Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Forever A Hillbilly: Winter of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker

Forever A Hillbilly: Winter of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker:  IN AUGUST OF 2006, I WAS WALKING OUT FROM FISHING  my favorite hole in the Fourche River, and a very large woodpecker flew from a dead ...

Winter of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker

 IN AUGUST OF 2006, I WAS WALKING OUT FROM FISHING  my favorite hole in the Fourche River, and a very large woodpecker flew from a dead snag that had a large hole in it, near the top. I was struck by the bird's size, and its markings.
     The Ivory Billed Woodpecker had been considered extinct for 50+ years. It is similar in size and appearance to a Pileated Woodpecker. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker is slightly larger, it's back is solid white, while a Pileated is dark on top with white feathers below. When this bird flew from me, it  looked white on top of it's back, and larger than any Pileated woodpecker I had ever seen.

     Barbara and I flew out for six weeks of wandering Europe aimlessly a day or so later, but I spent a lot of time, while there, thinking about that bird. I also spent a lot of time hobbling on my bum knee from wading that river so much. This was just after an Ivory Billed Woodpecker  had, in many people's mind, been spotted in eastern Arkansas. Positive ID never happened in eastern Arkansas, despite a long hard search by many scientists.

     When we returned, there was a break between deer seasons that fall. The deer have returned to the valley in large numbers now.  I knew deer season was about the only time anyone else ever went into that area and the split deer season was now closed, so I would be alone.

     I left home at  two AM, and arrived in those woods just before daylight. Immediately upon exiting my truck, I heard a drumming sound I had listened to on old tapes of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. "Bam, bam, bam, -- bam!" This was one identifying characteristic of that bird.  The sound seemed to come from the old snag I had seen before. It was immediately answered from the area of another large hollow snag I knew about.

     I waited until dawn broke, and, with my camera ready, I eased toward that first snag. I began to hear woodpeckers working toward me. Suddenly, a very large one flew into my vision. It was much faster than I had ever seen a woodpecker fly before, flying more like a duck.  As it exited my vision, I could hear it's wing noises, also a characteristic of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. "Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!" It was at least one hundred fifty feet from me, but the sounds were very distinct. It was still too early, and dark, for a flying picture.

     I quickly set up a blind at the large snag, and I waited, camera ready. A Pileated Woodpecker flew in, stayed awhile, then left. The sun was just beginning to peek over Fourche Mountain, which arose sharply out of the far side of the river.

     Then IT flew in, and changed my thinking forever.

     It landed on the snag. I was, I must admit, too awestruck to even think about my camera. It was huge. The description fit. It hitched it's neck, and turned it, looking behind. I was later told by one expert on that bird that even an Ivory Billed Woodpecker probably could not do that. But then, he had never seen a living Ivory Billed Woodpecker, and this bird did that. As it walked out a limb, certain distinguishing markings were very clear to me. Unfortunately, my forgotten camera sat idle in my hands, and I just gawked.

     A piliated woodpecker has a white line running from it's head to it's wing, disappearing under its wing when the wings are folded, as this one was. The Ivory Billed Woodpecker's white line goes up onto the wing, and down the length of it.

     This bird had that white line, the full length of the wing.

     That marking was very clear to me. The first rays of the morning sun spotlighted the bird as he reached the end of the limb. My camera suddenly came awake, and I shot again and again. The bird flew.

      Afterwords, I went over what I saw and what I did not see in my mind carefully. The angle of my view was pretty steep.  I had no memory of seeing the white shield on the back. I felt, at some point, though, I could have seen that. But, it was not in my memory afterwords.

     I heard the "Bam, bam, bam, -- bam!" drumming sound, totally different from the Pileated wood Pecker, three more times that morning. Then it was time to go home. Deer season started up again the next day, and there would be hunters swarming  this area, so I stayed away a few days.
     I knew I would need all the help a great lab could give me with those pictures. From our professional days, I knew just the lab. I instructed them to "push" the film two stops. It was still very early in the morning for a film camera.  I had no digital camera at that time. It was at about the time, 2006, when digital was beginning to take over, film was about to become a thing of the past.

      It took several days, during which I knew I had the first modern day photo of an Ivory Billed Woodpecker. I was torn. Should I make it public, and risk an influx of people running the birds off?  Or should I keep their secret, hopefully allowing them to make some sort of comeback in that very isolated place?  The habitat was great. The Ouachita Mountains arose out of that river, with thousands of acres of pine timber. Down river about a mile, there was a very large plot of beetle killed pines, very attractive to large woodpeckers. They simply strip the dead bark off the tree, and eat the beetles underneath. Hundreds of acres.

     When the pictures arrived, I had the best books I could find in hand, showing all the markings. But, after studying the best photo, I knew it would not hold up. The bird had turned toward me, and the wing markings were indistinct. The best photo was not totally sharp.

     I was still torn. I knew what I knew, but I had no real evidence. I decided to contact the man who was, it seemed, considered to be the world's expert on that bird. I discussed my situation several times with him, and  I sent him my picture. After studying it, he said he needed a video. One questionable photo was not enough.

