Day-to-day log of the 2013 search season

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9-4-12. I checked out the flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac at the boat launch area at Stennis, where the water is several feet above the previous high marks that I have observed. Check out this photo of the same area from November 29, 2007, for comparison.

9-20-12. I did a stakeout late this afternoon on the Mississippi side, where the woodpecker activity was high.

10-6-12. It was nice to get back out in the kayak. I paddled up past the area where the 2006 video was obtained. I had the strangest feeling that someone was watching me. I looked for a leaky old kayak that I had stashed not far from Tree 6. Either someone found it, or it was washed away during the flood a few months ago. It was in bad shape, but I hated to lose my first kayak.

10-8-12. I did some exploring to the west of Oil Well Rd.

10-11-12. I went for a walk along the Pearl on the Mississippi side and detected two of the dangers of the Pearl, one large and one small. The large danger was one of the largest gators I have seen in the Pearl. It was basking in the sun on the opposite bank. Then it slithered into the water, came over toward me, and spent several minutes watching me from the middle of the river. The behavior suggests that someone has been feeding it. Not a good thing, especially for such a large gator near where I launch the kayak. I have seen two other large gators this year, near areas where I had run-ins with gators in the kayak in previous years. The small (but unpleasant) danger is the chiggers that I picked up on my legs. The purpose of the walk was to look for an outstanding tree on the bank opposite Stennis that might be good for keeping watch just to the east of where the videos were obtained.

10-13-12. This morning, I found this tree just across the Pearl from Stennis. It appears that it will provide an excellent view far out over the treetops. The new tree is much easier to reach than any of the others, and it provides hope for a sighting in Mississippi. Pines aren’t the most trustworthy trees, but this one appears to be healthy and sturdy.

10-16-12. After getting about 50 feet up the pine that I found a few days ago, I noticed a diseased area. It was a big disappointment since the view to the west was starting to look promising. I still had a good ways to go to the top, where I’m sure the view would be great. The view towards Mike’s River was also looking promising from that height. Looking down was a bit scarier than usual after noticing the problem with the tree. Since pines aren’t as trustworthy as cypresses, I kept a rope around the bole as a backup on the way up. I did have some luck in that the first shot with the arrow got the line in a good place.

10-19-12. I took the kayak as far as Tree 6 and found a fresh cavity. It became clear that this cavity was made by a large woodpecker when a red-headed came down to forage just to the side and was dwarfed by it. Woodpecker activity was high, especially in the area where the 2006 video was obtained.

10-20-12. During the kayak ride yesterday, I recorded the sound of a pileated foraging not far from where the cavity was found. I find it pleasant to listen to it with good speakers. The drumming of a distant pileated and the calls of other woodpeckers can also be heard in the recording.

10-22-12. I’m traveling for a few days but hope to get back out in the Pearl by the end of the week.

10-24-12. I changed to an earlier flight and got back in time to visit the Tree 6 area.

10-27-12. I wanted to go out this morning, but the windy conditions weren’t favorable for birding.

10-28-12. I took advantage of low water along the bayou to hike into areas that I had previously only visited by kayak. It was a windy but gorgeous day, and I was pleased to find a better route to Tree 8. The rigging line still looks good, and I will have to get up there soon.

11-3-12. I spent several hours kayaking along the bayou. There was lots of woodpecker activity, and the gators were out. I got a bit of a surprise when an anhinga popped its head up near the kayak.

11-7-12. I started my work in the Pearl exactly seven years ago. Just as I arrived this morning, there was a nice overflight of geese. I took the newly discovered route to Tree 8 and was psyched to go up, but there was a problem. The rigging line apparently got blown around (possibly during the hurricane in August) and came out of the pulley. So I will have to re-rig that tree. It was difficult the first time and took an extremely lucky shot with the arrow. I will have to do it since that is my favorite tree, especially now that I have an easy route.

11-13-12. I spent some time in the swamp on the Mississippi side, where the woodpecker activity was high. I found an interesting large cavity.

11-17-12. I spent several hours on the East Pearl.

