Day-to-day log of the 2007 search season:
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9-20-06. I have returned to the Pearl for a scouting trip.
I stopped at Auburn University to meet with Geoff Hill, who has found
ivorybills along the Choctawhatchee River in the Florida Panhandle. I arrived at Stennis late in the
afternoon and was sad to see that they have bulldozed the area where I first
heard kents in February 2000.
9-21-06. It was exciting to venture into the Pearl for the first time in five
months. Near both areas where I had ivorybill sightings, I found lots of
foraging sign similar to what has been found in Florida. This example is near the sightings that I had on
February 2 and 3. This example is near the
sightings that I had on February 16, 17, and 20. I found a Northern Parula
caught in the web of a Golden Orb Weaver. I reached up with my paddles and got
it free. The bird flew off, called a few times, and defecated. The large spider
just sat there in the middle of its web the whole time.
9-22-06. It was a nice morning in the Pearl. The only interesting sighting was
a squirrel that jumped or fell about forty feet from a tree into the river. It
then swam to the other side. In the afternoon, I did some exploring to the west
of the end of Oil Well Rd., which is now open. When it was closed earlier this
year, it was necessary to walk three miles down just to get there and then
three miles back when you were done searching.
9-23-06. I spent the morning in the kayak. There were several mixed flocks of
warblers. There was a good amount of pileated activity this morning. The Barred
Owls have also been active the past few days.
9-24-06. With thunderstorms on the way, I decided to stay off the water and
checked out the area south of Stennis this morning.
9-25-06. This afternoon, I printed out some images from the February 20 video
and used them to locate the tree where the bird
was perched when I came upon it. Back in the spring, I was too busy trying to
relocate the birds to take the time to track down this tree. Once I traced back
my movements using the video, I immediately recognized the tree and determined
that the bird was only about fifty feet from me. The bird was perched about
fifteen feet above the ground on the right side of the broken-off tree. I was
paddling upstream to the right. The bird remained perched for perhaps a second
after I spotted it. Due to the poor light conditions, I was unable to resolve
field marks, but I immediately knew it was an ivorybill based on its shape,
size, and posture. Although I had no doubt about what it was from the instant
that I spotted it, I saw the white trailing edges of the wings when it flushed.
The bird appears in the video at the 34 second mark a short distance to the
left and away from the bank (which is the direction in which it flew). Later
on, it appears in the video perched in the fork of a tree 200
meters to the left of its original position.
9-26-06. This morning, I took a long hike about a mile to the west of the
end of Oil Well Rd. With all the fallen trees and thick undergrowth, the going is
very difficult out there, but it was worth the effort. I heard what might have
been the hard blows of ivorybill foraging. It sounded like a baseball bat
hitting a tree and came from a remote and inaccessible area.
9-27-06. I spent another morning exploring to the west of the end of Oil Well
Rd. On the previous day, I was too exhausted to investigate the loud blows
that came from far to the south. This time, I started earlier and brought
plenty of water but didn’t hear anything. Video footage of the thick vegetation and Katrina aftermath in this habitat is available
9-28-06. I returned to the area to the west of the end of Oil Well
9-29-06. Along with two non-birding friends, I paid a visit to Perch Lake,
which is very interesting but difficult to reach. We were covered with spiders
as we crossed through an area where fallen trees block the bayou. On February
22, I had a possible sighting in this area, which is rarely visited. There are
hardwoods in this area, and I suspect it is used by the ivorybills.
9-30-06. This morning, I spent some time in the area where I obtained the
video. I got out of the kayak to check out the tree where I came upon the
ivorybill perched that day. I also inspected some of the larger trees for
cavities. In the afternoon, I checked out an area several miles
to the east of the Pearl, where there have been reports by locals,
and had a possible sighting late in the afternoon. It was a large bird with prominent
white trailing edges on the dorsal surfaces of the wings, but the angle of the
sun was favorable for solar glare, which I can’t rule out.
10-1-06. I checked out the habitat in the general area of the sighting. Late
in the afternoon, I kept watch in hopes that the bird would follow the same
route to a roost site.
10-3-06. Early in the morning, I did some scouting in the area of the possible sighting and in parts of Devil’s Swamp that I had never visited before.
10-4-06. I continued to scout the area of the possible sighting.
10-5-06. I did some scouting to the south of I-10, where there is some good habitat. Ivorybills don’t spend all their time in swamps. The recent sighting was along Texas Flat Rd. The bird was flying south toward Devil’s Swamp. A local resident reporting sightings about three miles to the northeast of this location.
The habitat along the road is not suitable for ivorybills, but there are swamps, waterways, pine forests, hardwoods, cypress stands, and dead trees on both sides of the road. I found this bark scaling
near the canal at Stennis that runs along the edge of Devil’s Swamp. The location where I heard kents in February 2000 is along one of the smaller canals that branches off the large canal.
10-6-06. We made another trip to Perch Lake. We found a Virginia Rail that had just been killed on the road. It was a bad beginning to a bad day. After getting covered by spiders on the last visit, I brought a saw to clear some of the branches that block the approach. I sliced my left hand and had to get stitches. I cleaned the iodine from my hand while sitting in the car and then forgot to pull the keys from the ignition when I got out.
10-7-06. Nice weather has finally arrived. With a wounded left hand and a sore right shoulder from a tetanus shot, I decided not to go out in the kayak today. I paid a brief visit to Devil’s Swamp.
10-14-06. While my hand healed, I spent some time scouting areas to the north that I will cover later in the season. I would like to have a sighting up there so that I will know that there are multiple pairs in the Pearl.
10-16-06. I will soon be heading home to Virginia. I will spend the remaining time making preparations for later in the season.
10-17-06. I spent some time clearing fallen branches to make kayaking less treacherous later in the season. It’s easy to get capsized by such obstacles when the current is strong.
10-18-06. I did some exploring in the northeastern part of Stennis and saw my first Sedge Wren of the season. Since there were plenty of Sedge Wrens here when I arrived last fall, it seems that I have come full circle.
10-19-06. Grayson Rayborn and I did some searching from the end of Oil Well Rd. It was miserably hot and humid, and we didn’t get as far as we had hoped. This beetle seemed to be looking for a place to lay eggs.
10-20-06. I took my final kayak ride of the visit. There were still some migrants in the area, including a Philadelphia Vireo. I was forwarded a report of a sighting in the Honey Island Swamp in June.
10-21-06. I intended this to be my last day in the Pearl until later in the season, but then I had a possible sighting about three miles south of the area where I heard loud raps a few weeks ago. I saw the bird for a few seconds as it landed high in a tree with its back to me. The illumination was ideal, and it was spectacular to see the bird flutter its outstretched wings to make adjustments for the landing. It swooped up to land like a woodpecker and had brilliant white trailing edges, but it didn’t meet my standard for a definite sighting (seeing multiple field marks, hearing kents, having multiple sightings in the same area, or obtaining video).
10-22-06. I briefly visited the location of the possible sighting before I loaded up the car and hit the road. I really need to get back to Virginia, but I decided to stay on I-10 and head to the Choctawhatchee for a brief visit rather than making the usual turn onto I-65. I arrived late in the afternoon and ran into Geoff Hill and several others.
10-23-06. I spent the morning in the Choctawhatchee. The habitat is excellent. After spending five months in the
post-Katrina Pearl, it was a joy to walk around in a forest with relatively few fallen trees. The dirt road to
Tilley’s Landing takes you to a boat ramp that gives the impression that one has arrived at the Choctawhatchee,
but it’s actually a small lake. I walked out to the river and then walked north along the river before turning back.
11-1-06. I saw my first Imperial Woodpecker. It was only a specimen at the Smithsonian, but it was still incredibly impressive. It is stunning how it dwarfs the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
11-10-06. I have returned to the Pearl and will initially be doing some scouting near the
area of the most recent sighting.
11-20-06. Since it was a beautiful day and some of the leaves have fallen, I decided to take some photos and construct panoramas of the area where I obtained the video on February 20.
11-27-06. I returned to the hot zone and measured some distances associated with the video. I was less than 20 meters from the ivorybill when it flushed from the snag. The distance it initially flew from the snag (to where it later appears through a gap in the vegetation) is a little over 50 meters. The distance from the snag to the fork is about 200 meters.
11-28-06. This season, I have been spending more time looking for foraging sign and cavities. In September, I visited the hot zone for the first time in five months and found foraging sign that is similar to what has been found in Florida. This morning, I found a lot more of it in the same area. Within 300 meters of the hot zone, I recently located a fresh cavity that appears to be too large to be a pileated cavity. I found an older cavity of similar size in the same area this morning.
12-3-06. Last season, I flushed an ivorybill from the river bank several times but never when I had the video camera running. It’s going to be different this season. I have devised a “secret weapon” that makes it possible to aim the camera almost instantly, even while paddling the kayak. Later on, I’ll post a photo of this set-up, which should allow me to get some good footage the next time I flush an ivorybill from the bank. I took some scenery shots in the Pearl this weekend, including
this one of two trees that appear to be in love and
this one of a fallen tree that Rob Tymstra named the Gates of Heaven.
12-4-06. Don Pechon took Grayson Rayborn and me for a flight over the Pearl in a Cessna 172 out of Slidell. This was my first attempt to survey the area from above. It was a little bumpy up there, but we managed to get some video and still shots. We plan to do it again on a calmer day. Here are shots of
the north end of Perch Lake,
an area with many fallen trees, and
an area that wasn’t hit as hard. As this
view across the state border illustrates, there’s a good bit of suitable habitat on the Mississippi side of the Pearl, which cuts across the lower right corner of the photo (I had a possible sighting in this area on November 18, 2005). Most of this land is privately owned. Being in the NASA buffer zone, it can’t be inhabited or developed, but it can be logged. Just a short ways up the river, the habitat looks like this.
