Last year, a reader requested that I post some personal reminiscences about Frank. I didn’t get around to doing it then but thought I’d offer something on this sad anniversary.
Frank and I met through the Ivorybill Researchers’ Forum (www.ibwo.net) in the fall of 2008. I made my first trip to search with him in Louisiana shortly thereafter. Our collaboration gelled in the summer of 2009 when he began to visit our old search area. I visited him again in November 2009. In January 2010, I came up with the name Project Coyote as a play on his name and to reflect his central role in the effort.
On the surface, Frank and I were probably as different as the worlds in which we grew up. Frank was one of the smartest, most paradoxical people I’ve ever known. He was a very well-read autodidact whose writing style was deceptively at odds with the way he presented himself – as a stone cold, 2nd amendment loving, libertarian redneck, albeit a nerdy math, physics, sci-fi, and Star Trek loving one. I’m a very liberal New Yorker of Jewish ancestry with degrees in law and American Studies.
Despite our differences, we found more common ground politically than I could have anticipated, and he’d sometimes say, “Don’t tell anyone I said this, but . . .” We shared a distaste for spectator sports and also found common ground musically. Though he loved Pink Floyd first and foremost, and I grew up in the ’70s Punk scene, we both enjoyed rootsier genres, and some of our most enjoyable, non-field times involved tequila and singing together. Frank was a good singer and gifted all-around musician; I managed to harmonize decently on background vocals. The Stones’ “Dead Flowers” was a favorite.
But what really united us was the ivorybill, and more specifically, a shared sense that figuring out what J.J. Kuhn knew was the key to documenting the bird.
While there are echoes of the Tanner-Kuhn dynamic in our story – at least to the extent that, like Tanner, I’m from New York, with a graduate degree from an Ivy League school, and Frank, like Kuhn, was from Louisiana with no formal academic training – we were doing something different. We were equal partners, trying to solve a mystery together, bringing different, complementary skills to the effort.
Still, when we were approached about the possibility of doing a reality show (I’m thankful every day that didn’t happen), I described us as “the odd couple of the ivorybill world”. In retrospect, the oddness was more superficial than substantial; we may not have been the only such pair; and odd may be commonplace when it comes to the ivorybill. In any case, I miss my friend, our shared dedication to the search, the music, and our many running jokes – especially the ones about stump holes and the ubiquitous Plate 11.
Two weeks ago, Frank went into the hospital. About two days after admission, he was taken to the ICU with a systemic infection. He started showing signs of improvement on Monday this week and was able to go off the ventilator as of yesterday. (I was there from Tuesday 1/24-Tuesday 1/31.) I know Frank to be a fighter, but even so, he’s doing far better than I expected. His family is asking for prayers, so if that’s something you do, it would be appreciated. My thoughts are with him and with them.
When I began blogging on WordPress, I mentioned that I’d be posting sound clips from our old search area that were available on the old Project Coyote site, but I’ve been somewhat undecided about it and wasn’t sure I could track down all the material, a problem I’ve now solved. The most interesting audio was obtained between January 24-26, 2010. Archived selections from those recordings and accompanying sonograms are available through the Wayback Machine, and you can click on the links to hear the clips. Some of these were recorded in the field on handheld devices, while others came from remote units provided by Mark Gahler.
In addition, to these selections, I thought I’d take the opportunity to post Frank Wiley’s entire recording of the extended auditory encounter that took place just after noon on January 25th so that readers can hear the full recording as well as the extracts. Six people were present when this incident occurred, and it’s unusual in recent IBWO history, not only for the number of people present but also because putative double knocks and kent calls were heard during a single event that appeared to involve at least two birds. See below for a little more about the old search area, how we got there, and what transpired between Summer 2009 and January 2010. This is the same area where we obtained the suggestive camera trap photos. The adjoining parcel was logged between November 2010 and January 2011, and there has been little indication that IBWOs may be present since that time, although we suspect they may still be using one or more of the nearby Wildlife Management Areas. Frank’s complete 58 minute field recording should be of interest to the dedicated among you. If you’re wearing headphones, note that there are some clarinet toots at the beginning; a possible kent call follows soon thereafter:
The search effort was inspired by what seemed to be a credible report from a resident of rural East-Central Louisiana. This individual, who passed away shortly after Frank Wiley arrived on the scene, had attempted to report sightings of ivorybills for a number of years but had been dismissed. When Frank interviewed him, he was not only insistent that birds were present in the area, he corrected the drawings that are included in the Louisiana Game Guide.
