February 2007 Travel Log

February 28, Pascagoula River Basin, Mississippi

From Nathan Banfield

Did surveys in the Black Creek area a few kilometers south of where we were yesterday. We all did several double-knock playbacks during the day. One series of Chris’s double knocks could be heard by Martjan from 1.4 kilometers away. The habitat was somewhat poor near the river, but became much nicer a few kilometers away from the river. There were lots of sweetgum trees with damaged tops and quite a few good-sized oaks. Again, the only problem walking around is the blackberries, vines, brambles, cane, and downed trees. Luckily, I found an old trail that helped with getting around the forest. It allowed me move more silently.

At a small crescent-shaped lake I spotted an enormous alligator floating in the middle. The head was somewhere around two feet long with the body of it disappearing into the dark water. When hiking back in the evening I had to wade across the south end of the same lake. I felt safer knowing that the gators are still a little cold and will not become really active until the weather warms up. Martjan made several phone calls from the field today in preparation for our departure tomorrow to the Atchafalaya in Louisiana. For dinner tonight we went to a barbeque place called The Shed in Vancleave, Mississippi.

February 27, Pascagoula River Basin, Mississippi

From Utami Setiorini

Brown Thrasher soaking up the sun. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

We did one-day surveys in the area east of the Highway 57 bridge over Black Creek, approximately 13 km north of our camping site of previous days. The area manager for the Upper Pascagoula Wildlife Management Area, Ben Hare, kindly came out before sunrise to open several gates on private property so we could reach this site. The day started out with dense fog but later it was sunny and warm. Mostly we were in nice habitat, especially where Nathan went, east of Smith Cutoff, and where I went, near Wells Lake. As in the Big Swamp area where we camped, we saw large, dead trees of the species reported to be preferred by ivory-bills. The whole team agrees that the Pascagoula is, after Congaree National Park, the next best ivory-bill habitat we have seen anywhere. Nathan took great digiscope video of a Pileated Woodpecker scaling a pine tree, and Martjan photographed a Brown Thrasher sunbathing in the afternoon heat.

February 26, Pascagoula River Basin, Mississippi

From Chris McCafferty

Utami listening and watching for birds on a foggy morning. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

Our last morning working from the base camp in the Big Swamp we devoted to freestyle exploration. It was a beautiful morning, sunny and clear. I headed back to the Hairy Woodpecker nest I had found two days ago to see if I could get a decent photo. I had been impressed by the habitat in this area on my prior visit, and tried to cover some different ground along my hike this morning. Nathan took some great photos of a yellow-blotched map turtle, a threatened species found only in the Pascagoula.

We broke camp and departed in the early afternoon, heading downriver to the landing at the Vancleave bridge. Utami and Martjan went to the headquarters of Ward Bayou Wildlife Management Area to talk with Lynn McCoy, and with Ben Hare, the area manager for the Upper Pascagoula WMA, about two other areas meriting exploration which we will be visiting over the next two days. Nathan and I took our time on the way downstream—stopping to look more closely at cavities in an old green ash along the west shore and briefly exploring more good forest south of the Big Black Creek confluence. Back at the landing, we managed to cram two canoe-loads worth of camping and field gear into the Jeep Wrangler. Although we were pleased with our success, our victory was tarnished a bit by the fact that the camp trash bag and I shared the passenger seat.

February 25, Pascagoula River Basin, Mississippi

From Utami Setiorini

Orange-crowned Warbler. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

This was our third and last day of patch surveys from this campsite. We wisely chose to canoe to our patches today, avoiding the blackberries. It was gorgeous weather, warm and sunny without wind, and there are hardly any mosquitoes yet this time of year. Martjan took pictures of an Orange-crowned Warbler foraging on the flowers of a blossoming shrub. Chris saw a big alligator and photographed juvenile gators in a slough adjoining Big Black Creek. I found Carolina Chickadees feeding nestlings.

