Thursday, August 20, 2009

Irrational Exuberance

The Mass Invasion had only fanned the flames of the frenzy we had already been in. As seems to be the norm, it yielded neither The Prize nor nothing. Scott in particular was trying to make plans like a mad man while also getting more field time in himself. As he put it, it was hard to leave that swamp unattended.

Once again, the Big Question loomed: What the hell is really going on here? We remained at a loss for a simple, ordinary explanation for the double knocks and their pattern of occurrence. And now we had our very own "brief glimpse" sighting to add to the "intriguing audio encounters." Our story was so much like all the others -- Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, you name it. Our hot zone seemed as hot as any of the others, especially considering our limited person-power and that this had not even been going on for four weeks. In terms of spatial extent, our "detections" (of whatever it was) were even more tightly clustered than was typical, so far spanning only about 1 km from southernmost to northernmost. This raised thoughts that we hesitated to speak out loud.

The wildest possibility, of course, was that we might have stumbled into a nesting territory (of a bird we had not yet even definitely seen...). At the very least it suggested there might be a bird regularly roosting within a quite small area; the one DK heard by Scott and Melinda 20 minutes before sunset sure did suggest this possibility. Leafout was fast approaching; spring migrants were already trickling in and buds were cracking. Scott figured we had two weeks left to get the bird before the canopy closed and the mosquitoes came out. Everyone was pretty hyped up.

Underneath all this exuberance was the constant, droning self-reminder that we did not actually know what we were hearing, we had no definitive evidence of anything, all we had were strange sounds in the woods. I began referring to the object of the quest as the "Moss Island Mystery Double Knocker (Whatever It Is)" which I will abbreviate as MIMDKWTFII from here on. But, given the magnitude of what it would mean if it turned out that our wild hopes were actually true and the MIMDKWTFII really was an Ivorybill, or even a pair of Ivorybills, we felt compelled to act as though this hope were fact. This meant get the bird. Nail that sucker down. Don't let it get away. Never mind that larger crews with far more time to work with had failed repeatedly in the exact same quest in other places. You have to act as though you will be the lucky ones otherwise failure is guaranteed.

Meanwhile, the water continued to rise slowly. It had entered firmly into the zone of maximum inconvenience: too high to drive or hike, but not high enough to avoid cumbersome portages. Scott discovered the full reality of this when it took him two hours each way to get from his truck to Rhodes Lake, paddling, dragging, and portaging. On the plus side, Highway 88 was flooded and closed, meaning no traffic and no truck noises. Plus the turkey hunters were pretty much flooded out of the woods as well, so no gunshots either.

Scott worked out a plan with the Arkansas project for some of their full-time staff to come spend 4 or 5 days at Moss Island, doing things their way. I raised an eyebrow or two at the impression that they were helicoptering in for the glory at the end of the battle, but of course it had much more to do with the fact that we had something (whatever it was) going on while they had pretty much nothing going on in Arkansas. Also, their high water was much harder to work with than ours. Initially Scott and Allan Mueller of the Arkansas Nature Conservancy were going to be the only non-Cornell people on the crew, then it was going to be Allan for half the week and me for the other half of the week, then it wound up being both Allan and me for the whole time, then I'm not sure what the final plan was. I was set to arrive back on site on the afternoon of April Fool's Day.

Other posts in this series:


At 8:36 AM, Blogger thehoatzin said...

Is there any point to this?


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