11-21-12. I’m visiting family and friends in Florida this week. The ivorybill came to mind when driving across the Choctawhatchee, Apalachicola, Chipola, and Suwanee Rivers. Dalcio Dacol took me to some interesting birding locales, including a pine flatwoods in Alachua County. While growing up in Florida, I often heard the pleasant song of Bachman’s Sparrow in this kind of habitat but didn’t realize what it was until many years later. We also visited Paynes Prairie and Ocala National Forest.

12-1-12. I spent several hours on the bayou. The area where I got the 2006 video looked like this back then and looks like this now. I was running paddle-cam and got some footage of ducks flushing from the bayou (the high-def footage has been reduced in size and quality). The calls of the Wood Ducks and of a Red-headed Woodpecker can be heard in the movie.

12-7-12. I found an easy route into an isolated area that seems promising on the basis of its habitat and proximity to the areas where there have been sightings.

12-8-12. I went for a walk at Stennis in an area where I recently found bobcat prints. I found a spot where rocks and other objects have protected the underlying soil from erosion.

12-9-12. It was a gloomy day out on the bayou, but the woodpecker activity was high. I kayaked all the way to Tree 9, which is the tall cypress in the center (the black strap for the rigging is barely visible). I noticed that the rigging line for Tree 6 had snapped, but I was able to free climb a little ways up and recover it. I checked out two pines that might be worth rigging. It appears that one of them could be rigged at about 95 feet.

12-12-12. I wanted to climb a tree, but it was windy. So I visited an isolated area on the Mississippi side.

12-15-12. I returned to the area that I visited eight days ago and found some interesting foraging. It appears similar to foraging that I found shortly before having sightings in 2008. The bark appears to be tight, and it appears that much of the foraging was done all at once (there’s a large pile of chips below).

12-18-12. I will be doing some traveling for the Holidays during the next week or so. I will get right back out in the swamp after the trip.

1-3-13. I have another short trip and will be back in the swamp next week.

1-7-13. I hiked out to the area near Tree 7, which is the big cypress in the background in this photo. On the way there, I walked along the edge of a field that was loaded with sparrows, including a Grasshopper Sparrow.

1-12-13. Bad weather and flooding have recently limited my activities. I took advantage of the high water to kayak up the bayou beyond Tree 9. I found this lizard taking refuge from the flood on a cypress knee. I did a stake out near Tree 6.

1-13-13. I have received a nice ivorybill painting that was done by Deborah Tallarico, an artist in North Carolina. Thank you very much, Jean!

1-14-13. I walked in on Old Hwy. 11, which is closed to vehicles due to flooding. It was dreary and drizzling, and the bird activity was low.

1-17-13. I visited the Tree 7 area, where the water is the highest that I have ever seen it. Strong winds kept the bird activity down.

1-25-13. It was a gorgeous day with temperatures in the 70s, but it’s still difficult to access the swamp due to high water. The trails are still flooded, and kayaking is difficult due to strong currents. Near where the 2006 video was obtained, I recorded the sound of water rushing into the bayou from the forest. I paddled up to the Tree 6 area and saw a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a species that I hadn’t seen in the Pearl before this year.

1-27-13. I was checking predictions for water levels and noticed that the 7th and 9th highest crests occurred on 4-1-09 and 9-4-12. I posted photos of the flooding on both of those dates, which are the highest crests in more than 20 years. The recent crest is comparable.

2-1-13. I kayaked up the bayou beyond Tree 9. It was a lot of work going against a strong current, especially with the paddle-cam mounted. On the way back, I stopped for a while to rest my arms near Tree 6. I had my first ivorybill sighting in this area seven years minus one day ago.

2-4-13. I went for a kayak ride on the Mississippi side, where I found numerous trees with recently stripped bark. The last time I found a similar amount of fresh foraging sign was shortly before the sightings in 2008. The high water made it possible to paddle right up to Tree 7, which I would like to re-rig one of these days. The water is expected to drop over the next few days. So I am hoping to climb a tree soon.

2-6-13. I hiked out to the Tree 6 area. The water has started going down, but it was still more than knee deep in places.

2-7-13. I have uploaded a few short video clips of a curious Yellow-throated Warbler that came over to check me out 80 feet up in Tree 5 on 3-24-08.