February 24, Pascagoula River Basin, Mississippi

From Nathan Banfield

First cottomouth of the year. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

With each day we are spotting more and more reptiles. The weather is getting nice and warm, showing signs that spring is here. Martjan had close encounters with a cottonmouth and an ancient snapping turtle. I had a good day for herons, seeing Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, and Great Egret. I also saw three Anhingas and got some pictures of one sitting on a branch. On the east side of the river where there are trails, Utami ran into several groups of people enjoying the nice weekend weather. Chris found a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers feeding nestlings. This is certainly very early for a nest, especially with nestlings.

In the evening I headed over to a nice cavity I had found the day before in a big old cypress. The cavity outline was irregular as in recorded ivory-bill cavities. It was hard to judge the size because it was so high up in a wide cypress, but certainly it was larger than a normal-looking Pileated Woodpecker cavity situated quite a bit below. Unfortunately, nothing showed up to use the cavity.

Snapping turtle. Photo by Martjan Lammertink
A large, irregularly-shaped cavity in a cypress. Photo by Nathan Banfield

The 2.5 km hike back to camp in the dark was a real struggle. I was using a headlamp that only lights up the area around you, making it hard to know what you are heading into. I tried following my path from that morning but soon became lost in blackberry hell. While trying to push my way through, I even lost track of how I got into it. Soon I was crawling on all fours trying to get out, but whatever I did seemed to make the situation worse and worse. In many areas, while I tried to get through the blackberry the thorns would grab hold of my shirt and pants. It was like being stuck to the bush with Velcro. My arms were all hung up and I had difficultly using the machete to free myself. I was wondering if I was going to end up spending the night out there, but I somehow managed to work my way out. I did not get back to camp until 10:00 that evening. Martjan also had a similar struggle getting through the brush and blackberry, arriving back at camp at 9:00. Then we worked on putting together a late dinner. We did not find our way to bed until close to midnight.

February 23, Pascagoula River Basin, Mississippi

From Martjan Lammertink

Starting today we are back at doing 500-acre patch surveys under the Cooper occupancy model, as we did previously in the Congaree and Apalachicola. In all of the four patches we encountered nice habitat, much better than it had appeared from the river during scouting floats. Especially good habitat was found north of camp between Berlson Lake and Big Black Creek. Large diameter trees are numerous in this forest, and the tree species composition appears fitting for ivory-bills. There is a good mix of green ash, other ashes, sweetgum, red maple, hickories, elms, and oaks.

Anhinga, photo by Nathan Banfield

The forest was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but unlike the Pearl River area, there was not a blanket blow-down of trees. Rather, the hurricane selectively toppled large trees and damaged many others, but also left clumps of surviving big trees with little apparent damage. As in the Pearl River, decay among the hurricane-damaged trees is already far advanced.

In the early morning Nathan found 78 Double-crested Cormorants and three Anhingas at a roost near camp. Chris heard singing White-eyed Vireos and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Utami found a House Wren. Around noon I saw eight American White Pelicans glide high overhead, and I found Cedar Waxwings feeding on blossoming trees. For dinner we made Mexican food and heated our tortillas over a campfire under the waxing moon. 

February 22, Pascagoula River Basin, Mississippi

From Utami Setiorini

We packed for our camping survey, then headed out in the early afternoon. Chris and Nathan floated downstream after being dropped off near Old Americus. Martjan and I drove the vehicles to the Vancleave bridge and headed upstream using a trolling motor. We found Nathan and Chris just after sunset and set up camp at the junction between Big Black Creek and the Pascagoula River, an area known locally as the Big Swamp. It is a tract of 6,000-8,000 acres that was last logged in 1959, and then only lightly cut.

