January 2007 Travel Log

January 31, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Chris McCafferty

Brian Rolek shuttled Martjan and me upriver from base camp with kayaks for further cavity inventory transects. Nathan met with a documentary film crew downriver. I saw the first White-eyed Vireo I have observed in Florida today. Jamie Fuller of the Auburn crew observed a White-eyed Vireo today as well—these were the first sightings of this bird in the study area this season. I also heard several Blue Jays in the area. One of them gave a series of kent-like calls. My assigned transects were relatively high and dry today and were completed early in the day, leaving the afternoon open for exploration. Greg Lewbart and Diane Derensienski reported having heard kent-like calls today. In the evening Mark Vanderveen held a fun bird trivia quiz for the crew.

January 30, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Nathan Banfield

Red-shouldered Hawk snacking on snake, photo by Chris McCafferty

Headed back out to the swamp in the afternoon loaded with supplies and clean clothes. On the way downriver Chris and I spotted two Red-shouldered Hawks devouring a snake along the water’s edge. We floated right by them and Chris took photo after photo to try and get that perfect picture. Then right after the hawks we spotted a Spotted Sandpiper bobbing around in a log dam. After dark we arrived at camp to find out that Diane Derensienski made Thai curry for everyone. It was certainly perfect to have a nice hot meal ready when we arrived.

January 29, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Utami Setiorini

Frozen puddle in a search canoe, photo by Nathan Banfield

It was a very cold night and morning with temperatures well below freezing. After getting up we had to deal with towels, shoes, and waders that were frozen solid. We headed into DeFuniak Springs for restocking our supplies and a much needed shower. In the evening we had dinner with visiting colleagues from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology—John Fitzpatrick, Ken Rosenberg, Connie Bruce, and Sara Barker.

January 28, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Chris McCafferty

Yesterday’s rain had already subsided by the time we awoke this morning. Pleased with our good fortune, we set out to our respective transect grids. Most of us departed via kayak this morning, as rising water has rendered many of the guts too deep to wade. I had an interesting commute to and from my search area—most of the guts run north to south, while my grid was to the west. It was surprisingly easy to haul the kayak across intervening hummocks to reach the next navigable gut or slough. In this manner, I had an opportunity to see much of the mixed hardwood forest in the central portion of the study area, and to make note of several areas to explore further. Back at base camp, Diane Derensienski treated us all to a hot bowl of clam chowder and campfire-baked peanut butter cookies—the perfect antidote to a long cold day in the swamp. We conversed `round the fire about some of the intriguing detections the Auburn crew has had thus far this season, rekindling our resolve to make the most of our second week here in the Choctawhatchee.

January 27, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Nathan Banfield

Hermit Thrush, photo by Nathan Banfield

Today I really enjoyed the habitat I was in. It was a very difficult challenge getting around in it, but it was certainly some of the best habitat I have seen here. I think that one thing we all find interesting in a habitat is if it has a number of sloughs weaving through the forest like a spider web. This makes higher and drier islands and deep running sloughs that produce a mix of many forest types in a small area.

I enjoy areas that have pines mixed in the high areas because ivory-bills in Cuba and their closely related cousin, the Imperial Woodpecker, used pines quite often. With the high water and the interlacing of deep sloughs I worked as slowly and stealthily as possible over log bridges (when available), searching for areas of shallower water, and tiptoeing through chest-deep water. The deep water also made me wish I had fixed the small hole in the crotch of my chest waders. I did find a nice size and shaped cavity that had obvious squirrel work done on it. I watched it that evening for magic hour because it was the most interesting cavity I found that day. Nothing went in it our came out, but I also wondered if anything was staying in the cavity or went to bed early since rain started in the middle of the afternoon.

Heading back to my canoe and meeting up with the motorboat presented another challenge. I tried remembering and following my GPS tracks back as best I could because spending time finding new stream crossings takes quite a bit of effort, especially in the dark.

Back at camp, with the rain starting to come down heavily, we all huddled under tarps even though our clothes were already wet. Chris and I also got a tarp set up over his tent because he noticed that it was letting in quite a bit of water. Since all of us were tired and wet, we were thinking of a quick bite to eat, getting dry, and snuggling up in our warm sleeping bags. Luckily Utami had better ideas and we all enjoyed a nice hot meal of her fried rice specialty.

