Frank Wiley and I have spent the past four days in our search area, beginning on Thanksgiving morning. Before getting into the details, it merits noting that this weekend is the probably the peak of deer season in Louisiana. On Thanksgiving, there were perhaps fifteen or twenty people hunting on the edges of the habitat corridor. We encountered a single person in a tree stand that day, at the edge of the potential habitat. The number of hunters dwindled over the weekend, and on Sunday morning, we heard only one or two distant gunshots and saw a lone pickup truck parked along the parish road, nowhere near the bottomlands where we’re focused. On Thursday, we visited the southern sector, where we’ve spent the most time and have had the most encounters, calling it a day in late morning for Thanksgiving. At dinner, a long-time acquaintance of Frank’s described seeing IBWOs at a location about 10 miles from our search area from which we’ve had another credible-seeming report. We spent Friday through Sunday in the northern sector, which contains some extraordinary habitat, much of it old growth or nearly so. In this sector, sweet gums and oaks of 3-4’ diameter at breast height are not uncommon, and larger trees, like the one pictured, can be found from time to time.
Travel in the northern sector is extremely challenging due to blowdowns and deeply incised sloughs. On Saturday, it took almost the entire day to cover a total of three miles. One impressive feature of the area is the presence of large patches of cane that reaches as much as 15’ in some places. In some parts of the forest, cane is the main component of the understory.
It appears that some places within the northern sector have not been visited by people for several decades. In one apparent old growth area, the only litter we found was a Schlitz beer can and a 16 ounce glass soda bottle, both of which date to the 1980s. There were no shotgun shells or other signs of human presence to be found. Approximately 1/4 mile south we did find a hunter’s flagging that was several years old. This is difficult and seldom visited territory.
At 8:40 on Thursday morning, we heard some distant, intriguing kent-like calls. There were, however, several Blue Jays calling much closer to our location. We then visited the tree shown on the Project Coyote homepage that we found in May 2013. The decay is progressing, and there are many new insect exit tunnels through the remaining bark. It seems significant and mysterious to us that there is no sign of further woodpecker foraging of any kind on the tree. This tree is in within a known Pileated Woodpecker home range, and we believe that if the work were that of a Pileated there would have been multiple return visits by now.
Old feeding sign that has the appearance of the work we believe to be diagnostic is abundant in the northern sector, but we did not find anything that appeared to be fresh. We suspect this may be at least in part a seasonal factor and that scaling of bark is a more central feeding strategy during mating season and until young have fledged. Nonetheless, we were impressed by the abundance of feeding sign. These are several examples. We found the excavation in the last image to be somewhat different from typical Pileated Woodpecker work and therefore somewhat intriguing, although we suspect it was done after the bark had been removed. The wood showed no signs of rot.
We did not hear anything intriguing on Friday, but at 1 pm on Saturday, deep into the remote, untraveled area, we heard two ambient double knocks. The first of these was perhaps the closest to recorded Campephilus DKs I’ve ever heard in the field. Frank heard an additional DK or two that I missed. We then got two or three single knocks in response to a series of ADKs (anthropogenic double knocks). These knocks appeared to come from two sources, moving from slightly northwest of our location toward the south. On our way out of the area, we found an old snag with an intriguing cavity, as well as one being used by a sub-adult Red-headed Woodpecker. We returned on Sunday morning to place a game camera on the tree. At approximately 8:15 am, prior to setting up the camera, we did an ADK series (this within 200-300 yards of where we heard the DKs the afternoon before). We had several knocks, both single and double, in apparent response.
As peak search season approaches, we’re encouraged to have three distinct but connected areas where we’ve found suggestive feeding sign and have had putative encounters. While there have been no sightings in the northern sector, the contact rate is extraordinary, as is the abundance of feeding sign. To be continued . . .
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.
A couple have people have written to say they’re having difficulty hearing the calls on the raw clips from March 2, 2013. I’m posting an amplified version of the morning first clip. The clarinet toots and rustling will be quite loud, but the calls are definitely much easier to hear.
In addition to the calls at 0:03, 0:17, 2:04, 3:36, and 3:47, another much fainter call can be heard at 3:19. This call is so soft as to be barely audible on the unamplified version. This tends to support the strong field impression that the calls came from two distinct sources.
I’ve consolidated what was formerly an independent post with this one, since the point it makes a relatively minor and pertains to a subject area in which my knowledge is very limited.
I’m not able to use Cornell’s Raven sonogram software. I created the sonogram I posted here showing the last calls in the morning of March 2, 2013 series using AudioXplorer, a free program. Frank Wiley has run the first call through Raven (see below), and the results are interesting.
