I thought it might be useful to aggregate some images of the eight dramatically scaled trees found in our search area in recent months. Some of the photos will be familiar, and some have not been posted before. These trees were found between May 2013 and January 2014 in three distinct sectors of our search area. All were relatively recently scaled and most had easily visible, large insect exit tunnels, which were obvious at a distance. At least one tree was still barely alive when found. When possible, trees were examined, and bark surrounding at least some of the scaled areas was tight; on one of the longer dead snags, some of the bark remained moderately tight – very difficult to remove by hand – 7 months after the tree was found. It’s also worth reiterating that these are not the only examples of scaling we’ve found in the search area, just that this is all relatively fresh and very dramatic work.
We have had more internal conversation about the identification of the hickory trees involved, and it appears they are Bitternut (Carya cordiformis) and/or Pignut Hickories (Carya glabra) based on habitat and bark. Hickories are very difficult to identify without leaves or nuts. Both of these species are described as being tight-barked in the literature. The scaled hickories have been found in areas logged in 1917, 1925, and 1932. It may be of some relevance that bitternuts are the shortest-lived hickories, with a lifespan of approximately 200 years. The oak was near the hickory in the area logged in 1917. The two Sweetgums were in areas logged in 1905 and 1915.
One additional item that may be worthy of note: we have found Hairy Woodpecker work on at least two of these freshly scaled trees but no clear indication that other species have fed on them. We have recorded Hairy Woodpeckers removing small patches of bark where beetle larvae are exiting. In our experience observing several suspected IBWO feeding trees, we’ve found that excavation by other woodpecker species typically does not begin for as much as six months and often more. Thus, we suspect that there may be an association between IBWOs and HAWOs in terms of feeding behavior.
Hickory scaling (with click beetle) found by Frank Wiley, May 2013.
I returned to the Project Coyote search area from January 4-11 and was joined by Frank Wiley for all but one day, Steve Pagans (a retired forester, birder, and Project Coyote team member) for two days, and several ornithologists/field biologists between January 7-11. Some of our guests had intriguing auditory encounters, several of which involved two observers. They were generally very impressed with the habitat and the possible feeding sign we have found in the area. They encouraged us to continue the search, and we anticipate that a number of other professionals will be visiting over the course of this season.
One of the biologists was able to provide us with a logging history of the area, and we learned that many sectors were logged prior to World War I, some of them as long ago as 1900. We don’t have any information about the extent of the cutting that was done at these times. Whatever the case, these tracts of forest have certain characteristics that make them similar to the Singer Tract. Some of the locations where we’ve had many contacts were cut more recently, in the 1930s and ‘40s; however, even these areas have a good deal of standing dead wood.
We experienced some extreme weather during the trip, with low temperatures hovering just over the single digits early in the week and highs nearing 70 later on. When temperatures were low, flooded areas were covered by at least a quarter inch of ice, which made the going very difficult. Nevertheless, we were able to explore a good deal of new territory, some of which was very impressive. There are still sizeable tracts of very mature timber that we have thus far been unable to reach, including a number of locations that were logged in the first decade of the twentieth century.
We found a new feeding tree approximately .75 miles north of our previous northernmost find. While the terrain prevented us from reaching the tree itself, the work appears to be fresh, very extensive, and of the type I consider to be diagnostic; there was a good deal of other suggestive if somewhat less impressive scaling in this area, although most of it was not particularly fresh. Steve has been able to identify the species of eight of the top-grade feeding trees found this year. Five are hickories; two are sweetgums, including the one we found last Friday (pictured below); and one is an oak, probably a Texas red (Nuttall).
I had a possible sighting on Thursday, January 9th, shortly after doing an ADK series.
Over the past several months, we’ve become increasingly aware of a mystery. Woodpeckers are abundant in our search area, but it is very difficult to find cavities of any kind –whether pileated, red-bellied, or red-headed, let alone ivory-billed. We have even encountered this difficulty in defended Pileated Woodpecker territories. We did find a cavity start in a promising snag that contains an older irregularly shaped cavity. We have had some problems with game cam failure recently but plan to place one on this tree (which is very close to a heavily scaled snag that we’ll continue to monitor) once we’re sure it’s operating properly.
I will be unable to return until June at the earliest and may not do so until fall; however, either Frank or I will post updates if there are any significant new developments.
I’ve discussed this issue in depth with someone who’s very familiar with Tanner’s notes, the Allen and Kellogg paper, etc., although not with the LSU map. I am now persuaded Tanner concluded that nests III and IV from 1935 were not nests after all and that he assigned the birds involved to Titepaper (Nest III) and Bayou Despair (Nest IV). Nest IV is apparently one that Kuhn found but was unable to re-locate. It’s still unclear why there’s no mention the ’34 nest.
It’s very difficult to piece together this fragmentary information, and the monograph muddies the waters a bit by presenting the home ranges of the birds as being quite discreet, perhaps a good deal more than they were in fact. I’m also left to wonder whether the “nests” that Tanner excluded were actually roosts, which seems the likeliest explanation. If this is so, the roosts would have been well outside the home ranges Tanner identified and closer to the core of the John’s Bayou range than to the core of Titepaper or Bayou Despair.
On further edit: I have now re-read the Allen and Kellogg paper and am convinced that the nest numbered 3 in the Brand photograph is actually from Mack’s Bayou, which Allen and Kellogg described as being in a Pin Oak snag that was found in a natural clearing.