Song Sparrow, photo by Nathan Banfield

Birding highlights for the day included a large group of Fish Crows. Martjan had some great looks at Common Yellowthroats with several nice photos of a female. Another interesting bird that we have been coming across is the Blue Jay. Brian Rolek (on the Geoff Hill ivory-bill search team) told us that this winter Blue Jays have been recorded regularly by the Choctawhatchee research group whereas the previous winter jays were absent in the area.

January 25, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Martjan Lammertink

The water levels kept coming up during the night. Setting out on foot to survey an area 2.5 km from camp, I ran into many deep sloughs to cross and made slow progress. Finally 250 meters from the target area for the day I encountered water too deep to cross in chest waders, an experience shared by other team members. We will have to try again tomorrow by kayak or canoe. I slowly and quietly moved around in the vicinity of the survey area and did long stationary watches. It was a cool sunny day with good bird activity. A male Hooded Merganser swam by and offered a nice photo opportunity.

Hooded Merganser, photo by Martjan Lammertink

January 24, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Nathan Banfield

We started off settling into the research routine that the searchers at Choctawhatchee have gotten into. We are all given transects in small 500-meter square blocks where we will do cavity transects, in hopes of finding a roost cavity or ivory-bill foraging signs. Transects are done by walking straight lines 50 meters apart while checking each and every tree. To get full documentation of ivory-bills, with photos and video, we need to find a roost or nest cavity. When ivory-bill-size cavities are found, remote cameras will be put in place. This is the same technique that we used in Arkansas. Jamie Hill is in charge of the camera deployment here and did the same job as part of the Cornell search team in Arkansas last season. We also try to have a person out in the field during the morning and evening hours, hoping for a flyover or vocalizations that will lead us to where the bird may be roosting.

I headed downriver by canoe while it was still dark to reach my assigned patch. I’d be picked up by motorboat that evening and taken back up to camp. Others headed upriver by motorboat (with kayaks) and would float back down to camp that evening. I was a little disappointed in the habitat, thinking that it was still really young, but Chris thought his area that day was interesting and looked good. What is interesting about Choctawhatchee is the amount of dead and dying wood in the area. This is what struck me the most and gave me high hopes that there are ivory-bills using this area.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher nabbing breakfast, photo by Martjan Lammertink

In the evening we talked with the full-time searchers and volunteers about search strategies. We discussed cavities, what details to look for to identify squirrel cavities, and how to judge size of cavities.

The birding was slow today, but Swamp Sparrows and a male and female Common Yellowthroat were nice to see.

January 23, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Chris McCafferty

Embarked early in the morning on an upstream paddle up the Choctawhatchee River to reach base camp. We had an interesting arrangement, with two canoes equipped with trolling motors and a third in tow, to facilitate the upstream trek. The river is roiling right now, swollen with winter rains, and it was a challenge to make progress even with the assistance of the trolling motors. We did eventually arrive and situated our tents and gear before meeting with Brian Rolek of the Auburn University team in the early afternoon. Brian provided us with an overview of their search protocol, in part comprised of an ambitious transect effort to identify all potential cavities and foraging sign on the study area. Brian provided us with forms and tree tags so we could assist in this effort. Eager to poke around a bit with the remains of the day, we all set off after our meeting to take a look around. Martjan, Utami, and I revisited a large cavity high in a sweetgum which Brian Rolek and Martjan found in July 2006. We encountered a nice, mature, mixed hardwood stand in the area with a prominence of green ash. Back at base camp, we met with the rest of the Auburn crew, just returning from their daytime searches.

January 22, Choctawhatchee River Basin, Florida

From Martjan Lammertink

We arrived in DeFuniak Springs, a small town near the area of the Choctawhatchee being studied by the team from Auburn University and the University of Windsor. We stored gear at the project house in town and met with Karan Odom and Justyn Stahl who run sound recording units in the swamp for the bioacoustics project of the University of Windsor. After getting groceries we ate at the local Mexican restaurant, where we ran into the Norwegian biologists Jørund and Erlend Rolstad. The Rolstad brothers, who in Scandinavia in the 1990s carried out a monumental study on the ecology of Back Woodpeckers with no fewer than 219 radio-tagged birds, had been visiting the Florida panhandle region for several weeks. They were much impressed with some of the cavities they had seen in the Choctawhatchee and judged these to be too large for Pileated Woodpeckers. 

