March 2007 Travel Log

March 31, Slidell, Louisiana

From Chris McCafferty

Retrieved the Jeep from the muffler shop and at last were back on the road by late morning. It was a real pleasure to have the Jeep running so well after our difficulties over the past couple of days. However, we encountered heavy rain and a nasty traffic jam on our way back east along I-10. We’d all had enough of the road by the time we reached eastern Louisiana. We stopped in Slidell for dinner and found a motel to stay in for the night.

March 30, Beaumont, Texas

From Martjan Lammertink

Great-tailed Grackle. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

Once details concerning the hefty Jeep repair bill were hammered out, we got back on the road. But problems with the Jeep persisted. This time we were told it was a clogged catalytic converter and we were directed to a muffler shop that had the appropriate replacement part.

While waiting for the repair in front the muffler shop we were entertained by Great-tailed Grackles that were displaying and mating. By early evening, the Jeep had a new catalytic converter but was found to be in need of a new muffler as well. For that we needed to return tomorrow, so we spent a second night in Beaumont. 

March 29, Steinhagen Lake, Texas

From Utami Setiorini

We paddled out of the Steinhagen Lake area in the morning and while paddling on the river we had more good looks at a Broad-winged Hawk and Swallow-tailed Kite. It took us about three hours paddling upstream on the Angelina River before we reached the take-out point in Belviport. We drove to the project house for the Texas search to fetch our stored gear. We checked into a motel in Beaumont to clean up—only the third night in a motel after four months of traveling!

March 28, Steinhagen Lake, Texas

From Chris McCafferty

The four of us departed early to explore south of camp, toward Steinhagen Lake. I encountered a colony of Great Egrets in a sheltered bald cypress pond. I watched one egret snatch a dragonfly in midair—an impressive feat!

It was very hot by midday and we all struggled to make progress through the heavy blowdown areas along the northern edge of Steinhagen Lake. However, the more intact remnants of this forest were quite good. Many of the tree species we’ve seen distributed in specific zones based on elevation elsewhere, we see occurring together here in East Texas. There were some impressive loblolly pines interspersed with mixed hardwoods a bit north of Steinhagen Lake.

I encountered quite a few cottonmouths today. I was also surprised to see a large American alligator partially submerged in a shallow finger of the lake—even more surprised that it tolerated a very close approach. Most of our alligator encounters have been with basking animals that invariably fled while we were still a good distance away. This alligator did not budge, but lay motionless among aquatic vegetation, and appeared to be waiting to ambush the unwary (or the unwisely curious). A Wood Stork foraged nearby, and Nathan and I both encountered small flocks of Blue-winged Teal, with a couple of Green-winged Teal. Nathan saw a group of seven Swallow-tailed Kites.

Back at camp this evening, food supplies had grown thin because of our longer-than-planned stay, waiting for the Jeep repair. Martjan told us we’d have to eat a dish of noodles with cheese and apples for dinner. Fortunately, it proved to be an idle threat and we were all pleased with the spicy peanut noodle surprise instead!


March 27, Steinhagen Lake, Texas

From Nathan Banfield

Headed out across the river early in the morning and started walking along dry lakebeds. Unfortunately I did not have the batteries for my camera charged up and I was unable to take any pictures—a real shame, because I had extremely good photo opportunities for a Prothonotary Warbler.


Green anole. Photo by NathanBanfield

From morning to early afternoon the heat was stifling and it was humid with occasional of showers. While I was sitting on a log I saw green anoles, broadheaded skinks, five-lined skinks, and ground skinks running all around me. One nice thing about this area is that it is remarkably quiet, with little human traffic through the woods and on the river. This may not be the case in other seasons, as I did see scattered shotgun shells in some areas.

Chris and I headed back to camp in the middle of the afternoon to replenish our low water supply. While canoeing back to camp Chris and I stopped on a river bluff at a large bend in the river. With the approaching sunset I did a series of double-knock playbacks. The sound carried far into the forest and we felt that if an ivory-bill was nearby it would come to check us out.

