My art group, Masterworks For Nature, is teaming up with the Cincinnati Zoo and Geoff Hill of Auburn University to conduct an Ivory Bill “hunt” in the Choctawhatchee River Basin in January 2010. The Zoo is bringing a videographer to film the expedition, and a DNA expert in the hopes that we’ll find potential IBW feathers or droppings. A few of our Masterworks members have been involved with IBW research for a while. John Ruthven was involved in the Arkansas search before it was made public, and was commissioned by the Interior Department to paint the bird. The painting was unveiled at Interior’s announcement of the bird’s rediscovery.
There will be a fairly large number of people involved (2 dozen??), so we can coordinate efforts to cover a large area at any given time. Our trip in 2008 was successful in that two of our members saw the bird, but we know it slipped by others because of gaps in our coverage. Finding active nest holes is the main objective, other than photographing the bird (always the top priority). I’ll post more as the expedition is planned in detail, and of course, a full report after it happens.
Watch for my article about my 2008 sighting in the January-February issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest.
I wasn’t surprised at our lack of success at Bruce Creek last March, as it is more like the typical experience of Ivory-Bill hunters. Had I seen a second one in my second attempt, everyone, including me, would wonder about my sanity as well as my veracity. This is one of the rarest birds in North America. Why would we expect it to be easy to find? Also, I hear that there has not been much activity noticed in the area since last spring (’08). No double knocks have recorded recently, no “kent” calls, and no sightings. It would seem the birds have moved elsewhere or hunkered down in their nest cavities. We talked to a local guy who has lived in the area for 60+ years. He has seen the bird numerous times, and thought we were spending way too much time in river swamps. He says that most of his sightings were in upland hardwoods. We talked to another younger man who was fishing at the Bruce Creek landing, and he also said he has seen more IBWO’s in the upland valleys. They both identified the correct woodpecker picture .
Skeptics point to the lack of any credible photographs as a sign that we’re on a wild goose chase. On my last visit to Bruce Creek, I decided to make a “serious” attempt to photograph a Pileated Woodpecker, which were abundant and obvious in the area. It was close to impossible to get a clear view of one from a distance, and those that came close were visible for only a second or two, hardly enough time to get off a shot with the camera. Had I been better prepared last year, I might have been able to snap a photo, but focus would have been very difficult, as the bird was coming at me. Auto focus just does not work in such a situation, with a background of branches and leaves. Chances are I would have missed or botched the shot. Of course, just tooling around in a kayak with a camera is not a truly serious attempt to get a photo. Geoff Hill and group have improved their camera traps with seismic triggers and higher resolution. They have captured Pileated Woodpeckers, so it only seems a matter of time before they get an Ivory-Bill. Other photographers have set up with extreme camouflage and professional equipment, but so far have just picked the wrong spots to wait.
I’m confident that someone will turn up something concrete in the near future. There are a lot of determined amateurs out there, so some one is bound to get lucky and stumble on a IBWO, as I did, but get the photo too.