January 21, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Chris McCafferty

Chris McCafferty paddling down a slough running off the Apalachicola River. Photo by Nathan Banfield

We spent today at the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve research facility, catching up on data and preparing to depart for the search team’s next destination. We went into town for dinner in the evening, where we examined maps and discussed search plans for the Choctawhatchee River, where we will assist the Auburn University team over the next two weeks.

January 20, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Utami Setiorini

We packed up to depart from Cutoff Island, but were delayed by a woodcock. Usually these birds are seen only when flushed at your feet while hiking through the forest, but today Martjan spotted one walking and then hiding between dry leaves on the forest floor. We could approach it to within a short distance, admired its plumage and took many pictures.

Utami Setiorini on the lookout in the shelter of an ancient bald cypress tree. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

On our way out we took a different route than on the way in. We saw more great habitat with maturing mixed hardwoods and inundated tupelo swamp reminiscent of Bayou de View in Arkansas. This confirmed our earlier assessment that this area deserves much more attention in the search for ivory-bills. We are glad that Todd will be doing surveys here throughout the coming months, with help from Brandon Cherry and Allen Knothe and other volunteers. Hopefully we can come back here later in the season for a second visit. We returned to our base quarters at the estuarine research reserve.

January 19, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Nathan Banfield

Finished up with the patch surveys at this site today. The start of weekend traffic and hunters picked up today which made the woods feel like a playground. Dogs were running around everywhere barking their heads off while gunshots rang out in every direction. Feeling a little uncomfortable walking around in the woods in full camouflage while carrying my scope. I couldn’t help feeling that my scope looked like antlers beside my head. So reluctantly I put on a bright orange hunting vest.

Seven boats went by me in the morning while I was on small sloughs in the forest. I was very surprised that they could make it around on these small bodies of water, but it also let me know I didn’t have to worry about pulling the canoe over a log.

An ancient cypress in the forest along the Apalachicola River. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

My strategy for the day became to let the dogs and hunters flush an Ivory-billed Woodpecker to me. Never happened, but that is certainly what I was hoping for. I did see some pretty good habitat and a good mixture of hardwoods. There were lots of hickories and green ash. The large water oaks, even though large, looked in perfect condition with no large dead branches. They still need 20 or 30 years, at least, to reach a better condition for woodpeckers. The tupelo and cypress swamps in my patch had more dead wood.

Martjan found a small flock of Palm Warblers with a couple Chipping Sparrows on sandy hills along the river. Chris also came across a Black-throated Green Warbler and our second Ovenbird of the trip. It is always exciting coming back to camp and finding out the birds of the day.

January 18, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Chris McCafferty

Our second full day of surveys in the Cutoff Island area began pre-dawn with the six of us dispersing to our respective search areas. Early in the morning, I encountered large mixed flocks of blackbirds and grackles, foraging amid leaf litter in flooded oak forest. The flock was in constant motion, with small groups landing nearby, feeding on small emergent patches of dry ground for a few fleeting moments before continuing on to the next patch. Excellent views from close range allowed careful study of the Rusty Blackbird, a declining species of particular interest. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has asked Ivory-billed Woodpecker searchers throughout the Southeast to be on the lookout for this species to record abundance and distribution.

Rusty Blackbirds, photo by Martjan Lammertink

Spent some time in a “deadening” in the southern portion of my area, where I observed the first Red-headed Woodpeckers I have seen in interior forest thus far in the season. Numerous dead and dying mature hardwoods gave this area a promising feel, supported by the presence of the red-heads. Nathan had big day exploring both sides of the Apalachicola, locating a very large old sweetgum south of camp and picking up some edge species along an old oxbow on the east side of the river, including Eastern Towhee and Gray Catbird.

January 17, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Martjan Lammertink

Tupelo swamp, photo by Nathan Banfield

As usual we headed out to our survey patches at first light. Todd and Brandon came with Martjan and Nathan, respectively, and trained with the data forms, GPS data logging, vegetation plots, bird surveys, and playback protocols. Later in the morning we split up to investigate different corners of the 500-acre patches. In all four patches we encountered great habitat. There were areas of hardwood forests with large water-oak and ash, as well as remnant ancient cypress trees. In between there were tupelo forests with abundant old gnarly trees and various other swamp trees species mixed in. Best of all, this kind of habitat extends over a big area. Jerry Jackson and Bob Russell both recommended the Apalachicola as one of the most promising areas in the U.S. to search for ivory-bills, and the area we were in certainly confirmed the reputation of this river. Nathan found an Ovenbird, the first encountered during our mobile search explorations.

