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John Fitzpatrick, Christopher Clark  






Placement of ARU #2. Includes comments by unidentified people. Note that John Fitzpatrick and Christopher Clark are often separated by physical space and are not interacting with each other.  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
25 Jan 2002

  • United States
    St. Tammany County
  • Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge
  • 30.5475   -89.793889
    Recording TimeCode
  • 49:07 - 1:27:33
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Lectrosonics 195 Series Wideband UHF Diversity Wireless System.

Show: Woodpecker
Log of DAT #: 11
Engineer: Flawn Williams
Date: 1/25/02

Lots of boat motor sound, loud. Fuzz on the left side mike. Left side sound cutting in and out. Voices talking occasionally.

Left side out 3:50-18:20
Right side, boat motoring along.

It's mainly cypress, real wet cypress tupelo basically throughout it looks like. It's not our primary search we're after. It's a beautiful spot. But I just don't see the density of big trees. I don't see a lot of sweetgum growing in this wet a place. The bird really did like sweetgum. It's a pretty spectacular area thought, I have to say. Look at that.

17:55 boat stops.

18:06 motor restarts.

18:20 left side kicks in again!!
Group decides this isn't an appropriate place to search.

20:47 boat stops again.
Group gets out of boat. Eating SPAM/bologna sandwiches. Discussion of where to go next. Left side chewing noises.

24:30 boat starts up again.

27:30 "Watch your head!"

28:01 stopdown, restart.

28:10 (right side)
If we could stick ourselves right out here, kind of almost right out to where the power line is, or even cross the power line, right in there somewhere. That's as good a spot as we can find if the forest looks good, and this forest looks fine.

28:55 group starting to prepare to get out, lots of rustling on the left side.

29:15 CC (left side)
Okay, so why this place, as opposed to any other?

FX zipper being pulled.

29:38 group getting ready to go, discussing, packing up.

30:15 JF
We're right here. This is where we put our posts somewhere down there. We've just come up this way. That's where I went in before. This whole area has had the understory artificially cleared over the last ten years so it looks kind of more park-like. As we were coming up here I was saying this area looks pretty darn good so I just said let's stop and look at it. So that's what we're doing, stopping and looking at it. And to me, if we go in here a few hundred yards, quarter mile we'll hit that power line. That's a little bit of a downer because the hunting frequency will be a little bit higher, but to me, we just get a spot right there, this whole area looks nice. So, I kinda want to just take a compass line in and see what it's like. (31:15)

31:23 CC
So where are we?

31:24 JF
We're on the right side of this little mouth bayou, right there. So I just want to go due west and see what this is like in here. We were planning on this spot but there's a downsides of this spot. It's had its understory treated by some clearing.

31:44 CC
Oh, so it's different from what it is¿

31:46 JF
Yeah, it's not a completely natural woods. I don't know that that's a big deal for a woodpecker. But it just struck me, you know, we're going by some pretty nice stuff here, what the hell, let's just get some in. We could angle a little north of west. But I just wanted to get in the woods.

32:20 large paper blowing in the wind. JF says "why don't you carry that, just in case we feel like looking at it. So let's set a little north of west.

32:50 this area is called hell's gate.

left side walking through underbrush, feet crunching. Then through a puddle. Big belch at 33:20

Rt. side GPS beeping

34:05 CJ
How does this forest compare to where we just were at?

34:09 CC
Well, this is much more of an upland forest. These are oaks and sweet gums mainly. That beautiful cypress we were in was spectacular looking but it was just pure cypress tupelo which ivorybills actually headed more towards the hardwoods, the oaks and the sweet gum. The ivorybill woodpecker was quite favorable to the sweet gum. It really liked sweet gum forests. So we've got a little bit of searching for a forest that has a lot of sweet gum in it, and oaks. And a little more upland. That's exactly what we're in, some hickory. Again, when you look across this forest you're not looking at a really old forest. These are things that are 50, 60 years old max. So it's not fabulous. But it's, there's some bigger trees in here. We just want to see what we see when we get in here a little bit. So what we're going to head out about 290. (35:21)

35:30 group walking through forest. Some crunching walking noise.

