Day-to-day log of the 2009 search season:

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9-15-08. Back in February, my left hip started making an ominous popping noise after several long hikes through deep mud on the way to the tall cypresses. It’s possible that the repetitive pulling motion of extracting my feet from the mud caused a ligament to stretch. Walking through such habitat is also hard on the knees. The doctor took x-rays this morning and found the hip joints to be in good shape. Now that this has been checked out, I’m ready to return to the Pearl for my first visit of the 2009 search season. I plan to stay for about a month and to return after the hunting season. I’m leaving Virginia today and should be back in the swamp by Wednesday.

9-16-08. I have arrived back at Stennis, where it appears that many of the standing dead trees left over from Katrina finally came down during the summer (probably with help from Gustav). It will be interesting to see what it looks like in the swamp tomorrow.

9-17-08. It was great to get back out in the swamp. I arrived at dawn for a stakeout near Tree 6. Using bino-cam, I obtained some nice footage of a Wood Duck in flight. Since the high-def camera has manual focus, the bird stayed in focus even as tree branches panned across the field of view in the foreground. I would have obtained ivorybill footage of similar quality if that camera had been operable on March 29, when it had a moisture condensation problem.

9-18-08. I heard a nice double rap right at dawn this morning. As luck would have it, this happened just as I was finishing mounting bino-cam and getting ready to start recording. I walked in the direction of the double rap and saw a woodpecker with white trailing edges, but it was a red-headed. I saw a coyote in the same area where I saw a bobcat a few months ago.

9-19-08. I returned to the area where I heard the double rap but didn’t have any luck this morning. While doing a stakeout near Tree 6, I saw a pileated enter a cavity about 65 feet above the ground in this cypress. The bird entered the upper cavity that is visible in the photo (which was taken from Tree 6 last year) just after a light rain started. The weather has been very nice, but the mosquitoes have been bad.

9-20-08. I did a ten mile hike this morning. I was looking for a tree to rig but didn’t find anything suitable.

9-21-08. I did another stakeout near Tree 6 this morning. In the spring, chats and both kites were nesting in that area. It’s lonely out there now that they have headed south.

9-22-08. I spent a nice afternoon in the swamp with Tim the photographer. I had another close encounter with a submerged gator, which gave me an adrenalin rush and a splash of water. The water is as high as I’ve ever seen it, and this made it possible to paddle into a bayou that was previously inaccessible due to fallen trees. It was exciting to finally have a look along that bayou, which is in the hardwood zone and not far from Tree 6. I found some interesting foraging sign in that area. Tim noticed a large cypress that has an impressive cavity and that is down in the direction from which the bird appeared in the March 29 video. We also visited the 2006 hot zone, where it was distressing to see that the tree in which the bird was perched in the 2006 video appears to have fallen. I tried to get out to check on it but was impeded by blackberry thickets. While visiting Tree 6, I obtained an improved flight speed estimate of 15.1 m/s using reference points that are known with a high degree of certainty (one of them corresponds to when the bird passed close to a tupelo). Since the bird and its reflection are visible in the video, it’s possible in principle to precisely determine the positions and speed of the bird, but this is difficult in practice due to varying water level, changes in foliage, and the height of the observation point.

9-23-08. Tim and I ventured into the swamp again this morning. We approached the big cypress that Tim found yesterday and discovered that it has several large cavities. After the March 29 flyunder, the ivorybill veered in the direction of this tree, which is difficult to approach due to surrounding bayous, swamp, and thick vegetation and would seem to be a good location for a roost. On two occasions while doing stakeouts near Tree 6, I heard possible double raps coming from the direction of this tree. I found cypresses in good locations that appear to be climbable up to about 75 to 80 feet.

9-24-08. After spending two days on the water, I joined two visitors for some hiking in the Honey Island Swamp. The highlight of the morning was a big rat snake on the trail.

