December 2006 Travel Log

December 31, Congaree National Park, South Carolina

From Utami Setiorini

We set out for our second five-day survey by canoe. The float to our new campsite took us about five hours. Our group now consisted of seven people, with the addition of Katie Martin, the new full time field tech hired by The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina.

A foggy morning in Congaree National Park. Photo by Martjan Lammertink.

It was very foggy and cloudy when we started floating and sometimes we were barely able to see two meters ahead of us. Birding was pretty slow today, with not a single Black-and-white Warbler on my list. The water level had risen in the last few days and was approximately 2.5 feet higher than during our first trip. It was difficult to find a high and dry spot to camp where we would not have to worry about water flooding into our tents if the rain that was predicted for the next 36 hours came down. After a lot of searching until dusk we finally had to settle for a spot that was only one foot above the current water level. We set up our tents and made a kitchen area under a big tarp. We stayed up late for New Year’s Eve under the old growth sweetgums and loblolly pines. As midnight approached we counted the final seconds from the exact satellite time on one of our GPS units. We all hugged for a “Happy New Year 2007,” and then straight went to bed.

December 30, 2006

From: Martjan Lammertink

Time-lapse camera mounted in Congaree National Park, South Carolina. Photo by Martjan Lammertink.

Zach, Amy, and I placed a time-lapse camera on a third scaled sweetgum that had been found on December 28. While in the area, we found yet another sweetgum, old but alive, that had a patch of bark cleanly scaled from a larger branch in the crown, with no digging into the exposed wood layer. It is remarkable that we have now found four recently dead sweetgums within a distance of 180 meters from each other. The tree type, state of decay, and positioning of scaling is characteristic for ivory-bills. It cannot be ruled out that this scaling is caused by unusual foraging behavior of Pileated Woodpeckers, and we hope the camera traps will determine the source of the scaling. The rest of the team went to Columbia to pick up Nathan from the airport, bought groceries, and prepared for a second float and camping survey. From tomorrow, December 31, through January 4, we will again be working in areas in the east part of Congaree National Park that are too remote for day visits. Happy New Year!



The search team has found scaling in four old or recently dead sweetgums within a small area in Congaree National Park. The type of scaling, with only tight bark removed and no digging into the wood layer, is typical for ivory-bills but may also be unusual Pileated Woodpecker work. Time-lapse cameras have been aimed at three of the feeding trees in an attempt to capture images of the source of the scaling. Lower left photo by Zach Nelson, others by Chris McCafferty.

December 29, 2006

From: Chris McCafferty

With most of the team back in action, we split up to resume work on the
formal patch surveys, completing transects and vegetation plots for the
Cooper occupancy model. Martjan and Chris made use of the johnboat provided by The Nature Conservancy to access the southeastern portion of the park along the Congaree River. We were accompanied by Theresa Thom from the park, who tirelessly and efficiently organized the volunteer search effort for ivory-bills in the park the previous search season. Also with us was Matthew Moskwik, The Nature Conservnacy’s South Carolina ivory-bill search coordinator. Utami and Katie, Zach and Amy, worked in teams to complete patch surveys in the central part of park. There were some encouraging signs by the end of the day that the high water is beginning to subside, but the team still encountered some difficulty getting around.

December 28, 2006

From: Martjan Lammertink

Amy Leist (left) and Zach Nelson deploy an ARU. Photo by Utami Setiorini.

Amy Leist and I retrieved the first two ARUs that our mobile search team deployed on December 11. The water level was up by several feet throughout the area, and we had to search for a long time to find spots where we could cross in chest waders. One slough we could only get across by balancing on a floating cypress log. The ARUs were dry and in good working order and the same afternoon we shipped them to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. There the 16 days worth of sound recordings will be downloaded and analyzed. Chris, Utami, and Katie Martin went to the scaling area and deployed a time-lapse camera on the second scaled tree that was found on December 26. While there, they found yet another scaled sweetgum. It was not as recently dead as the first two scaled trees, but bark was tight on most of the tree and showed extensive scaling.

December 27, 2006

From: Martjan Lammertink

A clear and cold day. Most of the researchers were in the central part of the park doing patch surveys or general exploration doing some playback of ivory-bill recordings (gathered by a Cornell expedition in 1932). Today an article appeared in the Charleston newspaper, The Post and Courier, written by Bo Petersen with photos by Grace Beahm. They joined us in the national park on December 21 while we deployed ARUs. The article captures the atmosphere and motivation of the search very well.