36:29 CC (yelling)
Fitz, it seems we should get pretty far away from this path.

36:34 JF
Somebody else headed out at 290 too, didn't they? These are hunters.

36:44 CJ (or someone else off-mike)
how's the habitat? Are these trees what you're looking for?

36:48 JF
Well, they're not fabulous.

36:55-36:59 group walking, good crunching noises.

36:59 CC
So when you look at that aerial and you see right around here has a little more pinkish, that's the hardwood. And if we keep going it's going to get a little more greenish.

37:11 JF
And it won't be long before we actually hit that power line.

37:26 JF
There's some big trees in here, I mean it's not a terrible forest. Get in here and do a little owl count. (group walking)
37:50 JF
There's a dead tree¿Pretty long dead though.

37:58 group walking.

38:41 JF
There's a lot of woods it looked like lived here.

38:48 crunching in the underbrush.

39:09 JF
That's a big, is it meadow oak, chestnut oak? That's a nice big tree.
That was gonna get cut.

39:33 CC
Aren't we in federal land?

39:37 JF
It's old. You know this is as good as we're going to see. 39:47¿mike cuts out.

40:02 JF
You know there's no particular thing about this that says stick one here. Except that the day is getting on.

41:00 lots of static on both sides.

43:52 FX distant owl-type call

43:54 FX
JF returns call

more distant calls.

conversations about oaks, loggers cut undergrowth to get more oaks to grow etc. nothing stellar.

46:36 JF
From now on the big thing to look for is a huge white patch on the back of a bird. The second half of the bird is white.

46:55 JF
The pileated has a little white on the wing and when they fly they flash a lot of white so when they fly it doesn't count. Sittin on a tree, you see a bird with a ton of white on its back¿

18:40-49:21 JF
gives three barn owl calls. (a little static on the last two, third one cuts out).

49:30 JF

49:32-50:30 JF
gives more barn owl calls.

50:30 JF
another redbelly. The redbellies are starting to talk.

51:16 JF
This is that quiet midday period when we're turning it off.
I'm not getting that woodpeckery feel that I got at that last place.

55:31 FX birdcall in the trees, on rt. side.

JF walks off, pacing distance. Arrives at spot where CC is.

58:02 JF
(yelling back) I was ten yards short!
Go back ten meters. I must have lost count!

in distance, running a birdcall tape. 5 min. of ambi.

1:03:18 CC
Okay, this is site 2, 30.61724 north by 89.83407 west
Mark, 122500. it's two hours since we started the last one.

JF walking back.

1:04:56 CJ
We were talking about the kind of emotional response this woodpecker gets.

1:05:02 JF
Oh yeah. This woodpecker, more than any other bird in North America, more than any other bird in the world, is the one people who love birds wish they could see. And respect and just hold in huge awe.

1:05:20 CJ
Why? I don't understand why.

1:05:22 JF
Well, it was big. It's the second biggest woodpecker in the world. And since the first explorers, Catesby and Audubon, who saw it, they fell in love with it. Spectacular, black and white, huge white patch, big red crest, gleaming white bill and just a really a very very beautiful bird and the biggest woodpecker. Plus, it's living in this woods, which again in the early days was the forest primeval, the classic forest, the big pines, the big bottomland swamps that were eight, ten foot diameter trees. And just mythic in what it stands for, even when it was alive and getting rare back at the turn of the 20th century. And today the bird has been suspected to be extinct so long that just by virtue of that it's a sought after prize or a myth to be able to see it again. But more importantly it's a bird that if we did find it, if we got lucky, that these reports turn out to be true and it's here, it means that we have in a sense a sort of a rebirth. There's going to be a revelation that this symbol of the destruction of the southeastern forests actually survived through that period, survived the bottleneck. So there'll be a rush of adrenaline and joy really to imagine that this one that had the hardest time of all getting through that bottleneck has survived and it means that it could have survived in other places, other bottomlands in Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana. And it in a sense provides some sort of salvation for the idea that before thinking about it thoroughly, we allowed every square meter of this southeastern bottomland forest to get cut. And if this bird survived, it can come back. It's better now. This wood would support ivorybills now. It's got big trees, it's got old dead trees, it's got a huge density of woodpeckers in it. And I'm convinced that if they lived, they could live here. This is a lot of land. (1:07:50-53 interrupted so Chris can move something) If they lived through that bottleneck of all that cutting through the middle of the 20th century then they're going to make it because there's a lot of land in this bottomland and other bottomlands in the south.