12-5-06. I tried out the “secret weapon” this morning. When paddling the kayak, I now have the capability to instantly get the video camera on birds. I’m confident about getting good footage if there are any encounters like last season.
12-7-06. I did more testing of the “secret weapon” this morning. When kingfishers, phoebes, ducks, and woodpeckers flush from nearby, I’m consistently able to get the video camera on them in less than a second. If the ivorybills are still in the area, it should be no problem getting a good image. I would have gotten five or six good videos if I had thought of this set-up last season.
12-9-06. I heard a double rap this morning.
12-11-06. I have supplemented the “secret weapon” with a high-definition video camera (the Sony HDR-HC3). No ivorybill in its right mind will dare to cross my path now. The HD video is very impressive. Still frames look like photos from digital cameras, and the picture is also wider.
12-12-06. I did some comparisons between the HD and SD cameras. As these images illustrate, there is a dramatic difference.
12-13-06. This morning, I tried out the “secret weapon” armed with the HD camera. I’m really excited about this set-up. I can get the camera on birds in a fraction of a second, but it sometimes takes a few seconds to focus. To avoid this problem, I tried manually setting the focus at about 50 meters and obtained these images. This camera also provides better audio. For example, this Fish Crow was calling from high in a tree about 60 meters away.
12-14-06. It’s extremely difficult to see an ivorybill, but the ante goes up by several degrees of difficulty when the goal is to get an image. When using an effective search strategy, I would estimate that an average of one sighting per month can be expected in an area where ivorybills are present. That’s a long time to be carrying around a camera and having it ready all the time. Searching by kayak has proven to be an effective approach. Since encounters usually last for only a few seconds, it’s essential to have the camera in your hands and running, but how can you do that and work the paddles at the same time?
One solution to this problem is what I’ve been referring to as the “secret weapon.”
With this set-up, I’m able to get the camera on a bird almost instantly. When a bird flushes, I use the paddles to simultaneously aim the camera and bring the eyepiece to my eye. It’s much like aiming a pair of binoculars. It only requires two hose clamps, a strip of metal with a hole in it, and a bolt to screw into the tripod threads in the bottom of the camera. The extra weight of the camera is easy to handle. My arms were a little tired after the first day, but I got used to it.
12-15-06. This morning, I found interesting foraging sign in the hot zone.
12-16-06. I returned to inspect the foraging sign that I found yesterday. The hole near the center of this photo seems to be much too deep (about five inches) and narrow (it tapers with depth) to be pileated work. The sharp openings, shredding, and chisel marks are also interesting.
12-18-06. It has been warm and foggy lately. I have not had any sightings since arriving back in the Pearl more than a month ago, but that’s no cause for alarm. There are plenty of Red-shouldered Hawks and Barred Owls out there, but I haven’t been seeing them lately either. This morning, I did more testing of the audio capabilities of the HD camera. It did a pretty good job of picking up this
Red-tailed Hawk from more than
100 meters away.
12-19-06. Now that most of the leaves have fallen, I’ve been taking advantage of the opportunity to look for cavities and foraging sign. This morning, I found
near where I had my first sighting. They’re a few hundred meters back in the woods, and you have to be lined up just right to see them from the water. After spotting them while drifting, it took about a half hour to relocate them through the gaps between trees in the foreground. That’s a large tree, and those are the most interesting cavities I have found.
These photos give a better idea of how far the tree is set back in the woods (the top photo was taken from the edge of the water) and the size of the tree (which appears to be alive).
12-20-06. Two local residents have independently reported sightings in the area where I had a possible sighting on October 21. This afternoon, I visited the area and noticed that several woodpecker species were feeding on the fruit of Chinese tallow trees. Their behavior suggested that this is a highly favored food and that it must be at peak ripeness. A red-bellied and a red-headed were sparring over it. The red-headed made numerous sorties to fly-catch for the fruit as if it were a great prize.
12-21-06. This morning, I spent a couple of hours staking out the tallows. It rained the entire time, and the only activity was a brief visit by a red-bellied. On the bright side, the rain should thin out the remaining leaves and raise the water levels.
12-22-06. There were lots of woodpeckers and other species in the tallows this morning.
It’s awkward for woodpeckers (especially large ones) to forage in these trees, such as this pileated.
12-23-06. I staked out the tallows again this morning. There continues to be a lot of woodpecker activity.
In order to get a wider view, I chose a position about a hundred meters from the trees. I tried out the 2X extender lens on the Sony HDR-HC3 and obtained
these images of various woodpeckers. I always had the impression that woodpeckers are among the most intelligent birds, but I never realized just how intelligent they are until I started searching for ivorybills. This species is so adept at eluding humans that it seems to have the intelligence of a corvid. Among the other species, I have often noticed signs of intelligence in the red-bellied. This morning, I obtained footage of a red-bellied demonstrating intelligence while foraging in the tallows. As
this movie shows,
it repeatedly kicked at the fruit while hanging upside down. It succeeded in knocking the fruit loose with this approach.
12-24-06. I paid another visit to the tallows. At one point, there were three pileateds foraging in one tree. I observed some interesting woodpecker behavior while staking out this site, but the trail seems to have gone cold.
12-25-06. I spent the beginning and end of the day staking out the tallows, where there was little activity. Since it was windy, I decided to stay off the water and spent the rest of the day hiking into an area that appeared promising during the overflight that we did on December 4. Before starting the hike, I took a detour to the northeast side of Stennis, where I found a lost and exhausted
hunting dog. All four paws were bloody, and he was having trouble walking. There was a phone number on the tag. I called the owner and waited for him to come pick up the dog. After all the walking, my feet were also in bad shape by the end of the day. The area turned out to be as interesting from the ground as it is from the air. I found foraging sign similar to what I posted on September 21. The only other places I have seen such foraging sign are near the two main areas where I had sightings in February.
12-26-06. I took the kayak out for the first time in a week and
discovered that the recent winds caused the
Gates of Heaven to come crashing down. This landmark formed the entrance to the hot zone. Its collapse may not be a good omen, but at least I wasn’t paddling under it at the time. It was still a bit windy this morning, and the birds weren’t very active. I visited the tallows late in the afternoon hoping for a flyover. There was some red-bellied and red-headed activity, and it appears that about half of the fruit still remains.
12-27-06. I did some exploring in the vicinity of the cavity that I found last week.
Just to the south, I found this
foraging sign (all on the
same tree) and these
wood chips on the ground below.
It resembles pileated work, but some of it looks unusual.
12-28-06. There was a flurry of activity in the tallows this morning. There were at least four flickers, three pileateds, several red-bellieds, a red-headed, and a downy. There were also several yellow-rumps and red-wings. It’s hard to decide whether to keep spending time there. It seems possible that ivorybills would use this food source since it’s so attractive to other woodpeckers.
12-29-06. It was windy, and there wasn’t much activity in the tallows.
12-30-06. I tried to stake out the tallows before the storm hit, but the rain started coming down just as I arrived. According to the latest weather report, the storm will continue into tomorrow morning.
12-31-06. A sapsucker was foraging in the tallows this morning. With the exception of ivorybill and hairy, all of the woodpeckers of the Pearl have now been seen foraging there. A cardinal, an orange-crowned warbler, and a pine warbler were also feeding in the tallows this morning.
1-1-07. The currents were fairly strong this morning, but it was no problem getting around in the kayak, even with
the paddle-cam attached. This
device is very effective for getting footage of birds that flush from the water or the banks, such as
these wood ducks and
this great-blue heron. In both cases, I was able to get on the birds almost instantly. It’s much like aiming a pair of binoculars. These movies are scaled and compressed, but it’s easy to identify the birds in the raw data.
1-2-07. It was one of those mornings when the windows of the car are covered with frost and mist rises from the water. The birds are usually very active on such mornings, and that was the case today. I heard some impressive raps in the hot zone, but the camera isn’t very effective at recording low frequency sounds. I visited the tallows late this afternoon. The woodpeckers are still feasting, and the tallow-feeder list now includes catbird.
1-3-07. This morning, I visited an area that appears promising based on the video that I obtained from the Cessna. This area covers about a square mile and is nestled in a corner that is rarely visited. It’s surrounded by encounters within two miles to the southeast, southwest, north, and west. During a brief initial visit to this area, I noticed a good deal of bark stripping and found a large cavity. There aren’t as many large trees as other parts of the Pearl, but such a secluded area might be suitable for a roost.
1-4-07. I stayed off the water since severe weather is on the way. I spent some time at the tallows this morning. There wasn’t much activity, but that may have been due to the weather.
1-5-07. After the storm, the water levels are about as high as I’ve seen them in the Pearl. The currents are fairly strong and treacherous in some areas. I saw an otter for the first time since last spring.
1-6-07. I had an unusual sighting this morning. I thought I knew all the birds of the Pearl, but apparently not. I saw a large bird with long and pointed wings gracefully drifting over. My first impression was Swallow-tailed Kite, but the tail wasn’t forked. Based on
it appears to be a White-tailed Kite. After lunch, I took a walk along the ditch where I first heard kents seven years ago.
shows how the ditch has been cleared out. I saw my little friend,
Ali, at his usual spot on the bank. I wonder how he recognizes that spot now that the ditch has been cleared. Maybe he uses GPS (gator positioning system).
1-7-07. The weather kept me off the water again. I visited the tallows, but there was little activity, even though fruit remains on those trees.
1-8-07. The water has dropped a foot in two days,
but it’s still higher than normal and the currents are strong. Going against the current requires greater effort, but going with the current is more dangerous.
