Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Possible NEW ivorybill footage

"Sonny Boy," nestling ivory-billed woodpecker on the arm of J.J. Kuhn, 1938.  Photo by James T. Tanner. Used by permission of his estate.

Ghosts. They come and they go. The eerie thing about said phantoms is that they are capricious. Such is true with the legendary Ghost Bird of the South—the ivory-billed woodpecker. Is it still with us? Or is it extinct? The jury has been out on that conundrum since the 1980s. And it's going to stay out because every few years a new sighting is announced by a totally reliable source.

Photo to the right is of ivory-billed woodpecker specimens located at Ijams Nature Center.

The problem with identifying an ivorybill is that it looks a lot like a pileated woodpecker, especially from a distance. And the two species can both be found in the same swampy environs of the Gulf Coast. But anyone trained, who knows the field markings to look for and their very different vocalizations, can tell the difference between the two species. 

Ivorybills are birds of the swamps that prefer the lofty canopy, nesting and roosting as high as 80 to 100 feet off the ground. Like with any ghost, any sighting is usually quick and fleeting. And you simply cannot chase them swiftly in the swamp. Pileateds occur over a much wider range. I have them in my backyard in the mountains of East Tennessee, but I live hundreds of miles from any possible ivorybill location.

Three weeks ago, Audubon and other media outlets announced that Michael Collins had been searching for the elusive ivorybill in ideal habitat for years and had made several sightings. It was reported that Collins is "an intrepid birder and a mathematician and acoustics researcher with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory." He is thorough, detail oriented and knows what he is looking for, so his account cannot be brushed aside lightly. And as Audubon also reported that, "after 500 visits and 1,500 total hours of observation, Collins produced two videos from the Pearl River in 2006 and 2008, and a third from 2007 in the Choctawhatchee River swamp in Florida." We have to applaud Collins for his single-minded dedication. 

In 2010, the University of Tennessee Press published my second book: Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker 1935-1941. It detailed the ivorybill research of another dedicated scientist, Dr. James T. Tanner who also spent long hours in the southern swamps for three years under the guidance of his mentor Arthur Allen, the founder of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The Audubon Society funded Jim Tanner's fieldwork from 1937-1940. It took me three years to write the book with the help of Tanner's handwritten journals, papers, photographs and his widow Nancy who last saw ivorybills with Jim in December 1941 in the Singer Tract in Louisiana. 

Smithsonian magazine also published an article I penned that same year about Tanner and a nestling ivorybill he banded and named "Sonny Boy." For the Smithsonian article, click: A Close Encounter. 

For Audubon's review of my book, click: The Long Goodbye. 

For last week's Audubon report about the new research by Michael Collins, click: New ivorybill sightings.

Speaking of the capriciousness of the natural world, watch for my new UT Press book, Ephemeral by Nature scheduled to be published later this year.

And as the X-Files' Fox Mulder was apt to say, "The truth is out there."

Thank you Karen Suzy, Mac and Donna R. for bringing the new Audubon report to my attention. 

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