February 21, Pascagoula River Basin, Mississippi

From Nathan Banfield

Chris and I did more scouting today between Old Americus and the Vancleave bridge by floating down the Pascagoula River. The day started out with a steady rain that didn’t seem to want to let up. We had trouble finding places to pull off the river because of the steep bank. Chris found a creek that he pulled off into and found a system of trails so he could quickly explore a lot of the forest. I, on the other hand, found a muddy beach on the other side of the river and ended up surrounded by thorny blackberry. It took me an hour and a half to make it through the blackberry and explore that area of forest. By that time the weather cleared up and became warm and sunny. We both thought the habitat was patchy, with more hurricane damage than what we were hoping for. But there were several places we felt would be worth checking out on our upcoming camping survey. Martjan and Utami spent the day picking up the groceries for camping and took care of some administration duties. The interesting find of the day was a Gulf Coast box turtle I came across when chopping through blackberries.

February 20, Pascagoula River Basin, Mississippi

From Chris McCafferty

Yellow-blotched map turtle, a species found only in the Pascagoula River drainage. Photo by Nathan Banfield

We met with Lynn McCoy, Ward Bayou Wildlife Management Area manager, to discuss the area. Lynn is very knowledgeable and provided many helpful insights into the ecology of the basin. We subsequently headed out for scouting floats from three separate routes along the Pascagoula River, Ward Bayou, and Big Black Creek, covering a total of 83 km in one day. In the evening we shared the WMA bunkhouse quarters with Joe McGee, naturalist and outreach educator at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, who takes reptiles on visits to schools. Joe showed us three of his education animals, including the yellow-blotched map turtle that is endemic to the Pascagoula basin. We discussed our initial impressions of the area while eating Utami’s spicy fried rice. Everyone seemed to concur that the forest looked pretty sparse from our floats, apparently the legacy of hurricane damage, and that there were no exceptional areas meriting further investigation. We made plans to do more scouting tomorrow.

February 19, Pascagoula River Basin, Mississippi

From Martjan Lammertink

We cleaned the bunkhouse in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area in Louisiana, did our laundry in Slidell, and drove into Mississippi. At 9:30 p.m. we arrived at the headquarters of Ward Bayou Wildlife Management Area in the Pascagoula River Basin. This facility was made available as a base for our explorations by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. Nick Winstead, the state ornithologist at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson, was very helpful in making the necessary arrangements.

February 18, Pearl River Basin, Louisiana

From Utami Setiorini

River otter, photo by Martjan Lammertink

Our last day in the Pearl River area. In the pre-dawn dark Martjan and I drove to the Mississippi side of the East Pearl River where we put in at Napolean landing. We used an electrical trolling motor on a canoe to work our way up Wastehouse Bayou in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area. It was sunny but cold this morning with a chilling wind. We saw an Osprey perched on a cypress and found its nest at a scenic spot nearby, on the top of an old, hurricane-damaged cypress. A flock of 10 Rusty Blackbirds was quickly moving through the swamp forest understory. We had seven sightings of river otters, involving at least three different individuals. Nathan and Chris completed the last point counts in the north part of the Pear River Wildlife Management Area. In the evening we started preparing for departure to our next study site, the Pascagoula River in Mississippi.

February 17, Pearl River Basin, Louisiana

From Nathan Banfield

It’s another chilly morning, but after climbing and plowing through the vines, brush, and toppled-over trees I got warm very fast. I had to take layers off, and when I did there was steam escaping from my shirt.

Northern Cardinal, photo by Nathan Banfield

I did a playback in the morning and then Chris and I did playbacks in the evening several hundred meters apart, trying to imitate two birds responding to each other. The day was an interesting challenge because of the distance between my points and then back to my canoe. Several areas I went through had huge numbers of downed trees. In one section I went for 200 meters before even touching ground. I hopped from tree to tree like a squirrel, zigzagging over the crossed logs. Most of that stretch I spent at least five feet off the ground. What makes this tricky is the entanglement of vines wrapped around the trees. It would be all too easy to get your feet caught and topple headfirst into a patch of blackberries. I have been lucky to have only a couple of easy falls.

Birding wasn’t great today due to the constant effort of trying to get to the point counts on time but I did have a Common Yellowthroat pop up right in front of me as if surprised he would see anyone trying to walk through this forest of brush.

