Saturday, February 25, 2006

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Celebration 12

Saturday's festivities concluded with presentations by Bobby Harrison, Tim Gallagher, David Luneau and Gene Sparling, followed by a book signing and very sweet cake. This was my third chance to hear Harrison talk about the IBWO, my second time to listen to Gallagher but my first opportunity to hear Luneau and Sparling.

An electrical engineer who teaches at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Luneau began reading about ivory-bills in 1991. The news about student David Kulivan's IBWO sighting in Louisisana's Pearl River Basin in 1999 prompted Luneau to visit "the Pearl" in 2000 and 2001 and to consider "How can technology merge with birding?"

Luneau participated in the Zeiss-sponsored search of the Pearl in 2002 with five other searchers for 30 days. They did not obtain evidence of the bird in that area.

The professor searched in 2003 in Arkansas with seven other searchers. They observed bark scaling that prompted the use of remote cameras to monitor trees.

The news about Gallagher and Harrison's February 2004 sighting reached Luneau on March 1, 2004, and "thus began the year of six lies and a videotape," he said.

Luneau played the infamous videotape twice for the audience, once with a close-up of the area in which the bird appears. "You can see the rowing motion in flight and a lot of white," he said.

Then Luneau shared images from the search team's efforts to re-enact his April 25, 2004, video using wooden models of an ivory-bill and a Pileated Woodpecker. The team did 33 takes of the re-enactment, the video of which prompted lots of laughter from the audience.

The professor made a point of emphasizing the duckhunting community's participation in this event. Hunters contributed to habitat conservation and restoration as well as funding for the ivory-bill search and recovery efforts, he said.

Then Gene Sparling took the microphone (that's him on the far right, talking to Jeff Bouton.) The kayaker who saw an unusual woodpecker on Feb. 11, 2004, said he just wanted to see the 1,000-year-old trees in Bayou DeView and "it was evident that this was different than other places in the Big Woods. This place is definitely something special," he said. "It's not hard to see that."

While his kayak floated around a bend, a large woodpecker dropped down and flew directly toward him. " 'My God, that's the largest Pileated Woodpecker I've seen in my life,' " Sparling said.

The bird landed 60 feet in front of him, and Sparling noted the long neck and the red crest that came to a sharp point. The thing that really caught his attention was the white feathers with a yellowish tinge.

"It made several, odd, herky-jerky motions of his neck and did a typical woodpecker peek-a-boo up the tree," Sparling said. "As he flew off, the wing profile was long and straight. It was as if his wings remained horizontal."

Sparling was familiar with with the ivory-bill's history and had dreamed about photographing the birds in Texas' Big Thicket. "I knew that was not a Pileated Woodpecker, and I knew the only other species was an Ivory-billed Woodpecker... but the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was extinct."

Now that some time has passed, Sparling said it's felt like a marvelous gift was set before him and he's assimilated two ideas from the incredible experience:
1. Believe that wonderful, marvelous things can happen. "Nature is more resilient than we humans can imagine," he said.
2. The most ordinary people can have an extraodinary effect. "The experts can guide us, but the collective efforts of us all will have the most impact," he said. "We're all on the same team; we're all for these woods."

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