This paddle-cam shot
shows a typical downstream scenario, with obstacles in the water and above.
It’s tricky to move from side to side and shoot through gaps. If the kayak turns too much, the current may drag it into an obstacle. Such maneuvers get the adrenaline flowing when there are valuable electronics on board.
1-9-07. Last winter, I remained in the kayak most of the time in order to keep a low profile. This morning, I kayaked into the heart of the Pearl and then spent a few hours walking in the woods, which are now flooded as
this partial panorama shows.
Last year, I didn’t feel safe walking far out into this kind of habitat. It now feels like home out there, but it’s still difficult getting through the fallen trees and underbrush. Since the area is vast and progress is slow, this probably isn’t an effective approach for searching, but it’s the only way to get out to certain areas and inspect the habitat.
1-10-07. Early this morning, I paid a brief visit to the tallows. There’s still plenty of activity, but it’s hard to monitor the entire row, which runs along an edge for more than a mile. On the way out of the area, I passed along the row and found two pileateds that I hadn’t noticed from the stake-out point. Since the currents are still strong, I only did about four miles in the kayak. I saw a tree on the bank that already has open flowers. This early sign of spring is a reminder that the prime search season will be over before we know it. With time slipping away, I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever have another sighting. I’m looking forward to the first wave of reinforcements, who should start arriving in a week or so. At the end of the day, I went to the northeast corner of Stennis to watch for Comet McNaught. I missed the comet but heard coyotes calling as it started to get dark.
1-11-07. After a brief stop at the tallows, I took the kayak out and had a possible sighting. At this point, possible sightings aren’t worth much, but this one was interesting. The bird was a few hundred meters away and flying just above the treetops. It seemed to notice me and turned into the woods. I got my binoculars on it for several seconds, but there was some glare and it came in and out of view as it passed behind trees.
1-12-07. I found a tree with a great deal of fresh foraging sign that has characteristics similar to the foraging sign that I found on December 27.
1-13-07. The strong currents and high water levels continue. I tried to enter an area that is rarely visited, but the currents are hazardous along the narrow approach, which has lots of fallen trees. On the way to the boat launch, I finally got a good photo of a
southern fox squirrel, which are uncommon and hard to approach.
1-14-07. This morning, I launched the kayak at Crawford Landing on the West Pearl and paddled north. The current is absolutely brutal. The water is at the eight foot level at Crawford Landing. One of the locals told me that the current is always strong when it gets over six feet (there’s a gauge at the boat launch). I paddled up to Peach Lake Bayou and did some exploring in that area. Other than a brief break in the middle of the fall, I’ve been here in the Pearl since September 20. I’m starting to suffer from burn-out. It’s especially tough since I’m doing most of the searching on my own. I’m going to take advantage of an opportunity for a temporary change of scenery with Geoff Hill’s team in the Choctawhatchee. I will try to post updates from there and will be back to the Pearl soon.
1-20-07. I’ve spent five very interesting days in the Choctawhatchee with Geoff Hill’s group. Yesterday I had a sighting of a pair of ivorybills, which I regard as definite since they were large birds dramatically swooping between perches (just as Audubon described), I saw through binoculars a white trailing edge consistent with ivorybill on the dorsal surface of the right wing (which was fixed and provided a clear view as the bird swooped), and I obtained video footage showing swoops and deep and rapid flaps consistent with ivorybill. The sighting occurred while following up on a report of a pair that was seen and heard in the same area the previous day. A discussion of the video footage that was obtained is available here.
1-25-07. I drove back to the Pearl this afternoon. It was interesting to see how Geoff Hill’s group conducts systematic searches for cavities and foraging sign. It was also interesting to note the differences between the habitats of the Choctawhatchee and the Pearl (in the portions of these rivers that I have searched). There are relatively few fallen trees in the Choctawhatchee, which makes it easy to walk around (other than having to wade through sloughs). In the Pearl, the cypress-tupelo zone is more or less to the south of the hardwoods. The Choctawhatchee contains low areas that are filled with cypress-tupelo and surrounded by hardwoods. I suspect that this kind of habitat is more ideal for ivorybills since more roost and foraging areas are closer together.
1-26-07. I’m eager to get back out in the Pearl but decided to stay in today since I have a sore throat and congestion. I finally had a chance to upload video and photos that I obtained in the Choctawhatchee. I obtained paddle-cam footage of a bird that flushed from near the bank and disappeared from view almost instantly. I saw a lot of white on the dorsal side of the bird, but it wasn’t possible to identify it when playing back the tape on the camera. Although I had the impression that it was a flicker, I set the tape aside since the behavior was similar to ivorybills that I have flushed along the Pearl. After loading the footage onto the computer, I found that it was indeed a flicker. It’s encouraging that I was able to get the paddle-cam on a bird that was visible for less than a second and that it was identifiable in the high-definition video. I found this classic example of
successional habitat along the Choctawhatchee. Behind me is the river flowing to my left. Ahead of me is an old channel, which is becoming an oxbow lake as the connection to the river silts in. Grasses and willows are growing across the opening, which causes silt to build up at a greater rate. There is similar successional habitat along the slow flowing inner curves of the river. There are fallen trees along the fast flowing outer curves, which tend to erode outward. This is the process that forms oxbow lakes and makes a river about pi times longer than it would be if it were perfectly straight. This afternoon, I went out and experimented with the rangefinder. A turkey vulture flew directly overhead at 234 meters (the infrared laser is harmless).
1-27-07. It’s raining. I’m sick. No time in the field today. The first wave of reinforcements have arrived. With a little luck, we will determine where the ivorybills have been hiding within a few weeks.
1-28-07. The rain stopped, but it was windy, and there wasn’t much bird activity. After battling the strong Choctawhatchee currents, I was pleased to see that the Pearl currents have reverted to their typical sluggish pace. After spending some time with Geoff Hill’s folks in the Choctawhatchee, I have some fresh ideas for trying to relocate the Pearl ivorybills. I now suspect that they roost in the cypress-tupelo zone outside the breeding season, and this hypothesis is consistent with the locations of most of the encounters this fall. I hadn’t previously regarded cypresses as possible roost sites since the large ones are hollow. In the Choctawhatchee, I learned that woodpeckers will roost (but not nest) in hollow trees. I was concerned about the possibility of ivorybills perishing in fallen roost trees during Katrina, but few cypresses came down. Early in the fall, I was optimistic about relocating the birds in the hardwood zone after finding the stripping of tight bark in the areas where I had sightings last February, but there never seemed to be any return visits to those trees. I’m hoping the birds will return to the hardwood zone in the coming weeks.
1-29-07. It’s a nice day here in the Pearl, but I decided to stay inside after spending another night coughing.
1-30-07. Exactly a year ago, I returned to the Pearl for the prime search season and had a bonanza in February. This morning brought back memories of last year. The woodpecker activity has really picked up. Lots of other birds were also active, including a hermit thrush that was singing. It was a great day to be out in the kayak. The weather was overcast and slightly chilly, and the Pearl was like a sheet of glass with only the slightest current.
1-31-07. It was chilly and windy, and there was very little woodpecker activity. One of the visitors heard a double rap.
2-1-07. Yet another rainy day. It was an easy decision to stay in since I’m still sick. I hope the weather will be better this month than it has been so far this search season.
2-2-07. It was a year ago today that I had my first definite sighting. This morning, I did some searching with the visitors. This afternoon, we visited the cypress zone to search for cavities. On previous trips down there, I wasn’t aware that hollow cypresses (the only mature ones that survived logging) are suitable for roosting and ignored them. We found several impressive cavities, including
2-3-07. This was a lucky date for me in previous years. I heard kents in 2000 and had a sighting in 2006. No such luck this year, but at least I finally seem to be getting over being sick. I spent the morning in the kayak and visited the Yaupon Holly patch (where I heard kents in 2000) this afternoon. The berries should now be at peak ripeness, but there was a poor crop this year (following a bumper crop last year). I have recently been using a laser rangefinder to obtain measurements that are accurate to within a half of a meter. When I obtained the video last year, the kayak was backed into a known observation position between trees on the opposite bank. Using GPS, I estimated the distance from this position to the base of the tree where the bird in the video was perched to be about 120 meters. Using the rangefinder, I determined that the distance to the point in the fork where there bird was perched is 128 meters. Since the performance of the rangefinder is dependent on light conditions, I repeated this measurement on different days and obtained the same result. I aimed the rangefinder at different parts of the fork and found the measurement to be consistent. I also used the rangefinder to measure the distances to pileateds that I photographed. With this data, it’s possible to make absolute comparisons between the profiles of pileateds and the bird in the video. Since I didn’t have this capability last year, my only choice was to scale images by optimizing the apparent fit. This approach is much less effective than absolute scaling, especially since part of the bird in the video was hidden by a branch in the foreground. Using absolute scaling, I have obtained some promising preliminary results. For example, the bill of a pileated appears quite feeble compared to the bill of the bird in the video. As opportunities arise, I will obtain additional pileated data to test the robustness of this approach for comparing profiles. I also plan to use this approach to analyze wing size and shape.
2-4-07. It was an overcast and chilly morning, and there wasn’t much woodpecker activity.
2-5-07. This morning, one of the visitors heard several kents. This afternoon, we donned chest waders and took a
five-hour hike deep into the Pearl.
We started at English Bayou and hiked south and a little east.
It’s very difficult going through the fallen trees, vines, and sloughs.
2-6-07. It’s been a rainy winter, but the weather has been gorgeous lately. It was chilly early this morning, but then it became almost spring-like.
2-7-07. This morning, I visited the area south of Old Hwy. 11. There were pileated drum rolls coming from several directions.