2-9-13. This is the most favorable time of year for ivorybill sightings, but I decided to take a little time to enjoy Mardi Gras and went to the Endymion parade. Despite spending many years down here since 1985, I had never been to a parade in New Orleans.

2-12-13. Happy Mardi Gras! I attended the Zulu and Rex parades this morning. The fun is over — now it’s time to get back to the swamp. The water is rising and the trails will soon be inundated again.

2-25-13. The swamp is still flooded, but I plan to take the kayak out soon.

3-2-13. I was thinking about taking the kayak out, but I arrived at the boat launch and found very high water and strong currents. It doesn’t seem to be a wise investment of time and effort to search under those conditions.

3-4-13. I have some traveling coming up. I will be back around the middle of the month. I am hoping that the water will be down to normal levels by then.

3-23-13. It was nice to get back out in the swamp and see and hear lots of signs of spring. The water has been dropping again, and hopefully it will stay down this time. During the high water, the only way I could get out there was by kayak, but a painful condition (possibly bursitis) in my upper arms has kept me out of the kayak recently.

3-24-13. I took the kayak up to the Tree 6 area. The gator activity was high, but the bird activity was low due to wind.

3-25-13. I hiked in to the Tree 6 area and saw more signs of spring. The night-herons should soon be starting their nests in this lake. Once again, the bird activity was low due to wind.

3-27-13. Gretchen and I tried to replace the rigging line on Tree 8, which got messed up by a hurricane last year. We got a line in place after many shots with the bow and arrow, but we ran out of time and will have to go back and finish the job. The birds were active on a chilly but gorgeous morning. The night-herons have started bringing nest material to their usual breeding area.

3-28-13. Gretchen and I made another attempt to replace the rigging line on Tree 8. I had to thread the needle to get an arrow over the fork when it was originally rigged. Now there is much more moss in the way, and it seems nearly impossible to make the shot. I might try climbing up the bole after resting up for a few days.

3-29-13. It has now been five years since my last sighting.

3-30-13. I visited Tree 6 to do some maintenance and then have an observation session up there. I was going to replace the rigging line and the nylon strap at the top, but the line got hung up and snapped. In December, I discovered that it had been cut by a falling branch but didn’t realize the extent of the damage. The lines on Trees 6 and 8 were probably damaged by Hurricane Isaac in August. It should be easy to replace the line on Tree 6. I have an idea for taking care of Tree 8.

3-31-13. I got a lot done on a gorgeous day in the swamp. I came across a cottonmouth and a Red-headed Woodpecker on the way to the Tree 6 area. It didn’t take long to get a good shot over the target branch on Tree 6. I seemed to be having a good day with the bow and arrow and decided to take a chance at Tree 8, where I threaded the needle on the first shot. I will climb both of those trees and get the rigging lines in place during the coming week.

4-2-13. I tried to finish the job at Tree 8, but the line got wedged in the fork. I had the same problem when it was initially rigged. I might have to give up on that tree for now.

4-7-13. I climbed Tree 6 and restored the rigging. It was the toughest climb I have ever attempted. I got the arrow over a sturdy branch, but it was necessary to free climb the final 20 feet. I was tied in at all times, but one of the gaps between branches demanded every bit of my strength and agility. The view up there was nice on a gorgeous spring morning. I have become a better climber over the years, and I am now able to get a little higher, where it is possible to see further out over the treetops.

4-12-13. I was going to climb a tree this morning before noticing damage to a technora line where it attaches to an ascender. The outer covering was worn off, and some of the fibers were damaged. I have another set of ascenders and should get back out there tomorrow.

4-13-13. I arrived at the swamp at the crack of dawn only to find the entrance closed due to a special hunting event.

4-14-13. After it stopped raining, I climbed Tree 6 and had a nice observation session. I brought an extra line and weights in order to reposition the rigging line (a task that is much easier when you have help).

4-17-13. I will be traveling until the middle of next week.

4-25-13. I have returned from travel and plan to get back out in the Pearl soon.