December 26, 2006

From: Chris McCafferty

We met with Theresa Thom, director of the Congaree Learning and Research Center, in the morning to program a time-lapse camera for deployment at the scaling site located on the 23rd. This camera will take a black-and-white photo every 12 seconds between 7:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. over the next two weeks. Martjan, Chris, and Utami hiked in to the scaling location and deployed the camera. We subsequently split up. Chris continued searching adjoining habitat to the south, and located another sweetgum with similar scaling nearby. I returned to the research station and met Katie Martin, who arrived this afternoon. She is the third field technician hired by The Nature Conservnacy and will be working here in the park over the next several months. Zack and Amy returned late from an all-day drive, after spending Christmas in Kentucky.

December 25, 2006

From: Chris McCafferty

Heavy showers arrived early in the morning, dampening plans for morning birding and further investigation in the central portion of the park. However, a little extra sleep was some compensation. The rain tapered off in the early afternoon and I was able to conduct some searching later in the day, including two playback stations where double-knock drum signals were broadcast. Returned to camp late, packed up, and hiked out of the swamp in the dark.

December 24, 2006

From: Martjan Lammertink

I explored a recent addition to the national park, a former hunt club east of the 601 Highway named Fork Swamp. The forest in this area was markedly younger than in the national park, with a dense network of roads. Water levels in sloughs were up after the recent rains, and became too deep to cross in chest waders in the east part of Fork Swamp. We will need to come back later to explore forest bordering the Wateree River in the eastern part of the swamp. Chris hiked with a tent in his backpack to the site where he found interesting scaling yesterday, and stayed there overnight.

December 23, 2006

From: Chris McCafferty

Martjan and Utami explored in the west part of park, dedicating some of their search effort to playback stations. Chris searched an area in another portion of the park, locating interesting scaling in an old and dying sweetgum. Earlier in the day, a Northern Parula turned up just north of this scaling area.

December 22, 2006

From Martjan Lammertink

Persistent rain today. We spent the day indoors catching up with data entry, eBird, and this online travel log. Amy, Zach, and Nathan left to visit family for the holiday. Chris, Utami and Martjan stay in South Carolina.

December 21, 2006

From Utami Setiorini

This morning we tested playback of double knock drums near autonomous recording units (ARUs). We did tests at 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500 meters from the ARUs. Martjan and Nathan did the testing while I was sitting in the middle between two ARUs and listening for any possible responses. I could clearly hear double
knocks from the playback as far as 350 meters from where I was sitting.

Black-and-white Warbler. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

In the afternoon we put out two additional ARUs accompanied by journalist
 Bo Petersen and photographer Grace Beahm from The Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina. We showed Amy and Zach how to set up ARUs so they can do the next deployments.

Meanwhile, keeping my bird list of the day, two Black-and-white Warblers and one Yellow-throated Warbler were my birding highlights this morning.

December 20, 2006

From Martjan Lammertink

Most of the team was in the central part of Congaree National Park carrying out patch surveys for the occupancy model. I flew over the Congaree, lower Wateree, Santee and Francis Marion State Forest. This was at the kind invitation of Darryl Jones of the South Carolina Forestry Commission.

Darryl and I flew for nearly two hours in a small Cessna aircraft, at an altitude of 1,200 feet. The old-growth forest of Congaree National Park looked impressive from the air. Dead trees appeared somewhat more abundant in the west part of the park. Southeast of the park, the lower Wateree River where we paddled on December 9 and 10 looked good from above and appears to provide an extension of suitable habitat from the park.

                          The old-growth canopy of Congaree National Park as seen from
                          the air. This tract is primarily made up of laurel oak (with foliage)
                          and sweetgum. Photo by Martjan Lammertink.

Farther southeast again there is the reservoir of Lake Marion. On both shores of the reservoir there are fringes of hardwoods and pine forests that may provide habitat connectivity for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. Southeast of the reservoir there are mixed woods along the Santee River, used for papermill wood and mostly made up of younger trees, but at least they are trees species native to the region.

Finally we reached the Francis Marion National Forest near the coast, which is a large block of over 25,0000 acres of mixed pine and hardwood forests, with a number of small wilderness areas in it. The combined forest areas and connectivity along the
Congaree, Wateree, and Santee drainages thus appears to provide an impressive southern bottomland forest ecosystem with the potential to harbor ivory-bills.

December 19, 2006

From Martjan Lammertink

Early in the morning we did bird surveys near the research station. In the afternoon we went to the town of Columbia, South Carolina, to buy groceries and field gear.

December 14-18, 2006

From Nathan Banfield

A Red-bellied Woodpecker showing its red belly. Photo by Nathan Banfield

On December 14, we paddled down Cedar Creek for a five-day survey in remote areas on the east side of Congaree National Park. Accompanying us were Amy Leist and Zach Nelson, Ivory-billed Woodpecker searchers hired by The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina. The weather was beautiful and temperatures every day reached into the 70s, though nights were cold. Days were bright and sunny except for the morning of the last day when we had fog nestled in the trees making great photo opportunities.