Standing by a big sweetgum, left to right: Martjan Lammertink, Utami Setiorini, Todd Engstrom, and Brandon Cherry. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

January 16, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Utami Setiorini

We drove to a landing where the pine forests of the Apalachicola National Forest border the swamps, and there met with Todd Engstrom of Tallahassee. Todd will be doing patch surveys for the occupancy model study in this region during the coming months, and joined us for this trip to see the areas of the surveys. Also joining us was Brandon Cherry, a wetland ecologist of Ecological Resource Consultants in Panama City, who is volunteering with Todd for the patch surveys. In a steady rain we floated to Cutoff Island between the Apalachicola and Chipola Rivers and set up camp there. In contrast to Congaree National Park, campfires are allowed here. Todd skillfully got a fire going from the rain-soaked wood, so a nice fire kept us warm at night.

January 15, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Martjan Lammertink

At the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve research facility we caught up with data entry and prepared for our next camping survey, in one of the areas with the best habitat we encountered during our scouting visit yesterday.

January 14, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Nathan Banfield

Red-shouldered Hawk, photo by Nathan Banfield

Today we split into two groups to do scouting surveys in the Apalachicola-Chipola River basin. In total we scouted out forests along 49 kilometers of the rivers, and compared them with aerial photos to figure out differences in habitat composition and quality. Both groups found mature hardwoods on higher areas along the river and cypress/tupelo swamps in lower areas. We found swamps with older trees than at Forbes Island. The nice mixture of forest types and larger trees were much better than what we had seen in the region. We are all looking forward to exploring these newfound areas over the next few days.

Chris and I finally reached the boat landing around 7:45 p.m., shortly after Martjan and Utami showed up with a vehicle. Though we were mostly covering ground rather than birding today, highlights included Hooded Merganser and American Woodcock.

January 13, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Chris McCafferty

Third day of surveys adjacent to the Brother’s River, Apalachicola River confluence. Encountered heavy motorboat traffic this morning, and concluded patch surveys in this area by the early afternoon. Reconvened at base camp at 2:00 p.m. to pack gear and head out. Paddled out in the late afternoon, arriving back at Howard’s Landing just after dark. Alan and I saw a Little Blue Heron flying south along Brother’s River around twilight. Alan, who is very well acquainted with local birds, indicated that these are not common here in the winter.

January 12, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Utami Setiorini

Photo by Nathan Banfield

Second day of surveys on the east side of Forbes Island. Both Nathan and Martjan observed Pileated Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers foraging close to each other on live tupelo trunks, flaking bark in small patches. The boat traffic on the river is heavy today. We later learned it was because of a fishing tournament being held the next day.  Chris did not come back until 8:45 p.m. He was far north in his patch during the “magic hour” and had a long walk through flooded forest to get back to his canoe. Water levels were rising and this flooded Nathan’s tent and also our kitchen area.  Our first impressions of the habitat yesterday were confirmed today. Because of relatively poor habitat at this site, we decide to cut our stay one day short and complete surveys tomorrow.

January 11, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Martjan Lammertink

Our first day of surveys in and near the south end of Forbes Island. In all four of the 500-acre patches we visited we found flooded young tupelo swamps. The tupelo trees formed dense stands of slender straight trunks. There were occasional big cypress scattered through the forest. Along the Brothers River and Apalachicola we found natural levees with a nice mixture of hardwoods, but these higher strips of land were only 20 to 50 meters wide. Similar to Tim Spahr’s report, we found high densities of Pileated Woodpeckers in this area, though not extremely high compared with several other sites in the southern United States. In the late afternoon, Alan Knothe of the Apalachicola Research Reserve joined us, dropped off by river boat by his colleague Eric. Alan will practice his ivory-bill survey skills with us and later in the season join the occupancy model patch surveys being done by Todd Engstrom of Tallahassee for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

January 10, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Nathan Banfield

Headed out for our first adventure in the Apalachicola region. Our first five-day camping trip will be a follow-up on Tim Spahr’s search around Forbes Island in late winter 2003 which was published in North American Birds. Spahr mentioned that the area had abundant Pileated Woodpeckers, and he heard several double-knocks there.