This recording contains two from close range (about 35 meters) and one in the distance.
2-8-07. Do you see the little red, white, and blue sign in the lower right part of
this photo? It says, “U.S. PROPERTY. NO TRESPASSING.” This land is on the Pearl near where I have seen ivorybills. The government recently purchased it. Do you suppose they’re planning to set it aside to help protect the ivorybill? Guess again. It’s going to be a live firing range for the military. This land will soon be trashed, and the disturbances will affect a large portion of the best remaining habitat in the Pearl. It includes more than two square miles, and most of the sightings and most of the best remaining hardwood habitat are within a mile of this area.
2-9-07. I went for a hike with one of the visitors. It’s always tough going in the Pearl with all the fallen trees, but this area is about the worst I’ve seen due to all the briar patches. I used the laser rangefinder to measure the cavities that I found in December. As
indicates, the lower one measures more than four inches vertically but less than four inches horizontally (the reference circles are four and five inches in diameter). It appears that it might have been about four-by-five inches before scar tissue formed. There is also a tree with interesting foraging sign in that area, and there has been more work on it since December.
2-10-07. One of the visitors joined me on a trip up to Henleyfield, Mississippi. I scouted the area in the fall, when a local showed me a convenient access point. The water level is much higher now, and it was necessary to wear chest waders to cross the swamp.
This panorama shows some of the habitat.
2-12-07. Last year, I searched almost exclusively by kayak. By moving quietly and covering a lot of territory, I managed to find a hot zone where the birds remained for several days. This season, I’m spending more time searching on foot and visiting areas that I never visited last year. The going is tough on foot, but it has been interesting going deep into the swamp in chest waders. This morning, I walked in and connected up with an area that I had previously only approached from the opposite direction. By the end of this search season, I will have covered a good bit of the Pearl south of Old Hwy. 11.
2-13-07. I was paddling along this morning and noticed a pair of eyes staring at me from near my foot. It was a lizard that took up residence in the kayak overnight. I let it out on the shore and continued on. Later on, I pulled in to shore to move some fallen branches out of the way. I lost my balance in the muck and fell backwards. I caught myself with my left arm and heard a bone snap. The pain wasn’t too bad, but I nearly passed out and was hit by a wave of nausea right after it happened. The accident occurred above points in the bayou that are blocked by fallen trees. I didn’t want to have to get in and out of the kayak more than once with an injured arm. So I dragged the kayak through the woods until I was below the last fallen tree. I paddled about halfway back with one arm before meeting up with Chris Feeney, who towed me the rest of the way.
2-14-07. The break is near the lower end of the radius. It will be a while before I’ll be able to kayak. Fortunately, there’s plenty of work to be done on the ground, and the visitors can patrol the waterways. I will try to get back out there tomorrow. I got a cast put on this afternoon. I had to choose a color and, of course, opted for camo green.
2-15-07. Last night, I had a nice dinner with Cornell’s
Mobile Search Team. It was interesting to hear Martjan Lammertink describe what the Pearl was like before Katrina. This morning, I decided to stay in for another day in order to let the swelling in my hand go down a bit. It will be a while before I’ll be capable of handling a kayak. It’s still a challenge just to zip up a jacket.
2-16-07. The hot zone started lighting up a year ago today. I hiked in there this morning just in case history was going to repeat itself. It was cold and a little windy, and the woodpeckers weren’t very active.
2-17-07. I stayed on the trails during a six-mile walk with the visitors. It was cold and windy, and woodpecker activity was minimal.
2-20-07. Since this is the anniversary of the day that I obtained the video, I had to pay a visit to the hot zone. Since I probably won’t get out there very often until my arm heals, I made sure to get some photos that I had been meaning to get for some time. For example,
this photo shows the scene where I heard kents from behind a fallen tree on February 18, 2006. The water level was higher that morning, and I was able to drift up close to the fallen tree. The ivorybill called from behind the fallen tree for a few minutes. I was within about twenty feet of the ivorybill. A robin was just above scolding it. Then I heard kents coming from directly behind me, which is where I came upon an ivorybill perched on a snag two days later (when I got the video).
2-22-07. A visitor and I did a four hour hike into some of the most interesting and isolated habitat I have seen
in the Pearl.
We bushwhacked down from English Bayou and saw some interesting habitat along the way.
For the first time, I found scaling of tight bark from an oak. The weather is really starting to warm up.
2-24-07. This morning, I did a four hour hike to the east of Oil Well Rd. The route took me through some
interesting off-trail habitat. At three points, I waded across English Bayou, which is much deeper and
wider further downstream. After the third crossing, I headed north to Indian Bayou Rd. and then headed back
to Oil Well Rd. on one of the trails. It was windy, and woodpecker activity was minimal.
2-26-07. I spent the morning walking trails at the Honey Island Swamp. I’ve never had a sighting on foot, but most of my work on the ground has been surveying habitat. This morning, I walked around as quietly as possible and managed to sneak up on some turkeys. I got some video of
this one as it flew away.
2-27-07. I’ve been searching an area of about thirty square miles between I-10 to the south and Old Hwy. 11 to the north. The boat launches at Stennis are ideally located about three miles north of I-10 just above the transition between the cypress zone and the hardwoods. I’ve been spending most of my time in the hardwoods, but the last two sightings were deep in the cypress zone. I’ve decided to spend more time in the cypress zone since there have been no definite encounters in the hardwoods this search season. I did some scouting down there this morning.
2-28-07. The morning started out beautiful but ended ugly. Early on, there were many birds singing, including the first Yellow-throated Warblers of the season. Just after I returned to the boat launch, four military boats sped by. It looked like a scene out of a Vietnam war movie. They were heading in the direction of the land that is going to become a live firing range. Perhaps this is the day the invasion begins.
3-2-07. I spent the morning down south, where we had two sightings in the fall. I found some interesting foraging sign and heard the first parulas of the season. I had the wrist checked this afternoon. The doctor has decided that it would be best to install a plate. I’m scheduled for surgery on Tuesday. I might do some searching over the weekend, but I may be done for this year.
3-3-07. This afternoon, I found this
that seems to want to be a live oak. I’m not sure if it grew this way because of being repeatedly topped or if it’s an exotic species.
3-6-07. I had surgery to install a plate in my arm.
3-7-07. This is my 49th birthday, and the experience with the arm is a reminder that I’m not indestructible. I will try to keep searching for at least a few more weeks. I won’t be able to use the kayak, but good habitat can be reached on foot.
3-9-07. I did some investigating in the pines to the south and found an area with lots of bark scaling. There are many such areas in the aftermath of Katrina, but this one really looks intriguing. There are hardwoods mixed in, including a large oak with lots of scaling near the top. This will be a good area to monitor as my arm recovers, and it’s near one of the sightings.
3-16-07. I finally made it into the field again. The trees have become greener and the bird song has picked up. These changes were really noticeable after being out of action for so long.
3-19-07. I had to visit the doctor this morning and didn’t make it out to the swamp. I saw my first Swallow-tailed Kite of the season along I-10 on the way to the doctor’s office. The wrist seems to be recovering well, but it was a bit of a shock to see all the hardware in
the x-rays. I was surprised that the doctor gave me a light-weight removable cast less than two weeks after the surgery. I did make it out over the weekend and found an
interesting cavity in a live sweetgum.
3-20-07. It was a beautiful morning in the swamps. It was the first time in five weeks that I didn’t have to lug around a heavy cast on my arm. I heard my first Yellow-throated Vireo of the season.
3-21-07. It was another beautiful spring morning here in the Pearl. I explored a trail that I had never tried and found an area where Katrina missed most of the hardwoods. As the arm recovers, I’ll be restricted to light walks in the hardwoods. There’s still one visitor here, and he plans to do some searching down near the latest sightings. I have plans for working that area when my arm is fully recovered.
3-22-07. This morning, I briefly visited the pines to the south of Stennis (where a NASA biologist had a sighting in 2002), while the visitor started searching in the area of the most recent sightings. We’re excited about working down in the cypress-tupelo zone, but parts of the Honey Island Swamp have also become intriguing. Some large pockets of hardwoods survived Katrina, and Oil Well Rd. and the turkey season are closed again this year. Since it’s a three mile walk down Oil Well Rd., this will be the second spring in a row that the area gets few visitors, which could make it attractive to ivorybills.
3-24-07. Last year, I was excited to come up with the idea for
paddle-cam. Aiming the paddle-cam is similar to aiming a pair of binoculars. This tool allows you to get on a bird almost instantly without setting down the paddles or reaching for the camera. It was designed for ivorybills flushed from the riverbank. I would have gotten several stunning videos if I had had it last year. I was confident that I would get some good video with it this year, but the ivorybills didn’t return to the same areas, and I got hurt in an accident. I now have an idea that is even more exciting than paddle-cam, but it will have to remain a secret until later in the year. World-class experts will be helping me to implement this idea. In the meantime, I will patiently wait for my arm to heal, enjoy spring migration, and continue searching on foot. I’m considering the possibility of continuing my search much later into the season this year. I suspect that the paradigm that ivorybills can only be found in the winter and early spring is just another of the misconceptions left over from the Tanner era.
3-25-07. It will probably be about three weeks before the doctor clears me to go out in the kayak. This has been very discouraging because I’ve never even had a possible sighting on foot — at least not until this morning, when a bird with a duck-like flight streaked across my path at canopy level. This sighting was similar to a possible sighting that I had last April, but this time I got the binos on it just before it disappeared from view. The belly was dark and the undersides of the wings appeared to be white. I also saw my first Hooded Warbler of the season.
