few weeks. The Prothonotary Warblers have arrived in good numbers. I’m looking forward to the arrival of the Swainson’s Warblers. This is the first time I have experienced spring migration in the south. I will get to enjoy it twice this year.
3-14-06. On the way out this morning, I saw seven Swallow-tailed Kites circling above.
3-15-06. For a change of pace, I entered on the Louisiana side. I took the road that goes south just before the Old Hwy. 11 bridge. There have been at least five reports from that general area over the years. It’s tough getting around back there, and you can’t do it quietly and cover a lot of ground at the same time.
3-17-06. It was a beautiful St. Patrick’s day in the Pearl. I had been dreading the onset of spring since it meant that it would become harder to find ivorybills. That may be true, but it’s great to experience my first spring in the south since I started birding. I visited a few areas a ways to the north that I hadn’t visited in a while. I also got out of the kayak and took a walk.
3-18-06. A few days ago, I saw seven Swallow-tailed Kites circling above. This morning, I found seven of them perched in the same general area and took this photo.
3-19-06. It was another beautiful morning. I kayaked up English Bayou to get video of pileateds in flight. It was a very pleasant ride as there wasn’t the slightest current and the water level is still high. The leaves are really coming out, and the otters have become very active. I still haven’t gotten bored with watching the Swallow-tailed Kites. I’m getting impatient waiting for the Swainson’s Warblers to show up. I went back out this afternoon and saw the Magnificent Seven gliding up above once again.
3-20-06. Late yesterday afternoon, I found some interesting foraging sign in the general area of the sightings. The chisel marks appeared to be wider than pileated chisel marks.
3-21-06. I went back to measure the chisel marks that I found the other day. They were wider than any I had seen before but still too narrow to rule out pileated. The first Red-eyed Vireos and Great-crested Flycatchers showed up this morning along with a bunch of Little Blue Herons. This afternoon, I saw my first Chimney Swift of the year.
3-22-06. I heard a double rap just as it started to get dark. I’ll return to that area before dawn tomorrow. Earlier this afternoon, I saw a Swallow-tailed Kite carrying nest material.
3-23-06. I set the alarm for 4:00 a.m. in order to arrive early in the area where the double rap originated. At the first sign of dawn, I started walking in the direction of the double rap. Straight ahead at what seemed to be the right distance was an impressive cavity about fifty feet up. I sat there in camo with the video camera aimed at the cavity for about an hour.
3-24-06. I repaired the crack in my kayak yesterday afternoon and tried it out this morning. The water level has been fluctuating between extremes this week, and it was the lowest I have ever seen this morning. The low water exposed new obstacles, including a submerged log that nearly caused me to capsize. There was an influx of Snowy Egrets and White Ibises this morning, and I also saw my first Louisiana Waterthrush of the year. I went back out late in the afternoon, and the swamp monster nearly got me. I was moving along slowly, watching and listening. Suddenly it seemed like a depth charge went off inches to the right of the kayak, which nearly capsized. I was completely soaked by the water from the splash. As I turned in that direction, I fully expected to see the gaping jaws of a ten foot gator. Later on, I came across a much more pleasant creature.
3-26-06. This morning, I hiked in from the Louisiana side to a place where there have been two sightings in previous years. This area is only about a mile from the hot zone, where I had several sightings last month. The habitat looks promising, and there’s no hint that anyone has ever been there. No footprints, shotgun shells, etc. Here’s a panorama of the area. I plan to spend more time over there. This morning was just a scouting mission. I’ve been monitoring the area where I heard a double rap at dusk four days ago. Late this afternoon, I heard several kents from back there. I’m going to approach that area very carefully. The last time I had a hot zone, seven encounters in five days were followed by only a few sporadic encounters after I took three birders back there.
3-27-06. This morning, I drifted for a few miles with the video camera strapped to the front of the kayak in order to record some of the sights and sounds of the Pearl. I might stay here for another week or another month. It depends on how the next several days go. Whatever the case may be, I don’t ever want to forget this place. I saw my first Green Heron of the year and another Swallow-tailed Kite carrying nest material. Late this afternoon, I returned to the area where I recently heard a double rap and kents. I didn’t see or hear anything and maybe it’s just as well since I forgot the battery for the video camera, which was being recharged.
3-28-06. Ivorybills aren’t the only interesting thing about the Pearl. This morning, I heard a branch snap nearly directly above. It turned out to be a Swallow-tailed Kite gathering nest material. I watched it fly over and make the addition to its nest. Late this afternoon, I returned to the area where I have recently heard ivorybills. This time, I was armed with a pair of headphones that amplify sound. This device makes it easier to detect bird calls, but I didn’t hear what I was hoping to hear.
3-29-06. I have a nasty blister on my right foot and felt extra worn out today. So I stayed in other than a brief trip out late in the afternoon to check on the area where I recently heard ivorybills. No sign of the ivorybills, but five Swallow-tailed Kites put on a spectacular show.
3-30-06. This morning, I visited with representatives of the fish and wildlife agencies of Louisiana and Mississippi. We were joined by the biologist who saw an ivorybill here four years ago. After discussing the video and other items, we took a boat ride in the Pearl. This afternoon, I returned to the base of the tree that has the large nest cavity that I found last week. Based on its size and shape, a couple of people were excited about the possibility that it was a fresh ivorybill nest cavity, but unfortunately there aren’t any wood chips near the base of the tree.
3-31-06. It was a beautiful spring day, but there is nothing to report on the ivorybill front. Over the next few days, I’ll be hitching a ride with a friend who has a motorboat. That will make it much easier to reach some of the more remote sites, including the hardwoods near Perch Lake that I tried to reach last month.
