Trip Report – January 4-11, 2014

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).

Photo by Steve Pagans
Photo by Steve Pagans

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.