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Out of the Everglades, Onward to South Carolina

By Martjan Lammertink and Martin Piorkowksi
April 6, 2009

Everglades National Park biologist Sonny
Bass shuttles the crew through the
mangroves. Photo by Abe Borker
March 16 was our last field day for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker search in south Florida. After cleaning and packing, returning loaned equipment, organizing data etc., we left Homestead, Florida,  on March 22. Part of the team will be working in South Carolina through early May. We have been able to reach all our target search areas here, in no small degree thanks to the transportation support, map layers, advice, and loan equipment from many partners in south Florida.

The Sig Walker and Gator Hook Strands, the central part of the Fakahatchee Strand, and remote sections in the mangroves were among the most challenging sites we reached. As planned, we covered about 80% of the total surface of areas of interest. 

 Black mangroves
 by Martjan Lammertink
Habitats in south Florida were the best and most extensive we have seen anywhere in the United States, and were highly varied. They included old-growth mangrove stands, mangrove areas with large numbers of trees killed by hurricanes and lightning strikes, large expanses of recently burned pine forests, cabbage palm stands, hardwood hammocks with big oaks and maples, and cypress strands with trees up to 150 cm in diameter.

It was disappointing to find that even in the areas most difficult to access, such as the Gator Hook and Sig Walker Strands, there are old signs of selective logging from the 1920s and 1930s. Although the current quality of the habitat remains excellent, this does mean that access in the form of tram lines was available to collectors and trophy hunters in those years. We have found no signs of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. No sightings, double knocks or calls, no replies to our many double-knock imitations. We have seen a few cavities of the appropriate size and shape for ivory-bills, but these can be old, or exceptionally large Pileated Woodpecker cavities, or mammal-enlarged Pileated Woodpecker cavities.

Mangrove Cuckoo.
Photo by Martjan Lammertink
We have found no Swainson's Warblers or Black-throated Blue Warblers wintering in the south Florida mangroves. Our notable bird records included two Rusty Blackbirds and several Hairy Woodpeckers in the Big Cypress (both species are rare in southern Florida), and a Mangrove Cuckoo photographed near the Chatham River in the Everglades mangroves.

Given the results, it is unlikely a population of any meaningful size of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers exists in south Florida. Because the habitat in its current state has a lot of potential, we do think that lingering individuals might still move around in the region. South Florida parks, preserves, agencies, and birders should remain attentive and open-minded to reports of the species in the region.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology will remain available to assist in following up on promising reports.