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Remsen, J. V., Jr.  






Ivory-billed woodpecker discussion  

Interview 10:37 Play 10:37 More
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Numerous biologists  






Expedition meeting with comments from Remsen, J. V., Jr., Mark Emmert, Alan Wormington, David Luneau, Rick Knight, Alison Styring, Martjan Lammertink and Peter McBride.  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
15 Jan 2002

  • United States
    East Baton Rouge County
  • Baton Rouge
  • 30.45809   -91.140229
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
  • Sennheiser MKH 30
  • Sennheiser MKH 50
    Equipment Note
  • Decoded MS stereo

Show: Woodpeckers
Log of DAT #: 1
Engineer: Flawn Williams
Date: January 15, 2002

Radex Woodpeckers Log First Trip Jan 15-17 2002

Tape 1

0:01 Jan 15, 2002, Baton Rouge Louisiana. MS pair, MKH 50 in the mid, MKH 30 on the side. Alternate miking: DPA omni condensers, to AB stereo. 50-30 combo needs MS decoding in post-production

0:58 lots of conversations, mingling. Clearest conversation is with Nancy Higginbotham and Van Remsen. Talk about launching etc.

3:17 Van Remsen starts talking, room goes silent. Group heads around the corner to talk about Ivorybills and look at specimens.

5:02 Van Remsen:
First of all, I'm not an expert on Ivorybill woodpeckers. There's no expert on Ivorybill woodpeckers. We're all feeding off of the one monograph that was written about Ivorybill woodpeckers in the 1940's by James Tanner¿
Continues talking about the woodpeckers, describes the specimens, both ivorybills and pileated, collected in Franklin Parish in 1899.

6:35 "The reason the Ivorybill woodpecker went extinct, or we hope not totally extinct, is that it was specialized on a stage of forest, old growth, that had lots of old mature dying trees in the swamps, the bottomlands, the southeastern United States. It was found from east Texas to Oklahoma, north along the Mississippi to southern Illinois, and north along the coast to North Carolina. It was a true denizen of our southeastern swampy bottomland forests. It was restricted to those habitats. The reason that it went extinct was that those woods were cut over once, twice, three times. And the large trees that had lots of dead wood in them plus the old maturing forest just wasn't there anymore. Younger forest doesn't have as high a percentage of dead wood in it. The study that Tanner did found what we think is the key ingredient to the mystery of why Ivorybill woodpeckers went extinct. In contrast to our common pileated woodpecker which just digs in any old dead wood, whether it's three years, four years, ten years old, and does a lot of other things, Ivorybill woodpeckers, the majority of their time was spent doing one and only one thing. And that is scaling bark off of trees that were say one, two, three years dead. They weren't dead to the point that all the bark had fallen off, but they were still dead and the bark was still on. There was a suite of beetle larvae, that Tanner found, that ate the sapwood between the bark and the dead wood. And those beetle larvae would capitalize on dead trees. The bark protected the beetle larvae from woodpeckers in general. The pileated does some bark-scaling and can get at some of those goodies. But my feeling about Ivorybill woodpeckers, the reason they're so big and so powerful and look at the bill compared to the pileated woodpecker. That's a nearly 100% difference in bill length even though the body length's not that different. This bird was built to efficiently whack off that dead bark, scale off that bark, and get at these large juicy grubs that were immune to predation from almost anything else. In so specializing, the Ivorybill woodpecker had to cover a lot of ground. The territory size was, Tanner found in Tensaw National Wildlife refuge that the territory size was 3 miles, 4 miles, 5 miles, 6 miles, ten miles square. So they needed a lot of area to have enough to have of those stages of dead trees to provide their goodies that they needed, especially to raise their offspring. And one thing that many people have remarked about with the Ivorybill woodpecker is how long and pointed its wings are and what a fast flyer it was. The analogy was made to pintail ducks, which are a speedy-fast flyer. Not only they were built to whack off the bark on trees but to travel fast and far efficiently to get from one dead tree to another. And they also would congregate at burns, at beetle kill areas, home in on those areas and spend a lot of time there. They were sort of living on the edge, living on the edge in a habitat that's generally no longer here. They were designed to capitalize on these special resources that were distributed here and there in the forest and didn't last very long and then they would move on. (10:27)

10:42 Chancellor at LSU, Mark Emerett, is introduced. Emerett welcomes the Zeiss team and the media.

13:04 questions. How many birds would you need to have to have a sustainable population?

13:24 Van Remsen:
There's a chance that this may not be a sustainable population. Our worst nightmare is that there's a pair of ivorybill woodpeckers out there that's old and senescent and haven't been reproducing for years. Birds of that size theoretically could live 15, 20, 25 years. They don't have very much in the way of predators. Our hope is to find what you say, and that is a viable population of Ivorybill woodpeckers. But from the acreage of woods out there and what we know about territory size in ivorybill woodpeckers, there's room for 2, 3, 4 pairs at most. And of course, if they're out there they've made it this long, but I don't think it's a thriving population in terms of high density or anything like that.