3-26-07. I returned to the area of the possible sighting. It was the kind of sighting that one wouldn’t expect to be repeated, and indeed I didn’t have any luck this morning. The song of incoming migrants has really picked up.
3-28-07. This morning, I spent some time just north of Old Hwy. 11. This is where Kulivan had his sighting in 1999. I’ve only been up there a few times. The ivorybills could easily hide out in such a rarely visited area. I also paid a brief visit to one of the roads that goes south of Old Hwy. 11. Hooded Warblers were everywhere. I’ve never seen so many of them. The weather is pretty hot this week. The visitor continues to search in the area of the most recent sightings. He has now spent more than two months in the Pearl. It’s great to see such devoted searchers. I hope he gets a sighting. I wouldn’t mind getting another one myself.
3-29-07. It was a beautiful morning in the Pearl, and I took the time to get
some photos. Hummers started showing up the last few days. There has been more work on the cavity that I recently found in a sweetgum.
3-30-07. Going for walks in Honey Island Swamp is one of the few options for searching that I’ll have until my arm is healthy enough to paddle a kayak. I’m now staying at a house in Waveland, Mississippi. The drive from there to Honey Island Swamp and then to Stennis Space Center, where I’m working afternoons and evenings, is about sixty miles. I decided to take a day off from the long drive. I took a walk here at Stennis and saw my first Eastern Kingbird and Orchard Oriole of the season. The oriole was in the same place as last year. The Yaupon Hollies are now loaded with flowers.
3-31-07. Periods of bad weather are predicted for the next few days. Between drizzles this morning, I paid a visit to the northeast corner of Stennis, where I usually find something interesting. This time, I saw a Swallow-tailed Kite flying from the direction of the Pearl. Last year, I often saw the kites flying back toward the Pearl after a day of gliding over the pines.
4-2-07. This morning, I had my wrist x-rayed again. It’s looking good, and I should be able to get back out in the kayak two weeks from now.
4-3-07. I took a long walk in the Pearl this morning. It’s the first time since my surgery that I was able to do that without feeling half-dead at the end. It’s nice to be getting my strength back. It wasn’t my first time under general anesthesia, but for some reason it really took a toll on me this time. Woodpecker activity is now way down. I heard several pileateds drumming and calling but only saw one of them.
4-4-07. I didn’t make it out today. Since the middle of January, I’ve had the luxury of extra sets of eyes and ears in the field, but the time has come for the last of the visitors to head home. It’s a shame that neither of them had a sighting (neither did I during that period), but we had a lot of great experiences.
4-5-07. Last year, there was a fire in the pines to the south of Stennis. A biologist had a sighting in that general area in 2002. There is lots of bark scaling in the burned pines this year, but I haven’t managed to catch any of the culprits in the act. This morning, I paid another visit to the area and found quite a bit of fresh scaling.
4-6-07. After several days of miserable heat and humidity, a pleasant cool front passed through a few days ago, and the visitor decided to stick around a little longer. We took a nice walk this morning in an area where Swainson’s Warblers arrived a few days ago. We missed them but saw the first Summer Tanager of the season. We also saw a Swallow-tailed Kite carrying nest material. While walking along the riverbank, I pulled up in my tracks just before stepping on a large and gray snake. I believe it was a cottonmouth about to shed its skin. The large cavity in the sweetgum now appears to have been abandoned. The bird was probably spooked away since the trail is nearby.
4-7-07. It’s windy and unseasonably chilly this morning. The visitor is taking a final kayak ride to last year’s hot zone.
4-8-07. After staying a little longer to enjoy the break in the weather, the visitor has finally left for home.
4-9-07. Last week, I had some pain in the arm. That had me worried before I realized it was probably due to the cold weather. During the past few days, I felt several pops in the arm. That had me worried until I realized it’s probably just part of regaining flexibility. I’ve been cleared to go back out in the kayak next week.
4-12-07. This morning, I did some searching on the Mississippi side. It was sunny and the temperature was very pleasant. I saw the rarest woodpecker in the Pearl (it has white trailing edges on its wings). I saw an immature of this species several months ago. This is the first adult I have seen in the Pearl in more than a year. It was a red-headed, which I have seen less than half as many times as the ivorybill in the Pearl (with the exception of an immature that spent some time in the tallows). I also saw my first Green Heron of the year. Indigo Buntings have been all over the place for the past several days. Eastern Kingbirds, Great-crested Flycatchers, Orchard Orioles, and other migrants are also starting to show up in good numbers. I’ve been throwing bird seed in the grass near the parking lot at Stennis. This helped keep the fat on about a hundred Chipping Sparrows, including
4-13-07. After hearing my first Chuck-will’s-widow of the season, I picked up a friend and his eighth-grade son for a visit to the Pearl. It was their first bird watching experience. With razor-sharp eyes, the youngster spotted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and a late Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. We also heard the first Wood Thrush of the season.
4-16-07. I finally made it back out in the kayak, and the arm seemed to hold up just fine. There were a few pops, but I believe that’s just part of the process of regaining flexibility. Although the ride went well, it was difficult getting out of the kayak at the end since the wrist is still weak. I don’t yet feel comfortable putting much weight on it. So it’s a struggle getting out.
This Swallow-tailed Kite
put on a nice show. I captured a few minutes of its maneuvers on the paddle-cam, but the focus isn’t sharp since it was so close and the camera was focused at about 50 meters (don’t want any auto-focus fiascos). While paddling into a narrow channel, I noticed a piece of plywood in the water up ahead and was puzzled to see one end of it lift out of the water. I then realized that a gator had been lying on it and was sliding off the side as I approached.
4-17-07. I was planning another kayak ride, but I woke up with a lot of soreness in my hand and wrist. Rather than over-do it, I decided to stay off the water today and visited the area south of Stennis, where a field biologist saw an ivorybill on this date in 2002. The Yellow-breasted Chats have arrived in the open areas down there.
4-19-07. This morning, I visited the old hot zone for the first time since early March. It sure looks different with all the leaves in. As expected, woodpecker activity is now dramatically lower than it was the last time I was in that area. After returning to the boat launch, I figured out a way to get out of the kayak that doesn’t cause too much pain in my left arm, which held up well during the ride.
4-20-07. I did another overflight in a Cessna today. The Pearl doesn’t look anything like it did back on December 4. I tried to get some high-definition video, but the wind kept blowing the lens shutter closed, and I switched to the standard camera. The images aren’t very good because the flight was a little bumpy. Several times, I saw birds flying over the treetops. Although we were at 900 feet, it was easy to identify herons, hawks, and vultures. It should be possible to identify an ivorybill from that height.
These images show habitat in the area of the most recent sightings, which were between late October and late December.
This image shows the boat launch at Stennis (note that good habitat begins just across the river).
This high-definition image shows Oil Well Rd. looking toward the south.
This image shows some bends in the West Pearl River.
This image shows the mouth of Mike’s River on the lower left. The land at the bottom of the picture is part of what is slated to become a live-fire range for the military. Out in the distance are locations where ivorybills have been seen and heard.
4-21-07. Right after the accident, I had the impression that it was only a small fracture and that I wouldn’t be sidelined for long. During the last doctor visit, I learned that the radius had actually snapped in two. This revelation and the fact that a plate had to be installed have caused me to face up to the fact that I’m not indestructible. So I’ve been gradually easing myself back into kayaking. This morning, I tried some power stroking with the paddles, and the arm held up fine. There’s a little pain when I push with the left arm, but pulling doesn’t cause any pain. The wrist still doesn’t flex like it should, but it seems to be improving. I found
this fresh cavity in the old hot zone. In order to estimate the diameter, I measured the distance using the laser rangefinder. In the overlay in the bottom photo, the inner circle is four inches in diameter and the outer circle is five inches in diameter. This cavity is fairly large, but it was probably made by a pileated since there has been no sign of the ivorybills in that area this year.
4-22-07. I took a five-hour, fourteen-mile kayak ride to do some scouting. My arm held up, but a few blisters formed on my hands. I found some interesting foraging sign, such as
this bark stripping on a live tree. There were several other trees in the area with similar bark stripping. I’m excited about this area, which is far from the old hot zone by kayak but not as the ivorybill flies. Last year, a spider like
this one fell in the kayak with me. It was nice to observe this one from a distance. I really lucked out in finding the place where I’m staying in Waveland. Besides the pair of Great Horned Owls, there have been some nice migrants at the feeder. For the past few weeks, there’s been a large gang of Indigo Buntings. This morning, there were eight Blue Grosbeaks and four Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. There was also a Yellow-breasted Chat singing in the yard.
4-23-07. I’m going to rest up today and let my arm recover from yesterday’s workout. I had a sighting of a pair of ivorybills in the Choctawhatchee on January 19. The birds were moving around in the canopy. When one of them took a short flight, I got a brief (but good) view through binoculars of the field marks on the dorsal side of the right wing. I had the paddle-cam running, and had been through that footage several times. While perusing it again today, I found one of the birds as it takes off in level flight. It has the same deep and rapid flaps as the bird in the Pearl video. Although it was more than a hundred meters away, the bird is fairly well resolved (slightly better than the bird in level flight in the Pearl video) in the high-definition video.
4-24-07. First thing this morning, I noticed that one of the overgrown lots down the street has been bulldozed. I hope it isn’t where Bubba and Virginia built their nest. It’s nice to see people rebuilding their homes, but it’s also sad to see the loss of the scrubby growth that took over after Katrina. During a nice kayak ride, I enjoyed a great show by a Mississippi Kite. The Swallow-tailed is the star in the Pearl, but the Mississippi is a gorgeous bird in its own right. The woodpecker activity was much greater this morning than it has been for a while.
