Trip Report – December 26, 2014-January 3, 2015

Weather conditions were poor for a good part of this trip, but we did the best we could under the circumstances.

I flew from New York to Louisiana on Christmas Day. During a layover in Dallas, I was uninterested in the food offerings in the terminal from which my puddle-jumper flight was slated to depart. I hopped on the tram to the international terminal and found a place to have lunch. There was a young guy sitting at the table next to mine, and we started talking while waiting for our checks. It turns out he grew up within 15 miles of our search area and thinks he saw an IBWO while hunting near his childhood home about ten years ago. I did not press him for details, but it was clear from the conversation that he knows Pileated Woodpeckers; I was also confident that he was sincere. Leaving the coincidence aside, it’s astonishing how many people in this part of Louisiana claim to have seen IBWOs in hardwood bottoms.

During this trip, we also encountered a couple of duck hunters who were already aware of our search. One of them said, “If I saw one, I wouldn’t tell anybody,” which is considerably less worrisome than what I’ve heard people say in other places. The big concern for most is that finding IBWOs means the end of hunting in the area. We assured him that would not be the case. The thing for searchers to stress in this context is that success will mean that more forest is protected.

On Friday, December 26th, Frank Wiley and I went to the northernmost sector, traversed a swath of tornado blowdown, and went to the site of our game cam. There is nothing of great significance to report from that day, except finding the somewhat unusual excavation discussed in this post.  There is a good deal of old suggestive feeding sign in this area, but we found nothing fresh.

We returned to the same location on Saturday and aimed two Reconyx cameras at the target tree that will be shown and discussed in an upcoming post that Frank is writing and will complete when he recovers from the flu. We hope that having two cameras in one location, with different orientations and shooting cycles, will yield better results than deploying just one.

At a little after noon, Frank heard a single knock coming from the blowdown. It was followed by calling from a Barred Owl, a Pileated Woodpecker, and a Red-shouldered Hawk. On the full recording of the ensuing events, I can be heard saying “I thought I heard a knock out that way.” I had forgotten about this until I listened to the recording. Weak possibles are so frequent in our search area that I tend to dismiss them. The knock I heard must have come from the blowdown as well, since I pointed my camera in that direction. Frank did a double knock, and I recorded the “response” discussed in my December 27th post.

We left the swamp ahead of the rain on the 27th, and it rained heavily through the 28th. On the 29th, we were joined by several biologists and divided into two groups. I tried to take my group to the area where I recorded possible ivorybill calls in March 2012, but water levels were too high to do much, so we went to explore some new territory to the northeast. A map of the logging history suggested that some of these woods would be very impressive, but in comparison to some of the other patches, we did not find this to be the case. There is a large area of blowdown that merits further attention, and we know the habitat south of the blowdown to be outstanding; there was a good concentration of old feeding sign near the edges of the blowdown. There are several other bottomland areas in the northern and northeastern sectors that we haven’t visited yet and that appear not to have been logged since the early 20th century (1905, 1910, and 1916).

Frank took the other group into an area that has been surveyed a little more. One member of his team heard a weak possible double knock.

On the 30th, the weather was cloudy, windy, and cold. We took our three remaining guests to the site of the game cams to give them a sense of the scale and the context for some of the images to be discussed in Frank’s post. The general view was that the blowdown might be an important area. We hiked out at a little after 1 pm, and two of our guests departed. We took our remaining guest to the easternmost sector, a narrow corridor of mature bottomland hardwoods around a smaller stream. This area has had concentrations of fresh scaling in past years. At around 3:30 pm, after doing an ADK series, Frank heard two double knocks a couple of minutes apart. Neither our guest nor I heard them, but approximately two minutes later, we both heard a distinct DK that Frank missed. We disagreed about direction but both thought it was more consistent with typical Campephilus double knocks than the one I recorded on the 27th, with a shorter intra-knock interval and a softer second knock. We had no doubt that it was a double knock on a woody substrate.

On the 31st, Frank and I explored a mostly unvisited area, to the south of what Frank calls “Jurassic Park”. This is one of the widest swathes of bottomland hardwoods in the area, and it is very impressive; there are many patches of open canopy forest, with massive superdominant oaks and sweet gums like this one, which has a DBH of 4’2”.

Frank Wiley with massive sweet gum
Frank Wiley with massive sweet gum

We’ve only scratched the surface in this very large sector (which includes Jurassic Park) that our history suggests was last logged in 1908.

There was abundant scaling scattered throughout, mostly old, with one sweet gum (?) showing a large area of fresh work fairly high up.

Old scaling with large exit tunnels
Old scaling with large exit tunnels
Recent scaling that is intriguing but does not quite meet our diagnostic criteria because it shows some signs of layering and has a couple of small foraging pits
Recent scaling that is intriguing but does not quite meet our diagnostic criteria because it shows some signs of layering and has a couple of small foraging pits

While this fresh scaling does not quite match the criteria for what we think is diagnostic, since it shows some signs of layered working and has a couple of small foraging pits, it is still quite extensive, and at least from a distance, the limb appeared to be live or very recently dead. Some large exit tunnels are visible on close examination.

Also, while in this sector, we did an extended playback of the Singer Tract recordings. The playbacks did not generate any suggestive sounds, but several American Crows and two Red-Shouldered Hawks came in to investigate. The crows called, but the hawks did not vocalize. We don’t know whether the response of other birds to ivorybill sounds or imitations thereof is an indication of presence, but we are intrigued by it. It happens frequently in our area. Red-shouldered Hawks, in particular, react strongly to double knocks.

Weather was a severe problem on this trip, preventing us from going into the field on December 27th, January 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. On the 2nd I made a brief visit to the area described by the man I met in the Dallas airport. I was reluctant to go off the main gravel roads in my small, 2-wheel drive rental, and there was no obvious public access to the narrow stream bottom. I drove through a recent clearcut of about 40 acres. This looked to have been a stand of mature hardwoods. There is some measure of connectivity with our search area, and there are numerous smaller riparian corridors in the region. If birds are breeding in this part of Louisiana, there are ample possibilities for movement and dispersal through habitat that is not quite as impressive.

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