Sunday, November 22, 2015

Winter of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker

My brother Harold and I fished a remote and totally deserted stretch of the Fourche La Fave River one summer. The river ran low that year, and it was shallow there anyway. But I knew where the few deep holes were located. The  catfish just piled up in those holes during dry times.

      In August, I was walking out of our fishing area, 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 I had ever seen.

     Barbara and I flew out for six weeks of wandering aimlessly about Europe a day or so later, but I spent a lot of time, while there, thinking about that bird. 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. I knew deer season was about the only time anyone else ever went into that area, and deer season was now closed, so I would be alone.

      I left home at 2 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 150 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.          Conclusion next post

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