This photo of a female Ivory-billed Woodpecker specimen was taken at the Louisiana Museum of Science in Baton Rouge. The last known nest sites of this species were in Louisiana in the 1930s. There have been many sightings over the years, including recent reports by independent groups of ornithologists in Arkansas and Florida, but nobody has managed to obtain an image that satisfies all the skeptics that this species has eluded extinction. It’s extremely difficult to see this bird since it’s extremely rare, ultra-wary of humans, and roams over large areas in remote swamps. I have seen it several times in the Pearl River in Louisiana and once in the Choctawhatchee River in Florida.

The Pileated Woodpecker is superficially similar to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and is a common resident of the Pearl River.

A tray of male Ivory-billed Woodpecker specimens photographed at the Smithsonian.

A tray of female Ivory-billed Woodpecker specimens photographed at the Smithsonian.

Photos obtained by James Tanner at the last known nest sites in the Singer Tract in Louisiana in the 1930s. These photos are in the possession of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

This photo was taken near I-10 looking to the east. The dark green strip of trees that heads to the north runs along Middle River.

This photo was taken more than 3 miles to the north of the previous photo. The meandering strip of light colored trees runs along English Bayou.

It’s easy to wade across the smaller bayous, such as this one, but some of them are too deep.

Flooded cypress-tupelo forest dominates the Pearl up to about 3 miles north of I-10. When wading/hiking through this kind of habitat, your feet sink well into the fine silt. Repeatedly pulling your feet out of the mud can be hard on the knees.

The swamp always seems especially peaceful on a foggy morning.

Some of the tallest cypresses in the Pearl have been rigged for climbing. These trees provide great platforms for watching for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers flying over the treetops. This is Tree 2, which has a pulley mounted about 73 feet above the ground.

Nice view of a bayou from Tree 2.

Tree 3 is rigged at about 66 feet.

When the water is high, you can kayak right up to some of the trees.

Climbing gear. The bag holds 200 feet of climbing rope that is smaller than my little finger but rated at several thousand pounds. The blue and gold ascenders are attached to the harness. They clamp firmly to the rope and slide along it only in one direction. The straps on the blue ascender are for the feet. Most of the work is done with the legs by alternating the load between the ascenders in an inch-worm motion. The red line is a Petzl Grillon, which is used to tie-in after reaching the top. The small object near the Grillon is a Petzl Gri-Gri, which is used for belaying down the rope. After this photo was taken, I switched to the Petzl STOP, which provides a smoother descent. The foldable cube is used to catch lines and ropes to prevent them from getting dirty and tangled up with debris on the ground.

My friend Gretchen climbing Tree 0, which is rigged at close to 100 feet. On the way down after rigging this tree, I went into free fall for several feet starting at about 85 feet. I instinctively reached my right hand above my head and grabbed the rope, which tore off skin and caused rope burns. I haven’t had that problem since switching from the Gri-Gri to the STOP.

Tree 5 is rigged at about 80 feet and is my favorite.

Here’s what Tree 5 looks like from directly below.

Tree 5 provides an unobstructed view of the surrounding swamp. It’s almost like hovering in a helicopter.

This Yellow-throated Warbler approached very closely during an observation session in Tree 5.

One of the routes to Tree 5 involves about an hour of slogging through flooded cypress-tupelo forest like that shown from the top of Tree 5. The other route involves a long kayak ride and a shorter hike through the flooded forest.

There’s a large grove of tall cypresses deep in the heart of the Pearl, where people rarely venture. This photo from Tree 5 shows some of them.

Stennis Space Center is located on the Mississippi side of the Pearl. This photo from Tree 5 shows the towers where rocket engines are tested.

This photo shows the boat launch at Stennis Space Center. Louisiana is on the far side of the river. The basin is several miles across and contains bayous, flooded cypress-tupelo forest, and hardwood forest.

This photo shows the main canal that runs through Stennis Space Center. In February 2000, an Ivory-billed Woodpecker was heard along one of the smaller canals that branch off from this one.

This bayou is one of the areas where Ivory-billed Woodpeckers have been sighted in the Pearl. I call this area the Bermuda Triangle because I have had some bad luck there, including capsizing my kayak in cold water and breaking my arm in another incident.

Here’s my arm after one of the mishaps in the Bermuda Triangle.

My first Ivory-billed Woodpecker sighting was at this spot on February 2, 2006.

I had several Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings in this area between February 16 and 20, 2006. I obtained video footage during one of the encounters as the bird was perched in a fork far in the background near the center of the photo.

This photo is a zoom of the scene in the previous photo. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker was perched in the fork that forms a distinct “Y” in the center of the photo.

This photo shows a scenic bayou near Tree 6, which is the cypress that has a large branch hanging out over the bayou. On March 29, 2008, I obtained video footage from about 75 feet up this tree when an Ivory-billed Woodpecker flew up the bayou and passed directly below.

This photo shows Tree 6 from down the bayou. It’s the tall cypress near the middle in the distance.

The Barred Owl is a common resident in the Pearl.

Wood Ducks are also common.

The Swallow-tailed Kite is a spectacular summer resident of the Pearl.

The swamp azaleas are gorgeous in the spring.

Buttonbush is an interesting plant species in the Pearl.

Here are some pretty flowers on a small pond.

Gators are common in the Pearl.

The cottonmouth is also common.

Bobcats are fairly common.

Wild hogs are a common introduced species.

These deer are swimming across the Pearl in November 2005. I’m not sure they would do that during the months when gators are active.

My visit to the Pearl in November 2005 was only a few months after Hurricane Katrina. This photo shows devastation along a street in Waveland, Mississippi, where two people died.

This photo from the same street as the above photo shows the view looking away from the coast. The 30+ foot tidal surge tore houses from their foundations, smashed them to bits, and bulldozed the debris away from the coast.