Smell Like Dirt

In Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” Margaret Atwood

Archive for ivory billed woodpecker

Camping in January, Part 1

 congareepic.jpgI’m back from my first week camping in the Congaree National Park outside Columbia, SC.  It was the first of two weeks I will spend in the swamp searching for the Ivory Billed Woodpecker.  And while I am not sure I can recommend camping for a couple of weeks in the middle of January, if you can, you really should visit the Park.  It is the largest remnant of old growth flood plain forest in North America and the birding and wildlife viewing was wonderful.  The park has a healthy population of wild pigs and I’m not sure who jumped highest each time I came across one in the woods, me or him.  Although I didn’t get too close to one, evidence of their presence is everywhere.  They are constantly rooting around for food so walking through the forest was like walking across a newly plowed field.  And between that and the cypress knees that were everywhere, you really had to watch where you were going.  Each night we were serenaded by Barred Owls and with overnight temperatures in the 20’s and 30’s, it was hard to get out of the warm sleeping bag but the team was up and on our way to our search sites well before dawn each day.  Sitting quietly as the sun rose was a wonderful way to witness the swamp waking up.  From otter, to pigs, to birds of all types, the wildlife viewing was spectacular.  Draped in camo from head to toe, I blended in well enough to watch as the activity level increased the wildlife greeted the new day.  On Wednesday night, it started raining and rained well into Thursday, but once it stopped, I could move much more quietly in the woods because the leaves were wet and muffled each step.  I will be heading back down soon for a second week and will be posting a video on some of the sites, sounds and wildlife you can see in the swamp.  So stay tuned and start planning a trip to the Congaree soon!

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The Search for the Ivory Billed Woodpecker

Big news!  I’ve been accepted as a volunteer on the team searching the the Ivory Billed Woodpecker in the Congaree National Park outside Columbia, SC.  As you may or may not know, The Nature Conservancy, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the US Fish and Wildlife Service continue to search for the Ivory Billed Woodpecker in Arkansas, Florida and South Carolina and this year Smell Like Dirt will be part of the team!  If you haven’t followed the story, the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, which hadn’t been seen since the 1940’s, was spotted in the swamps of Arkansas in 2004.  Tim Gallagher, Editor in Chief of Living Bird, Cornell’s flagship publication, chronicles his experiences in his book, The Grail Bird (see listing under “My Favorites”), which I read when it was first published in 2005.  I was immediately intrigued with the whole story and with the thought that this bird might still exist.   In researching more about the bird, I discovered that the Congaree National Park in South Carolina is the perfect habitat for the bird and that there had been “unconfirmed sightings”, so we went out and bought two kayaks and have made many trips to the Congaree to see if we could find it.  We haven’t (so far), but the Congaree is a beautiful place and a day spent kayaking there is a good way to spend some time, regardless of Ivory Billed sightings. ibwopick.jpg So, when I heard they were looking for volunteers to search again this year, I couldn’t apply fast enough.  Although you don’t have to have a Ph.D in birdwatching, they were looking for experienced birders crazy enough, um, I mean willing to agree to get dumped into the middle of the swamp for five days at a time with everything you’re going to eat and drink and wear for those five days strapped to your back and enough electronic equipment (and the resulting batteries) to sink a battleship.   I’ll be one of four on a team camping in tents, sleeping on the ground and fanning out during the day to search for the bird and signs of the bird.  It will require a lot of sitting motionless for a few hours before and after sunrise and again at sunset each day.   At the end of my first five days, I will come home for a week to recuperate and then head back down for another week.  Although I won’t be able to disclose what I experience as it relates to the IB Woodpecker, I will be able to document and share my experiences on everything else.  Since I’ll be there in January, I’m hoping that the snake encounters will be kept to a minimum, but I am hoping to see lots of other wildlife that I will be able to tell you about.  The search will continue through April when the leaves on the trees will start to complicate bird watching.  So stay tuned for more news on my adventure!  After 5 days in the woods with no running water, I’ll definitely Smell Like Dirt!