Day-to-day log of the 2011 search season

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8-19-10. I just finished 30 days of antibiotics for Lyme disease. It was a type of antibiotics that causes sensitivity to the sun. Since I have fair skin and a history of melanoma, being out in the sun during the Louisiana summer isn’t a good thing. I always use sunscreen, a hat, and long sleeves, but I decided it would be better to stay inside until the antibiotics were finished. The weather hasn’t been quite as brutal lately, and I will try to get back out in the swamp after waiting a few more days to let the antibiotics get out of my system.

8-30-10. I spent the morning in areas where I had sightings two years ago. At this time of year, the swamp can be a bit unpleasant due to heat, humidity, thick vegetation, spiders, snakes, mosquitoes, and horse flies. I had a little of each this morning, but the heat wasn’t too bad. When I get back out in the swamp each fall, I always find that some of the trees killed by Katrina finally fell over during the summer. It has now been five years, but this one is still standing.

8-31-10. Late this afternoon, I kayaked through the areas where the 2006 and 2008 videos were obtained. I found an unusual cluster of large (but old) cavities in the same area where I found unusual foraging sign shortly before the 2008 video was obtained. I don’t know what made those cavities, but I haven’t seen anything else like them during five years in the Pearl. I don’t look for anything particular in terms of foraging sign or cavities, but I do keep my eyes open for things that look unusual. In 2008, I found interesting foraging sign and cavities shortly before the video was obtained nearby. Last November, I found interesting foraging sign before hearing four double raps nearby.

9-1-10. The swamp was gorgeous from the kayak yesterday afternoon, and I took lots of photos. This photo shows trees killed by Katrina in various stages of decay, including a fallen tree that recently broke near the bank and another that remains propped up despite advanced decay. The 2006 video was obtained in this area. The 2008 video was obtained from Tree 6. Further up the bayou is the area near Tree 9. I broke my arm and had other bad luck in the Bermuda Triangle, which lies between the sites where the videos were obtained.

9-2-10. The high-def camera was mounted on a tripod during the recent kayak ride through the old hot zones. I burned nearly an hour to DVD, and I will always treasure that footage. There are many gorgeous areas in the Pearl, but I have never seen another swamp scene of comparable beauty to the vicinity of Tree 6. This area — which should be named Emerald Bayou — is breathtaking when viewed in high def on a wide-screen TV.

9-3-10. I have posted more photos from the recent kayak ride. My first ivorybill sighting was in this area on February 2, 2006. Eighteen days and five sightings later, I came across an ivorybill perched on the broken-off tree covered by vines near the center of this photo; the 2006 video was obtained about ten minutes after the bird flushed from the side of that tree and flew into the woods. Tree 5.9 is one of the first trees that I climbed and the nearest to the 2006 hot zone. I decided not to keep it rigged since it didn’t seem to provide a good enough view over the treetops, but I’m going to reconsider that tree now that my climbing skills have improved. I might be able to get high enough to get some use out of it. The bird in the 2008 video flew up Emerald Bayou just to the left of the tupelo near the center of the photo. Just over a minute before the bird flew into view, an apparent double rap (which was recorded in the video) came from just down the bayou in this area.

9-14-10. The first time I heard kents was along this canal at Stennis in February 2000. Although ivorybills are known to forage in pine forests near swamps, I always wondered why an ivorybill would visit that particular area. I may have figured it out. Since the bird in the 2008 video was navigating along a bayou, it would seem to make sense that an ivorybill would navigate along a canal through a pine forest. If you go down the canal where I heard kents and take a left along another canal, you arrive at the area where unusual foraging sign was found.

9-21-10. I only had time for a short visit, but the swamp was gorgeous this morning.

9-29-10. This afternoon, I kayaked way up a bayou that is partially clogged with fallen trees. It started getting late, and I had to drag the kayak along a shortcut in order to get back before dark. The shadows were getting long during the ride back. During the first few years after Katrina, there were few squirrels in the Pearl, but I noticed this afternoon that they have really made a comeback.

