Monday, January 30, 2006

IBWO Sightings in Florida, Part III: Return of the Guppy!!!

Well, our favorite Ivory-billed Woodpecker searcher, Mr. Guppy , has returned with a vengeance. This is despite the fact that Mr. Guppy swore, just a week or two ago, that he would no longer be updating his web site.

Joy, oh joy, for Mr. Guppy has returned!!! (Note: I know I just posted how I'm sick of the IBWO, and here I am writing about it again, but Mr. Guppy proves my point: It is getting very hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. This is important stuff, because critical conservation decisions are being made now, and they should only be made on the basis of legitimate sightings.)

Anyway, here is the photo that Mr. Guppy has now posted to his web site. The folks at Birdforum have already made up their minds on this photo, but I would be interested in knowing what my readers think:

The folks at Birdforum also caught an interesting article in the Decatur (Illinois) paper about a guy named "David Johnson" from Sullivan, Illinois, who just had a good sighting of an IBWO in Arkansas. This David Johnson is described as an experienced birder. There are two known "David Johnson"s in Illinois birding circles...the one who is on IORC and the one who runs (or used to run, not sure if he still does) a Wild Birds Unlimited store in the Chicago suburbs. However, to the best of my knowledge, neither of the two known "David Johnson"s lives in Sullivan.

Therefore, the Decatur article is proof of a previously unknown, and therefore new to science, sub-species of "David Johnson." We'll name it David Johnson sullivani.

Anyway, here's the story:


Trip to find rare ivory-billed woodpecker is treat for Sullivan bird enthusiast
By Tim Zgonina - H&R Staff Writer

It's called "The Grail Bird," a bird so rare, so sought after that it's considered the Holy Grail of ornithology. In fact, the ivory-billed woodpecker had been thought to be extinct for more than half a century - until last year. In 2005, researchers from Cornell University astounded the birding world by announcing that they had seen an ivory-billed woodpecker in the deep-forest swamps of Arkansas and even captured it on video. Birders everywhere were amazed. A species that had evaded not just amateur birders, but professional scientists for decades had been shown to have returned from the dead - not just a Grail bird, a "Lazarus Bird." Now, a Sullivan man has added his name to the short list of those who have seen the elusive bird.

David Johnson of Sullivan, a lifelong birder, says he saw one of the rare birds during an expedition last December in the same area as the Cornell sighting. Johnson, chief executive officer of ASI Risk Management, an agricultural insurance company, visited the Mississippi River bayous of eastern Arkansas with Wayne Elmore, the firm's marketing representative in that state, who lives in the area and knows it well.The two hoped to get a look at the once-in-a-lifetime bird themselves.

And they did."I was lucky," Johnson said. "I just happened to be looking at the exact spot where the bird took off." I'm 100 percent sure it was an ivory. There's nothing else that big that has those markings, and just before that, we had heard it call and rap," he said. "What's ironic about the whole thing is that people spent months looking for it, and we made contact in a few minutes."

Ivory-billed woodpeckers, named for their massive white bills, never were abundant. Though they originally ranged from eastern Texas to coastal Carolina and even into extreme Southern Illinois, they require vast tracts of mature forest for food and nesting habitat: One pair alone needs 10 square miles. Logging and deforestation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries destroyed most of the southern forest, leaving only fragmented populations of the birds to survive. Hunting decimated those that remained. The last confirmed birds were found in the swamps of Louisiana, and the last one of those was seen in 1944. Through the years, several expeditions were mounted to search for the birds. There were shreds of evidence: a mysterious rapping sound here, a suspected feeding cavity in a tree trunk there, but nothing conclusive.

Then in 2004, researchers from the world-renowned Cornell Ornithology Laboratory, searching for the bird in the Cache River and White River national wildlife refuges in Arkansas, made contact. One of them even caught the bird in flight on video, which, though of poor quality, showed the unmistakable coloration pattern of the ivory bill, which distinguishes it from its common relative, the pileated woodpecker. The rediscovery turned the ornithological community on its head as conservationists took quick action to preserve the forests where the remnant population survived. It also inspired birders such as Johnson to see if they could get a glimpse, too. When Johnson heard about the rediscovery, he mentioned it to one of his company's employees, Elmore, who has fished and hunted the bayous in the Big Woods area of Arkansas since the 1940s. Elmore invited Johnson down, and the pair set out to see what they could see."I went in December because the leaves would be off the trees," Johnson said. "Also because there has been a drought in Arkansas. There wasn't much water, and I knew we'd be able to walk around, so I knew we'd be able to cover a lot of ground in a short time."

Because federal conservation authorities want to control the number of people entering the refuge to protect the birds, users are required to obtain permits, which are limited. "I went down on a Thursday and stayed at Wayne's house," Johnson said, "and we got up early the next morning to go to the refuge office to get our permits."The two men figured the allotment would be gone for that day, but to their surprise, they were able to get an OK. By about 9:30 a.m., the pair had arrived at the nearby Dagmar wildlife area, grabbed their cameras and binoculars, and set off. "There's a lot of swamp there, with huge cypress and tupelo trees hundreds of years old, 8 feet around at the base," Johnson said. "But because it was dry, we were able to walk around like on a thick carpet, and since there's not a lot of underbrush, we could see well."

Only a few minutes passed before the two heard what Johnson said was the call and rapping of an ivory-billed." The call is very distinctive, and when he hits that tree with that bill, it sounds like a .22 (caliber) - 'bang, bang' - ricocheting through the forest," Johnson said. Johnson and Elmore continued to walk, stopping every now and then to listen. But they saw nothing, and getting cold, decided to return to their truck to warm up. It was about 10:30 a.m. as they were walking. "About 80 feet in front of me, I saw something flush from the base of a tree," Johnson said. "As the bird came up, I got a real good look at it. The bottom half of the top side of wing was white, and this bird had a 30-inch wingspan." There's no doubt in my mind it was not a pileated. A pileated doesn't have that marking on top, and it's not as big a bird, and this one had two white stripes up its neck. I had about a two-second look at it, and I feel it was a female bird because I did not see a red crest." We just happened to sneak up on him and flush him," he said. "Otherwise, we would have never known he was there."

Johnson and Elmore saw other woodpeckers after that, but none were ivory-billed woodpeckers. In time, they met up with some Cornell researchers working in the area and reported the sighting. Over the rest of the weekend, they searched other areas in the refuge system but were unsuccessful. For Johnson, however, one sighting of an ivory-billed woodpecker is enough. "I've been birding for 60 years, ever since I was a kid," Johnson said. "A lot of bird habitat has been destroyed, trees bulldozed and chemicals used, so it's really great to see populations making a comeback."

1 comment:

Gwyn Calvetti said...

He's claiming that's an actual bird? Really! Looks a lot like it could be a mannikin--the shading just doesn't reflect as one would expect from something with feathers.

Who knows?