I returned to Louisiana last weekend for four and half more field days and have now spent over two weeks in the new Project Coyote search area. Frank Wiley has been getting out several times a week; we’ve had visits from a few people, and a Louisiana birder has been collaborating with us on a regular basis. This is a challenging time of year; the heat index was well over 100 degrees on my first two field days, and daytime temperatures were consistently over 90. Mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers add to the overall unpleasantness.
Nonetheless, searching in summer is not a pointless undertaking. When I visited in March, I heard and recorded possible kent calls in the same vicinity morning and evening on the 2nd. No calls have been heard since that time, but we have heard numerous double and single knocks (and have recorded some of these) – ambient and in response to ADKs. In many instances, more than one observer has been present; there have also been a number of possible sightings. In the most recent multiple observer incident, Frank Wiley and I heard a very loud ambient single knock. The time was approximately 1:15 pm on Sunday, June 30.
We agree that the knock came from within approximately 60 yards of our location and that the source could not have been anything other than animal; there were no secondary sounds or indications that it was a cracking or falling limb or tree. The terrain precluded us from attempting to follow the sound, but we were able to examine the trees in the immediate vicinity and saw no signs of falling limbs. This is in an area a few miles distant from the main focus of our search, and we have only visited it four times. It is very difficult to reach (the location of the single knock was over 2.5 miles from the nearest parish road.) There have been auditory encounters during three of those four visits; during one of these, a single knock was heard coming from very close to where we heard the knock last Sunday. We are finding that the interesting sounds and the sightings are clustering in certain locations, generally in or near the most mature and remote sections of forest.
We have not found any heavy concentrations of feeding sign, but scaled trees like the one shown in the May 27th post are scattered throughout the area, and I have found at least one scaled tree on most of my field days this year. The one below was in the secondary search area, within .5 miles of where the single knock was heard.
We are also finding examples of high-branch scaling, more reminiscent of what Tanner described, scattered throughout the swamp, although it often appears to be older than the work on the boles of trees (and I find the work on the boles to be of more interest than the high branch work, since I suspect it to be beyond the physical capacity of any other species of woodpecker.)
Because this secondary area is some distance from where we have been focusing, we are hopeful that there may be more than two birds in this swamp. The calls I recorded in March clearly came from two mobile birds, both morning and evening, and some of the knocks have also involved two sources. Thus far, we have had no indication that the sounds in the secondary area have come from two sources; however, the relative number of person hours spent there is small.
There has been no woodpecker activity at all on the camera trap tree shown in the previous post. The tree was barely alive in May and is now dead. We peeled some bark from below the scaled area using a hatchet (not easy to do) and found that the tree is still infested with beetle larvae, so we will continue to monitor it. We found another dying tree (no leaves but with sap under the bark) that had some older scaling near the top and a little very recent but much less extensive work lower down. We hope that whatever is so efficiently removing bark from these trees is just getting started and have placed a second game camera on this one as well. We plan to leave these camera traps in place for the next few months in hopes that patience will be rewarded.
We are very optimistic that conclusive documentation will be obtained in this area, especially since the possible encounter rate has been extraordinarily high over the past several months, and a number of these possible encounters have involved multiple observers, some of them first-rate birders. We will post additional updates when and if more evidence is obtained, or if a non-IBWO source of the unusual scaling is identified. We have decided that there’s no value in posting additional suggestive audio in the absence of something more conclusive. What we’ve recorded is generally consistent with what has been obtained in other areas.