10-19-10. It was a beautiful morning in the swamp. I took advantage of unusually low water to hike into new areas. I covered a lot of ground and did a few stakeouts. The bayou near Tree 8 is usually between knee and waist deep and sometimes gets way too deep to wade across. It looked like this today. After crossing the bayou, I found a place where a gator crawled out of the water. Based on the foot prints, it seems that it was pretty big. I’ve always been leery about gators when crossing that bayou. I’ll be even more leery the next time I wade across it. I inspected the rope on Tree 8, which still looks OK after nearly a year of UV exposure. I will have to retire that rope after the next climb. The water was low enough to cross over into an area where an ivorybill was seen in February 2008. It was my first time in that area, which has some nice trees. This one looks like it might be worth rigging. That would be a good area for an observation post. In addition to the sighting in 2008, some interesting foraging sign was discovered there not quite a year ago. There was a second round of foraging on the same tree early this year. I inspected it today, and found that there has been no further activity.

10-22-10. Guess who just got the coolest license plate in Louisiana.

11-7-10. It has now been five years since I began my work in the Pearl.

11-9-10. Tommy Tuma and Amity Bass of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries joined me for a visit to Tree 6. The water was very low, but it was a gorgeous day. There was a lot of woodpecker activity.

11-11-10. I spent several hours in and around Tree 6 this morning. The bird in the 2008 video flew in this direction. I would love to do the flyunder over with that kind of lighting and optics. Far off in the direction of Lost Bayou, I spotted this tree, which looks like it might provide a good view of a prime area. I got the bearing of that tree relative to Tree 6, but it’s far off (the camera was on full zoom) and might take some work to find.

11-16-10. I climbed Tree 6 again this morning. While paddling up the bayou, I had a possible ivorybill sighting in the same place where I had one late in March. I will have to stake that area out.

11-17-10. The sighting yesterday was far from definite, but it was a large dark bird with large white patches on the trailing edges of the wings. Just after I spotted the bird, it quickly maneuvered to get out of view. It would have been easy to get footage with paddle-cam, but I had the camera stowed away in a dry bag since the kayak was overloaded with climbing gear. The sighting was only a short distance from a tree that has an unusual cluster of cavities that I found at the end of August. There are now several more large cavities in that tree.

11-27-10. I found a photo of my first tree climb. I still remember having that photo taken. It was around 1963.

11-28-10. I climbed Tree 6 this morning. It was very quiet.

12-21-10. I spent several hours exploring Lost Bayou. This area is very isolated, has good habitat, and is near the sites where the 2006 and 2008 videos were obtained. I found two trees that might be good observation platforms. The tall cypress in the background may be the one that I spotted from Tree 6 last month. I also visited Tree 6, where I recently drove some stakes for improving the flight speed and wingspan estimates of the bird in the 2008 video. I’ve been planning to spend some time in Tree 6 in order to get video of a kingfisher flying up that bayou (such footage would make it clear that the bird in the 2008 video is too large to be a kingfisher). This afternoon, a kingfisher was perched on one of the stakes! I will try to spend some time in Tree 6 during the next few days.

12-23-10. I spent a few hours in Tree 6. There were lots of woodpeckers and other birds. This pileated put on a good show just up the bayou. It’s always interesting to watch birds from the same level or above.

12-28-10. I climbed Tree 6 again this morning. There was ice on the surface of the bayou, but it wasn’t too bad up in the tree with the sun shining.

1-10-11. Bird activity was unusually high this morning, and I had an interesting possible sighting. I made an attempt to rig the tree along Lost Bayou, but the water was too high to get there. Just before turning back, I discovered a gang of cute little wild hogs. I took an alternate route back and was considering climbing Tree 6.1 (a marginal tree that I haven’t climbed since rigging it in the fall of 2008) in order to gain a vantage point for looking for other favorable trees in the area, but I found that a large fallen branch had taken out the rigging line. I stopped by Tree 9 and considered climbing it, but my time was limited this morning. It was tough going on the hike back from Tree 9 since that route became overgrown with blackberry thickets over the summer. The possible sighting was near where I had a sighting in February 2008. A large woodpecker flew in from the left and landed near the top of a large tree. As it landed, it immediately moved to the opposite side of the trunk (my right). The ivorybill is not much larger than the pileated, but this bird struck me as huge. Based on its rapid movements, impressive size, narrow wings, and sleek shape, it gave the impression of ivorybill, but I was unable to make out any field marks since it was silhouetted against the sky. I stared at it for about two seconds, trying to make out field marks and wishing I had my camera or binoculars out, but they were in my backpack since my hands were full of 200 feet of rope and other items for rigging. The bird took off rapidly after noticing me.

