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Monday, March 22, 2010

Lord God Bird, Ivory-billed Woodpecker film and more

Ivory-billed Woodpecker sign in the famous Gene's Restaurant, Brinkley, AR; note the white at the trailing edge of the wings on the bird, when seen from above.

The Pileated Woodpecker, shown here, may be confused with an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

The Pileated has black at the trailing edge of the wings.

When viewed from behind, the black on the trailing edge of the underside of the wings of a Pileated in flight, as here, may seem less conspicuous.

Yesterday we went to see the Lord God Bird documentary film (USA, 2008, 91 min.) made by NH producer George Butler at a film festival here in NH. This is a documentary on the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Butler and his crew spent two years in the swamps of the southeastern U.S. interviewing ornithologists, birders, hunters and others and "wasn't out to convince anyone of the ivory-bills existence," so the film interviews people with opposing viewpoints. As of now, (to our knowledge) there has not been any definitive photo obtained that has been widely accepted by scientists as proof of the continued existence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker today.

The film presents many of the now familiar people in the Ivory-bill search. It covers such things as the Cornell search and the discovery (first reported by Bobby Harrison and Tim Gallagher in 2004) in the Big Woods of Arkansas and the more recent search and reported discovery in May, 2005 by ornithologist Dr. Geoff Hill and his Auburn Univ. team in the Choctahatchee River in the panhandle of FL. The films shows Bobby Harrison, Tim Gallagher, and Dr. John Fitzpatrick from Cornell, Dr. Jerome Jackson (who doubted the bird presented by Cornell in the April 2004 Luneau video was an Ivory-bill and said it was a Pileated Woodpecker). Many others, such as Gene Sparling, Martin Lammertink and Jamie Hill, appear. Nancy Tanner, widow of legendary Ivory-bill expert, James Tanner who studied Ivory-bills in the 1930's with Arthur Allen and beyond, is witty and delightful.

The film also discusses the 1968 reported discovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker by John Dennis in the Big Thicket of Texas and how he was doubted and spurned by the ornithologists of his time. Dennis continued to search and made a recording of the sound of the Ivory-bill which was not accepted as legit by Cornell. There is a poignant moment in the film when Dennis' son, John Dennis, Jr., recounts that Cornell in recent years, called him and told him that Dennis' recording of the Ivory-bill had been re-examined by them and proclaimed to be the real deal.

An amazing moment in the film was the showing of 1935 archival film footage, surprisingly good, of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers at a nest hole, made by Arthur Allen and the Cornell Expedition (including James Tanner) to the Singer Tract of land in LA. To see the real birds, how they moved, how they interacted, how one flew out of the nest, was absolutely riveting for us.

So what is the status of the search for the Ivory-bill since this documentary, (which contains old news) was made? Much has both happened and not happened. As we said, no one seems to have gotten "the" definitive photo as proof of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's existence.

Dr. Geoff Hill says funding has dried up for his group, and since the winter of 2008 he has had few sound or sighting detections. He will continue to try and get evidence through the use of remote cameras and he will personally continue to look. See his latest update here.

Cornell has pretty much suspended it's large search efforts but wants to continue to be a hub for reports and information on the Ivory-bill. The efforts of the Cornell mobile search team for the 2008-2009 field session ended with no reports of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's presence.

As we said, no one seems to have gotten "the" definitive photo as proof of its existence. Yet many, many are still looking and trying. Reports of the possible existence of Ivory-bills, as recent as early March, have come from a team of private individuals comprised of Mark Michaels, Frank Wiley, Bill Benish, Ross Everett, Mark Gahler and Paul McCaslin, who have been searching on private land in east-central Louisiana since Aug. 2009 to the present. They have posted their preliminary report (made public at this time in order to provide encouragement to other searchers), of their Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings, recorded sounds and even some camera trap photos at this website.

Some other websites with information:

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker
Ivory-bills Live ???! the blog for updated news and commentary on the Ivory-bill
David Luneaus's website with Ivory-bill news and info. from Arkansas
Bobby Harrison's Ivory-billed Woodpecker Foundation website
James Tanner's 1942 definitive monograph on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker
The Nature Conservancy Ivory-bill website


Kat said...

I have been forever in awe of the Ivory-billed! I have the Pilateds on our property and hear them all the time. They are so illusive, I don't know how you got those photos! I believe the Ivory-billed still exists, but have no proof! My husband says he saw them a lot when he used to fish on the lower Alabama River. He spent a lot of time in the deep woods of south Alabama.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago during the most intense searching someone got a photo of a pileated with many white feathers in place of the black ones. A beautiful creature in its own right, it could easily have been mistaken for an ivory-bill in a quick glimpse. I wish I had saved a copy of that photo at the time.

Conductor said...

Just wanted to say that this is a great synopsis of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker except for one thing, which as a long-time resident of Arkansas is something I've grown accustomed to spotting: Arkansas is AR; Alaska is AK.

Otherwise, great blog! I really like your pictures. They help with bird IDs out in the field.


Gwyn Cready said...

How can someone see the documentary?

carl clegg said...

I could go out tomorrow in either Fla, La, SC, Miss, Ar, or Texas and see a Ivory Billed and come back and report it. I would be told no I did not or that it was a Pileated. I could then go out with a camera and take some pictures. I would then be told that pictures not good or clear enouth. I could then go out with a good SLR camera with telephoto lens and take multiple pictures. I would be told that pictures had to be fakes, a stuffed bird or whatever. I could go back out with a video cam and film the Ivory Billed for 10 min or more and still be told fake or not good enough. Now that leaves only two options; one capture, or two shoot one. Both illegal. I would not be believed because I am not a noted scientist or birder of great renownd. About Pileated, I first saw one of those at about age 8, watched for several min. I am now 61 and still move through the woods. I have watched them for at times hours while Deer, Turkey or Duck hunting. I do a lot of flooded timber hunting which requires quick Id of ducks. I am not prone to "seeing things". No I have not seen a Ivory Billed but would like to.