Monday, September 07, 2009


I remained at Moss Island for two more days, with no more hints of the MIMDKWTFII. Bob Ford and one of the TWRA field techs were in the area as well, with similar (non) results. I did make my first explorations into the trail-less wildlands I have dubbed the "southwest woods." Here I found out where all the oaks were hiding, along with sweetgums, pecans, and other diverse bottomland hardwoods. Given this, and whatever had happened along the main road on the 22nd and 23rd, I felt like I should start spreading my effort around more widely across the WMA, rather than focusing so heavily just around Rhodes Lake. It's always hard to know in the case of any bird (assuming the MIMDKWTFII is some sort of bird) that is found repeatedly but not continuously one defined area whether that is because the bird prefers that spot or because the observers are just focusing on that spot and ignoring other areas (Patagonia rest stop effect again).

I made another trip to the site in early May. My results and thinking at this time are summed up in this e-mail I sent to the rest of the crew:
Subject: Moss Island this week
Date: May 9, 2008
To: Scott Somershoe, Melinda Welton, Bob Ford
Cc: "Jacob"

Just returned, saw just about everything but the object of the search. Major movement of migrants. The most impressive event was Wednesday afternoon when I took a long walk through the woods from the barn northeastwards, then around to the far side of Rhodes Lake. The Obion was rising again, and spreading into the forest in that area. All along the edge of the advancing water the warblers, thrushes, and other passerines were actively feeding on the critters fleeing the rising water, concentrating them in the lower 20' or so of the forest and in areas of very open understory. It was the most impressive display of EASILY SEEN migrants I think I have ever encountered away from coastal fallout zones! I had 20 species of warblers on that walk, which didn't even begin until noon, and the majority of the individuals were seen, not heard (singing was pretty quiet). I also had more Gray-cheeked Thrushes in one day than I can every recall having seen south of their boreal nesting grounds, along with plenty of Swainson's and Veeries.

Water levels peaked yesterday evening and were dropping slowly again today. The road was open all the way to the Rhodes Lake turnaround (one small shallow ford just before the lake, with pickerels literally laying in the road on their bellies, dorsal fins sticking up above the water shark-like, grabbing smaller fish that were swept into the road by the current!), but the sill was still underwater and I had to wade in waist deep water on the ATV road to get from the Obion side back to the road side after my warbler-filled hike on Wednesday. Lacking waders, I just held my gear overhead and got wet (it was a warm day). The ATV trail south from the mid-road turnaround on Rhodes Lake road is completely open; the one northeast from the barn is still flooded just a few 100m into the woods.

I covered the areas north of the road from west to east, and the areas south of the road from east of Goosepen road to west of Hushpucket and Forked lakes. East of the lakes, the sloughs were still too deep for hiking. Nothing IBWO-ish to report. Leafout is near 100%, except for the pecans which are less than 50%. Pileated activity is increasing some, but you'd still be hard-pressed to turn up a Hairy for money. Good sunset chorus of drumming (mostly Pileateds) at Rhodes lake, and the sunset sit is much easier now with the road passable. Mississippi Kites and nighthawks now provide aerial entertainment while you sit.

One or two Swainson's Warblers in the turnaround-ATV trail area. Not heard a single Cerulean yet.

I took a few more looks at that large area of hardwoods in the southwest part of the WMA, from Goosepen Road to Great River Road. It is the largest chunk of real mixed hardwood forest on the site, with most of the oaks. It has also been covered the least, probably. Scott had made comments that the habitat there was not very good, but none of the habitat at Moss Island is very good by Congaree/Big Woods standards. To me it looked as good as anywhere else, and actually has quite a number of large (by local standards) oaks, elms, sugarberries, and pecans. I will probably focus there on my next visit, since it has gotten relatively little coverage, and we're not finding much anywhere else.

More thoughts about habitat quality... the areas around Rhodes Lake that were our "hot zone" February-March are mostly Black Willow, Silver Maple, and Cottonwood. I doubt you'll find any reference suggesting that as even close to "good Ivorybill habitat." So if we've got a bird there, we can already throw the habitat books out the window. One thing I have been pondering is this:

Those willows are huge and ancient, for a generally small, short-lived tree. The cottonwoods are also huge and showing their age. I am thinking maybe there is a senescence pulse going on with an age class of willows and cottonwoods, and that has been providing foraging habitat. One thing I have noticed in the last couple of visits: there is no Cypress/Tupelo phase at Moss Island. There are a very few scattered cypress trees, and I have not yet seen a single tupelo. All the trees I thought were tupelos in the winter, like those ones in the sloughs with their nice prominent buttswells and tupelo-like bark, have proven to be green ash now that they are leafed out. My guess is that the cypress/tupelo was completely logged out early in the 20th century, and that scraggly willow-cottonwood-silver maple community grew in to replace it. Now those old, almost even-aged stands of fast-growing pioneer trees are getting to their expiration dates, and becoming a woodpecker smorgasbord. But I doubt they would provide suitable Ivorybill nest sites, even if they provide winter foraging grounds. Hence my continuing interest in the mixed hardwood forests farther west, in spite of the relative lack of detections there.

Just some ramblings


In the middle of May came our annual opportunity to hear S. J. Tucker a.k.a. Skinny White Chick perform. She's a Memphis based singer/songwriter, a tiny woman with an enormous voice. She opened with a set of entirely new music from her latest CD. When she picked up her djembe and started into Firebird's Child, I was mesmerized:
<a href="">Firebird's Child by SJ Tucker</a>
Of course the song has nothing to do with woodpeckers, it's about having the courage to live in your passions. But does make me wonder if perhaps we should use a big-ass djembe as a double knock simulator!

Other posts in this series:


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