As with the other calls I’ve looked looked at, the duration is under 100 ms. This is consistent with the Singer Tract recordings. If I read Frank’s sonogram correctly, the third harmonic is stronger than the second. I’m no expert and am not unbiased; the readings are very faint, but that’s my impression. If this is correct, the harmonic structure is also similar to the Singer Tract recordings. The base frequency for this call is 925 Hz., while some of the others are slightly lower, approximately 910 Hz. The Singer Tract kents range from approximately 580-790 Hz. with most clustered between 610 and 690, so there is a substantial difference in that regard.
Edited to add: In listening again to various confusion species (most of which I think can be ruled out), I’m struck by the similarity between these calls and the “kek” call of a Cooper’s Hawk. But I don’t think these calls are from Cooper’s Hawks (and I’ve had nesting Coopers’ in the woods behind my house for years); they’re somewhat less harsh and have a slightly airier quality. They’re also unaccompanied by other Cooper’s Hawk calls and aren’t persistent. (And a couple of people don’t hear the similarity that I’m hearing.) While the similarities are not discussed in the monograph, Tanner mistook the calls of a Cooper’s Hawk for an ivorybill in 1937, after the Singer Tract recordings were made (Bales p.102).
This recording includes examples of the Cooper’s Hawk call I’m describing. The base frequency appears to be just over 1000 Hz, since it’s not visible on the sonogram when the slider is set to 1000 Hz maximum.
It’s also worth noting that Kuhn and Tanner seem to have believed they could distinguish the calls of the solitary male, known as “Mack’s Bayou Pete”, from the John’s Bayou birds (Bales pp. 153-157). On one occasion, Tanner wrote that Mack’s Bayou Pete, ” . . . yipped and pecked” (Bales p. 155).
Since summer is here, and things are slow, I’ve reconsidered my decision not to post audio obtained in the course of our searches (although I’m not sure I’ll repost old audio from the original search area.) We did not record anything of note during 2013-2014, although we did have a number of auditory encounters. It’s not feasible to keep a recorder running at all times, so when interesting ambient sounds occur, it’s only possible to capture them when they go on for an extended period. In these situations, it’s a judgment call as to whether to approach the source of the sounds, try to record them, or a mix of the two.
These recordings were made on March 2, 2013, and I have included my notes to provide details and context (location redacted.) On the morning clip, the calls can be heard at approximately 0:03, 0:17, 2:04, 3:36, and 3:47 (two calls in very close succession with the interval almost indiscernible to the ear but evident in the sonogram). On the afternoon clip, the only call captured is at approximately 0:52. On the morning clip, there are toots on a clarinet mouthpiece at approximately 0:25 and 1:30, so beware if you’re listening on headphones. The first clip can be played directly from this page. Click on the link to play the second in its own window. I can only hear the call on the second clip with headphones.
Although the duration of the calls appears to be consistent with the Singer Tract recordings, the base frequency is considerably higher, approximately 920 hz.
John Henry and I were ***** on Saturday March 2, 2013. Conditions were mostly cloudy and cold.* Winds were strong (gusts probably around 20 MPH and not many birds were calling). The morning had been active, but as winds picked up, birds went quiet. At approximately 10:15 am, several crows were calling loudly, but I heard 2 intriguing calls behind the crows. I asked John to stop and be quiet. The calls continued, sporadically, for the next 30-45 minutes. I was able to record some of them. We both estimate the distance at around 200 yards and agree that two birds were involved. We both agreed that the calls were mobile and over the course of the sequence, they came from at least three directions. We tried to follow the calls but did not see anything.
Most calls were singles, but in a couple of instances, a first call was followed by a second one within a couple of seconds. The pitch of the second call seemed lower. The duration of the calls seemed to be short. They lacked the intensity of the Singer Tract recordings, but were clearly not Blue Jays, nuthatches, or tree squeaks.
I blew on a clarinet mouthpiece. The calls continued, but neither of us had the impression that there was a response.
At the end of the sequence, John heard two additional calls that I missed, and we found large bark chips at the base of a tree that was in the vicinity from which he had heard the calls. We had walked through this exact location before the calls began and had not noticed the chips (which I normally would have done.)
Between us, we heard a minimum of 18 Ivory-billed Woodpecker-like calls in the morning.
We left the area and returned late in the afternoon. At approximately 5 pm, we were at the spot where we found the bark chips. At this time we heard approximately a dozen more of the same calls and were able to record a couple. The first call I heard seemed a little off, as the note seemed to be doubled, one in immediate succession after the other.** This only happened with the first one. The others were virtually identical to those heard earlier in the day. A white-breasted nuthatch called during this sequence, and there was no possibility of confusion.
*The two nearest weather stations reported lows of 27 and 30 and highs of 47 and 49 respectively. Temperatures in the search area were likely slightly lower. When the morning calls were recorded, temperatures were in the mid-30s.
**This was what I wrote at the end of the day, without consulting any literature. Of course doubled calls are described by Tanner and occur on the Singer Tract recordings.