     While I knew I was lacking in proof, I did see that bird well, and there was not a bit of doubt in my mind. I bought a good video camera, and went to work. I set up several blinds, some with bait stations. About fifteen mornings that winter, I left home at  two AM, arriving in the river bottoms at daylight. But, to make a long story short, I never heard that particular drumming sound again, though I saw many Pileated Woodpeckers, and  never another sighting.

      I downloaded  the actual sounds of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker,  made over half a century ago, and amplified and broadcast them out. The Blue Jays went crazy. Their sound is similar. I videoed several birds responding to that call, but they all turned out to be a dead end. One particular bird that responded seemed to sound a little different. I only saw it through my video viewfinder, and my video only showed a few flaps of its wings before it disappeared over the tree tops. Since my only view was through the video view finder, I could tell little about the real size of the bird. I could not stop the action at a point where I could see markings that would tell me something. I  called the expert. I asked him, "If I send you a video I have, will you call me back and give me an opinion?"

      He replied, "I'd be glad to, Pat." I sent it. A few hours later, I managed to stop the video at a critical point. Markings showed. I knew it was not what I had hoped. I waited to see if he was a man of his word. He never replied. Since he was not a man of his word, even to give me a negative answer, that told me a lot about this expert. That was our last communication.

 What I saw, and heard, that one morning in November just seemed to be there no longer.
     The last morning I spent looking for the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, the Corps of Engineers did a control burn on my plot, and the fire ran me out. My blinds and bait stations were destroyed. I knew by now the Corps of Engineers were curious about what I was doing there so often, and a local farmer was also, seeing me drive by his house so often. He sent word to me, "If there are Ivory Billed Woodpeckers down there, I'll shoot every one of them." I sent word back, "If you can find one down there, you're a better man than I am." I decided it was time to drop this search, and let that totally isolated spot become isolated again.

     I knew I could never convience anybody else with my lack of evidence. But I know what I saw, that morning in November, 2006. And to my dying day, I will always remain convienced that the Ivory Bill Woodpecker was alive and well in the Fourche River bottoms in 2006. Their secret is safe. Maybe, that's as it should be. That was one difficult decision I didn't have to make. Making such a claim as I have made here, without proof, makes one seem to be somewhat of a kook, so I have since been hesitant to talk about this, and I have told few people. I felt they may have raised young that year in that hollow tree I saw the one in. But if so, they have moved on. I pray they are making some sort of a comeback in those thousands of acres of the Ouachita National forest near by. I won't bother them again. Six years have passed. I decided to tell it here.

 The world needs to know.

     Please do not ask for details about the location. I will not tell. That area is totally isolated, with no good reason for people to come in, except to deer hunt. It needs to stay that way.   THE END

Friday, May 11, 2018

Forever A Hillbilly: The Truest Friend - Tooter of the Fourche La Fave

Forever A Hillbilly: The Truest Friend - Tooter of the Fourche La Fave: This boy-dog love and adventure story is a gentle mixture of fiction and actuality, set in the Fourche La Fave River Valley of t...

The Truest Friend - Tooter of the Fourche La Fave

This boy-dog love and adventure story is a gentle mixture of fiction and actuality, set in the Fourche La Fave River Valley of the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.

     Tooter was my best friend of my boyhood. 

     Twenty or so of the actual friendly people of the valley make their literary debut in this story; some as themselves, some with changed names, others moved around in time, one of the wonderful options of fictional writing.
     I should have my books in hand in a few days. I will keep you posted. The cost of the book is $12.00 plus a shipping charge of $2.00 for a personalized copy of the book.
     I have included here a few excerpts.

WHEN THE STARS ARE ALIGNED JUST RIGHT, AND God looks on with favor, the length of a boyhood and a good dog’s life pretty much coincide. But in this story, there are heartbreaking problems along the way before Tooter came to me.
     The Fourche River has its headwaters in west-central Arkansas. The upper reaches of the river flows through a beautiful valley, up to three miles wide, bordered by high mountain ranges on each side. These high mountain ranges, together with the fact that there are no large light sources in the valley, produces some of the darkest skies, and brightest stars, in America. This is Fourche Valley, one of the most beautiful valleys on God’s green earth, and a wonderful place for this story to take place.
     The beautiful river still flows pristine; Eventually, it will flow into Lake Nimrod on the eastern end of the valley, well along on its way to joining the Arkansas River.
     The forest had come alive in that last hour of daylight. The squirrels scurried here and there, in a frenzy, barking and chasing each other, as they do at day’s first light. An early-awakening owl hooted in the distance. The sparrows were on the forest floor, pecking, gathering in their last few seeds before darkness enveloped us all.
     Tooter still lay with his head on my shoulder. He paid little attention to the animals around us. He had not yet learned of the importance I attached to the squirrel. But I would teach him, when the first cool nights arrived, and the brightly colored leaves dangled on the tips of the limbs of the oak, the elm and the hickory, about to begin their fluttering journey to the forest floor.
     About an hour later, we could hear rustling in the leaves. I could tell Tooter was ready to fight. But he made no move to leave me, and go after the enemy. He seemed to know he was not physically up to spoiling for a fight. If a fight came this night, he would make his stand right in front of me. And I knew he was ready to give up his life to protect me.
     This story is suitable for any age. Contact me at

Monday, May 7, 2018

Forever A Hillbilly: Flashing Trophies

Forever A Hillbilly: Flashing Trophies:         Ky, one of my ex-students, and my son Corey’s close friend, invented a trophy. Not just any trophy, but a flashing trophy. With ...