1:08:07 CJ
It seems as if it's a bird that went extinct, if it did go extinct, right around the time when people were starting to have the modern knowledge and the tools and the technology to study it. So people don't know a lot about this bird.

1:08:25 JF
No, that's exactly right. The sad part about this bird is that it did go extinct just as the kind of ethic about saving big wild places was taking hold.

1:08:34 CJ
Also the sophistication, I mean naturalists of the 19th century did a great job describing

1:08:39 JF
Right. Mostly though they shot it. And did describe its habits a bit. But the amazing thing about the ivorybill woodpecker is that we really only one scientific account of this bird, nicely done scientific account of this bird. An absolutely landmark study done by Jim Tanner while he was a grad student at Cornell, found by Arthur Allen and sent down here and they discovered or re-discovered the bird in 1935 and then Tanner spent the next several years studying this bird in the Singer tract, not very far from where we are here.

1:09:18 CJ
Does that Cornell connection make it sort of personal for you?

1:09:22 JF
Oh very, very very much so. We have at the laboratory the only real documentation of the living bird. We have those beautiful photographs that Allen took. We have the spectacular recordings; short as they are they are beautiful recordings of the ivorybill that they found. And Tanner was there and Allen were there and so there's very much a personal connection. We've felt a connection with the ivorybill since the 30s. I've actually personally gone down into the rare books archives and dug out Jim Tanner's pencil-written notes (GPS beeping) from his days down in the Singer tract and ah¿(fiddling with GPS)

1:10:30 CJ
If you had a chance to see any other bird¿if you saw this bird what would you do?

1:10:37 JF
Well. There's no other bird in the world I'd rather see. Any kid who has dreamed about birds since¿as soon as he begins to understand what birds in North America are, the kid dreams about seeing ivorybill woodpeckers.

1:10:54 CJ
And you're one of those kids.

1:10:55 JF
I am absolutely one of those kids. I have dreamed about this bird since I could read, looking at the pictures in the Peterson's guide.
It's actually hard for me to tell that story without trembling.
Let's head back to the boat. I'm going to do a couple of minutes here and I'll catch up.

1:11:42 JF
Oh, it's hard for me to talk about the idea of seeing an ivorybill woodpecker without actually getting a little choked up. It would be so huge. It's a bird that everybody who becomes a birdwatcher, especially people like me who have been birdwatchers since kindergarten, who have looked at the pictures in the Peterson field guide since they could read and have dreamed about this spectacular bird and all these beautiful forests it was in. The idea of actually laying eyes on one, I would burst out in tears.
I'm almost there! It's just amazing. It's especially moving, frankly, to be standing here knowing absolutely that there used to be ivorybill woodpeckers flying right over our heads here. And the notion of seeing one is too difficult to imagine.

1:12:55 JF
I think there's a big picture that needs to be told about this technology, which is why I'm here.

1:13:56 CJ
What would happen if you don't find the bird here, even with the ARUs? I suppose you could say its gonna advance the technology, and that's a plus. But what about the level of interest being raised and then falling?

1:14:21 JF
Yeah, there's definitely some hopes being raised all over the country frankly by this search. And obviously each one of us is here in part saying, 'god, can you imagine if we actually found this bird how amazing that would be.' The chances that we'll find it are small; the chances that it even exists here are small. And the failure of this search will by the way not, by any means discount the idea that it might be here. You see how big these woods are. There's a lot of land to cover here in this difficult terrain. And ivorybills have huge home ranges¿three, four square miles. So finding it is a challenge; we've known that from the beginning. So if this search doesn't turn up something it will reduce the chances somewhat that the bird is here. It won't stop the interest in the bird. In fact I really believe that this search has elevated the interest in a lot of people in the possibility of actually getting into the various places where it might still exist and really doing justice to the search, really trying hard. And after all, it's amazing, this is the first multi-person search for this species in 50 years.