February 16, Pearl River Basin, Louisiana

From Utami Setiorini

Male Eastern Bluebird, photo by Utami Setiorini

It was a very cold night out camping and this morning we found everything was frozen, including our waders and drinking water. Luckily, we could make a fire to warm up.  I was planning to do seven point counts but unfortunately I could only reach five because of dropping water levels and log jams. I went upstream on the East Pearl River in the canoe with the help of a trolling motor. On my way I met two ivory-bill searchers in kayaks who have been in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area for about a month. Martjan did several point counts south of English Bayou and did double-knock playbacks there in the late afternoon. Nathan and Chris completed a great number of point counts at their camp site on the West Pearl.

February 15, Pearl River Basin, Louisiana

From Martjan Lammertink

The Pearl River bottomland hardwood forest 1.5 years after the hurricanes. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

A Pileated Woodpecker foraging on a hurricane-damaged tree. Bark below the bird is peeling away from decay only 1.5 years after the hurricane. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

For my morning point counts I went to an area that in 2002 had some of the nicest forest, dominated by numerous big oaks, west of Oil Well Road. All these oaks were toppled at the roots by Hurricane Katrina. The forest floor is now a tangle of large tree crowns, massive trunks, and towering root clumps. Many of the trees still standing are dead, as they were killed by the falling oaks, hurricane winds, and salt water surge. It is remarkable how fast the decay is progressing in these dead trees. Only 1.5 years after the hurricanes, the bark is loose and sloughing off from the majority of them.

In his study of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the 1930s, James Tanner described how ivory-bills were mostly feeding in trees with bark still tightly adhering, a state of decay present up to two to three years after the death of the tree. In the hurricane-damaged forests of the Pearl River area, most dead trees seem beyond the optimal decay stage for ivory-bills much sooner than that. In the afternoon we all canoed to destinations to camp out and sample point count plots in relatively remote parts of the refuge. Utami and I went to the confluence of English Bayou and the East Pearl River; Chris and Nathan went to a site north of Parish Lake near the West Pearl.

February 14, Pearl River Basin, Louisiana

From Chris McCafferty

Departed early this morning for stationary point counts, dropping Nathan off at the I-59 bridge for his float down the West Pearl River before proceeding into the Wildlife Management Area to access the area I would be working in. Two river otters were the highlight of the day. They are more than a little reminiscent of seals with the broad snout, thick whiskers, and large, dark eyes. This impression is further accentuated by their habit of poking their heads up to look around following a period of submersion, and frequent snorting while swimming at the surface.

Spotted Sandpiper, photo by Nathan Banfield

Nathan got some good photos of a Spotted Sandpiper on a log jam that he was resting up against. Later in the day he saw flocks of Cedar Waxwings resting in the tops of trees along the river. A mockingbird was chasing off the waxwings that were too close to a stash of berries on a holly tree. Then, as if some secret sign was given, the waxwings bombarded the tree and started devouring as many berries as they could while the mockingbird tried to chase them off and protect his abundant food source. After a minute or two the waxwings departed, leaving noticeably fewer berries on the tree. Sometimes the waxwings would leave entirely but then they would eventually come back to the same tree and overtake it with their huge numbers on average every half hour.

Cedar Waxwings feasting on holly berries. Photo by Nathan Banfield

Northern Mockingbird having a taste of holly berry. Photo by Nathan Banfield

Utami floated from the I-10 to Highway 90 and spotted a large flock of White Ibis, an immature bald eagle, three American Kestrels, and a Northern Harrier.

When I walked into the house in the evening, Martjan told me that Nathan had photographed a new species for the search, a large black-and-white bird with a little red that flew like a duck. I struggled to remain composed while trying to decide whether it could actually be an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I was not impressed with the Muscovy Duck photos.

Variation in neck shape of the Pileated Woodpecker. Photos by Nathan Banfield

We met with Mike Collins this evening for Cajun cuisine and to discuss Mike’s Ivory-billed Woodpecker searches in the Pearl River Basin. We were impressed by Mike’s dedication, having now gained an appreciation for how difficult it is to work in the Pearl River Basin in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Mike obtained video of a large woodpecker in the Pearl last year that he identifies as an Ivory-billed Woodpecker  based in part upon the shape of the bird’s neck. We discussed the variation that can occur in the shape of Pileated Woodpecker necks depending on posture and we recommended caution with this characteristic.