1-20-11. I did stakeouts at several locations this morning. I found a tree with extensive fresh foraging that looked like it could be the work of an ivorybill.

1-21-11. This morning, there were several woodpeckers feeding in tallow trees near where there were three sightings in the fall of 2006.

1-26-11. I got damp with sweat during a hike to Tree 9 and then endured a cold wind at the top for two hours. During the climb, I was apprehensive about the rope that has been tied at the top of that tree and exposed to the elements for more than a year. It was much worse on the way down, when the stiff old rope made ominous creaking sounds as it slowly passed through the descent device. I might trust it for one more ascent, but I’ll have to take along another rope for the descent.

2-2-11. I hiked into the swamp from the Mississippi side and passed through areas that I had never before explored on foot. I waded across a few bayous before arriving at Mike’s River, which resembles the 2006 hotzone and other areas where there have been sightings. On the way back, I visited Tree 7 on foot for the first time. Establishing an easy ground route to that tree may give me a reasonable shot at my first definite sighting in Mississippi. During my only climb of Tree 7 (in December 2007), I wasn’t encouraged by the view, but I’ll be able to reach a higher vantage point now that my climbing skills have improved. Not far from Tree 7, I found extensive scaling of tight bark.

2-10-11. I did a stakeout and some exploring around Tree 7, an awesome cypress that dominates everything around it. I plan to set up an observation post in Tree 7 next week.

2-21-11. I tried to improve the rigging of Tree 7. The rigging line hadn’t been used in more than three years, and it snapped when I tried to raise the rope. It was a shame to lug all the gear out there for nothing, but it was still a nice morning in the swamp.

3-1-11. I did some stakeouts in the general area of Tree 6. It was my first visit to the Louisiana side in more than a month.

3-17-11. It was a gorgeous St. Patrick’s Day in the swamp. The gate was locked due to flooding, but I took a hike along Old Hwy. 11.

3-25-11. I went for a kayak ride through the areas where the videos were obtained. It was a beautiful spring morning with lots of woodpecker activity. I tried out a new mount that makes it easy to quickly remove the video camera from the kayak paddles.

4-22-11. It was a gorgeous morning along Emerald Bayou, where the spider lilies are in bloom. Near the location of two of the recent possible sightings, I found fresh cavities that resemble cavities (such as this one) that appeared near Tree 6 around the time the 2008 video was obtained. I don’t know the purpose of these cavities. Some of them have unusual shapes, and they don’t seem to be for foraging.

5-27-11. I retired the rope on Tree 9, which had been exposed to the elements far too long for a climbing rope. I plan to do the same at Tree 8 as soon as possible. It was nice to be able to hike out to those trees with a minimal load and then climb right up, but it would be too expensive to keep replacing the ropes. So I’m going to revert to lugging the rope for each climb. At this time of year, the view is always nice from up in the trees. After finishing up at Tree 9, we visited Emerald Bayou.

6-26-11. I retired the rope on Tree 8 this afternoon. It was a hot day for climbing, but the puffy clouds were gorgeous from up there. The rope has become stiff and faded and should have been retired a long time ago. I improved the rigging for an easier climb on the opposite side of Tree 8, which has a slight lean. Just after finishing the ascent, I was buzzed by a Turkey Vulture that flew just a few feet over the top of Tree 8.

7-31-11. I have received the sad news that Bud Fox passed away this morning. In 2007, Bud came to the Pearl all the way from Oregon and spent several months here. He was in robust health and very dedicated, spending long hours in the field each day. He didn’t have a sighting, but he heard kents near where I had sightings in 2006.

A day-to-day log of the 2012 search season is posted here.