9-25-08. Tim the photographer joined me for a long day in the field. While paddling along in the kayak, I noticed a spider that somehow managed to build a “web bridge” across the bayou. We took a closer look at the big cypress that Tim discovered a few days ago. I was considering climbing up to inspect the cavities, but after wading to an area that provides good binocular views, I decided that they aren’t quite big enough. We then proceeded to rig Tree 6.1, which is a few hundred meters from Tree 6 but doesn’t provide the greatest view (thus the subordinate name). I was pleased to get off a nice shot with the bow and arrow that placed the line over a large fork near the top of the tree. Although Tree 6.1 will be of limited use, there’s another tree that seems more promising several hundred meters away that I will try to get rigged within the next few weeks. We bushwhacked out in the direction of the fork tree that appears in the 2006 video. We failed to find the tree, but Tim spotted some interesting cavities. During a leisurely paddle back to the boat launch, we came upon a cooperative gator.

9-26-08. After a big day in the field, I woke up several times in the middle of the night with cramps in my legs and upper body (from climbing). So I took it easy this morning and went for a short hike into the swamp with Tim the photographer. I checked out a nice cypress that I thought might be the same tree that I found while approaching from a different direction by kayak a few days ago, but it turns out to be a different tree. I’ll try to get both of them rigged within the next few weeks.

9-27-08. Tim the photographer and I spent the morning rigging Tree 8 at about 90 feet. I haven’t climbed up yet, but the location and height are excellent. I believe it will be the best tree by far. While rigging the last two trees, I’ve gotten the arrow right over the desired fork with amazingly lucky shots. On the way back from Tree 8, I got bogged down in a small bayou and ruined my cell phone, but Tim saved my camera. Other than that, it was a great morning.

9-28-08. During this visit to the Pearl, I’m staying at a really cool house that provides great views from the front and back yards. This scaled image shows one of the cavities that Tim the photographer recently found very close to the tree in which the bird was perched in the 2006 video. The reference circles are four and five inches in diameter. Whenever I’m in the field with visitors, it’s usually they who spot the interesting cavities, and this goes to show how inattentive I am to such evidence. It’s difficult to get a good look at Tree 8 since it’s nestled within fairly tall hardwoods, but this photo provides an alternate view from the photo that I posted yesterday. Tree 8 is about 700 meters from Tree 6, and the combination of these trees will provide coverage over a large area in the hardwood zone. I recently found another promising tree that might provide additional coverage.

9-29-08. Considering the gorgeous weather we’ve been having, I hate to miss two days in a row in the field, but my left knee is aching from the incident in which my cell phone was ruined (my leg was stuck deep in the mud between large branches, and I had to pull hard to extract it). I had a few interesting bird sightings on the way to the office this morning. As I backed out of the driveway, a Clapper Rail walked across the road into the lot next door. As I got out of the car at Stennis, a Great Egret glided by just a few feet over my head.

9-30-08. I spent a few hours in the swamp this morning. Although the bird activity was low, it was nice to get back out there after spending a few days in the office.

10-2-08. This morning, I resolved a mystery that had me concerned for a long time. Several months ago, I started noticing an ominous popping sound in my left hip. This seemed to be correlated with long hikes into the swamp and caused by pulling forces when extracting my leg from the mud. I also noticed aches and looseness in my left knee. I had the hip x-rayed last month, but the doctor said it looks good. The popping noise started up again this morning (apparently as a result of getting mired in the mud last week), but this time I could tell that it was originating in the knee and apparently radiating through the femur to the hip.

10-4-08. I had a nice day in the Pearl with Charles from Louisiana. With GPS coordinates in hand, we bushwhacked out and confirmed that the perch tree in the 2006 video has indeed come down. It turns out that Tim the photographer and I were standing right next to it last week, but it’s hard to recognize the area after two years of post-Katrina growth. This photo shows the crown of a tree that went down in Katrina that is against the base of the fallen perch tree. The cavities that we found last week are only 40 meters from the perch tree. We also paid a visit to the Mike’s River area, where activities indicated by these signs are going on in an area within a few hundred meters from where there have been numerous ivorybill sightings.