We headed out in the afternoon for a late canoe trip down Brothers River, listening as we slowly floated down. Unfortunately there was heavy boat traffic, military jets, and lots of house boats along the way. At around sunset we all met up at the southern tip of Forbes Island to look for a campsite. We had to change ideas of where to camp because of the high water, but were able to find an area that looked safe to camp.

January 9, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Martjan Lammertink

Double-crested Cormorant, photo by Martjan Lammertink

In the early morning we watched birds on the estuary behind our living quarters at the St. Joseph Bay preserve. We were treated to great looks of Reddish Egret, Tricolored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, and Clapper Rail. Nathan hunted long for a mystery sparrow and finally obtained a good look at a Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow. We went to the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve headquarters where Alan Knothe and Roy Ogles prepared, printed, and laminated excellent aerial photos of areas in the Apalachicola basin for us. We prepared and packed for a five-day river exploration by canoe starting tomorrow.

January 8, Apalachicola River Basin, Florida

From Martjan Lammertink

We bought groceries and field supplies in Tallahassee, then drove south through the Apalachicola National Forest. Around sunset we watched three or four Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at their roost trees. In the town of Apalachicola we met Alan Knothe of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve. Over a superb seafood dinner we discussed our upcoming surveys in the Apalachicola. We are all excited to read on Geoff Hill’s (Auburn University, Alabama) web site about the reported sightings in the past weeks of ivory-bills in the Choctawhatchee, which is the next major river to the east of the Apalachicola, and what presence of birds there may mean for the wider Apalachicola region. Work with Geoff Hill’s search team in the Choctawhatchee is next on our list late this month, after the Apalachicola. We checked in at St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserver Center which will be our base of operations here.

January 6, Congaree National Park, South Carolina

From Nathan Banfield

Our departure from Congaree National Park was both sad and exciting. We were leaving the best stand of virgin bottomland hardwoods in the entire United

Congaree National Park in South Carolina. (L-R) Katie Martin (TNC), Nathan Banfield (CLO), Amy Leist (TNC), Zach Nelson (TNC), Martjan Lammertink (CLO), Chris McCafferty (CLO), Utami Setiorini (CLO). Photo by Martjan Lammertink.

States. But we are also heading off to new exciting areas. Something I know all of us will miss is the company and help of The Nature Conservancy crew staying in Congaree, especially Zach and Amy! They were with us for most of our time at Congaree and spent all day, every day, alongside us in the field as we tried searching as many nooks and crannies of the park as we could get to. I am glad to know they will continue to keep their eyes and ears open in Congaree. I wish them good luck!

Our drive to the Savannah River region on the South Carolina/Georgia border was long and tiring, especially with such little sleep. A couple interesting patches of bottomland hardwoods, listening to bird songs and calls on CD, thoughts of ivory-bills, and where our adventure will take us kept us awake.

When we finally arrived at the Savannah River we met up with Jim Ozier, the senior wildlife biologist of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. After looking over the maps we headed out on a float down a tributary of the Savannah River. Jim joined us as we staggered the three canoes apart by 15 or 20 minutes to cover more area. We found an extensively scaled tree with loose bark that we decided was too dead, but it did have some intriguing possible bill marks. The forest was nothing too spectacular but did remind me of a smaller Bayou DeView in Arkansas. The cypress looked very old and gnarly and had very wide buttresses. The huge cypress knees were very impressive--the largest I have seen yet. One was around 10 feet high. We reached the landing after dark where the owner graciously allowed us to set up camp.

January 5, Congaree National Park, South Carolina

From Martjan Lammertink

Winter Wren, photo by Nathan Banfield

Today was a data round-up day for our past month in the Congaree. We caught up on entering our GPS track and waypoint information in the databases of both the South Carolina Ivory-billed Woodpecker Working Group and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and entered bird observations in eBird. In the evening we had a special guest for dinner: John Cely, who has spent much of the past 30 years in the Congaree area, and helped establish the National Park here. John has made a magnificent map of the park which shows all the groves of large and champion trees in the park, and incorporates information on the history and ecology of the park. We were all up until after 2:30 a.m. with data work and packing for our departure tomorrow.