14:13 any chance they migrated?

14:21 V.R. responds that it is possible that they migrated to the area, not that they are migratory birds but that they are mobile.

15:10 more mumbled conversations.

Search team introductions.
16:53 I'm Alan Wormington, I'm from Ontario. And I guess I could be considered a naturalist. I do a lot of research, tours, writing, guiding, in Ontario. And I have come to Texas probably twenty or thirty times over the years. Mostly on holidays but also for some research. We were involved in a project of being on offshore oil platforms to study bird migration across the gulf of mexico. And I've been in Louisiana maybe 5 times in the past so I know the area somewhat but not too thoroughly.

17:30 I'm David Luneau. I'm from Little Rock, Arkansas. I teach electronics and computer engineering technology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. I'm an amateur birder. I have an interest in the Ivorybill woodpecker. This will be my fourth trip to Louisiana to look for the Ivorybill woodpecker. I spent a week here last year looking in the Pearl River area as well.

17:57 I'm Rick Knight, from Johnson City, Tennessee. I'm a professional biologist and birder. I worked at LSU on the Trans-gulf project with Alan on the oil rigs. I've been to Louisiana several times, other parts of the southeast. This is the first time I've looked for Ivorybills. I've worked with another endangered species, the peregrine falcon. Was involved in the restoration program of peregrines in Tennessee and discovered the first nest there that had occurred in over a half century.

18:31 Hi. I'm Alison Styring. I'm from Louisiana State University. I'm a graduate student here in the department of biological sciences. I am working on my PhD. And for that I've been studying woodpeckers in Southeast Asia. I've been studying their forest ecology, tracking them, and taking censuses of 13 species.

18:53 My name is Martjan Lammertink. I'm from Sologico Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands. I made my first search for Ivorybill woodpecker in 1991 in Cuba and also in 93 and then spent a lot of time over in Mexico looking for the Imperial woodpecker. In the last four years I have been working in Indonesia on a PhD project also on the same Asian woodpeckers that Alison is working on.

19:18 Hi. I'm Peter McBride. I'm a habitat biologist from Bellingham, Washington and this is the first time I've really been in Louisiana. I guess I got involved in this project after working with another campephilus woodpecker in South America known as the Magellanic woodpecker on the island of Tierra del Fuego. I'm looking forward to seeing if we can find one of these here. (19:40)

19:49 more conversations. Searchers talk about specimens collected earlier in the century. All the searchers are re-introduced to everyone assembled. (23:38) "Just so everyone can place the face with the name. These are the official Zeiss searchers; we are incredibly pleased to have them on board, very talented. And I think everyone is very eager to get out into the field on Thursday, and begin the search." More conversations, directions. Lots of conversations, like eavesdropping.

34:05 I don't know who is speaking, maybe Van Remsen, but he says: "hopefully this will draw attention to the plight of habitats in the southeastern united states and make people aware¿whether we find the birds or not¿make people aware of what we had and what we no longer have. I mean, I personally feel deprived. I've lost part of my natural heritage, as an ornithologist, somebody who lives in Louisiana, somebody who lives in the United States. My grandfather could have, if he'd so chosen, gone out and seen Ivorybill woodpeckers, Carolina parakeets, passenger pigeons. I remember sitting on my grandfather's knee. And at that time, when he was a kid, he could have gone out and seen that. And, in some ways more importantly, he could have seen virgin timber, here and there anyway, throughout the whole eastern United States. How early that stuff was removed is scary."

36:10: "We have a moral obligation to keep looking until we're absolutely dead sure that there's no hope left. Personally I would prefer to have spent my time doing other things than this Ivorybill woodpecker search. I mean, my last ten days have been absolute hell. But it's a moral obligation. We can't let this credible sighting just be blown off. Wouldn't we feel terrible if somebody found a half-eaten ivorybill woodpecker out there by a predator or something like that a year or two from now and there we were we were sitting around wondering whether or not the sighting was credible. And what we should have done was do what we're doing right now which is mount the kind of systematic search that will answer the question whether they are there or not." (37:03)

37:05 conversation continues. Discussion of whether or not that question is answerable. There are only a few reasonable spots to search in the US and Cuba. Says somebody should do a search in Central Florida, Appalachiacola River, and the Big Thicket in Texas before the ivorybill is declared extinct.

41:00 More half-conversations. Group discusses differences between ivorybill and other woodpeckers. Discussions of the specimens on display. Searchers discuss each other's work. Martjan Lammertink talks about his work for a while.

1:01:00 Flawn talks with the guy who's taking audio out into the field.

1:08:00 More discussion of specimens. Photo shoot follows discussion.

1:19:00 stopdown.

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