10-5-08. Charles and I finished rigging Tree 8 this morning — and it took all morning. I was thrilled with the lucky arrow shot last week, but there was a problem pulling the rope over the crotch. We made several attempts from both directions, but it got caught in the crotch each time. On the verge of giving up, we tried a different way of tying the line to the climbing rope, and it finally passed through the crotch. I mounted the pulley at just under 90 feet, and the view from up there is incredible. This photo shows the view in another direction. This is by far our best tree — Tree 8 is great. The view is better from Tree 5, but Tree 8 is in the hardwood zone. This photo shows the view looking down. On the way down, I had some problems with the belay device, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the incident on February 10.

10-6-08. Although the birds weren’t very active, it was still a bayoutiful day in the Pearl. A throbbing knee kept me up for much of the night, and I was only able to hobble along for a few miles this morning. I’ll have to stay off my feet for a few days. I’ve been having problems with the knee since getting my leg caught in the mud last week, and it must have been aggravated by climbing Tree 8. The climbing rope is usually tied to the rigging line like this. The orange line is always kept attached to the rope, and the green line is tied to it and used to pull the climbing rope into position. At the top of Tree 8, the end of the climbing rope kept getting stuck in a deep fork. When we attached the rigging line directly to the rope like this, the end of the rope passed right through the crotch.

10-7-08. Most of the pain in the knee subsided after it made a loud pop last night. I’m still going to stay off my feet for a day or two. I would like to get one more tree rigged before heading back to Virginia next week. That tree along with Trees 6 and 8 would cover a good area in the hardwood zone. A few days ago, I obtained some leaves from the fallen perch tree in the 2006 video. It appears to be a Water Oak.

10-8-08. I saw two Striped Skunks at Stennis last night. I wanted to visit the swamp this morning, but the knee is still acting up. A few days ago, Charles from Louisiana and I went for a boat ride on Mike’s River and the East Pearl. There were signs like this along the entire route. Several miles into the trip, the size of the bombing range began to dawn on Charles, who made these remarks.

10-9-08. Tim the photographer and I rigged Tree 9, which is well located and provides a nice view. The rigging line is attached a little below 80 feet, and my backpack made a nice thud when I dropped it in the mud below. My aim with the bow and arrow wasn’t as good today. When an arrow got stuck in the tree, I pulled hard and broke the line, and it took an hour and a half to get it untangled. It was a beautiful day with lots of bird activity, but we heard lots of automatic weapons fire and grenades (or mortars) exploding a short distance away across the Pearl.

10-10-08. Tim and I enjoyed another bayoutiful day in the Pearl. At the house in Slidell, I enjoyed the antics of two Clapper Rails, including this one feeding in the empty lot next door and this one going for a swim. While in Tree 9, I took this photo of a pine that’s just down the channel from Tree 6. Those two trees combined with Tree 8 are going to provide excellent coverage in the hardwood zone. If I can get two climbers to join me, we should have a good chance of observing the ivorybills from those trees. During the 2008 search season, my two primary objectives were to observe an ivorybill from a tree and to see the dorsal stripes. I achieved both of those objectives on March 29 but still yearn to see an ivorybill flying over the treetops. This was my last day in the field during this visit.

10-11-08. When I looked out this morning, one of the Clapper Rails was foraging around right beneath the window. After getting packed up, I left Stennis in the middle of the day and covered about 600 miles of the trip home.

10-12-08. I arrived back in Virginia in the middle of the afternoon. Although there were no sightings, it was a very successful visit to the Pearl. I’m really excited about Trees 8 and 9.

10-20-08. My knees have bothered me off and on since I started taking long hikes into the swamp. It’s the pulling force when extracting my feet and legs from deep in the mud that seems to have caused the problem. I first noticed it during a hike through deep mud on 5-9-07 and have taken many such hikes since then. Sinking nearly up to my hips in mud on 9-27-08 caused the left knee to flare up, and this has made it difficult to sleep. I had it checked out this morning. The doctor says there may be torn cartilage or meniscus and administered a shot of cortisone. Hopefully, it will recover before my intended return to the Pearl in February. I’m also planning visits to other areas during the next few months. I’ll have to go easy in the swamps and wear a brace on the left knee.