The habitat in the east part of the park was amazing! These are simply the biggest hardwoods in such a high concentration that I have seen anywhere. We all agreed that this was perfect Ivory-billed Woodpecker habitat. Huge sweetgums, sycamore, sugarberry, green ash, loblolly pine, swamp chestnut, cherrybark oak, Shumard oak, elm, and many other species. An impressive tree Utami came across was a huge old sweetgum whose base was larger than our stretched out arms could reach. Sweetgums in particular are very interesting to us since James Tanner reported during his study of ivory-bills in the mid to late 1930s that large sweetgums were a highly preferred foraging tree for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers.

The large diversity of trees in the park has kept us all on our toes when doing vegetation plots to assess the number of large trees and dead wood in the park. Unfortunately we did not encounter any possible ivory-bill cavities or scaling, but with such a large impressive area there is still lots of ground to cover.

After the end of long 10-hour days in the field, from before sunrise to after sunset, we would all head back towards camp in the dark with headlamps lighting our way, trying to remember the path we followed that day and tightrope-walking over downed trees over deep sloughs and creeks. At times the swamp makes for a good obstacle course—we had to push through thick brush, wade across waist-deep swamps with hidden cypress knees trying to trip up our feet, and climb over huge downed trees. When back at camp at night, anxiously awaiting dinner from the people cooking that day, we shared stories of habitat and birds we saw that day.

Mobile search team camp site in the eastern part of Congaree National Park. Photo by Nathan Banfield.

During the survey I brought my Zeiss Diascope 85FL which I have been using for digiscoping pictures and video. The quality of the pictures is quite amazing even from 50 or 60 meters away. A small 8.1 mega pixel Sony Cyber-shot N1 digital camera is what I use and I feel confident with using the photo or video mode on the camera in capturing images of birds. From 75 meters away I obtained great full-frame pictures of a Pileated Woodpecker foraging. It makes me feel confident that if an Ivory-billed Woodpecker appeared 200 meters or more away a recognizable photo or video could be obtained.

Belted Kingfisher. Photo by Nathan Banfield

Bird highlights during the survey were White-eyed Vireos (two first-winter birds and one adult), Gray Catbird, Anhingas, Fox Sparrow, Yellow-throatedWarblers, Black-and-white Warblers, Northern Mockingbirds, Brown Thrashers, Fish Crows, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Wild Turkeys, Red-headed Woodpecker (which seems to be very rare in the park), and a Belted Kingfisher catching crawfish.

December 13, 2006

From: Chris McCafferty

It’s raining today as we prepare for a multiple-day survey trip into the interior of Congaree National Park here in South Carolina. We expect to camp for four nights and will complete this mini-expedition on Monday, December 18. We are all eager for the opportunity to expand our search efforts around the clock for several days in this little-explored portion of the park. We will update you on our explorations upon our return!

December 12, 2006

From: Chris McCafferty

The mobile search team, with searchers Amy Leist and Zach Nelson from The Nature Conservancy, did a first trial with the occupancy model* surveys using protocols developed by Dr. Bob Cooper of the University of Georgia. These surveys involve three or more repeat visits to habitat patches of approximately 500 acres (2 square kilometers) and the gathering of vegetation data in circular plots in these patches.

*Editor’s note: This experimental model is designed to help teams determine how much effort has been expended to search a given area and how much more might be required to achieve maximum coverage.

December 11, 2006

From: Chris McCafferty

We spent some time in the morning with data management, later meeting with colleagues from the South Carolina chapter of The Nature Conservancy, Colette Degarady and Matthew Moskwik. We also met with two of TNC’s newly hired Ivory-billed Woodpecker searchers, Amy Leist and Zach Nelson. Two additional field technicians will join them later this month to search Congaree National Park through April. Colette delivered a johnboat which TNC has generously provided to help searchers get to more remote portions of the park along the river. In the afternoon we returned to an excellent stand we had walked through last week and deployed two autonomous recording units (ARUs).

December 10, 2006

From: Utami Setiorini

Utami paddles through ice on the Wateree River. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

We explored the lower Wateree River and put in from the east side of Wateree on
 the south end of Manchester State Forest, near Fulton Crossroads. It was a bright sunny day that started out cold--we had to paddle through a quarter-inch layer of ice in the early morning, but midday highs were 60 degrees. 

Our exploration target of the day was a hardwood island we had seen on Google Earth that looked relatively mature in the middle of a cypress swamp. After 5.5 km paddling through young cypress-tupelo forest, the water channel stopped abruptly and we hiked about 2.2 km to reach the northern tip of the hardwood patch. As we walked, we noticed a mix of hardwood and cypress with some nice patches of large sweetgum, but in general the habitat was rather poor and the trees were relatively small.