1:15:35 CJ
Does it shock you that something as rare and unusual as this gets so little attention, has gotten such little attention?

1:15:42 JF
Well, it's a little bit shocking. Although most people have lots to do and as we're seeing here in the process of doing it it's very difficult to do it. You can't do justice to a search like this for a bird this rare without spending a lot of time and money and energy and getting a lot of people involved in doing it. And even when we do, to the extent that we have this winter, we know that we could come out of here having missed it and it was still there. So it's a big job to do. And that's why these occasional reports that come out from people that we have good reason to believe are credible people and haven't made it up are so alluring. Because it is somebody just sitting in the woods randomly at one point or another seeing it, that is probably how it used to get seen as well. So if this search comes up dry it does not mean that we've declared the bird extinct by any means. And I think the fact of the search and the publicity that the search has generated, which surprised all of us, is a good thing because it does bring out the importance of thinking about this ecological system as much as about this mythical bird itself.

1:16:58 CJ
Speaking of ecological questions, is it frustrating that this bird had such a narrow ecological niche for itself and survived on one or two different kinds of beetles for most of its diet or larvae, the trees, it wasn't very catholic in its tastes and the tree had to be just dead but not too dead. It's such a narrow niche, it specialized so much, that probably I expect was good until some of this environmental change happened and that's what happens to specialists.

1:17:30 JF
Well that's right. And just as with the case of birds who are fire-adapted, which we think of today as being very specialized because they're fire-adapted. Well before humans were coming and suppressing fires there were fires all the time, there were fires everywhere. Just the same way with the Ivorybill woodpecker. We think of it now as a very specialized bird. It needed the recently dead and dying very large trees. But the southeastern North America was covered with those for millennia before humans came in and wiped them out over a hundred year period. So yes, specialized but specialized on something that was actually pretty darn widespread and common in the old primeval woods. Big dead and dying trees are common in virgin forests. And the myth that was perpetrated really by the forestry industry that we want to make the forest healthy by getting rid of senile trees is silly from an ecological standpoint. Trees have been going senile for the millennia. And in fact a healthy forest is filled with dead trees. In fact, walking around here today, looking for the places to put our equipment we're looking for places with dead trees which show us that this is a lively, dynamic forest that has been around for a while. So it's a specialist but it's a specialist on something that was widespread and common throughout the southeast. And therefore there were thousands of these birds at one point.

1:18:51 CJ
Do you think that if it's still existing right now and you discovered it you might find a slightly different bird that's adapted to different conditions, maybe eating a different insect?

1:19:03 JF
Well, that's hard to imagine. A woodpecker by its nature does have a set of requirements that are pretty narrow. It's got a very specialized body form, it's got a very specialized bill shape. And those are all tuned to behavioral search patterns that these birds have. So no, I think if the Ivorybill woodpecker exists here it's doing the same thing it's always done it's just doing it on slightly smaller trees.

1:19:31 CJ
And if you found one here would you say okay I can hang up my binoculars now?

1:19:36 JF
No, I don't think I'd do that! I think if I found one out here it would be so rejuvenating you couldn't believe how much harder I'd want to work.

1:19:50 Chris and John go to catch up with the others.

1:22:20 group getting back into the boats and discussing where to go next.

1:24:00 looking at the map for locations.

1:25:15 boat motor starts up again, lots of conversation and map-rustling.

1:27:42 stopdown

1:28:15 boat motoring along, voices. Stopping to gas up.

1:30:22 stopdown

determining next spots to place ARUs.

boat starts up again, getting ready to leave.

1:38:22 stopdown

Placement of ARU #1. Includes comments by unidentified people. Note that John Fitzpatrick and Christopher Clark are often separated by physical space and are not interacting with each other.

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