Martjan received an email from Geoff Hill yesterday regarding the Blue Jay sounds I heard in the Choctawhatchee (log entry on January 31), requesting some further details. I would describe the call heard as a relatively flat, unemphatic eeeet repeated in series. Although similar to other calls in the broad repertoire of Blue Jays, these calls seemed to me somewhat unusual in the comparatively flat tone (as opposed to the typically fuller range in pitch), and in that they were delivered singly in a well-spaced, monotonous series. This series was repeated two or three times over the course of several minutes. Although somewhat similar to kent calls, these calls lacked the horn-like quality of the ivory-bill calls recorded by Allen and companions in the 1930s, and were higher in pitch. Further, typical Blue Jay calls were heard in the immediate area subsequent to the kent-like calls.

February 13, Pearl River Basin, Louisiana

From Nathan Banfield

Chris and I went to Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge north of the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area to do the few point counts that were up there. The forest looked like it had been logged over fairly recently and it was choked full of blackberries. I was unable to get to a couple of my points on time because of the horrendous difficulty plowing through never-ending blackberry. I tried following my way through thin gaps but then I would soon get lost in a sea of blackberries. A few times I tried plowing through it with my machete but it would never end. Whenever I could climb up high in a tree or on a fallen log to scope out where I needed to go there were only blackberry bushes as far as I could see.

Gray Catbird, photo by Nathan Banfield

The other unexciting thing was that during the entire morning all I heard was two Red-bellied Woodpeckers. In the afternoon Chris and I went to the end of Indian Bayou road and split up on different trails making our way toward English Bayou. I did a couple sets of playbacks that Chris thought sounded really good from 600 to 800 meters away. It is nice knowing that the sound is projecting well through the forest. Late that evening before it got dark a couple of hunting dogs came up to me. They looked in good shape and followed me for the several kilometers hike back to the jeep. Then I called the number on their collars and told the hunter, who was still out in the woods, where his dogs were located.

February 12, Pearl River Basin, Louisiana

From Nathan Banfield

Martjan and I talked to Mark, a birder from Slidell who had heard some of the double-knock playbacks I did the previous evening. He was so excited that he couldn’t sleep and was out there bright and early today. It was nice knowing that our double-knock playbacks sounded convincing, but we felt sorry about Mark’s unnecessary excitement. We informed all the other birders and searchers we knew were in the area about our double knock schedule in the days ahead. We have a permit from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to conduct playbacks, which are otherwise not allowed.

White-throated Sparrow, photo by Nathan Banfield

Climbing around on the jungle gym of hurricane-blown trees seems not quite as bad as the first day. Hopefully we will be able to keep our balance, and not have huge patches of thorns blocking our way to point count sites as during the first days. It certainly is sparrow heaven around here. Sparrows scurry through the endless supply of cover while we climb, crawl, twist, and squeeze our way from one point to the other. Utami came across a Chipping Sparrow today and a small flock of Rusty Blackbirds. Swamp Sparrows are especially numerous.

February 11, Pearl River Basin, Louisiana

From Chris McCafferty

Resumed work on woodpecker point counts in the morning. It was a bit of a challenge to remain on schedule (point counts need to be completed within 45 minutes of the original 2002 survey time), but the area I worked in today was more readily traversed than the one I visited yesterday. Sufficient tree canopy remained to provide some degree of shelter in the growing season. This seemed to hamper the proliferation of the blackberries, vines, and briars we encountered in the previous area, where there were virtually no surviving dominant canopy trees. Today’s area retained some forest character. I even saw one Brown Creeper. Nathan found a flock of 14 Rusty Blackbirds and Utami saw a Savannah Sparrow.

