Date: Thu, 27 Oct 2005 14:43:05 -0400
Reply-To: Swillis <Swillis@WAYXCABLE.COM>
Sender: Georgia Birders Online <GABO-L@LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
From: Swillis <Swillis@WAYXCABLE.COM>
Subject: Re: RFI: large woodpecker foraging sign & the Okefenokee Swamp
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Hey folks, Steve, & Paul,
Hope you are fine.
Here are a few notes from the Okefenokee Swamp as they relate to the
behavior & signs of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and Pileated
Maurice & Will Thompson made trips to what is now more properly
identified as the "Little Okefenokee Swamp" (just ne. of the "real"
Okefenokee) starting in 1866. A description of a March trip during which
they observed a pair of IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKERs making a nest was
published in 1896. He writes: "They had chosen a large pine-tree, dead
for years and quite stripped of its boughs, and were delving a hole into
it just below a projecting knot....Male ivory-bill at work about fifty
feet up, making a round hole about four inches in diameter. He strikes
five or six blows, then flings out fragments of rotten wood. Very
suspicious and watchful, stopping often to look all about, wagging his
head. When he reaches into the hole he disappears, save his tail, which
is slightly spread. Female came and relieved him, going briskly to work
in his place...." Will Thompson also described to a fellow writer the
pair that came to his father's farm in Gordon Co., GA for several years.
During an Aug. 20, 1875 trip towards Floyd's Island, Floyd R. Pendleton
made the following comments: "...most everything of the bird kind
disappeared, except a large species of the woodpecker described in
Gould's work on natural history. He seems to be the lone lord of this
solitary wild, and his trumpet-like notes and the loud strokes of his
bill upon the hollow trunk of some prodigious cypress frequently
arrested our attention. They feed upon worms & larvae, and it is in
search of food when they bore into an infected tree and shell off bark
and decayed wood, which may frequently be seen in piles at the foot of
these giants of the forest. They are unknowingly a great auxiliary to
the honey bees, for it is in these holes bored into the trees that the
bees find ingress to hollows sufficiently large to store their rich
treasures away for winter..."
In 1912 A.H. Wright was shown several old & possibly new nest cavities
of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker of which most were in dead (pond) cypress
and one was in a large red bay. These were on the Minnie's Island
complex in the vicinity of the swamp where the first official specimen
was taken earlier that year. Bud Carter said the birds were still
nesting on Minnie's in 1924.
The south end of the island had a large hardwood hammock said to be
favored by the birds which contained aged Sweet Gum and various oaks
surrounded by old pines. Wright's cypress stub nest had a hole "...about
40 feet from ground. The hole appeared to be in use as condition of wood
about it appeared to be more or less scratched and gave whitish
appearance. Got rather near this tree which stood in midst of thickest
swamp and undergrowth I ever saw." After a 1963 search there (w/ access
only by helicopter), refuge biologist Eugene Cypert stated that apart
from some ancient Live Oaks & pines, the hardwoods were now
second-growth but that this particular island did contain more Sweet Gum
(said to be important to the species) than any other of the Okefenokee
islands. He said his visit was the first time anyone from the refuge had
gone there "for more than 30 years".
Before it became a federal refuge, timbering continued in the Okefenokee
and a major fire occurred in 1932. There were a few sightings in the
Okefenokee Swamp and Coleraine (St. Marys River at Charlton, Camden Co.
line) area in the 1930's & 40's including one near a burn. Additionally,
sight-records were made in the Okefenokee along the Suwannee Canal by
refuge biologist Hayden (Tony) Carter for April 5, 1941 (male), and
April 16, 1942 (female) that were deliberately not published at the time
due to a desire to prevent a rush of over-eager birders. See "The
Oriole", Vol. 56, No. 4, pg. 74-76 (Dec. 1991). The male was seen flying
& perching (also near a burned area) and he described the female as
"...picking, rather than pecking, at the bark, and calling several
After Frederick Hebard related a report on the sighting of a male &
possible female Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Gap-O-Grand Prairie on Nov.
30, 1948, swamp residents commented on having seen three possibles there
earlier & one at the end of the South Fork of the Suwannee Canal.
References were made to the direct flight & the workings under the
On June 21, 1949 Enos O. Mellinger arrived to investigate the
possibility of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the Okefenokee Swamp. He
didn't see the bird, but did find sign on the west side which was
thought to be from them.
Herbert Stoddard visited the Okefenokee on Aug. 25, 1955 after the great
1954-55 fires and commented that he thought the burned big pines would
be good for the Ivory-billed in the next few years, but an extensive
visit to Minnie's Island by Refuge Biologist Eugene Cypert on May 31,
1963 did not turn-up any birds or signs. (See reference above).
A book by A.S. McQueen and Hamp Mizell entitled "History of Okefenokee
Swamp" (1926) and reprinted by the Charlton County Historical Society in
Folkston, GA in 1984 has a wonderful section wherein a long-time
resident of the swamp (presumably Hamp Mizell) talks about his
experiences with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. It was interesting how he
comments about having seen them all his life and didn't know they were
considered extinct by the outside world until a "scientist" told him
that was the prevailing view and all the books said it was so.
While a boat or canoe trip to Minnie's Lake Run north of Stephen C.
Foster State Park would provide the closest public access to the main
area traditionally favored by the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the western
Okefenokee (Minnie's Island is off-limits), the Suwannee Canal in the
eastern side gives boater-access to those areas where it was recorded in
the 1940's, and interestingly has had wildfire in some portions several
years ago (a condition they favor). It is very important to note too,
that it is 100% illegal to use recordings of any kind or to venture off
any official trail while on the federal refuge.
In reference to the PILEATED WOODPECKER, during a 1912 trip to the
Okefenokee Swamp Francis Harper made the note that "...we several times
endeavored to surprise them at work, but the slightest noise caused them
to slip farther away into the depths of the forest. An unsuspecting pair
of 'Kates' in a swampy thicket is a glorious spectacle; with their
scarlet crests erect, they are the very embodiment of all that is wild."
Kate is another name for the Pileated Woodpecker, as is "Wood Kate",
"Woodcock", "Woodchuck", "Logcock", "Good God", & "Lord God".
Over the years, I have made a few slides of the diggings & excavations
made by Pileated Woodpeckers, some of which were "very fresh" and others
old. The nest cavities were large & rectangular. The log-diggings were
deep & had many large wood chips as debris. Of course, one of the most
easily-accessable areas to observe & photograph their actions would be
along the Swamp Island Drive in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
at the Eastern Entrance (s. of Folkston, Charlton Co.) which contains
multiple roadside stands of dead trees.
Hope this is helpful.
Native American-Naturalist Talks & Tours
Waycross, Ware Co., GA
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