During the day Martjan saw a congregation of 30 Broad-winged Hawks riding on a storm front as well as a few Solitary Sandpipers.

March 26, Steinhagen Lake, Texas

From Utami Setiorini


Common Loon. Photo by Nathan
Banfield

When I came back to camp after morning explorations, in the distance I saw an immature loon. I tried to take photographs, but none of them came out well. The bird finally dove in the water and disappeared. When the other members of the team came back I told them about the loon and they were very excited. Surprisingly, the loon came back and kept swimming back and forth in front of our camp, so the guys could take hundreds of photos.

After taking loon photos Martjan heard a familiar squeaking sound. It turned out to be a leopard frog being swallowed by a garter snake. Everybody rushed to the spot and took more pictures!


An Eastern garter snake gets the best of a Southern leopard frog. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

Later we packed up and moved our camp, paddling down the Neches River and then up the Angelina River. Along the Neches we saw at least 12 alligators sunning on the sandbanks. Some were about nine feet long. Paddling up the Angelina River we saw five Swallow-tailed Kites soaring at exactly the same spot we’d seen them a few days before. We set up camp on a grassy bluff overlooking the river. We had planned for this to be our last night in The Forks. However, in the morning Martjan made several phone calls about repairs to the Jeep and learned it would take several days to get everything settled. So we decided to stay out in the forest. Luckily we brought extra food supplies.

March 25, Steinhagen Lake, Texas

From Martjan Lammertink


Black Rat Snake. Photo by Nathan Banfield

In the morning we headed out from camp, exploring in different directions. The forest I encountered was rather poor, with few sizeable trees, but the other members of the team were in better areas, with a good mix of tree species including mature sweetgum.

Around midday we broke camp and paddled several kilometers upstream on the Neches River. We flushed several alligators that were basking on steep sandbars, including two big individuals that we estimated to be over 1,000 pounds. We set up camp on a flat sandbar that we hoped was unattractive to ’gators. In the forest  near the river I found a dying sweetgum with promising-looking scaling because it had patches of tight bark removed from high branches. Just before sunset Chris and I performed a double-knock duet playback, but heard nothing.

March 24, Steinhagen Lake, Texas

From Chris McCafferty


Swallow-tailed Kite. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

We stowed most of the gear we would not need in the field at the Big Thicket ivory-bill crew’s bunkhouse. Then we headed for the Belviport boat launch on the Angelina River. We embarked in the early afternoon, paddling downstream along the Angelina River into Steinhagen Lake Wildlife Management Area, known locally as “The Forks.” Along our canoe route, we encountered five Swallow-tailed Kites, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and heard quite a few Pine Warblers singing in tall loblolly pines along the riverside. We rescued a false map turtle after it fell from a log, landing upside down on the riverbank. It was a treat to examine the turtle closely— we usually have only seen these wary animals from a distance as they bask on logs in the river. The ghostly-white eye color of these turtles is quite striking, complemented by the bright yellow-green streaking on the neck and face. We made camp on a broad sandbar along the Neches River, upstream from the confluence with the Angelina River.

March 23, Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas

From Nathan Banfield


Hooded Warbler. Photo by Nathan Banfield

Chris and I traveled with John Arvin to the Turkey Creek Unit of the Big Thicket. We were impressed by the quality of much of the habitat in the Big Thicket. I got a few photos of a singing Hooded Warbler and we came across a Black-and-white Warbler, a bird we haven’t seen in quite a while. We encountered carnivorous sundew and pitcher plants in full bloom. To make it extra-special a Brown-headed Nuthatch greeted us. We saw several snakes including a copperhead and a Texas coral snake.

John drove Chris and I to the house his crew uses to do searches through the Big Thicket area, then left for a meeting. We were not able to stay out longer in the woods today because Martjan and Utami took the Jeep into town to get repairs done. They also picked up groceries for our camping survey into “The Forks,” the confluence of the Neches and Angelina rivers in the Steinhagen Lake Wildlife Management Area.

