Thursday, October 08, 2009

Banging on Trees, Tilting at Windmills

Making loud noises

It turned out that Scott did not have the double knock simulators with him on this trip. He and I were both planning on heading home at midday the next day, leaving the swamp in Dave's hands. The plan we hatched was to start the morning with sits along the lakeshore. If that yielded nothing, starting at about 9:00 Scott and I would work our way southwards through the woods on the east side of the lake while Dave was stationed on the ATV trail east of the sill. Scott and I would periodically beat on trees as hard as we could with whatever we could find handy in the woods.

The morning sits yielded nothing, so we shifted to the second part of the scheme as planned. Scott and I did our thing, never really feeling satisfied with the quantity of sound we got from whacking snags with branches:

In the shots where Scott is pointing his camera at the forest floor, he is photographing an American Woodcock that was hoping to remain invisible.

When we met up with Dave at the south end of our transect, none of us had seen or heard anything of note. Dave had not been able to hear our tree whacking until just at the very end when we were only about 100m from him. Obviously we were not even coming close to the power of the real noises that I had heard easily from 500m away. In discussions about what to do next, I felt strongly that we should try to keep someone on sit in that patch of woods as much as possible, indefinitely, Given that we now had one full-timer and four part-timers on site, it seemed like a practical thing to do and still leave person-hours to be deployed in other areas.

Our next rendezvous was being planned for Sunday or Monday, March 1-2. However, on February 28th another winter storm of mythic proportions moved in to west Tennessee. This time it was snow, upwards of 18" of it in some areas, with drifts measured in feet. All roads in the area quickly became impassible in this world where sand and salt trucks are scarce and snow plows almost nonexistent. The stretch of I-40 from near Jackson to Memphis became a grand jumble of stranded cars and jackknifed trucks which was not cleared for several days; this is part of my route to Moss Island. Dave had gone to visit family in Arkansas for the weekend; he finally attempted to return to Tennessee on Sunday. He had to use his four-weel drive on the Interstate, at one point found himself pointed backwards in the median, and wound up in a hotel still in Arkansas at the end of the day. I had visions of sitting in the woods amongst balls of slush raining from the trees, as I was seeing at home where we only got 6" of snow, which made the thought of a long sit in the snow-covered swamp uninviting.

Dave and Melinda with their 4WD vehicles made it back by Monday, March 2, I with my rear-wheel drive pickup chose to wait one more day and headed out for a day trip on March 3. I was unable to spend the night on site as my wife was away from home for the week, leaving no one to tend to the various animals. On route, I took note of the rapidly-increasing numbers of gashes in the mud on the median and shoulders of I-40 as I approached Jackson; these were what was left from the great heap of snowbound trucks from three days previous. The snow drifts on the roadsides began to appear after Jackson, and as I traversed Crockett County the residual snow drifts and cornices along the roadside gave an even better imitation of eastern Colorado than usual.

On arrival at Moss Island I found the road snow-packed and icy. In Tennessee most people would read this to mean "impassable without 4WD." But after a decade in the mountain west, to me this meant "open and passable with reasonable care." The main thing I worried about was the parking turnaround at the end of the road. If it was icy enough, my 2WD pickup could have a little trouble getting traction when it was time to head home. At the end of the road I met up with Dave and he agreed to make sure I was out before leaving for the day, so I would not be stranded on an unplanned overnight with animals at home that needed tending.

I spent my entire time that day sitting in the snowy woods on the east side of Rhodes Lake. It was a cold day to be sitting motionless, with the temperature around freezing all day. Welcome to early March in Dixie. It was also an immensely quiet day, with a five-hour sit yielding only 4 Pileateds:

Dave and Melinda continued working the area through the week. No one heard or saw anything suspicious; it had been over a week since my double knock encounter. As feared and expected, followup was yielding nothing. I returned for a day trip on Friday, March 6, making the long hike from the Barn through the woods all the way to the Rhodes Lake sill. I had pre-arranged to meet up with Dave there so he could give me a ride back to my truck at the barn. Dave's available time was rapidly running out; he would be heading back towards California in just a few days. The weather had warmed dramatically (up to around 20C) and the snow was nothing but a memory. The wind, however, was quite real, and seriously hampering ear birding. My main hope was that somewhere on the hike I would see that bold white flash; but it didn't happen.

Other posts in this series:


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