February 10, Pearl River Basin, Louisiana

From Martjan Lammertink

Thorny briars in the Pearl River forests, photo by Nathan Banfield

Our first attempts to reach the 2002 point count sites were often thwarted, or else at least made very difficult, by dense undergrowth in the hurricane-damaged forest. In many places there is now a wall of vegetation seven feet tall consisting of bamboo, downed trees, and thorny briars. Plowing through the tangled growth, we got scratched up by briars and had a few close calls with thorny vines bouncing toward our eyes. At midday we bought gloves, machetes, and sun glasses or goggles in the town of Slidell for eye protection—indispensable gear for our work here. Late afternoon we sampled a few point counts. The Pearl forest is filled with sparrows: Nathan, a.k.a. The Sparrow Master, spotted Song, Lincoln’s, Swamp, Savannah, Fox, and White-throated sparrows, and the rest of us all encountered at least three species.

February 9, Pearl River Basin, Louisiana

From Utami Setiorini

We spent the day preparing our sampling scheme for the surveys here. Our work in the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area is not just searching for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. We will also re-sample point counts for densities of all woodpecker species. These counts were first done in 2002 during the Zeiss search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. At that time the Pearl included impressive stands of mature forest with many large oaks. In the summer of 2005 hurricane Katrina went right over the Pearl, toppling most of the oaks and other large trees, plus snapping and damaging many middle-sized trees. A salt water surge from hurricane Rita a few weeks later put further stress on the forest. In February 2006 the Pearl point counts were repeated by five of the Arkansas search crew: Brian Gill, Sean Clawson, Marlene Wagner, Jeremy Russell, and me. We found that woodpecker numbers were down 50% compared to 2002, with Red-headed Woodpecker having disappeared altogether. Now we are back to see whether 1.5 years of decay and insects living in the hurricane-damaged trees are causing an upswing in woodpecker numbers.

February 8, Pearl River Basin, Louisiana

From Martjan Lammertink

At the bunkhouse facility of the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area, kindly made available to us by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, we organized our Choctawhatchee data and pictures. 

February 7, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Martjan Lammertink

Before leaving the Choctawhatchee we wanted to see an additional part of this river and headed to the delta south of the Auburn/Windsor study site. We put in at a landing at Wise Bluff, paddled upstream and explored part of Nine Fingers Slough and the northeast portion of East River Island. The slough had mostly unremarkable young tupelo forest. The island had a surprisingly large area of high and dry ground with oaks and spruce pine, but much of it was rather young and we saw some fairly recently overgrown logging roads. In the afternoon we headed for our next study site, arriving at 10:00 p.m. at the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area in Louisiana.

February 6, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Chris McCafferty

Chris, Nathan, and Utami inspect a scaled sweetgum, photo by Martjan Lammertink

Broke camp first thing in the morning, loaded our gear into the canoes and paddled out. We stopped along the way so that the whole team could see the scaled sweetgum Nathan located on February 3, then proceeded to the takeout. Returned to the Choctawhatchee crew’s bunkhouse in DeFuniak Springs to retrieve the gear we had stored there while in the swamp. Martjan spent some time with Rusty Ligon going over methods for measuring cavities. We then continued to the house of Jamie Hill and  Zoe Tarbell for the evening, where we were welcomed with a late chili and cornbread lunch. We discussed at length our collective impressions of the Choctawhatchee, and later in the evening had a visit from John Puschock, who worked with the Cornell team in Arkansas during the past two field seasons and is currently employed by the Choctawhatchee search team. Jamie and Zoe have a great place alongside the river, very quiet and peaceful, and we enjoyed our visit with them. 

February 5, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Utami Setiorini

Palm Warbler, photo by Nathan Banfield

Today was our last full day in the Choctawhatchee study area for now. We may stop by in this region again in March on our way back east. It was nice weather today, warmer than previous days. Water was at its highest level this winter so it was easy to maneuver by kayak and explore everywhere in the forest. I paddled upstream on the creek toward a reported sighting site from May last year. Nathan found 12 Palm Warblers and got pictures of them. He also saw American Kestrel and Yellow-throated Warbler. In the evening Martjan and Brian Rolek discussed at length the search approach in the Choctawhatchee for the remainder of the season.