4-25-07. My allergies are really bad today, and I’m tired from working late last night. So I’m going to stay inside today. I heard a couple of Chuck-will’s-widows at Stennis last night. After being mystified by their calls many years ago, hearing them always brings back memories of growing up in Florida. The smells of certain types of vegetation that have come to life recently in the Pearl also remind me of those days in the swamps along the Hillsborough River. I have uploaded some short movies from last week’s overflight. These mov files were created on the Macintosh and might not play on some computers. When converted to the more universally compatible avi format, they’re too large to upload onto my site. The movies show habitat along the
Middle River (much of which is silted in),
Wastehouse Bayou, the
East Pearl (the military is planning to use the land on the left side of the river as a live firing range), and English Bayou
downstream versions). These movies show only a tiny fraction of the good habitat that survived Katrina. There are plenty of hiding places for ivorybills.
4-26-07. Due to bad weather, I didn’t make it out this morning. I continued to peruse the Choctawhatchee video and found a few interesting items. During the flight, there’s a frame when the wings are raised that shows a black body and a white underwing, with a well-defined boundary between the two. There’s also a hint of a dark strip up the middle of the underwing, and the flaps are deep and rapid just like in the level flight of the bird in the Pearl video. There’s an unusual sound as the bird takes off in flight.
4-27-07. There are lots of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks coming through. There were two males at the feeder in Waveland early this morning, and I saw or heard several more in the Pearl. The paddle-cam came in handy once again.
This Broad-winged Hawk
streaked just a few feet over my head to snatch a lizard from one of the trees hanging over the water. This is the kind of encounter that would be over long before you could reach for a camera.
4-28-07. I decided to stay in this morning after noticing that the incision on my left arm was inflamed. It only appears to be an external irritation, but I don’t want to take any chances.
4-29-07. I visited the area south of Stennis this morning. After comparing the new version of the Pearl flight video with the Choctawhatchee video, I could hardly sleep last night. It’s really exciting that the flight styles are so similar. I’m looking forward to learning more about this species as additional videos are obtained. I’ll be getting my final set of x-rays tomorrow morning.
4-30-07. I received a clean bill of health from the doctor this morning. It’s nice to have this episode behind me. The doctor let me take a photo of the
that were taken a few days before the surgery. In the x-ray on the right, the doctor drew in two pencil marks to illustrate how the radius and hand should be aligned. The hand was displaced to the left when the broken end of the radius slipped out of place. Everything is lined up in the
x-rays that were taken after the surgery.
5-1-07. I have returned to the Choctawhatchee for a short visit.
5-2-07. I drove back to the Pearl last night. During the brief visit to the Choctawhatchee, I returned to the site where I obtained the video in January. Since the water is now a little higher and the paddle-cam was sitting in my lap when the video was obtained, it wasn’t possible to view the scene from the exact same position as in the video. Since the leaves have come out, it wasn’t possible to see the tree from where I was sitting in the kayak that morning. I took along a print-out of an image that shows the tree, but trees can be hard to recognize from different vantage points. I used trees in the foreground of the photo as reference points, got a compass heading, and walked toward the location where the tree appears in the video. I found a snag that looked about right but wasn’t certain since it seemed somewhat different when viewed from below.
5-4-07. Last week, I captured
this Broad-winged Hawk on paddle-cam after it flew just over my head and got a lizard. While playing back that footage with the volume turned all the way up, I noticed what seems to be an interesting vocalization coming from the bird.
5-5-07. It’s difficult to search pine forests, where visibility and access are usually limited. While driving back and forth between Stennis and Waveland, I’ve been keeping an eye on the extensive stands of dead pines along the road. I’ve also done some searching in the burned pines to the south of Stennis and visited that area again this morning. The highlight was a stunning Red-headed Woodpecker that flushed from nearby.
5-6-07. This morning, I kayaked a few miles and then walked about a half mile out into the swamp to check out an area that looked promising during the recent overflight. The walking is always tough with all the fallen trees and thick undergrowth, and the heat and humidity have also gotten bad. You always need to be careful walking out there alone, and safety is really on my mind after the accident in February. I made it out and back without any problems and didn’t even need to use the GPS to find my way back, but then I almost rebroke my arm while pulling the kayak back into the water. I tripped over a submerged branch and fell back just like I did in February. Without thinking, I stuck out my left arm again to break my fall. By a miracle, it planted on the hatch cover on the back of the kayak. The hatch cover caved in and broke my fall instead of my arm.
5-8-07. It was a nice and cool morning, and I visited the areas south of Stennis again. Just after I arrived, five Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks circled over. Later on, I got a photo of
5-9-07. I went for a walk through
flooded cypress-tupelo swamp
this morning. With each step, my feet sank about six inches in the mud. My knees are now aching from repeatedly pulling my feet out of the mud. I found a nest full of Prothonotary Warbler chicks in
this snag. Near the center of the photo, there’s a hole on the back side of the snag. The chicks are just below that point. The entrance to the nest is straight down into the broken-off snag. I found
this cavity on a large cypress near where I had a sighting on October 21. I saw several
5-10-07. I visited the Honey Island Swamp this morning. I hadn’t been over there for a while. I was hoping to see a Swainson’s Warbler, but there was no sign of them. The highlight of the morning was a stunning female Summer Tanager up close and in excellent light conditions. Over the weekend, I’ll be babysitting some possums for a rehabber, but I’ll still have time to get out in the field.
5-11-07. Dalcio Dacol and I kayaked up English Bayou and then hiked to the west.
It’s almost impossible to find ivorybills on foot in such habitat, but it’s important to get out there
and explore. We didn’t find any interesting foraging sign or cavities, but I heard what had to be
ivorybill foraging within a mile of that area last fall.
5-12-07. Dalcio and I launched our kayaks near Picayune and tried to paddle over to the Bogue Chitto River this
morning. We had to make a long portage over rocks at a point where the rapids have taken the lives of
several boaters over the years. After the portage, we launched downstream in a strong current and dodged
fallen trees until my kayak got hung up by one of them. The kayak turned sideways and came close to
capsizing in the current. I considered removing the paddle-cam and putting it in the dry bag, but
the kayak would have gone over if I had stopped fighting the current. I finally managed to break loose
from the tree, and we continued downstream. Since the fallen trees became more numerous and the habitat
didn’t look very promising, we finally decided to turn back. We saw several snakes in the water, and
there were lots of cuckoos in the woods and flying across the water.
5-14-07. I spent the morning in the Honey Island Swamp. I walked down to the end of Oil Well Rd. and beyond. It’s a long walk now that Oil Well Rd. is closed to vehicles. I encountered a turkey and a family of pigs on the trails, and these are signs that few people have been down there lately. The only woodpecker activity was a red-bellied and a few pileateds drumming in the distance.
5-15-07. I have a lot of work to get done this week and only had time for a brief stop south of Stennis this morning. There’s still a long way to go this search season. I have an exciting new idea and will be getting help implementing it. I’m confident that the idea will eventually lead to sightings, good videos, and possibly to the locations of feeding areas and roost and nest cavities.
5-17-07. Parts of the yard in Waveland are flooded much of the time. With all the recent rain, the frogs have been very active.
Here is what it sounded like at 1:00 a.m. just outside the window. I got back out in the kayak this morning, and there was a lot of bird activity. I checked on the possums late this afternoon. There was no sign of them. At this point, finding them would probably be harder than finding an ivorybill.
5-18-07. I visited the area south of Stennis again this morning. It has a nice mix of habitat and is good during migration. I was hoping for some late migrants, but it seems that most of them have already passed through. I found a red-billed nest and noticed that two of the whistling-ducks are still in the area. The weather was so nice this afternoon that I decided to go ahead and visit an area that I had planned to visit over the weekend. I attempted to get into this area before, but the water was always too low and the kayak would eventually drag on the bottom. With the recent rains, I was able to get through this time. The area is chock full of gators. Several of them came crashing and splashing off the banks as I passed by. I also had close encounters with a few submerged gators that thrashed near the kayak. That always gets the adrenaline going. One of those meetings was during a side cruise into a flooded cypress-tupelo forest.
5-19-07. I paid my first visit to Texas Flat Rd. in months. They still haven’t paved it, but it’s
now possible to drive nearly all the way across it. I started on the east end, which is just north of Exit 13
on I-10, and drove west to a point just north of Stennis. The road that heads south to Stennis is closed at
the boundary, but I have explored that area from inside Stennis. There are open areas, pine forest, lakes,
creeks, and swamps on either side of Texas Flat Rd. There are hardwoods just to the east of where we had a
sighting in September.
5-20-07. I took a long walk through Devil’s Swamp this morning. It was probably the longest walk I have taken during the search, but it wasn’t the hardest since I didn’t have to climb over fallen trees. Devil’s Swamp has more foraging sign than just about any other place I have visited. Much of it appears to be pileated work, but some of it looks interesting. I saw a coyote and my first Kentucky Warbler of the season.
5-24-07. This morning, I paid a brief visit to the area south of Stennis.
5-25-07. I took the kayak out this morning. There was a good deal of pileated activity, including a pair of noisy fledglings following an adult. There was also a good deal of kite activity, including the first appearance of
The Magnificent Seven (plus one)
since last spring. A friendly
little gator cruised by on the way back, when the wind started to pick up again.
5-26-07. This morning, I put the kayak in at Poole’s Bluff, which is on the Louisiana side up near Bogalusa, and
paddled to the south.
I was hoping to take one of the small channels that goes off to the east, but they’re all badly blocked
by fallen trees. The habitat along the banks of this part of the Pearl isn’t very good, but there’s good
habitat just to the east. I will try to take a flight over this area before I finish up this search season.