March 22, Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas

From Utami Setiorini

We headed out early this morning toward the Neches Bottom and Jack Gore Baygall Unit, which is on the western edge of the preserve. John Arvin accompanied us and showed us some interesting areas his search crew found.

One of the first birds we heard was a White-breasted Nuthatch, a bird often said to be absent from the Big Thicket region but evidently a candidate species for kent-like calls recorded here in the 1960s. John said the nuthatch is genuinely scarce in the region, as he had not heard one for more than a year until last week.

The habitat was disturbed by Hurricane Rita but not badly overgrown with blackberry, as it was in the Pearl River or Pascagoula areas. We explored mostly the northern part of the unit and did some playbacks. Nathan and Chris paddled upstream on Black Creek while John Arvin, Martjan and I hiked the trail towards the Neches River. Then we split up and stayed out in the forest until sunset. Along the trail we heard Hooded Warblers, singing Northern Parula, and the squeaking sounds of American Crow chicks.

March 21, Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas

From Martjan Lammertink

We packed up and cleaned the bunkhouse in the Atchafalaya, met up with Nathan in Lafayette, and drove to the research facility of the Big Thicket National Preserve in East Texas. The Jeep, one of our two project vehicles, performed poorly and it became clear it would have to be repaired.

At the Big Thicket facility we met with search leader John Arvin and talked about the work in Texas, which he has been overseeing since November. John reported that many areas of the Big Thicket National Preserve were hard to get around in because of trees downed by Hurricane Rita, and the invasion of blackberry vines and bushes that followed. His team has had few encouraging signs that ivory-bills might inhabit the area. One area his team did not have a chance to visit was the Steinhagen Lake Wildlife Management Area adjacent to the National Preserve. John has heard reports of good habitat in that area, at least prior to the hurricane, and it is close to the site of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker sighting by John V. Dennis in the 1960s. We decided that the Steinhagen Lake area would be our main focus during our work in the region.  

March 20, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Chris McCafferty

Packed up camp along Bayou L’Embarras and departed just after sunrise. We paddled downstream to explore public lands along the bayou to the south, encountering good numbers of Prothonotary and Northern Parula Warblers singing in the riverine forest. Melanie Driscoll and I split up to explore the northern part of this area while Martjan and Utami investigated a bit farther south.


Nathan digiscoping Northern Rough-winged Swallows. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

The forest we encountered was a diverse mix of bottomland hardwoods with pockets of bald cypress. But the trees were young, with very little structural development for woodpeckers. I observed a Red-eyed Vireo along my hike, a bird I have always been particularly fond of, and was pleased to see it arriving back on its breeding grounds. Melanie found a better stand of mature cypress along part of her search route. We continued downstream in the late afternoon to the take-out along Bayou Benoit, retrieved the van from the launch site at Butte La Rose, then headed back to the Attakapas Wildlife Management Area headquarters.

Today Nathan headed off to the western side of Bayou Cocodrie and had to walk five kilometers to reach the forest through open grasslands and man-made ponds. Birding was fantastic in the open areas and Nathan ended the day with 57 bird species, the highest we have had yet. Several of the more interesting birds Nathan saw were Ruddy Duck, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, Mallards, Least Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Snipe, Tricolored Heron, meadowlarks, White-crowned Sparrows, Northern Harriers, Savannah, Swamp, and Song Sparrows, Common Yellowthroat, House Wren, and Chimney Swifts. When Nathan finally reached the west side of the forest it was thoroughly disappointing. There were no large trees, as there were on the east side of the forest the previous day. Obviously not all of Bayou Cocodrie contains huge trees. Nathan then headed down to the southern end of Bayou Cocodrie, hiking almost 27 kilometers for the day, and found nice habitat similar to the east side.

March 19, Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Reserve, Louisiana

From Nathan Banfield

Today I headed into the east side of Bayou Cocodrie National Wildlife Reserve. Portions of the habitat here were excellent, with large oaks and sweetgum. It is by far the closest thing to an old growth forest I have seen since leaving Congaree National Park in South Carolina. I was happy to see that Louisiana does have some really nice forest.


