The View from Here

Back to Bruce Creek
March 24, 2009, 2:00 pm
Filed under: Adventures, Ivory-Billed Woopeckers

I spent some time last week in the Choctahatchee River basin in northern Florida, looking for Ivory-Bills again. We had no luck. We heard no double knocks or kent calls, and had no sightings of Ivory-Bills. This is more like the typical experience of Ivory-Bill hunters, unlike my almost instant gratification of last year, when an Ivory-Bill practically landed on my head in the first 24 hours of my first effort to see them. We did meet another woodpecker hunter who said he heard kent calls on the Appalachacola River.
We enjoyed perfect weather, clear blue skies and 70 degrees. There was lots of Pileated woodpecker activity, which made us catch our breath occasionally, as we saw large woodpeckers with flashes of white and black amid the emerging foliage. The Pileateds seemed to be laughing at us, as if they enjoyed getting us excited. When we hunted down the sounds or glimpses that we thought just might be an IBW, we were rewarded with the laughing call of the Pileated. There were at least 4 pairs in the area. Other WP activity included Red-Bellied and Sapsuckers. The warblers were active,  mostly Parulas. The Barred owls were especially vocal, and I was able to get up close and personal with a couple of them. One even posed as I spent a few hours painting him and his environment from the kayak.

While I watched birds of all sorts as I sat in my kayak, I pondered the difficulty of getting a good shot of an Ivory-Bill. Skeptics like to point to the lack of unambiguous photo evidence. I suspect that these are people who have never made the attempt themselves. Just out of curiousity, I decided to try hard for a decent photo of a Pileated woodpecker using the same technique that I was using for Ivory-Bills. The technique consists of sitting in the kayak for a very  long time in one spot, or drifting quietly downstream. The Pileateds were very obvious and vocal the entire time we were on Bruce Creek and other spots. Although I had several good looks that allowed a positive ID, there were zero opportunities for photographs. All of the sightings were over before you could say “woodpe-“, let alone sight in and focus, set exposure, etc.  A large woodpecker crossing the stream in front of me would be visible for 2 seconds or less. Granted, it was a bit more difficult because the trees were leafing out, but I didn’t find it much easier in January last year. Using autofocus in a wooded setting is impossible, as the camera wants to focus on the background of trees and branches rather than the bird. I tried presetting the focus at a likely distance, and hoped it would be good enough for a shot from the hip. Lots of people have tried staking out a likely tree, but for whatever reason, have not succeeded.

A painting I did from the Kayak at bruce Creek 12x9 acrylic

A painting I did from the kayak at Bruce Creek 12x9 acrylic

A Green Anole at Bruce Creek landing

A Green Anole at Bruce Creek landing

Other treats included some reptile activity, with a sighting of a large corn snake, lots of green anoles, and plenty of little mud turtles. The muds like to climg several feet up overhanging branches. When I approached in the kayak, they’d do a back flip into the water. I only saw cooters far back in the swamp forests away from the main channel. I suspect that they are used for target practice by local boys with 22’s. They should have been present in fairly large numbers along the main channel.

We talked to a local named Jerry, an employee of Mosquito Control and a life long(60+ years) resident of the area. He says he has seen the Ivory Bills many times.  He told us that he thought we were spending too much time in the river swamps. He says the birds prefer more upland forests, especially cypress bottoms surrounded by upland hardwoods. He told us about suitable places in the area including such a spot where he has seen the birds on three occasions. The problem is that many of these areas are now in private hands and entry is restricted. He also says that the birds started making a comeback in the late seventies, after DDT was banned. He remarked that the songbirds and others, like the Ivory Billed, had virtually disappeared for awhile in the late sixties.  Another local we talked to said he thought that few locals would tell us if they did see an IBW because they fear losing access to their traditional hunting grounds. “They’ll turn this place into a national park and kick us out.”   That makes me wonder if they’d also shoot Ivory-Bills for the same reason, similar to instances where landowners in other places, fearing take-over by the Park Service, have destroyed habitats to make them worthless to the  Parks.

Bruce Creek in the morning

Bruce Creek in the morning

Barred Owl at Bruce Creek

Barred Owl at Bruce Creek


2 Comments so far
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…Your paintings are Exquisite………

Comment by steve whalen


Comment by herps2art

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