Just below the dam near the boat launch,
several egrets were using
various objects caught in the eddies as fishing platforms.
5-30-07. I took the kayak out this afternoon. The water in the Pearl is about as high as it gets. I was a bit nervous being on the water with thunder in the distance. I can handle gators, snakes, bugs, spiders, heat, humidity, cold, gunshots in all directions during the hunting season, and death marches, but I do not like lightning. I saw a Swallow-tailed Kite carrying nest material, which seems odd for a species that arrives in March. Maybe it lost a nest in the recent storms or to a predator. When I got back, I noticed that the kayak had taken on a good bit of water and discovered a crack near the front end. It was easy enough to repair using a heat gun and a welding rod that’s made of the same type of plastic as the kayak.
5-31-07. Early this morning, there were Purple Martin fledglings in one of the dead pines behind the house in Waveland. A Blue Jay landed in the tree near them and was immediately dive-bombed by the adults. On the way to Stennis, I came across a turtle on the edge of the highway. I changed my plans to visit the areas of the sightings last fall and took the turtle to the area south of Stennis, which is away from roads and seems to be a good place to
release a turtle.
6-1-07. Two biologists, Steve Sillett and Jim Spickler, who specialize in climbing trees have arrived for a visit. They’re going to train me to climb exceptionally tall cypresses, where I will keep watch for ivorybills flying over the treetops. Late this afternoon, we went for a kayak ride and found
which are near the hot zone and the most interesting that I have seen in the Pearl.
6-2-07. Steve Sillett and Jim Spickler got started rigging trees, and I did my first climb. As I ascended above the surrounding trees, it was exciting to get my first view out
over the swamp.
6-3-07. We tried rigging a tree near the hot zone, but it’s not quite tall enough to provide a view over the surrounding trees. Later on, we
rigged a tree near the cavities that we found a few days ago. This tree is a short distance up the bayou from where the 2006 video was obtained. Video footage of Steve Sillett and Jim Spickler rigging the tree is available
6-4-07. Jim Spickler had a close encounter with
a snake at the base of a tree that provides
a nice view over the swamp. We were joined by another visitor, Michael Taylor, who has found some of the tallest trees in the world.
6-5-07. The visitors joined me for a visit to the Pascagoula. We explored some promising looking bayous, such as
this one, and found some interesting
6-6-07. The visitors joined me for a visit to the Choctawhatchee. We saw
impressive cypresses, including
this view from inside a hollow tree.
6-7-07. We rigged one more tree before Jim Spickler had to depart.
6-8-07. Steve Sillett and Michael Taylor joined me for the mother of all death marches into the swamp. We only went in about a mile and a half, but it was brutally hot, and the going is exceedingly tough in that habitat. On the way back, we ran low on water, and I started getting cramps in my hamstrings, which totally locked up when I fell in the mud. At one point, I was concerned about making it back to the boats. At the end of the death march, I felt like heat exhaustion was coming on and took a dip in the bayou, but the water was too warm to provide any relief. Despite the struggle to get there and back, it was worth it to scout a new area in the Pearl, and we found what may be the tallest tree (not including pines) between I-10 and Old Hwy. 11. When hiking into such habitat, it’s easy to appreciate the difficulty of finding ivorybills. It’s impossible for one person (or even a small team) to do an adequate job of covering such a vast area.
6-9-07. Steve Sillett and Michael Taylor departed this afternoon. After yesterday’s hellish experience, we limited ourselves to a light morning in the field today. I always enjoy visitors, but it was a special pleasure spending time in the field with these guys, who are incredibly talented. They came here at their own expense and provided training and gear. I’ll do my best to make their investment pay off.
6-16-07. I got my ass kicked out there today. I wanted to climb a tree that the visitors didn’t have time to rig. Last week, we took a six hour death march to pin down the location of the tree, which we had spotted from the top of another tree a few days earlier. This tree towers over the canopy and is located in a great spot, but it’s deep in the swamp. I considered going in on foot again, but it’s a good thing that I decided to go by kayak since the area is now flooded. The kayak ride there and back is four to five hours. It was closer to five hours today since the kayak was leaking and loaded with heavy gear. I was able to paddle to within 300 meters of the tree, and then I dragged the kayak the rest of the way. I made two attempts to get a line in the tree with a bow and arrow. I made pretty good shots (especially for a beginner), but then there were problems. I used the fishing line that was attached to the arrow to pull a stronger line over the tree. Then I attached the climbing rope, but both times it got hung up and broke. I had to give up after the second attempt in order to make the long trip back before dark. I will try again next weekend if I can get a ride on a motorboat. It’s downright scary going out in the middle of the swamp and climbing trees alone. I had a hard time getting to sleep the past two nights thinking about it. Even without climbing, it’s dangerous to go out there alone, and I was reminded of that today. While I was trying to install the line, a massive animal charged directly toward me through the swamp. It was coming like a locomotive. I couldn’t see it, but I could tell that it was veering from side to side in a sinusoidal motion (perhaps to dodge cypress knees) by the way the vegetation was moving. I was standing in knee deep water on top of a thick ooze, which extended as far as I could see in all directions. That critter — whatever it was — caught me in a vulnerable situation. I yelled out and clapped my hands, and it turned back. Last week, I heard a double rap near this area. I heard several of them today, each time when the wind was blowing. It would be interesting to track down the tree that’s making those sounds. During the return trip, a fish leaped right over the bow of the kayak. I was exhausted when I got back to the boat ramp, but some guys offered me a cold beer that really hit the spot. It’s still hot but not nearly as bad as it was last week. After approaching the big tree from a different direction, I have now covered a path that goes from I-10 all the way to Old Hwy. 11 by foot or kayak. On the Pearl, this would just be a long kayak ride, but I have now done it the hard way — through the interior of the Pearl.
6-20-07. I returned to the area where I recently heard double raps but didn’t have any luck. The leak in the kayak got worse as the day wore on, and it eventually became difficult to keep up with bailing. After getting back, I found a fine crack in an unexpected location. One of the visitors gave me an inclinometer, which is useful for measuring tree height. This afternoon, I used it to measure two of the trees that we rigged and found them to be about 75 and 80 feet. They have large branches suitable for observation positions at about 71 and 66 feet, which is well above the canopy and provides a great view. If I can get some help in the field, I will spend some time in those trees during the next few weeks. Then I will have to return to Virginia for a while.
6-22-07. I have repaired the kayak and plan to try it out this afternoon. I usually wouldn’t be concerned about a leak, but I want to keep the climbing gear dry. I obtained a rope bag and some other gear yesterday and am now ready to begin spending time in trees.
6-23-07. My friends Gretchen and Tasha took me out to the big trees in their motorboat, which saved me hours of paddling. The gals courageously slogged 350 meters through the swamp with me to Tree 5, which is at least 88 feet. There’s another branch that appears to be higher, but I wasn’t able to get a clear shot at it with the laser. It took several shots with the bow and arrow before I finally got the line over the main fork. It was great to have help this time. When working alone, it’s takes a lot of time to keep retrieving the arrow and making sure the line doesn’t get tangled. There was a large snake up the tree. It was probably a rat snake based on Gretchen’s description. The climbing gurus have advised me not to climb that tree until I get more experience.
6-24-07. A few days ago, I took this photo of one of the trees that we’ve rigged for observations. This 80-footer is the first tree that I climbed.
6-27-07. It now appears that it will be a while before I get any help with the tree climbing, but I took a kayak ride out there today to get some tree data. I now have photos and measurements of the five trees that are rigged in that area:
Tree 1 is 72 ft. and rigged at 55 ft.
Each of these trees provides an excellent view out to several kilometers. They’re spread along an arc that runs about 2.8 kilometers. When the currents are weak, it takes a little over an hour to reach Tree 1 by kayak. It takes nearly two hours to reach Tree 5, most of the way by kayak and then on foot for the final 350 meters. While at Tree 5, I took
of the vegetation through which a large animal charged me on June 16 (to the left of the broken tree). As I dragged the kayak on the way to Tree 5, it bumped into a submerged object and nearly rolled over. The GPS fell in the water, but I didn’t notice it missing until a few minutes later. After failing to find it in that area, I started backtracking along the channel just in case it had fallen out earlier. There was no sign of it there. I returned to the area where the kayak hit the obstacle and spotted the GPS bobbing in the water. Recovering the GPS made my day, but I wasn’t pleased to note that the kayak is still leaking.
Tree 2 is 82 ft. and rigged at 73 ft.
Tree 3 is 80 ft. and rigged at 66 ft.
Tree 4 is 75 ft. and rigged at 71 ft.
Tree 5 is 88 ft. and rigged at 78 ft.
6-28-07. I’m spending the day in the office in order to get some work done and let my body recover from yesterday’s long kayak ride in the oppressive heat. I have a few more photos to show from yesterday. This photo shows a cypress knee (next to Tree 4) that is more than seven feet tall.
This photo shows some of the hardware used by tree climbers. The pulley makes it possible to use the line to pull a rope up smoothly and to attach the rope at an ideal location (after climbing the rope up to the pulley, you’re in a good position to step onto the large fork just below the pulley).
6-30-07. I absorbed another ass kicking today. A local arborist came out to help finish rigging Tree 5. It was really exciting to anticipate finally getting to see the view from up there. Walking through the swamp on the way out, we saw an absolutely gorgeous water moccasin. In contrast to its reputation as an aggressive snake, it just slowly slithered away. Everything seemed to be going well as the arborist climbed up using the line that I had set with the bow and arrow. While nearing the crown, however, he noticed that the tree is unsafe due to dying branches. Since there was no sign of this problem from the ground, it only goes to show how dangerous climbing trees can be.