The red shapes at the upper right are his rendition of the difference in shape between and ivorybill and pileated wings. He showed the crest as somewhat more erect in flight and perched. Perhaps most significant, he accurately depicted the female crest as considerably more erect than the game guide’s version (the red pen was used to highlight the differences not to show color.) I did not have the privilege of speaking to him, but Frank Wiley has told me he was very emphatic about these corrections.
During almost weekly visits to the property and surrounding locations between August and November 2009, Frank had several possible sightings, one of which involved three birds. In two instances, he obtained photographs, but these are of birds in flight at some distance and do not show definitive field marks. In addition, he heard suggestive knocks and kent calls on numerous occasions and recorded a number of the knocks.
I made my first visit to the location in November, 2009 On November 24th, 2010, during a stakeout of the location where the first of these photographs was obtained, we heard but did not record an extended series of calls, lasting approximately ten seconds, and coming from the general vicinity of the sighting described below. These calls were unlike others that have been recorded by contemporary searchers and resembled those documented by Tanner and Allen at 03:14 on the Singer Tract recordings.
On November 25, 2009, Frank and I were staking out a feeding tree when a large woodpecker flew into the top of nearby pecan. The bird was obscured by foliage but was moving around in the canopy as I tried to observe it. Frank moved and flushed the bird, and I got a brief glimpse as it fled, but only enough to notice white on the wings that appeared to be too extensive for a pileated. What was perhaps more significant about this sighting is that we both heard loud, rapid, Wood Duck-like wing beats, at a distance of approximately seventy-five feet. Later that day, I flushed a pileated at much closer range and the wingbeats were considerably softer and muffled sounding. We placed a camera trap in this location and the second image on this page was obtained there a week later.
Between January 24-26, 2010, Bill Benish, Ross Everett, and Frank Wiley had possible sightings. Everett, McCaslin, and I heard possible kents on the morning of January 25, and shortly after noon on that day, all six participants had an extended auditory encounter that was recorded in part by Wiley, Benish, and me on separate recording devices; a couple of minutes had elapsed before team members were able to activate their recorders. All team members heard multiple kents and double knocks during this incident. We believe that two birds responded to the banging of a tin roof on a deer stand in the vicinity. Just before sunset on January 26, Benish heard and recorded a double knock. In addition, Mark Gahler’s remote recording devices captured possible kent calls on January 25th and 26th.
In 2009, we learned of a private landowner in East-central Louisiana who claimed to have Ivory-billed Woodpeckers on his property. This individual seemed to be very credible, correctly pointing out several inaccuracies in sketches published in the Louisiana Hunting Guide. Over the next two years, there were a number of possible sightings and auditory contacts. Frank Wiley, Mark Michaels, and other Project Coyote volunteers gathered evidence – camera trap photosgraphs, recordings of suggestive calls and double knocks, images of extensive bark scaling on living and recently dead trees in the vicinity. This material was originally posted on a website that is no longer operational. We have received a number of requests to revive the site and have decided to do so here. Pages that included images will be available in PDF format.
In 2011, a large parcel of adjacent forest was logged, and while we believe that ivorybills are still present in the vicinity of the original Project Coyote search area, the birds do not seem to be frequenting our old hot zone. For this reason, we have shifted our focus to other parts of the state. We remain optimistic that the species is present in multiple Louisiana locations and that conclusive documentation will eventually be obtained, but this may well take years.
April 21, 2013