4-1-06. A friend took me on a scouting trip on the West Pearl in a motorboat. We went all the way from below I-10 up to I-59. There’s promising habitat along much of that stretch. There’s a nice bayou that goes to the east in the direction of many of the sightings, but the current is wicked. In fact, the boat got pinned sideways against a fallen tree, and it was difficult to get it free.
4-2-06. I finally made it to Perch Lake this morning. I made two attempts to get there in February. Some of the most remote and southerly hardwoods in the Pearl exist just above the lake. I suspect that the ivorybills use that area, but I didn’t have much time for exploring this morning. Two friends took me as far as possible in a motorboat. They used a pirogue and I used my kayak to go the rest of the way. I had to get out and drag my kayak around fallen trees, but the pirogue made it all the way. It’s easy to get lost back there, and we did a few times.
4-3-06. I ran some errands today and didn’t make it into the Pearl. One of the errands was a trip to LSU to get some photos of the female ivorybill that’s on display at the Museum of Natural Science.
This photo shows the entire bird. This photo provides a dorsal view.
This photo shows the incredible claws that I would love to see someday.
4-4-06. I had a possible flyover this morning. It flew across the water a few hundred meters downstream at a fast pace. It was flying just above the level of the treetops. Even though it wasn’t a definite sighting, it may prove to be useful since a flyover provides a point and a direction. The location is midway between the sightings of Feb. 2 and 3.
Several weeks ago, a spider like this one fell into the kayak, ran up my leg, jumped overboard, and ran away over the water. On the way in this morning,
these turkeys allowed me to drift right up to them.
4-5-06. Even though stakeouts don’t seem to work, I decided to give it a try this morning. I first spent some time at the site of yesterday’s possible flyover. Then I got out of the kayak at a few other locations to watch and listen. I didn’t have any luck, but at least it’s a beautiful time to be in the Pearl. I saw my first cuckoo of the season.
4-6-06. This morning, I kayaked to the area where I had most of the sightings and then got out and walked about a half mile into the woods. It’s tough going through the muck and fallen trees. I found some interesting foraging sign, but it was probably pileated work. I will cover other areas using this approach in the next week or so. I took a short walk late this afternoon and noticed that the Yaupon Holly is starting to bloom.
4-8-06. I went to the hospital today to get treatment for a severe infection. If the antibiotics don’t start clearing it up in a few days, I will have to call an end to this ivorybill season. It is now late in the evening, and I’m starting to feel a little bit better. So hopefully I will be able to resume searching.
4-9-06. I went for a short walk this afternoon and saw my first Indigo Buntings of the year.
4-10-06. I’m feeling a little better today. I went for a short walk this morning and saw my first Blue Grosbeaks of the season. I might be ready for a short kayak ride tomorrow. The type of infection that hit me is the kind of thing that happens when you don’t look out for your health. So I will have to avoid anything too ambitious for a while.
4-11-06. I was still feeling crummy today and only took a few short walks. I heard my first Yellow-breasted Chat and Marsh Wren of the season.
4-12-06. I am definitely feeling a lot better. I have an appointment to see a doctor tomorrow. If I get a clean bill of health, I’ll be back to going all out to relocate the ivorybills. During the past several days, I’ve been accumulating some interesting leads and information about one particular area. Its remoteness makes it hard to reach, but that’s good for the birds. The area contains a huge expanse of hardwoods, and I had a possible sighting there a few months ago.
4-13-06. The doctor (who likes woodpeckers) has cleared me to get back out there. Now if only I can find the energy. It was tiring just to take short walks for lunch and as dusk approached.
4-14-06. I took one more day to recover. I have a plan to cover lots of territory on foot. I’ll need all of my strength, especially now that it’s getting hot. I’m going to give it a try tomorrow. I’ll just have to fight through it and start getting my strength back.
4-15-06. A friend arrived early and took my kayak out. He didn’t have any luck, but he did see a Mississippi Kite, which I haven’t seen yet this year. I heard my first Wood Thrush of the year on the way back from sending him out. Later on, my friends from Slidell took us in a motorboat down to Wastehouse Bayou and Perch Lake Bayou. They let us off to hike to a ridge that has hardwoods. It was easy to spot in the distance because most of the trees are blown over (the cypress and tupelo are mostly still standing). We explored several smaller bayous where you expect to see an ivorybill around each corner.
4-16-06. I took it easy today, which is my ninth on antibiotics that have suppressed my appetite and sapped my energy. After I complete the antibiotics tomorrow, I hope to get my energy back for one final push. This afternoon, I took a walk along the ditch where I heard kents six years ago. I’ve never seen so many Indigo Buntings. I came across several groups of 10 to 20 of them feeding on the seeds of the grass growing in the ditch. Each group was presided over by a few Blue Grosbeaks.
4-17-06. I took a long walk in Devil’s Swamp this morning. It was a good way to start getting my stamina back. As usual, there’s a lot of fresh foraging sign over there. Summer Tanagers have arrived in good numbers. Late this afternoon, I took a walk along the ditch, where a Painted Bunting has joined the Indigo Buntings. I was amused to see a Marsh Wren fly through this culvert and come out the other side singing.
4-18-06. This morning, I started off along the ditch and got a photo of the
Painted Bunting. There was a Sora working the same area. I came across this work by bees near where the ditch enters the pines. I spent the rest of the morning taking my final ride of the season on the Pearl and saw my first Mississippi Kites of the year. I went for a walk on the Louisiana side, where it’s starting to look like a jungle. Trying to search on foot is nearly hopeless at any time. It’s totally out of the question right now with all of the fallen trees and thick undergrowth. The time has come to pack it in for the season. It has been an incredible experience. I will be back.
4-20-06. After an 1100 mile drive, I made it back home to Virginia.