7-1-07. This afternoon, I cut one of the 300 foot ropes (donated to the cause by the climbing experts) into a 200 foot piece, which will be easier to carry into the field (and more than long enough for each of the trees we have rigged), and a 100 foot piece, which will be good for practicing. I recently did some practice climbing, which has boosted my confidence. I will soon be returning to Virginia, but first I would like to try at least one long observation session from above the canopy.
7-2-07. This morning, I discovered that the kayak is still leaking. There’s a crack near where the seat is mounted. I’ve made several attempts to patch it, but this hasn’t worked since the crack is at a high-stress structural point. I picked up a new kayak this afternoon. It will be nice for the first time in more than a month to not have to bail water every time I go out in the kayak. I got the Wilderness Systems Pungo 120, which is supposed to be faster and sturdier than the Pamlico 120 that I used for the past two years.
7-3-07. I did my first solo climb this morning. I was very relieved to get that out of the way because the thought of climbing alone way out in the swamp really had me worried. The recent practice paid off. I went up the rope much faster, the climb wasn’t as tiring, and I didn’t get any blisters. I stayed in the tree for three hours and saws lots of birds. A Great Blue Heron flew in and landed below me and a little to the side. Later on, it apparently saw me and took off. Chimney Swifts flew within ten feet of me several times. A Barred Owl was calling from nearby. It would have been interesting to observe its reaction if it had seen me. It looks like it will be possible to identify ivorybills from at least a kilometer through binoculars. From that distance, it should be easy to see the flight style and flashes of white. Using more subtle hints (or jizz), it may be possible to identify them at even greater distances. It takes a lot of energy to paddle out there (about five miles), climb the tree, sit in the tree for hours, and then paddle back. This time, I didn’t have to keep bailing water from the kayak. I love the new Pungo 120, seen
here from the tree. The I-10 bridge is visible in this view to the south (the distance to the bridge in this zoomed photo is about two miles).
This photo shows the view to the north. On the way back, I noticed that a chick from one of the Osprey nests has fledged.
7-4-07. This morning in Waveland, there was an electrical storm that was more impression than any Fourth of July fireworks display. The lightning strikes were close, and the thunder was incredibly loud. I wanted to record it, but the video camera was in the car. As the storm started to subside, I dashed out to the car and managed to record a
thunder clap that
had several reverberations. I’ve been fortunate not to have gotten caught deep in the Pearl in such a storm. When the climbers were here, we got caught out on the water in a torrential downpour, but there wasn’t any lightning.
7-5-07. I went out to check on motion-activated cameras that a visitor deployed and got caught in a storm. It was too wet to swap out the data cards, but there was no sign of foraging on the target trees.
7-6-07. I’ve been planning to return to Virginia but keep pushing back the date. Now that we have several trees set up for observations, I’ve decided that it would be best to spend more time here. I hope to stay a few more weeks, but it will depend on the weather. Since it’s a long kayak ride to the big trees, I will have to wait until later in the year if the current pattern of rain continues.
7-7-07. Gretchen and I returned to Tree 5, which is nearly 90 feet tall. Last week, an arborist noticed a large dying branch about 70 feet up and aborted the climb. This morning, I carefully inspected the tree through binoculars, and it appeared to have several “bomber” branches up higher. This time, I used a better fishing reel and line with the bow and arrow and got a nice shot over the main fork after four tries. As
this photo shows, the view from up there is totally unobstructed because this cypress towers over the other trees. Since the location is excellent in terms of habitat, seclusion, and the history of sightings, I think there is a good chance that there will be some action from this tree. As
this photo shows, there are a few more promising looking trees further to the north.
This photo shows the view looking down on some of the surrounding trees. The wind started blowing fairly hard when I got up to about 80 feet, where I rigged the tree with a pulley. It was interesting to feel the tree sway with the wind. I’m exhausted from carrying gear out there through the mud and from the climb, but it was a great day.
7-8-07. When the climbing gurus were here, they would climb a tall tree, spot other tall trees, measure bearings and distances, and take photos. They spotted some trees that looked very promising from Tree 4. Since I didn’t climb that tree, I wasn’t sure which tree was which. By comparing
which were obtained from Trees 4 and 5, it’s clear that Tree 5 is the tall cypress in the foreground (435 meters in the distance) in the lower photo.
7-9-07. Last night, I successfully repaired my binoculars. The eye relief cups wouldn’t stay in the up position. It’s very annoying when one of the cups is out of place every other time you try to look through the binoculars. At an auto parts store, I found a radiator hose of just the right diameter. With a pocket knife, I carefully cut two pieces to use as spacers for holding the cups in the up position. It works great. Gretchen took some video while I climbed Tree 5, including these shots of
entering the crown, and
coming back down.
7-10-07. I checked one of the motion-activated cameras this morning. Everything went smoothly until I backed the kayak right into this
wasp nest on the way out. It’s about two feet over the water, and I had no idea it was there. I got nailed several times but somehow managed not to capsize. I spent the rest of the morning exploring an alternate route to Tree 5 that will be nearly an hour shorter.
This photo of Gretchen at the base of Tree 5 gives an impression of the height of that tree.
7-11-07. This photo shows the recent repair to my binoculars. After losing a pair in a kayak accident last year, I thought about going with Zeiss but decided that a less expensive brand would be better for swamp use. The Nikons are very nice with the exception that the eye relief cups wouldn’t stay in the up position. I eliminated the problem by inserting short pieces of radiator hose under the eye relief cups and fixing everything in place with glue. Before making the repair, I was ready to toss the Nikons into the deepest part of the Pearl River, but now I love them.
7-14-07. I took a shortcut to Tree 5 this morning. From the Stennis boat launch, it takes just over an hour, which cuts the trip in half. I get covered with sweat, mud, and slime on this route, but it doesn’t completely sap my energy. I decided not to climb the tree since a thunderstorm started to develop after I arrived. On the way there, I had two close encounters with Water Moccasins and nearly got nailed by
I had stopped to mark the trail but didn’t notice the snake just a few feet away until I heard its tail twitching in the water. After initially holding its ground, the snake swam a short distance and then disappeared into the ooze under the water. The other snake fled as I approached, but then it coiled up and hid under some debris. These encounters got me to thinking about the risks of slogging through swamps. I started to get over the snake scare as I approached Tree 5 and heard the familiar call of the Acadian Flycatcher that nests nearby.
7-18-07. This morning, a herpetologist joined me on a visit to Tree 5, where he found
this Water Moccasin. It was hiding out about twenty feet from the base of Tree 5, where it remained even after being handled. It’s nice to know that Tree 5 has an armed guardian. I spent about an hour and a half in Tree 5 and got this
panorama. It was my first observation session from up there. Lots of birds flew by, including
this one. It’s interesting to see the birds from above. I used known tree locations and a compass to determine that Tree 4 is the large tree in
the middle of this photo.
This dragonfly was hanging out in the crown of Tree 5, which provides a nice view of
this water tower and
these rocket towers over at Stennis.
7-19-07. Today I have something beautiful to show and something ugly to show.
The beautiful thing is
this 360 degree panorama
of the Pearl from Tree 5 (with an appropriate web browser, it will appear as a very wide image with a horizontal scroll bar). It shows the old hot zone and other areas where ivorybills have been encountered. The ugly thing is
this audio file, which I obtained yesterday during the walk to Tree 5. There are two types of guns in this recording. The first one fires about a thousand rounds per minute. The military is planning to conduct live-fire exercises in bottomland habitat that is less than a mile from the old hot zone. I don’t know when this will start or what kinds of weapons will be used, but this kind of activity should not be taking place anywhere near bottomland forests along the major river basins in the southeast that contain ivorybills or habitat suitable for supporting them.
7-20-07. I visited Tree 2 with Gretchen and Tasha in their motorboat. They’ve been practicing climbing with me in the live oaks in their neighborhood. Since they wanted to climb a cypress but are still learning, I rigged the rope with a
belay device to make the descent
easier and safer.
handled the climbing very well. When I got to the top, I immediately recognized
Tree 5 on the horizon at a distance of about 1.3 kilometers. I was never able to figure out which was Tree 4 as seen from Tree 3, but one of the climbing gurus cleared this up by sending
a photo that he took when he discovered Tree 4 from Tree 3. This morning, I obtained
this photo of Tree 4, which is the large tree on the horizon to the left. I went back to my photos from Tree 3 and found
this one of Tree 4. It’s exciting to get to know the lay of the land in the neighborhood. It will be even more exciting later in the year when we have observers stationed in several of the trees. Tree 2 provides nice views of
a small bayou and
a gnarly cypress. While I was in the tree,
the ground support crew
was hard at work below. Near the base of the tree, we saw
this Five-lined Skink, which Jonny Kemp identified for me.
7-21-07. The time has come to return to Virginia. I’m packing up today and will be driving home tomorrow. My second year in the field was quite an experience. I only had two sightings in the Pearl, but it was special to see a pair of ivorybills in Florida since I grew up in that state. It was exciting to try out ideas such as paddle-cam and tree climbing and to take flights over the Pearl. It was a bummer to break my arm and then to need surgery. There were miserably cold days and unbearably hot days. I was exhausted and covered with filth nearly every day. Searching such a vast area often seemed hopeless. But it was all worth it. I want to thank all the visitors, especially the tree climbers, who came here at their own expense, taught me how to climb, donated a full set of climbing gear to the cause, and rigged several trees. I also want to thank Geoff Hill for welcoming me into his camp in the Choctawhatchee for a few weeks in January. Special thanks go to Gretchen and her family for giving us boat rides to remote locations and for opening her home to visitors. I’ll be returning to the Pearl later in the year.
A day-to-day log of the 2008 search season is posted here.