Other parts of the forest were younger because of past logging, and are now being selectively logged to improve habitat. I am starting to understand the benefit of this type of logging from talking with Patti Newell and some refuge and management area foresters. I am not completely sold on the idea, but am hoping that the foresters in the area are doing their best to eventually bring back old-growth characteristics in these bottomland hardwood forests. By opening up some of the areas in the dense secondary forest, they try to imitate natural disturbances so sunlight reaches the forest floor, allowing oaks and sweetgums to regenerate. If this is not done, trees like sugarberry would dominate the shaded understory until the large oaks and sweetgums eventually die and turn the forest into a uniform sugarberry forest.


Red-headed Woodpecker. Photo by Nathan Banfield

Red-headed Woodpeckers were numerous in this cut area and by far the highest numbers I have seen anywhere. I found a Red-headed Woodpecker and Red-bellied Woodpecker nest. I did double-knock playbacks throughout the day to make the most of my short time here. I imagine this area looks much like what the Singer Tract in Louisiana must have looked like in the 1930s when James Tanner studied ivory-bills there. Bayou Cocodrie is not an impressively big area but it has very good habitat. I only wonder what kind of potential it would have if it was a little larger.

Today the rest of the crew, along with Melanie Driscoll, branched out on foot from base camp along Bayou L’Embarras in the Atchafalaya. Utami encountered some good maturing forest south of camp, with some particularly large cottonwoods and sycamores. The forest in the area was generally younger though, and did not seem to have good potential for ivory-bills. Chris observed several Hooded Warblers, a new migrant arrival for this spring.

March 18, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Martjan Lammertink

In the morning Nathan left to explore Bayou Cocodrie, a National Wildlife Refuge area situated between the Atchafalaya basin and the Tensas (former Singer Tract) Refuge. Melanie Driscoll of Audubon Louisiana arrived at the Attakapas bunkhouse to join Utami, Chris, and me to explore a part of the Atchafalaya basin by canoe.

A flock of White Ibis. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

We drove north along the levee from Attakapas, dropped off a vehicle at Bayou Benoit and put in at Butte La Rose.  We floated about 15 km south. Along the river we noticed several dozen hunting camps and cabins on leased state land. Flocks of White Ibis and several Swallow-tailed Kites flew over. We set up camp in a hardwood patch at the junction of Bayou L’Embarras and the Atchafalaya main channel. The habitat around the camp site does not look promising for ivory-bills, but is among the better forests we have seen all day. Mosquitoes are bad at camp, but disappear with the smoke of a campfire.

March 17, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Chris McCafferty

Started the day off with a double-knock playback session before we set out from camp. It resonated impressively in the early morning quiet over the bayou. Thousands of migrating Tree Swallows were visible from camp as we prepared to depart. Martjan and Utami set off together in one canoe, heading north along the west side of Duck Lake. Nathan and I headed northeast.

The older bald cypress groves in this area were loaded with Northern Parula and Yellow-throated Warblers, but the trees are patchily distributed, apparently the legacy of past logging operations which took the most healthy trees. There were also relatively few tupelo, which might also be the result of past logging. The overall sparseness of trees made for a lot of breaks in the canopy, much like a savannah-form forest, with water instead of grass at ground level. Pileated Woodpecker densities were quite high, but other species were conspicuously scarce. We observed a good-sized flock of Rusty Blackbirds. After a short portage to the river from the system of channels west of Duck Lake, we made good time downriver in the fading daylight, and arrived at the landing just after dark.


March 16, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Nathan Banfield


Northern Parula. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

We started our morning with a johnboat shuttle from Attakapas refuge manager Guy Patout. This allowed us to start our paddle in habitat recommended by Guy in the interior of the basin.

