After we left St. Mark's NWR, the weather reports were for severe thunderstorms and tornados throughout the Midwest in the area we were to travel through to reach IL and see Greater Prairie-Chickens. So we decided to try and stay below the storms. We thought, why not hang a left and travel to Brinkley, AR, land of the famous Ivory-billed Woodpecker reported sightings, wait until the storms pass, and then go to IL. It turned out to be a good plan, because the storms passed just north of us in Brinkley and did a lot of damage in TN and elsewhere.
The clerk in our hotel knew little about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, had no maps of the region, and had no idea where Bayou de View was, but sent us to Gene's Restaurant for information.
The sign outside Gene's says, Welcome to Brinkley and Gene's, "Home of the Ivory Bill Wood Pecker." Inside there are lots of paintings and posters of the bird,
and good country cooking, including hearty breakfasts and "theme" menu items such as the Ivory-billed burger and Ivory-billed brownie sundae. Gene's also sold t-shirts, postcards, and the waitress at the cash register gave us a map of the Cache River NWR and Bayou de View (where the original sightings were reported) and another map of Dagmar Wildlife Management Area, location of other sightings. A woman in line started to talk to us about the Ivory-bill, said she had seen those woodpeckers when she was younger, "they flew so beautiful." She pointed out areas to search on the map of Dagmar and told us to watch out for Cottonmouth snakes that were numerous, since the weather had turned warmer.
After breakfast we drove to the Rt. 17 bridge over the Bayou de View waterway. Much of the surrounding area is farm fields which lead right up to the narrow wooded area near the bridge.
Here is the view of the bridge. According to the story, Tim Gallagher and Bobby Harrison had canoed under the bridge, "paddled the length of the 'lake' south of 17, turned right into a narrow channel" and that is where they report they saw an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
This sign was at the boat landing at the base of the bridge, encouraging people to be on the lookout for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers.
The Cypress trees in the water at the base of the bridge were very dense. There are signs on the trees indicating this is a "Managed Access Area."
We then went to Dagmar Wildlife Management Area, a beautiful and accessible area with a nice gravel road and campsites. The woods rang with bird song and we saw White-throated Sparrows, Cardinals, Carolina Wrens, Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers, Robins, Cowbirds, Cedar Waxwings, titmice, and heard a Barred Owl calling. The owl swooped across the road and landed, giving Lillian this photo op.
As we drove further in the road, we came to this beautiful overlook area with magnificent, large old trees. It gave us a sense of the majesty of what the original forests must have been like, a feeling of loss of the beauty that was gone, and an understanding of how precious little was left.
This Wood Duck flew down the open channel, probably it was nesting in one of the large cavities in the old trees. It was interesting to try and photograph birds in flight in this habitat. The density of the trees gave us an appreciation of the difficulty of seeing and photographing birds in this environment. Since this Wood Duck was in the open and flying up the channel, it was more photographable.
Unfortunately we had to leave and drive to IL, we had a reservation to see the Greater Prairie-Chickens the following day. But before we left town, we had to stop at this charming store, the Ivory-bill Nest (e-mail: email@example.com), which is filled with all kinds of Ivory-billed Woodpecker gifts; hats, t-shirts, posters, license plates, earrings, paintings, Christmas ornaments, mugs, and much more.
Our favorite thing in the store was this wonderful mural painted on the floor. This is as close to an Ivory-billed Woodpecker as we got.