In Memory: Edith Kuhn Whitehead

With the greatest sadness, we learned today that our friend Edith “Doe Doe” Kuhn Whitehead passed away due to kidney failure on April 22, 2015. She was the daughter of J.J. Kuhn, without whom James Tanner’s study of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker would have been nearly impossible. Her recollections of her father and his work with Tanner and the ivorybills were entertaining and provided us with many insights about the birds.

She crossed over quietly in her sleep after gall bladder surgery the previous day. She had a long, full, happy life and will be fondly remembered by her many friends and family. We will keep them in our thoughts and prayers during this time of sadness.

Godspeed Mrs. Edith.


Apples to Apples and Sweet Gums to Sweet Gums

I’ve been corresponding with Mississippi-based searcher Christopher Carlisle both privately and on Facebook, and our conversations have inspired some additional thoughts on bark scaling and led me to revisit Cornell’s 2006-2007 final report, which includes two interesting photos of Pileated Woodpecker work on sweet gums taken by Martjan Lammertink in Congaree National Park. I was familiar with the document, which is available here but had forgotten about the images. Scroll to page 30 (some additional images of interest from Texas appear on the following page.)

While it’s a tiny sample, there may be some value in comparing the Congaree photos with the work on two heavily scaled sweet gums in the Project Coyote search area.

Correction: the tree in the second image is a hickory.

Photo by Steve Pagans

Photo by Steve Pagans

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While it was not possible to examine this scaling up close, the bark appears to be tightly adhering on both trees, and the decay state is likely comparable to the Congaree sweet gum. The work in both cases is on the boles, and the size of the trees involved seems to be roughly comparable. Beyond that, the scaling is dramatically different in a number of ways. Most obviously, the suspected IBWO work from our search area is far more extensive than the PIWO work from Congaree (I suspect the small patches of scaling in the lower photo are the work of a Hairy Woodpecker). As I’ve discussed, PIWOs are not well-suited to scaling bark, anatomically, and it’s not a preferred or efficient feeding strategy – accounting for 23% of observed foraging behavior in Tanner and 7% in Patricia Newell’s more recent and PIWO-focused study.

The most significant difference though is in the appearance of the edges. When Pileated Woodpeckers scale tight-barked hardwoods, they typically remove the bark in layers, as in these images. This layered scaling is also very apparent in the photos from Congaree, and it’s absent from our sweet gums as well as from the extensively scaled oaks and hickories that we found in 2013-2014. Our trees show very extensive scaling with no indication that bark has been removed in stages; the edges are clean and incised and very large areas have been stripped, down to the sapwood. If Pileated Woodpeckers were the cause, it would be reasonable to expect that there would be some sign of layering, especially given the surface area involved, which far exceeds that shown in the Congaree photos or any others I know of (on hardwoods) from the Cornell searches.

The high branch work from Texas is intriguing, but the resolution of the images is insufficient to determine whether this clean scaling or whether there’s some excavation, especially on the lower portions. In addition the work is not nearly as extensive as some of the high branch work we’ve found.

 

Edited to add: I’m more intrigued by extensive work below the crown, as in these images. One tree (in the third photo is), definitely a sweet gum is from the old search area. The other tree, which I believe is an oak, is within a hundred yards of where I recorded kent-like calls in 2013, although the photos were taken a year before.

 

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There are several other images of sweet gum scaling from Congaree in this report from the mobile search team, but this work does not involve the removal of bark from large contiguous sections of trunk, and the resolution is not sufficient to tell whether the bark has been removed in stages, although it appears to be in at least one of the four photographs. If I were to find it, I would assess this work as being mildly interesting but would not get excited about it in the absence of other indicators.

To return to my exchange with Chris, it gave me the opportunity to revisit this material, to give some more thought to my hypothesis about feeding sign, and to make some adjustments:

  • I think scaling on pines, even live ones, is physically possible for a pileated, although the bark will often show signs of having been removed in layers, meaning the edges will not appear as clean. Nonetheless, I do not think there’s a way of reliably determining what species has scaled a pine in the absence of a direct observation and suspect that even HAWOs and RBWOs can scale extensively even on recently dead pines.
  • For the work that I think is diagnostic, the species that I think are most reliable are oaks, sweet gums, and hickories. I think that the distinction is an easy one to make once you’ve seen the work firsthand.
  • In the old Project Coyote search area, we had persimmons, hackberrries, and honey locusts that had very suggestive scaling and lots of it. But the bark on honey locusts tends to loosen early in the decay process. Hackberry bark fractures, and while persimmon bark is thick and tight, it tends to loosen when the wood is still very hard. These qualities complicate the analysis, though I’m confident some of that work was done by IBWOs. There was a vast difference between the size of bark chips from known PIWO foraging on honey locusts and suspected IBWO foraging on the same species.
  • Extensiveness and quantity (concentrations) are important to look for too, especially when there are a lot of pines or an abundance of more easily scaled hardwoods. For this analysis, I include looking at high branch work but otherwise don’t ascribe a great deal of importance to “Tanneresque” sign, unless there’s a lot of it, and it’s associated with what I think is diagnostic.

I am not suggesting that this is the only way that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers forage. There may be seasonal and regional variations, but I suspect that some of this type of work will be present in any area where IBWOs are resident. It’s not necessarily easy to find. I agree with Fangsheath, from ibwo.net, that the failure to do so should not be treated as evidence of absence, but I’m convinced that finding this very specific type of work is compelling evidence that IBWOs are present.

 


Singer Tract Nests – Addendum

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.


About Project Coyote

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.

Mark Michaels

Frank Wiley

April 21, 2013