11-6-08. I arrived back at the Pearl late this morning. Since the visit will be short, I was hoping to squeeze in an extra morning by driving straight through from Virginia, but I got tired during the night, had to pull over to rest, and didn’t arrive until late morning. Bob from Oregon is in for a visit. We hiked out to Tree 6 late in the afternoon, but it was unseasonably warm and there was little bird activity.

11-7-08. I began my search for ivorybills in the Pearl three years ago today. This morning, we found some interesting foraging sign that involved mostly stripping of the outer bark as in this example. The bark appeared to be tight as illustrated in this example. The extensive nature of the foraging is reminiscent of the foraging that I found last January, which preceded the sighting in February and the video in March. The new foraging sign appears fresh and was definitely done since the visit in October. In the same area, I noticed an interesting twisted tree.

11-8-08. With the deer season opening in the Pearl, we decided to spend the weekend in the kayaks. Since my knee and foot were aching, Bob went out on his own to do some exploring this morning, but I joined him for a while this afternoon. On the way to the boat launch this morning, we saw a White-winged Dove mixed in with a flock of Mourning Doves on the ground.

11-9-08. We did about 10 miles in the kayaks today, beginning with the area around Tree 6, which appears in the distance in this photo. In the vicinity of the bombing range, we observed machine gun damage to sweetgum, tupelo, and cypress trees. As shown in this photo, the cypress is a fairly mature tree.

11-10-08. Bob hiked out to Tree 8 with me for a climb. It was a cool and windy morning, and I spent a few hours up there. Spending time in a tree that’s swaying in the wind is a lot like being on a ship. You can still feel the movement after coming down from the tree. A large parcel of land is for sale on the periphery of the Pearl. This land could be bought up and managed for ivorybills as well as Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and Bachman’s Sparrows.

11-11-08. While attempting to rig Tree 13 (the name is based on the bad luck that we had with this tree), we ran into problems and had to abandon the effort as darkness was setting in. We heard explosions and machine gun fire all day long. I won’t be able to post updates for a few days and probably won’t have much to report since thunderstorms are predicted.

11-15-08. I obtained a permit from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to collect the fork from the perch tree in the 2006 video. This tree fell sometime between my visits in June and September (perhaps during Gustav). I was sad to see that it had fallen but am relieved to have saved the fork before the wood began to rot.

11-16-08. I have arrived back home in Virginia after a brief stop at Congaree National Park, which has many spectacular trees, such as a recently fallen sweetgum that was over 130 feet tall.

1-21-09. For the first time in months, I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night with a throbbing knee. I slept through the night and woke up this morning without pain. There was a warm glowing feeling in the knee all day.

1-26-09. I arrived back at Stennis Space Center in the middle of the day. I’m looking forward to getting back out into the Pearl tomorrow. I visited the area where I heard kents in February 2000 and found a bumper crop of Yaupon Holly berries.

1-27-09. I hiked out to Tree 6 for a stakeout. I also visited the tallows, where a pair of pileateds were feeding. I was very careful crossing muddy and flooded areas, and the knee seems to have held up.

1-28-09. Tim the photographer joined me for a morning in the swamp. We found some interesting foraging sign near areas of recent sightings. Bird activity was low, apparently due to the drizzly weather.

1-29-09. I hiked out to Tree 8 this morning. Now that the leaves are down, it was possible to get a better photo from a distance. Tree 8 is the tall tree in the background in the center of the photo. The pulley is attached just below the top but isn’t visible in the photo. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but Tree 8 towers over the surrounding trees.