We are not claiming these as Ivory-billed Woodpecker calls, but several ornithologists have been unable to identify them. The sound and base frequencies are consistent with calls recorded in the old Project Coyote search area.
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 made a brief visit to our search area from November 14-16. Because I was alone, I mostly avoided the more difficult and remote locations and focused on more accessible areas where possible encounters have taken place. This includes our current camera traps. The weather was a problem – steady moderate rain from 7:00-10:30 am on the 15th and early morning drizzle, moderate winds, and cloudy skies on the 16th, which was also the opening day of duck season. On that day, I ventured farther into the swamp and encountered one duck hunter in an area that appears to get very little human traffic. There was frequent gunfire throughout the morning and into the afternoon; however, even on this day when people were hunting for deer and ducks, I saw only four trucks parked along the parish roads, met two people on the road (one of them having just rescued two hunters who had gotten lost.) This was roughly the same level of traffic as we encountered on the opening day of squirrel season in October. Compared to other places I’ve visited in Louisiana, this is a fairly low level of human pressure, although between the gunfire and the weather, avian activity was suppressed on the 16th. Even the crows were less vocal than usual.
On the morning of the 14th, temperatures were in the mid-20s at sunrise. I visited the camera traps and found what may have been fairly fresh bark chips at the base of one; however, I couldn’t identify any areas of fresh scaling on the tree. Frank Wiley will be servicing the cameras and changing the cards in the near future. Time will tell whether anything was captured this time around. At 9:15, near one of the camera traps, I heard three kent-like calls from the ENE. They sounded very clarinet-like in tone, more so than some of the other calls we’ve recorded. The calls were very close together temporally, and I wrote that the cadence was “not quite what I’d expect.” At 12:55, I was in a different location and heard two more intriguing calls from the SSW (also SSW of where I was at 9:15). A Blue Jay was calling roughly simultaneously from a different direction. I consider both of these incidents ‘weak possibles’ because I was alone and because the calls were so few in number.
On the 15th, I spent most of the morning in the field despite the rain, giving up at 9:30 am. The skies cleared at around 11, and I spent part of the afternoon exploring some habitat to the east of our hot zone. One of our group members has made several visits to this section, but I had only spent one morning there. Because it was unfamiliar territory, I chose to walk the bank of the bayou that bisects it. The understory along the bayou is dense and predominantly comprised of holly, which made for tough walking (and also made it difficult to look for and photograph feeding sign.) I was only able to go about ¼ mile in an hour at which point I turned back. Although I covered very little ground I did find an abundance of feeding sign, including a recently dead snag that had been scaled in the manner that I think is diagnostic, and multiple examples of the scaling on higher branches that is consistent with what Tanner described. The high branch scaling appears to be older, but the work on the snag seemed recent, with fresh bark chips on the ground, so it may be an active feeding site. I’ve included some images to illustrate.
Due in part to weather conditions (which made looking for feeding sign a challenge) and gunfire I did not see or hear anything significant on the 16th, although I went deeper into the swamp following a familiar route. About 2.5 miles in, I came very close to stepping on a large cottonmouth as I stepped over a downed tree. Its mouth was wide open, and it was ready to strike when I spotted it. Just a reminder of how dangerous it can be to wander around alone in the swamp.
East-Central Louisiana Sightings and Auditory Encounters
Our search effort was inspired by what seemed to be a credible report from a resident of rural East-Central Louisiana. Frank Wiley, a Louisiana native, has collected additional reports from other locals. While we recognize the risk in crediting such reports, we have no reason to question the sincerity of the people involved, and several of them are detailed and have the ring of truth. Some people in this part of Louisiana continue to use archaic common names for both Ivory-billed and Pileated Woodpeckers, and the distinction that certain locals make between these species lends added credibility to their reports.
During almost weekly visits to the area, Frank Wiley has had multiple sightings, one of which involved three birds. In two instances, he obtained photographs in conjunction with the sightings, but both involved birds in flight at some distance. The photographs are suggestive but do not show definitive field marks. We see no value in making them public at this time, although they may be included in a future, comprehensive report. In addition, Wiley has heard suggestive knocks and kent calls on numerous occasions, and has recorded a number of the knocks.
On November 25, Wiley 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. Wiley 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, duck-like wing beats, at a distance of approximately seventy-five feet. On the preceding morning, we heard but did not record an extended series of calls, lasting approximately ten seconds, and coming from the general vicinity of the November 25 sighting. 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, available at:
Between January 24-26, 2010, Bill Benish, Ross Everett, and Frank Wiley had 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 apparent kent calls on January 25th and 26th. Selections from the recordings of the extended January 25th encounter, the calls captured on the remote device, and Bill Benish’s double knock, along with commentary and sonograms are will be uploaded to this new site in the near future.
Field notes were made at the time of or shortly after most of these sightings and auditory encounters and will be made available to the proper authorities should conclusive documentation be obtained.