In two canoes we floated south by different routes in the direction of Duck Lake. The area had large old cypress mixed into the flooded forest, giving a much nicer feel than most of the areas we have seen in the Atchafalaya. Most woodpeckers occurred in low numbers except for Pileated Woodpeckers. Martjan and Utami logged 23 pileateds, a very high count by Atchafalaya standards. The area thus resembled Bayou de View in Arkansas, with its combination of old cypress and high numbers of pileateds. Better still, the old cypress habitat appeared to extend over a large area.


Rusty Blackbird. Photo by Nathan Banfield

Today’s float made me feel a lot better about the Atchafalaya. Trees were leafing out and migratory birds were singing everywhere. Northern Parulas were at unbelievable densities with seven or eight birds audible from one spot. Yellow-throated Warblers were also singing constantly throughout the day. Chris and I came across the first Prothonotary Warblers of the year. They are the color of yellow sunshine, and brighten up any forest they inhabit. There were also a good number of Barred Owls. Chris saw owl carrying a crawfish to a possible nest cavity. We all came across several flocks of Rusty Blackbirds, and Martjan and Utami tallied more than 60 individuals of this declining species, the highest day count yet. Chris and I had a great show as a flock was foraging on floating vegetation and one Rusty Blackbird landed about 15 feet away from us and hopped around, foraging as if we were not there.

When we finally reached Duck Lake around sunset, we were faced with a stiff wind and high waves on the lake. Finding dry ground for a camp proved to be very difficult in the waning light. Utami and Martjan finally found a small patch of dry land and we squeezed our tents onto it for the night.


March 15, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Utami Setiorini
 

Although we had hoped to do a floating survey today, it was too late by the time we took care of packing, shuttling vehicles, sorting receipts, and other administrative chores. So, we decided to postpone the trip until tomorrow.

Late in the afternoon, Chris saw Roseate Spoonbills flying overhead from the levee near the bunkhouse.



March 14, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Utami Setiorini

While camping out in the yard of the Attakapas Wildlife Management Area headquarters, a thunderstorm with strong wind gusts flattened our tent in the morning. Luckily we could take shelter in the adjacent bunkhouse building. Today we worked on this travel log and did groceries for an upcoming three-day float trip.


March 13, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Chris McCafferty

We headed out early to join Patti Newell for another attempt at trapping a Pileated Woodpecker, but three of us had to leave early for appointments in Baton Rouge, and a subsequent meeting in Lafayette. Nathan and Patti captured and radio-tagged a female Pileated Woodpecker after we left.

In Lafayette, Melanie Driscoll of Audubon Louisiana, formerly of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, joined us for a meeting at the USGS National Wetlands Research Center. Melanie was one of those who saw an ivory-bill in Arkansas during the 2004-05 field season. USGS staffers Chris Wells and Larry Michot explained an interesting project they have been working on: an attempt to characterize the structural attributes of the forest within the ivory-bill home ranges identified by James Tanner in the 1930s based on interpretation of aerial photographs taken of the Singer Tract area in 1938. Subsequently, they will attempt to identify tracts with similar characteristics using contemporary aerial photos. We were all impressed after looking through a stereoscope at some of these photos, so remarkably clear after all this time. Another component of the USGS project  an effort to match the data derived from interpretation of these photographs with historical documents such as original USGS survey documents, timber company cruise records, etc. This element of the project is being led by Heather Baldwin.

We concluded our meeting at USGS with an effort to identify priority search areas in the lower Atchafalaya with the aid of 2004 aerial photos of the basin. We went with Melanie for a cup of coffee at a local café, where we discussed her work for Audubon Society on Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Louisiana, and the possibility of her joining us for fieldwork in the basin.


March 12, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Martjan Lammertink

With Patti Newell we headed into the Red River Wildlife Management Area in the pre-dawn darkness. Shortly after the first Pileated Woodpeckers were up, a pair was attracted by the speakers near the aerial mist net. One of the Pileated Woodpeckers actually flew into the mist net, but then managed to work itself out again with some fluttering, much to our disappointment. We watched Patti and Nathan shoot lines into the canopy and set up a new aerial mist net in another Pileated Woodpecker home range, for a new capture attempt tomorrow morning. The installation of a treetop mist net is quite a skill, completely mastered by Patti and Nathan.