Nathan found a cavity in the broken top of a sweetgum that was large enough to be an Ivory-billed Woodpecker cavity. Bird and especially woodpecker activity was high. The day was getting late and we had only 45 minutes to get back to the boat landing before dark. Downstream we saw several hunters in their boats scouting the area and preparing for the hunting season.

We added several new species to our Congaree-Wateree bird list, including 30 Rusty Blackbirds, 1 Little Blue Heron and 2 Red-headed Woodpeckers. Other birding highlights were 4 Black-and-white Warblers, 2 Ospreys, 7 Blue-headed Vireos, 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, 1 Yellow-throated Warbler, and 3 Baltimore Orioles.

December 9, 2006

From: Martjan Lammertink

We did our first canoe explorations of the search, to the south-east of Congaree National Park. There are extensive swamp forests in this direction, at the upper Santee and lower Wateree rivers. Duck hunting season will re-open in this area on December 15,  and we decided to have a look at the swamps while we could.

We paddled 24 km through a maze of inundated cypress-tupelo forest and

A magnificent Osprey grabs lunch. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

islands of hardwoods.  It was a sunny day with temperatures just above freezing. We put in at one boat landing on the west shore of the Santee River, near the Wateree confluence, and took out at a boat ramp 13 km south also on the west shore, near Lone Star.

In the earlier part of the day we saw stands of fairly mature hardwoods. Downstream during the second part of the day we were in young cypress-tupelo forests. We recorded a modest number of  7 Pileated Woodpeckers during the day. Birding highlights included Osprey, 18 Anhingas, 2 Black-and-White Warblers, 3  Baltimore Orioles, and 1 Yellow-throated Warbler.

December 8, 2006

From: Nathan Banfield

We did our first exploration of the remote eastern part of Congaree National Park. This area is little explored due to the lack of trail access and the swirl of waterways and swamps. Starting out early in the morning in below-freezing temperatures, we stayed warm by walking more than three kilometers to the remote eastern section of the park on an old Jeep trail surrounded by young forests of pine and cypress/tupelo that were clear-cut not long ago.

Eventually we were greeted by a stand of huge loblolly pines along a cypress/tupelo swamp. Here we split up and found ourselves a little corner of the forest to sit back, be quiet, and blend in, while keeping our senses tuned in to the waves of forest sounds and fluttering wings surrounding our location.

After an hour and a half watch we plunged into the cypress/tupelo swamp to try and work our way deep into relatively unexplored areas heading toward reports of gigantic virgin bald cypress trees. Making our way through the twists and turns of fallen logs and deep water channels and testing our balance crossing fallen logs over flowing streams we came to an island of oaks, sycamores, sugarberry, and sweet gum. The forest was somewhat open and patchy but all in all was nice with moderate to large trees. We never quite reached the gigantic bald cypress trees before turning around and making it back to our jeep after sunset, but we will continue to head out into this rare and truly amazing forest that has remained standing here at Congaree National Park.

Black-and-white Warbler. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

Birding highlights included our first Black-and-White Warbler, Blue-headed Vireos, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Pine Warblers. We also came across 8 Pileated Woodpeckers for the day.

From Chris McCafferty:

We arrived at the entrance of the Congaree National Park late after an all day drive from St. Charles, Arkansas, on December 4th and camped at a picnic area just outside the gate, where we were greeted by Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls calling throughout the night. We met with the South Carolina Ivory-billed Woodpecker Working Group on Tuesday morning and early afternoon, discussing protocol for search efforts over the 2006-07 search season, as well as protocols in the event that an ivory-bill is located in South Carolina during the season.

Yesterday, December 7th, we made our first search foray into the Congaree National Park. We hiked through some excellent habitat in the central part of the park, with old growth hardwoods--large sweet gum were especially prevalent and a number of old-growth loblolly pines were scattered through the area. Pileated Woodpeckers were abundant, and we observed active roost cavities of this species in several locations. Everyone was very impressed with the habitat we walked through, an excellent bottomland hardwood stand with scattered old pines.

Today we will be exploring the more remote eastern portion of the Congaree National Park. We all are eager to see what this area holds in store and will update you soon.

December 5, 2006

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker mobile search team left Ithaca, New York, at noon on Saturday, December 2, stayed over in Columbus, Ohio, then went on to Cotton Plant, Arkansas. On Monday the 4th, they met with the full-time crew to talk over strategy for the search in the Big Woods and spent time getting their gear ready for cross-country travel. The search team is using a jeep and a large van to haul three canoes, two trawling motors, computers, cameras, and other electronic gear.

The team expects to arrive in South Carolina tonight (Tuesday, December 5) and will be there through January 6, helping with training and getting out in the field themselves to search. Everyone on the team is very excited to be setting off on this ivory-bill adventure, to meet the other search teams, and to scour new places in the bird’s historic range.