Flashing Trophies

      Ky, one of my ex-students, and my son Corey’s close friend, invented a trophy. Not just any trophy, but a flashing trophy. With six different lighting patterns. Like no other. Ky needed a partner with a strong business background. He chose Corey. The first need was finding a company that could build such a thing. Finally, a company in China said they could do it. They sent a few hundred for them to see.
     I was asked to take one apart, see if I could find any problems. I found one. The on-off switch had no solid backing. They were simply glued into place. Occasionally, a switch would just give way. I reported the problem to Ky, he passed it on to China. They said they could fix it.
Ky and Corey, both big thinkers, ordered a shipping container load. Their banker went ballistic when he found out that money was going to China, a very dangerous thing to do, he said. Barbara and I agreed to cosign.
     Back after The Great Depression, Dad spent 17 years paying off the notes for his sharecroppers. He decreed that a Gillum would never, ever again cosign anyone else’s note. And they never did, until this came along. But this trophy seemed to be a sure thing.
     The trophies arrived in December.  The International Trophy Show was in March. We went to the warehouse to see. The crates of trophies seemed to stretch out of sight, almost filling a warehouse. We started testing. The switch on the first trophy gave way. So did the third. And on and on. We were looking at 22,500 unusable trophies. These trophies were shipped during cold weather, which seemed to have had a bad effect on the glue. China’s “fix” seemed to have been, just add a lot more glue, still no solid backing.
 China said no way would they take them back, the shipping was most of the cost. They discussed sending a repair team from China. Other options were considered. China did not want to lose out on future orders, if this was a hit and the big bucks started rolling in.
     We discussed this far into the night. There was a second generation trophy on the drawing boards, much larger, but it was on hold right now. We decided that if a team of Chinese could repair them, so could we. We proposed that if China would build the second generation of corrected trophies for free, get them to us by March, we would do it. They agreed.
     We knew that we could come out ahead, IF we could repair them, and have them ready for the International Trophy Show in March. A very big IF. The chore of deciding HOW fell to me. I dissected trophies for days. Various methods were tried, yet failed. Finally, I discovered if a small screw was placed in the bottom of the battery case at exactly the right place and depth, it would back up the switch, and hold it in place. It worked. But it was slow. Take each trophy out of the crate, take it out of the box, remove the battery cover and batteries, drill the hole, place the screw in, and re-package everything. We discussed hiring a large team of men.
     Then it hit me. We didn’t need a team of men, just one man. If we could get the right one.
      I called Henry Emison.
     Henry said he needed a little Christmas money right now, and said he could do it. By March. Corey and I went shopping for dremmel tools, small bits, screwdrivers, and 22,500 screws. Just the right length. For weeks, we shuttled truck and trailer loads to Henry, then back to our warehouse when they were finished.
     All were repaired when March rolled around. China put a rush order on the second generation trophies, and they were perfect, and in place. Ky, Corey, and wives headed for Las Vegas, loaded for bear.   
     The call came late one night. Our trophy had been chosen best new trophy of the year. We celebrated. We would all soon be rich.
     Now, while the item was hot, we must find a buyer. A company that could handle supplying trophies nationwide, maybe worldwide. The ball was now in Corey’s hands. Offers were made, considered, then rejected for days. Finally he decided on a company in South Dakota. They would buy the repaired trophies, and pay a nice royalty on each trophy sold.
     When their new catalog came out, the company devoted the entire back page to our trophy. The dealers just loved them. Trophies were flying off the wholesaler’s  shelves. They quickly ordered 100,000 more from our company in China. Other manufacturers, even in China, could not figure out how to make them.
     Then, we waited to see the reaction of the public to our trophies. It was disappointing. Seems the public was not as excited as the rest of us. We did not yet get rich, but small royalty checks keep coming each quarter. Sales reached a trickle, and have stayed there, so far. But our cosign money is safe, and while we are disappointed, that check each quarter comes in handy. Oh well. Born a pore boy, destined to die a pore boy. It could have been a lot worse. Oh, and by the way. I still have 1200 unrepaired, un-assembled trophies in my garage, if you just love flashing lights. At bargain basement prices.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Forever A Hillbilly: The Point of no Tomorrow

Forever A Hillbilly: The Point of no Tomorrow: SPORT DUNNAHOE, BARBARA’S FATHER, WAS ONE OF A KIND.   A man I will never forget. He was always ready for a fishing, hunting, or camping t...