January 4, Congaree National Park, South Carolina

From Utami Setiorini

Waking up in the morning I noticed from the stick Chris put in the water last night that the water level came up by at least an inch, but our camp site stayed dry. After breakfast we broke down our tents and then loaded our canoes. We had a long way to go today, at least 20 km to our take-out point. As we started paddling, I realized that instead of going downstream we actually were going upstream because the current had changed; it reversed with all the water pushing in from the main river. The current went back to normal when we hit an intersection, but when we approached the confluence with Congaree River, we had to paddle hard against the strong current flowing in from the river. Floating on the main river was a bit challenging this time; it was windy and the current was rather strong. Zach and Amy, who were 500 meters behind us, saw an adult Golden Eagle flying high on the air. It was dark when we reached the boat landing where we left our pickup vehicle. Birding highlights during the float today included a Golden Eagle, Red-headed Woodpecker, Gray Catbird, and Song Sparrows.

January 1-3, Congaree National Park, South Carolina

From Nathan Banfield

We spent our second full camping trip dividing seven of us up between four different patches. Two of the patches were really nice and contained many large old-growth trees. The other two patches had large areas that had been clear-cut and had lots of smaller trees. But even there we found some nice oaks and sweetgums on ridges within cypress/tupelo swamps. Chris (McCafferty) talked about seeing a section that he thought was the best habitat that he has seen yet.

The morning of the first we were all happy that we woke up dry and the water didn’t rise and flood out our camp. It was a very warm morning with approaching dark rain clouds from the west making a spectacular eerie morning. The light seemed to glow through the forest with the distant dark clouds giving a sharp contrast. Periods of light rain soon set in and gave off-and-on showers through the morning and early afternoon. In the evening shortly before “Magic Hour” (when the woodpeckers head to their roost cavities) the clouds broke up bringing crisp clear skies. When making the two-kilometer hike back to our canoe before canoeing back to camp, Utami and I saw the highest roosting Wild Turkeys we have ever seen. It is quite strange seeing turkeys 100 feet up in trees. I think it shows just how amazingly big the trees are in Congaree.

A wandering Wood Duck. Photo by Nathan Banfield

January 2, I headed out into one of the not-so-good patches. The higher water made the journey extremely wet and difficult. On the positive side, walking through mid-thigh to waist-deep water you can move nearly silently. I was able to sneak up on some Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers. The only problem is that you have to move slowly because there are lots of obstructions in the water. Cypress knees and fallen logs can trip you up or, at the very least, leave you with banged up shins. Martjan spotted an adult Golden Eagle soaring overhead, which is a very good bird for the area. Then to top it off Martjan also saw a juvenile Golden Eagle the next day.

January 3 was the most challenging day yet. We all headed out before sunrise, crossing sloughs and streams or canoeing across Cedar Creek to reach our patch for the day. The morning was cool but bright and sunny, giving us another gorgeous day to search. But when we tried to make it back to camp that night the water levels had risen significantly, making flowing streams and deep channel crossings everywhere. Chest waders became useless in many areas. One member of our team had a close call while using a log bridge to cross an impassable creek. The log broke halfway across! You can be pulled under quickly if chest waders fill with water. Our teammate grabbed the log, which promptly sank, but was able to catch hold of nearby branches and pull to shore.

Nathan wading through a tupelo swamp in Congaree National Park, Photo by Chris McCafferty

The rest of us were having our own adventures getting back to camp as well. Amy and I had a long several-hundred-meter walk through a deep slough, which use to be the easiest place to cross from one patch to the next. The murky swamp water many times came within an inch of topping our chest waders, already hiked up around our necks. To make it worse, it was pitch black when we were doing this. We couldn’t see where we were going but the hooting laughter of Barred Owls all around us made me think they all paid tickets to watch the show. With luck we were able to navigate our way back to camp.

Pileated Woodpecker, photo by Nathan Banfield

Getting to the canoe by the creek posed difficult challenges for several others. They were definitely looking forward to the almost-finished dinner when they finally arrived back at camp. With water creeping within feet of our camp, Chris started placing sticks in the ground to measure how fast the water was coming up. We estimated that we should be fine till morning before our long float out.

Birding highlights included the usual Black-and-white Warbler (such a cool bird and usually seeing them every other day keeps this bird probably the most regular member of our birding highlights list), Golden Eagles, Swamp Sparrows, a Song Sparrow, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Baltimore Orioles, and Hooded Mergansers.

December 2006 log entries