1-30-09. I did a stakeout at a split in a bayou that provides a good view in three directions. While at the stakeout, I got an idea for an approach that is intermediate between staying on the ground and climbing above the surrounding canopy. Midstory climbs require much less rope (lugging 200 feet of rope can be exhausting), don’t require exceptionally tall trees (making them possible just about anywhere), and aren’t as exhausting as canopy climbs (making multiple climbs per day possible). Midstory climbs don’t provide views out to long distances, but the view can usually be greatly improved just by climbing above the low vegetation (especially in winter).

1-31-09. I woke up to the calls of a Great Horned Owl and saw it perched just after pulling out of the driveway. I wonder if it was preying on the abundant Nutria in that area. While crossing the I-10 bridge just before dawn, I saw a spectacular fog that covered all but the tops of the trees. It would have been a great photo just after sunrise, but it would be very dangerous to stop on the bridge and I didn’t want to delay getting into the swamp. I took my first kayak ride since November but wasn’t able to go as far as I had hoped due to the low water level. Later on, Gretchen took me for a boat ride up the East Pearl, and we finished the day off with a stakeout near Tree 8. It was a gorgeous day, with lots of bird activity even in the middle of the afternoon.

2-1-09. I hate to miss a day in the swamp at this time of year, but my left knee and right foot need a rest. Shortly after I passed through the south gate at Stennis, a Bobcat loped across the road right in front of me.

2-2-09. The sky opened up shortly after I arrived at the end of Oil Well Rd. this morning. It looks like an all-day rain.

2-3-09. It was a gorgeous day in the swamp. After doing a few stakeouts, I tried a midstory climb. I chose a fork a little on the high side, and this was a good test of my accuracy with a beanbag. The first several throws were the equivalent of a baseball pitcher throwing the ball over the backstop, but then I got the hang of holding the line about a foot from the beanbag, spinning it in a circular motion, and visualizing the beanbag going over the desired fork just before releasing it. After I got the line in place, I discovered that the rope wasn’t quite long enough for that fork. Not an impressive start, but the practice should payoff on the next attempt.

2-5-09. The knee didn’t keep me awake last night, which makes me hopeful that it hasn’t regressed to the state it was in last fall. It was another gorgeous day in the swamp. I took a trail that approaches the East Pearl. Several trees in that area appear promising for midstory climbs. I’m going to get a backpack for carrying 100 feet of rope and give that approach a try in the next few days. I tried a few beanbag tosses this morning and found that the practice the other day has paid off.

2-6-09. Gretchen and I spent the morning in the swamp. We wanted to try some midstory climbs, but my aim was off and the beanbag got stuck in a tree. We dropped the climbing gear off at the car and did stakeouts. I got some video footage of this Bobcat as it walked along the opposite side of the bayou. We were downwind, and it didn’t seem to notice us. The bayou is really shallow now in the area of Tree 6.

2-7-09. Gretchen and her friend Pat joined me for another stakeout in the swamp. Gretchen used a fallen tree to cross the bayou, where she checked out the paw prints of the Bobcat. It was a warm morning, and there are already signs of spring.

2-9-09. Gretchen and Tamara joined me at a stakeout this morning. There were several Wood Duck flybys, and the camera recorded the splashes of this pair as they landed on the water. Later on, the camera picked up a high-pitched sound when another Wood Duck veered sharply while flying past at high speed. I had the impression that the sound came from the wings but later determined that it was this call. Although the sonograms are similar, the call of the flying bird sounds unusual to my ears, but this is probably due to the circumstances. I was sitting right on the edge of a narrow bayou. The bird called just as it was passing at close range. So there would have been significant amplitude variation and Doppler effect. On the way back, Gretchen pointed out a palmetto that’s growing as an epiphyte.

2-10-09. On November 9, I posted photos of trees in the Pearl that were severely damaged by machine gun fire. While doing a stakeout this morning, I obtained an acoustic recording of a much more formidable gun, which fires over 3000 rounds per minute. It should be obvious from the recording that the gun wasn’t very far away, and I was sitting at a point between the locations where the 2006 and 2008 videos were obtained.