4-30-13. Gretchen joined me for a nice morning in the swamp. We tried getting to Tree 9, but the trail was blocked by a fallen tree. We didn’t have time to reroute the trail. We found the jaws of a wild hog.

5-4-13. I hiked into the swamp from the east, still hoping to get my first definite sighting in Mississippi.

5-13-13. For the past several months, I have had severe pain that seemed to be originating in my upper arms. It turns out that the problem is in my shoulders. I just got cortisone shots in both shoulders and will have to avoid kayaking and climbing for a while.

5-21-13. The water in the Pearl is going back down, and I hope to get back out there soon.

5-26-13. I did a stakeout on the Mississippi side. A few days ago, I missed an opportunity to obtain an amusing photo along I-12. A Red-tailed Hawk was perched on the left index finger of the girl on this billboard. I was hoping the hawk might use that perch again and checked this morning.

5-29-13. Gretchen and I went out to Tree 5. As always, the view was nice up there. It was my first climb under such windy conditions. I felt a little seasick up there. You have to have faith that the tree will stand up to ordinary winds since it stood up to Katrina. We had to wade a long way through deep water, which is a bit unnerving when the gators are active. I replaced the rigging line that was put up six years ago.

5-30-13. These images are from the video that was obtained yesterday in Tree 5. During lunch, I obtained some photos of a southern fox squirrel, which was being buzzed by a shrike.

5-31-13. This video (105.6 megs) was obtained from Tree 5 a few days ago.

6-3-13. I drove across the Mobile-Tensaw basin again, and this time I stopped to get a photo, which fails to do justice to that amazing area. If I had the funding, I would spend all of my time searching in places like this.

6-9-13. I hiked down Oil Well Rd., which is closed to vehicles and rarely visited at this time of year. There were lots of birds, including a cooperative Mississippi Kite.

6-11-13. On a brutally hot and humid afternoon, Gretchen and I climbed Tree 3 and replaced the six-year-old rigging line on the first tree that Steve Sillett and Jim Spickler rigged in the Pearl. The view up there was gorgeous with all the fresh vegetation. My climbing skills have improved over the years, and I was able to get up high enough to see Tree 5 from Tree 3 for the first time. Tree 3 is near the edge of an extensive grove of big cypresses, many of which are over 100 feet tall. It seems that this would be a potential area for ivorybill cavities. This photo shows the bayou near Tree 3 and some of the big cypresses nearby. This photo shows more of the big cypresses. I only had the camera running for a few minutes, but this footage gives an idea what it’s like in that tree. A Yellow-throated Warbler that was foraging in the canopy of Tree 3 came over to check me out from close range. We initially tried to visit Tree 5, but the boat got stuck on a submerged tree stump. I jumped out of the boat to shove it clear. The water was over my head, but it gave me a little relief from the heat.

6-13-13. On the way to Tree 3 a few days ago, I noticed a tree that appears to offer a clear view over good habitat and is easy to access (an important factor since it’s difficult to carry rope and other climbing gear long distances).

6-14-13. This afternoon, I rigged the tree that was recently discovered. Tree 11 provides a nice view over good habitat to the west, which is ideal for mornings. There are some big trees nearby that might provide an even better view. The were lots of birds in the area, including this heron. Being located near the state border, this tree has the potential to lead to a sighting in Mississippi. This panorama gives an idea what it’s like to observe from Tree 11. This movie shows some of the many birds that were flying above the treetops. These images were extracted from video footage.

6-15-13. When purchased in 2005, the worn-out hat in this photo was identical to the new one.

6-17-13. I climbed Tree 11 just after sunrise. The view is much better with the sun to my back. Some of the branches of Tree 11 get in the way in this direction. I spotted a large cavity, a lazy heron, and a big tree on the horizon. The video camera was malfunctioning (hopefully just due to moisture), but I got some footage, including this image of a bunch of herons and movies of a heron, ibises, more ibises, a variety, and a Wood Stork (note the characteristic flap-glide flight).

6-20-13. I took the kayak out one last time and went up to the old hotzone, where I got caught in a thunderstorm. Hopefully, there was an ivorybill fledgling in a scene like this somewhere in the Pearl today. The time has come to say goodbye.