Patti Newell of Louisiana State University radio tracking a Pileated Woodpecker. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

Around lunchtime, at the Red River headquarters, we met a group of state biologists and foresters who were moving Lousiana black bears from the Tensas River Refuge to Red River Wildlife Management Area. Donald Locascio and Lowery Moak provided us with detailed information on the history and status of forests in northeastern Louisiana. In the afternoon Patti demonstrated her newest lightweight radio tracking equipment. We tracked down a female pileated that she tagged last week. We did double-knock playbacks in an older, recently thinned forest stand.

March 11, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Chris McCafferty

American alligator. Photo by Chris McCafferty

Spent the morning on data management. I sorted through some of my miscellaneous notes and photographs of reptiles and amphibians seen over the past few days in the Atchafalaya. In the process of looking through online pictures of broad-banded water snakes, I happened to click on an image which, it turned out, was from a web posting by David Luneau, who is coordinating the remote camera search effort in Arkansas this season.

Meanwhile, Nathan was working in the Red River Wildlife Management Area with Patti Newell to set up an aerial mist net they will use in an attempt to catch a Pileated Woodpecker. In the afternoon we went to join them but encountered a nasty traffic jam on the I-10 bridge and did not arrive until well past midnight.

March 10, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Utami Setiorini

Through heavy fog we paddled south along the levee to the landing at Bayou Sorrel. In total, we covered a distance of 64 km during this survey. We retrieved the Jeep and headed back to Sherburne Wildlife Management Area to get the van. Then we still needed to drive to the Attakapas Wildlife Management Area headquarters, so much of day was spent shuttling around.

We unloaded gear at the Attakapas Island Wildlife Management Area headquarters and cleaned up. Nathan headed for Red River Wildlife Management Area at the northern extreme of the Atchafalaya basin, to help out Patti Newell with a Pileated Woodpecker radio tagging study, and explore for ivory-bills there. Patti is a master’s student in the Department of Natural Resources at Louisiana State University. She studies the foraging behavior of Pileated Woodpeckers in stands with “morticulture” treatment—forest stands where trees were intentionally damaged or killed to improve the dead wood availability for woodpeckers.

In the evening Chris and I drove to the New Orleans airport to pick up Martjan, who returned from his six-day visit to Ithaca.

March 9, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Chris McCafferty

Heard a Whip-poor-will and Eastern Screech-Owl calling in the predawn this morning. At daybreak, branched out from base camp to investigate the tract adjoining camp on foot. I flushed a screech owl while plowing through a dense tangle of vines. The bird flew a short distance, stopped briefly, then flew out of sight. I poked around a few more minutes to see if I could relocate the owl. Just about the time I was ready to move on, I noticed the owl perched in the mouth of a cavity in a sycamore. It held its body in an elongated posture, with ear tufts erect and eyes half-closed. As I went for the camera, it flew again. A bit farther in I heard this year’s first Yellow-throated Warbler singing in the upper canopy of a bald cypress. I also had good views of a pair of White-eyed Vireos building their nest.

The forest in this area was a nice mixture of bottomland hardwood species, with scattered individual and small groves of bald cypress. Unfortunately, it was rather young, with limited structural development for woodpeckers. Most trees were growing vigorously, with very few dying or dead limbs and very few snags. We observed a few Pileated Woodpeckers this morning, but they did not appear to be particularly abundant in the area.

Broke camp around noon, headed back north to float toward the levee along the Upper Grand River. It was a beautiful afternoon, and a most welcome reprieve to have the current working for us for a change. While looking for a campsite along a side channel north of the river, we observed several Yellow-crowned Night-Herons in the twilight, one with a stick in its bill. A combination of limited public land, low water, and high, steep banks made it a challenge to find a suitable camp. We ultimately resorted to paddling the rest of the way out to camp near a public landing, pitching camp well after dark.