2-11-09. I took the kayak out this morning despite wind and rain, and high water made it possible to get all the way to Tree 9 and beyond. While passing through the Bermuda Triangle, a strong gust of wind toppled a large dead tree, and the paddle-cam picked up an exploding sound as it gave way. I was fortunate to be about 100 feet away and that the tree fell in the opposite direction.

2-12-09. I did another stakeout in the vicinity of Tree 6.

2-13-09. Tim the photographer joined me for a stakeout this morning, which was nice despite a little rain. Shortly before the first sighting last year, I found an extensive amount of fresh foraging that seemed to have been done all at once. I found something similar this morning, and it must have been done within the last few days since I pass through that area frequently. It was on this date in 1985 that I started working at Stennis Space Center.

2-15-09. Gretchen joined me for a stakeout at the three-way junction. The 2006 video was obtained along the bayou that goes to the lower left (red). The 2008 video was obtained along the bayou that goes to the right (green). Tree 9 is located along the bayou that goes to the left (blue).

2-16-09. I had sightings on this date in 2006 and 2008 but didn’t have any luck this morning. I did another stakeout and got an idea while listening to a woodpecker foraging. It has always seemed puzzling that I have rarely heard loud blows that could be attributable to an ivorybill. One might expect it to be easy to track down these birds by listening for loud foraging, but it could be that the foraging style of the ivorybill isn’t very loud. It is believed that ivorybill foraging mostly consists of bark scaling with glancing blows and prying. The fact that bark is much softer than the solid wood in the interior of a tree suggests that ivorybills make less noise than pileateds when foraging.

2-17-09. It was a routine morning at the stakeout, with the exception that a skunk was nearby.

2-18-09. Gretchen and David joined me for some off-trail hiking, which I had been avoiding due to the knee injury. After visiting Tree 8, we bushwhacked our way to Tree 6 and did a stakeout. It’s gotten a bit warm and leaves are starting to come out on the lower vegetation.

2-19-09. I did another stakeout at the three-way junction and saw my first otter of the season.

2-20-09. I did another stakeout, and it’s really getting boring. It was three years ago on this date that I obtained the 2006 Pearl video.

2-21-09. Gretchen and David joined me for a visit to Tree 3, which provides a nice view when the leaves are down. We had a problem getting started with the climb after discovering the rigging line tangled in a small tree (probably due to a hurricane). After finishing his climb, David provided ground support from the boat. It was nice to get in my first climb since the fall. I’m looking forward to doing stakeouts from Tree 8 in the coming weeks.

2-22-09. It was chilly and windy, and I did a stakeout at the three-way junction. I noticed that the water level is high again and will try to get out in the kayak before it goes back down. This squirrel came running down Tree 3 as David was going up (a squirrel came running down the same tree as we started to rig it in June 2007).

2-24-09. I spent Mardi Gras morning down at the three-way junction. That place is really getting old, but there still seems to be a good chance for a flyby. I’m going to take a break from the stakeout routine and try some other ideas.

2-25-09. I did some exploring this morning and had a possible sighting. The bird was flying just below the treetops about 150 meters away. I wasn’t able to resolve fieldmarks, but the flaps and flight speed seemed right. The thing that caught my attention is that there seemed to be something slightly irregular about the flight in contrast to the machine-like smooth flight of a duck. If it was an ivorybill, this could have been due to wing tucking. I was hoping that I got the high-def camera on the bird but determined that it was a swing and a miss after viewing the footage on a big-screen TV. That’s a shame since a single poorly-resolved flap might have been enough to confirm that the area is still hot.

2-26-09. I found a better vantage point at the three-way junction and spent a few hours there this morning. This spot provides a good view of the bayou to the 2006 hot zone and the bayou to Tree 9. The bird in the 2008 video flew up the bayou to Tree 6, which is at my back. There’s good cover for hiding from birds coming up from behind along the Tree 6 bayou. A bird that flies into the three-way junction from any of the bayous is an easy target for a camera.

