The View from Here


Back From a Frozen Bruce Creek
January 20, 2010, 12:28 pm
Filed under: Adventures, Ivory-Billed Woopeckers

I spent last week down in the Choctawhatchee River area, looking for Ivory-Bills with a group including members of my art group, Masterworks For Nature, the Cincinnati Zoo, and Miami University (OH).  While we had a large group, we were spread out every day up and down the Choc, exploring various tributaries including Bruce Creek. Some people were heavily camouflaged and sat waiting in likely places. Others explored for IBWO sign, looking for new areas for future stake-outs. The Cincinnati Zoo’s videographer, Pat Story, made a documentary of our trip, and we plan to have an art show at the Cincinnati Zoo based on our experiences on the Choctawhatchee (dates to be announced).  We experienced record cold while there, seeing ice in the swamps, shivering through the teens in the mornings, and a chilly 50 degree high most days. It did make it to 70 on our last day. Sigh.

The Masterworks for Nature January 2010 Ivory-Bill Expedition. That's me on the far right.

We saw no Ivory-Bills, and no definitive sign. Hanging out with this group, some of whom have spent quite a long time in the field looking for this ghost, gives me a better sense of what the common experience of Ivory-Bill hunters is like. After all, I got spoiled by seeing the bird up close and personal in the first 24 hours of my very first attempt. This trip was more like the usual effort–no evidence found.  Some of the more hard-core experienced types were shaking their heads wondering if it is really worth the effort. I thought it was interesting that they gave me a nod when I was present, but then went back to their skepticism.  My sighting is not proof to anyone but me. It was too clear, too in-my-face to be a mistake, but it isn’t proof. I’ll keep going back to look, but I fear I missed what will likely be the only chance I’ll have to get a clear photo of this ghost.

I believe our chances will diminish as time goes on.  A major airport is being constructed nearby, and will add a lot of noise to the area when air traffic ramps up. As the airport is developed, sprawl will begin to spread towards the Choctawhatchee. As more people move into the area, more weekend warriors, ATV riders, and even bird watchers will descend on the Choc. Despite the abundance of good habitat at the moment, disturbance and habitat degradation may eventually chase the Ivory-Bills elsewhere.

Ice in the swamp. We faced record cold in January at Bruce Creek

The current issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest (Jan.-Feb ’10) has my article about my sighting of the Ivory-Bill back in ’08.  It also has an ad for the print of my painting recreating my sighting. 20% of the purchase price will be donated to Dr. Geoff Hill’s (Auburn University) project on Bruce Creek and area. National Geographic has helped them with specialized robot cameras, which may be our best chance of catching the Ivory-Bills on “film.”  If you’re interested in the print and helping out, see my website at: http://www.johnnagnew.com     Check the “Prints and Books”  section.

Downstream from Morrison Springs

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“Some Paranoid Thoughts on Ivory-Bill Conservation.” Paranoid, my ass. Whoever brought that viewpoint to the forefront has healthy, objective horse sense. Identifying and seeing a rare woodpecker is not everybody’s concept of ultimate recreation. Like it or not Bubba’s viewpoint is part of the landscape: “Dead is better than live if my freedom is at stake.” How patriotic can you get?

Sad to say, bird watching seldom has anything to do about birds. Bird watching for the most part is about bird-watchers and their hierarchy of publicity seekers. Therefore, it is the bird watchers and scientists that have to learn to control their emotions about the Ivorybill and shut up about it. But they can’t because they view the Ivorybill as their lotto ticket to a name to fame. All that Bubba should have been told is “We are here studying Wood Ducks and Barred Owls.”

Somebody is going to have to start chipping away at the Ivorybill’s status as an icon to be venerated and as an object of pilgrimage. It is a woodpecker–that’s all.

A poster should be drawn showing an Ivory through cross hairs or just above the button of a shotgun barrel. The caption on the poster should read, “If You Really Care, Shut Up About This Bird”. Then post the poster on various birder websites.

From one Ivorybill lover to other Ivorybill lovers, Alan Allen.

Comment by Alan Allen




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