March 8, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Nathan Banfield


Solitary Sandpiper. Photo by Chris McCafferty

Woke up to a foggy morning as we packed up our tents and headed south down the Work Canal. Northern Cardinals were in full swing as they start singing well before light. Throughout the entire day cardinals seemed to be everywhere. We quickly found out as we started heading down the Work Canal that the canal became smaller and that the water was actually flowing north. After stopping to discuss our plan of action we spotted two Solitary Sandpipers foraging in a shallow area. We ended up deciding that it would be best to stick to the Work Canal because of the bad luck we’ve had finding other channels that we could paddle through.

Even though we had a long way to cover down the canal, I stopped a few times in state areas to see what the habitat was like. The first place I stopped I found a young forest that was not overwhelmingly impressive. One of the other areas I stopped at had large open areas and extremely young brushy trees. One of the open areas was a field of cockleburs. I could see some medium-sized cypress in the distance but nothing to go out of the way for.


A flock of White Ibis. Photo by Utami Setiorini

While canoeing down the Work Canal we all got great looks at several flocks of White Ibis following the line of the canal, as well as a flock of Snowy Egrets. There were fair numbers of Red-bellied Woodpeckers, but pileated densities were very low. Chris saw a Swallow-tailed Kite soaring high in the sky near a Bald Eagle. Chris had a great day as far as number of species detected. His final list for the day was 51.

When we finally reached the end of the Work Canal we cut across the Intracoastal Canal and canoed down the Little Tensas River. Hope that the name Tensas would bring some great habitat similar to the habitat James Tanner found when he did his now-famous study of ivory-bills in this part of Louisiana was quickly shot down. What did remain the same, unfortunately, was the clear-cut logging we found there.

Seeing a lot of the area here in the Atchafalaya made us all a little bitter. This should have been one of the most amazing places we visited. Instead, most of the area is crisscrossed with pipelines and manmade canals. Most of the land was private, but it didn’t look in any better condition as we canoed by it. It is extremely sad to see what has been done to this area. I only hope that there are some patches of good forest somewhere here in the Atchafalaya. We found a stand of young forest where we scampered up the steep bank to camp. Some Indonesian beef curry and s’mores helped brighten our spirits.


March 7, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Utami Setiorini
 

In the early morning we explored the forest around our camp, each of us heading in a different direction. I found decent habitat with a mixture of oaks, hickory, and sugarberry. The sound of a huge flock of Red-winged Blackbirds dominated the forest the whole morning. We returned to break camp in late morning. On my way back to the camp I saw two water snakes and a baby alligator.


Utami paddling under the I-10 Atchafalaya bridge. Photo by Nathan Banfield

After packing we paddled down Black Creek Bayou. The habitat remained decent for a short distance south of camp, but then most of the day habitat progressively worsened, becoming willow thickets as we approached the I-10 highway. We saw flock of  Little Blue Herons today and also five alligators along the bayou. We encountered difficulties with low water level in creeks near I-10. Log jams and a metal bridge across the creek forced us to do several portages. We then used the deep canal along I-10 and paddled under the Atchafalaya Bridge for 2.5 km.

We were amazed how heavy the traffic is from under the bridge. Looking way in the distance, the bridge appeared to be never-ending. Finally we accessed the Work Canal and turned south. It was getting dark but we kept paddling to reach the state land and set up camp. After paddling 15 km through water with no current, I ran out of energy and took Nathan up on his offer to pull my canoe behind his. Nathan’s former-baseball player arms helped cover the final 3 km of the day. It was 8:00 p.m. by the time we reached state land and started setting up our tents.


March 6, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Nathan Banfield

We broke camp along Big Alabama Bayou’s campground in Sherburne Wildlife Management Area to embark on our five-day float trip through the Atchafalaya River Swamp. Early in the morning, when packing up our canoes, we saw a large flock of more than 40 Fish Crows. While going down Big Alabama Bayou, the forest was O.K. Along the way I ventured off a couple side creeks to explore deeper into the forest. Again, it was more fairly-good forest that is on its way to becoming a nice area. Chris and I did several double-knock playbacks along the way. We planned to split up in the spider web of creeks, meet up were they all converged, and set up camp. We found out that a lot of the creeks didn’t exist or were dry.