2-27-09. Another day, another stakeout. There are lots of signs of spring, including leaves coming out, warm weather, singing White-eyed Vireos, and a large black snake that stared me down before going straight down a hole in the ground. The Northern Parulas and Yellow-throated Warblers should arrive in another day or two, with the Swallow-tailed Kites not far behind.

2-28-09. After a brief visit to the three-way junction, I did some exploring up the small bayou along which the bird in the 2008 video flew. Additional photos of this bayou are posted here. It’s a lot easier to walk along waterways, where you don’t have to contend with blackberry thickets, but there are mucky areas that will probably cause the bad knee to act up tonight. I saw my first cottonmouth of the year and also came across some interesting foraging sign. I don’t like to do too much of this kind of exploration since there is probably more chance of driving the birds off than of actually seeing them, but I wanted to get into that area to see what it’s like. There are still many similar areas to be explored, and I will try to get to some of them in the coming weeks. On the way out of Stennis late in the afternoon, I saw a pileated in a long-distance flight. It was at about 150 feet flying toward the Pearl and the flap rate appeared to be about two or three flaps per second. It covered at least a quarter mile during the time I watched it. I would expect ivorybills to fly at a similar altitude when flying between river basins, and that would be an exciting thing to see.

3-1-09. This morning I did a major excursion that passed by Trees 8, 9 and 6 in that order. This route includes a waterway that I’ve wanted to explore for a long time. At one point, I was thinking about turning back, but then I found a trail marker that was left near Tree 9 last fall. Despite previous kayak visits to that area, I didn’t recognize it at first since low water made it appear to be an impassable waterway.

3-3-09. I hiked down to the end of Oil Well Rd. via a route that passed Tree 8 and this pond, which is near one of the sightings that predates Kulivan. I get the urge to climb Tree 8 every time I go that way, but I will probably postpone climbing for a while. I saw another Bobcat, which is my fourth since last June.

3-4-09. It’s hard to imagine a nicer morning in the swamp. It was sunny but remained cool enough to keep the camo comfortable and the birds active. Woodpeckers were drumming in all directions at dawn. There were signs of early spring all around, including a gator that popped up right next to my stakeout position. A pair of Wood Ducks paddled by at close range, apparently not noticing me in the camo and showing no concern while passing within a few feet of the gator. The camera was aimed in the right direction when a hawk swooped down near where a squirrel had been feeding and caused a turkey to take offense.

3-6-09. The parulas finally arrived after being delayed by the cold front. While sitting at the stakeout, I noticed a squirrel foraging where the water had receded from the bank. I didn’t notice if it found anything, but an ivorybill would probably eat some of the items that a squirrel would eat.

3-7-09. I celebrated my birthday with another Bobcat sighting and the first Swallow-tailed Kite of the year.

3-8-09. I hiked between the sites where the 2006 and 2008 videos were obtained. It’s not very far as the crow flies, but it’s a difficult trek through thick mud, blackberry thickets, and fallen trees. It was really tough doing it two years ago with a freshly broken arm. In the distance in this photo is the upper boundary of the 2006 hot zone. I used to paddle up to that spot early in the morning and then quietly drift back with the current. In the opposite direction is the infamous Bermuda Triangle, where I broke my arm, capsized the kayak in cold water, and had a gator tail-whip the kayak. To avoid stumbling, I kept my eyes on the ground and saw a lizard with part of its tail missing, a cottonmouth, and a speckled kingsnake. I found a fallen tree that cracked in a spiral pattern. On the way back, I managed to sneak up on these turtles. It was warm, leaves are coming out in the canopy, and there are lots of flowers.

3-9-09. While sitting at the stakeout, I heard this call coming from six feet to the side. I had heard that call many times before, but the source was always a mystery. It turns out that it’s a small frog. Walking back from the stakeout, I nearly got nailed by a cottonmouth, which thrashed and struck as I was about to step on it. The porcelain white mouth was wide open.

