Birders find no new confirmation of rare woodpecker in Arkansas
By ANNIE BERGMANAssociated Press WriterPublished May 18, 2006, 12:48 PM CDT
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Search teams exploring an Arkansas swamp for better evidence of the ivory-billed woodpecker said Thursday they had no new confirmation of the bird's existence, and wildlife managers said there was no longer a reason to limit public access to the region."Certainly we're somewhat disappointed," said Ron Rohrbaugh of the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y. "We've had enough of these tantalizing sounds and we still have a lot of hope that there might be a pair, especially in the White River area."The lack of confirmation after searching over the winter and spring "doesn't mean the bird's not there," Rohrbaugh said. The search will be expanded to other states next winter.
Wildlife officials said the Big Woods area of eastern Arkansas would be reopened to the public immediately."Based on the information coming from the search and research that we have done, I feel there is no need any longer limited public use within this area," said Dennis Widner, manager of the Cache River Wildlife Management Area.Cornell researchers supported the decision to reopen the area to general use. If new evidence is discovered, state and federal agencies can reimpose restrictions on access, Widner said.
Gene Sparling of Hot Springs reported seeing an ivory-billed woodpecker in the spring of 2004 while kayaking in the area near the White River between Little Rock and Memphis, Tenn.More than 100 volunteers and full-time researchers went through the area over the winter but failed to find additional strong evidence of the bird's existence in their primary search area.The National Audubon Society would continue to support search efforts for at least one more year. "The big woods was recognized as an important bird area many years before the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker," said Dan Scheiman of Audubon Arkansas.
Jon Andrew, the recovery team leader with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the search will continue next year across the Southeast. Paid and unpaid searchers would look for evidence of the bird in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Texas, as well as Arkansas, he said.Researchers believe they have captured audio recordings of the rare bird _ accompanying a brief, grainy videotape of what is believed to be an ivory-billed woodpecker.One volunteer searcher and three members of the public have reported seeing the bird, but none of the full-time researchers has sighted it, said Martjan Lammertink, also of Cornell.
Lammertink said in all four cases, the birds sighted had large amounts of white feathers on the lower halves of the wings _ consistent with an ivory-bill.However, Lammertink said members of the team "have heard knocks, calls. We don't have an existing recording of an ivory-billed so we have to make extrapolations from other recordings," he said. "It's a complicated process."Until Sparling's reported sighting Feb. 11, 2004, the last known sighting of the bird was in north Louisiana in 1944.