After spending time in a lot of bottomland swamps (along the White and Cache River searching for ivory-bills during the winter of 2005-06, working on rail migration through the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, and searching for ivory-bills throughout the entire Southeast) and talking with a lot of people, I am learning that all the manmade channels and levees along the Mississippi River are having drastic effects on these forests.

Down here in Louisiana, most of the forests are drying up because natural flooding can no longer occur. Bottomland trees that need periodic flooding are starting to die off. All these levees have created lakes where people build houses and moor houseboats to enjoy the water. Instead of going through a natural cycle of filling up and drying up, these lakes remain a constant height. This causes almost all of the cypress in these lakes to be stunted and start dying off because they don’t have the occasional dry period they need to grow and for new cypress to start growing. River channelization also deepens the river, creating steep banks to prevent flooding and causing quite a bit of erosion.

I am by no means an expert on bottomland hardwoods, but I feel these factors will be huge problems in the future if we don’t pay attention to what is happening in these forests. Improving this habitat will not only will this make better forest for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, but would help hunting, fishing, and wildlife in general. Maybe a plan for prescribed flooding would be good, since prescribed burning has been very helpful in lots of habitats, including long-leaf pines.


Cedar Waxwing. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

Chris, Utami, and I ended up following the only channel with flowing water. We found some good maturing bottomland hardwood forest along upper Black Creek Bayou, which were excited to explore tomorrow morning. This is where we set up camp for the night and had a great dinner of green curry and s’mores for dessert. For the day, we had high woodpecker densities, including an abundance of Pileated Woodpeckers. Birds for the day were singing Northern Parula’s and a soaring Swallow-tailed Kite.


March 5, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Utami Setiorini

We prepared equipment and packed up supplies for our five-day float trip. Distances in the Atchafalaya are vast, and roads winding and slow, so we spent many hours driving today to get positioned for our float. From the Attakapas Wildlife Management Area headquarters we first drove for nearly four hours to get to the put-in point in Sherburn Wildlife Management Area along Big Alabama Bayou. It was getting dark when we arrived, so we decided to set up camp and cook dinner there. We then drove for another three hours in the dark to leave a vehicle at our take-out point in Bayou Sorrel.

March 4, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Nathan Banfield

Utami got up well before light and drove Martjan to the New Orleans airport  for a flight to Ithaca and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, where he will be spending the next week. Utami worked on data management while Chris and I paddled east of the levee near Lake Fausse State Park. We found an abundance of willows and young cypress with very few bottomland hardwoods. We were looking for an area of larger cypress that we were told was somewhere north of the state park. When we put our canoe back in the water we noticed a set of alligator tracks nearbty. Woodpecker densities were very low.

March 3, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Martjan Lammertink

In the late afternoon we spread out at various locations along the levee north of the Attakapas headquarters for a late afternoon “magic hour” watch. We saw several Little Blue Herons and two Bald Eagles, then were surprised with an eclipse moon rise.

March 2, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Utami Setiorini

Vermillion Flycatcher. Photo by Martjan Lammertink

Early in the morning the refuge manager, Guy Patout, took us out in his johnboat for a quick look at a spot where he saw a large woodpecker recently that he felt was different from a pileated. The habitat looked far from promising, a sparse growth of young cypress. One of the first birds we saw here in the Atchafalaya was a female Vermillion Flycatcher. Guy then had to leave for other work. Much of the remainder of the day was devoted to doing laundry and getting groceries in Morgan City.


March 1, Atchafalaya River Basin, Louisiana

From Martjan Lammertink

We cleaned our living quarters of the past few weeks at Ward Bayou Wildlife Management Area,  Mississippi. In Vancleave we had maintenance work done on the vehicles and we waited out a heavy thunderstorm with tornado warnings. We drove to Attakapas Wildlife Management Area in the southern part of the Atchafalaya, where we made our typical late night arrival.