3-10-09. While sitting at the stakeout, I looked down and saw an alligator snapping turtle with its head poking out of the water about ten feet away. Some interesting critters have shown up at that spot this year, but the desired one has not yet made an appearance. On the way back, I saw a Bobcat and had another close encounter with a snake (this one harmless).

3-11-09. It was a quiet morning at the stakeout. During the walk out and back, I kept my eyes on the ground to look out for snakes and could have missed several ivorybill flybys. Mac from Alabama believes the frog that I saw a few days ago is a Bird-voiced Treefrog. It’s tricky to identify frogs due to considerable variations in appearance, but the voice and shape of the white patches under the eyes seem right. It was fortunate that this rarely-seen frog happened to be resting on a branch right next to my stakeout position.

3-12-09. This morning, I did some exploring in the same general area where there have been possible sightings. I got as close as possible without getting into a major bushwhacking expedition. There are some fairly good stands of hardwoods in that area, which seems to have been hit with a slightly softer blow by Katrina.

3-14-09. I spent the morning at the stakeout. When a Wood Duck paddled nearby, I recorded this call, which I had never before heard so clearly. Unlike the loud call that is given in flight, this call is rather faint and difficult to hear clearly beyond close range.

3-17-09. It was a green and gorgeous St. Patrick’s Day morning in the swamp. My heart skipped a few beats when a bird came flying up the bayou like the bird in the 2008 video, but it was a Wood Duck. While sitting at the stakeout, I looked up and saw a TV on the Moon.

3-18-09. I spent time at several stakeout locations during a beautiful morning. A pair of Swallow-tailed Kites are once again soaring above the area near Tree 6.

3-19-09. I explored an area that I hadn’t visited in a long time. It started out foggy and was a beautiful morning with lots of pileated activity.

3-20-09. Lots of mature hardwoods survived Katrina near Old Hwy. 11, and there have been several reports from along that road over the years. This morning, I watched and listened while slowly driving three miles out and then three miles back along that road. The Prothonotary Warblers have arrived. I forgot to mention several days ago that the Yellow-throated Warblers had also arrived.

3-21-09. Rob Tymstra was in for a visit. We rode kayaks up to the sites where the 2006 and 2008 videos were obtained. Rob has an awesome foot-powered kayak that allows him to keep his hands free for a camera. Rob was one of the first visitors to the Pearl after I got the 2006 video. The day got off to a bad start when I discovered that my best kayak has been stolen. So I had to use the leaky old one.

3-22-09. I did some exploring on a trail a bit north of the area that has been the focus this year. It was an absolutely lovely morning in the swamp with lots of woodpecker activity.

3-23-09. The water is way up in the Pearl, where Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos have arrived. It seems that another wave of Swallow-tailed Kites has arrived.

3-24-09. The water is the highest I have ever seen it in the Honey Island Swamp. For the first time ever, I wasn’t able to get through to the trail to Tree 8. I’m going to be visiting Florida for the next several days and won’t be able to post updates. After the trip, I plan to return to the Pearl for a few more days and then wrap things up. I plan to be here for the tenth anniversary of the Kulivan sighting on April 1.

4-1-09. David Kulivan’s sighting of a pair of ivorybills in the Pearl was exactly ten years ago. The entrance to Old Hwy. 11 was closed to vehicles this morning due to the highest water levels that I have seen in the Pearl. It appears that the entire forest is flooded, and this has driven animals such as deer, hogs, and armadillos onto the high ground of Old Hwy. 11. The small streams that cross Old Hwy. 11 have swelled and risen to just below the bridges. The turn-offs from Old Hwy. 11 are completely flooded. The road that passes under I-59 is partially flooded.

4-2-09. Due to the flooding, I have decided to start packing up a few days early for the trip back to Virginia. There is little that can be done on foot under these conditions, and it would be difficult to go out in the leaky kayak due to the lack of dry areas where I could pull over and bail out water.

A day-to-day log of the 2010 search season is posted here.