February 4, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Chris McCafferty

The water has continued to rise and everyone got to their respective transect and search areas by boat this morning. I am assigned free-form exploration for the day and depart early in one of the Auburn team’s kayaks. Just after dawn, I encountered a river otter alongside a deep gut. It rolled around in leaf litter for a minute or two as I continued to drift nearer. It is remarkable how stealthy one can be in a boat. It seemed to be my scent which at last alerted the otter to my presence, from just a few meters away. Poor bugger, I haven’t had a shower for a week. It slipped quietly into the water and disappeared. I observed a number of Hairy Woodpeckers today; this species is relatively common in the Choctawhatchee, but was quite scarce in the areas we visited in the Apalachicola system. Spent part of the afternoon exploring a drier hummock which had a diverse composition of trees, including good patches of sweetgum. I located a small scaled patch in a dying sweetgum which had been done very recently; freshly scaled bark pieces lay on the forest floor beneath. All of the Choctawhatchee crew went to Jamie Hill’s house for a Superbowl party. When we arrived back at base camp, the mobile search team had the site to ourselves. Nathan got to work preparing a mean batch of burritos, and the two of us went to sleep by the fire after eating an appalling quantity of food.

February 3, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Nathan Banfield

Today was cold and damp. It looks like the river will continue to rise for a while. Late in the day I found some really nice scaling in a recently dead sweetgum. There were several patches of scaling on the tree at different heights, with no digging in the bark and extremely solid bark. It is some of the best scaling that I have seen. I got in touch with Jamie Hill and he said he would come out and put a time-lapse camera on it tomorrow. In the evening back at camp we met Robert Morris and Charlie Flemming who are from Geneva, Alabama, farther upstream on the Choctawhatchee. They have fished and explored the Choctawhatchee for many years and follow the search with great interest. This evening they stopped by and brought fried catfish for the crew which was greatly appreciated. We talked about Ivory-billed Woodpeckers and listened to their river stories. Birding highlights today included a White-eyed Vireo that Martjan photographed.

February 2, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Martjan Lammertink

Male Common Yellowthroat, photo by Martjan Lammertink

The rain ceased overnight and early in the morning we headed out to resume transect surveys. It was a good photo day for Chris with nice pictures of Carolina Wren, Winter Wren, Blue-headed Vireo, Pileated Woodpecker, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Cell phone reception is remarkably good in the northern Choctawhatchee and around lunch time I talked with Matthew Moskwik, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker search coordinator for The Nature Conservancy in South Carolina. Matthew informed me about results from Reconyx time-lapse cameras that we deployed on scaled trees between December 26 and 30 in Congaree National Park. All of the monitored scaled trees were visited by Pileated Woodpeckers, but none added scaling to the trees. By the end of the two-week deployments the scaled patches still had the same dimensions as in late December. The source of the scaling remains unknown and Reconyx cameras have been re-deployed on the scaled trees. Back in camp in the evening we learned that yesterday kent-like calls were recorded by volunteer Richard Martin at a site not far from our camp. We are curious how these recording will compare to the 1930s ivory-bill recordings and ivory-bill sound-alikes such as Blue Jay.

February 1, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Utami Setiorini

Female Eastern Bluebird, photo by Utami Setiorini

It was warm and humid this morning, with a storm brewing. In light rain we searched with six people near camp in the area where kent-like calls were heard yesterday by Greg and Diane. Greg, Martjan, and I only heard squeaky Common Grackle calls as the closest kent-like sound today. There was heavy rain in the afternoon and most people spent time in the camp with data catch-up. For dinner Diane cooked again for the whole group. She made delicious spaghetti with anchovies. Because our own open kitchen area was soaking wet, it was absolutely wonderful to have a hot meal ready under a dry tarp by the fire.

January 2007 log entries

December 2006 log entries