David Luneau, Scott Simon; Bob Harrison
Ivory-billed Woodpecker search; Hardwood swamps
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
27 Jan 2005
- Dagmar State Wildlife Management Area
- 34.888 -91.318
Show: ELVIS (Ivory-billed Woodpecker)
Log of DAT # 3
Engineer: William McQuay
Date: January 27, 2005
DL = David Luneau
SS = Scott Simon
Bobby = Bobby Harrison
CJ = Chris Joyce
Bill = Bill McQuay
00:42: Willliam McQuay: WM: Okay, it's Thursday the 27th. We're at Boom. Everything we've had so far from my recordings are spaced omni. DPA mics inside the zepplin.
01:15 We're heading down to the canoes.
FX: 02:53 Clean push off from the bank and getting into the canoes 03:05
More push offs. Making adjustments in the boat.
05:20-10:19 ** AMBI: Getting situated [not much talking] and heading off in the canoes. [low motor sound]
10:20-12:20 [NG] AMBI moving along in the canoe but talking from the other canoe
12:20 - 15:15: [NG] AMBI slightly off mic conversation and description by David in Bill's boat.
15:17: CJ: [off mic in the other boat] David, how did you feel when you realized the ivory bill was not in Florida, it was not in Louisiana, it was right here in your own
DL: It was a wonderful day. Those 8 hour drives to Louisiana to go looking for it are tough to get up the energy for, but when I found it was just a little over an hour from my house, it was a wonderful day. The most wonderful part was knowing we really had good confirmation that the bird still existed. And then secondary to that was the fact that it was very close to home¿
CJ: Had you been here before.
DL: I grew up in Arkansas and had never even heard of Bayou DeView. Until right after the Pearl search I had never been in the White River refuge. It's not a place that, other than hunters or fishermen, the average person who even spends time in the outdoors in Arkansas doesn't spend much time in the White River refuge. There's one way in and out, basically, from the east side, It's down in the corner of the State, it's not on any major thoroughfare. So it's used mostly by hunters and fishermen. I had never been to it, but after the Pearl I was all charged up looking for ivory bills, so I decided to see what it looked like for the first time ever, and I was impressed.
CJ: [on mic] Did you come before it was first sighted by Gene?
17:03 DL: Yuh, I came here right after the Pearl search in 2002, in April that year. Robert, the guy in the video, my brother-in-law and I went down to check it out. And the second cottonmouth I just about stepped on kind of changed my mind about spending a lot of time down there in the spring, so that's when I planned to come back the next winter, early 2003 and have a little search. We did a little search and the first thing we saw was a scaled tree. I had not heard of any sightings, not heard of any even lousy reports, and we went down there, got out of the car, there was a tree across the road, so we had to stop, got out and looked, and one of the guys said hey, the beaver's been working on this tree. And I started looking at it. And it was too high for a beaver, and it looked just like the scaling we had seen in the Pearl, so that was the first moment of excitement that there might be something here. [18:07]
DL: Watch the tree here, we're getting a little bit of wind, blows us sideways. Get up in the woods a little bit, and there's usually not much wind.
18:27- Ambi -paddling. [Initially begins with very good paddling in the clear, then people start to chat off mic until 22:37]
22:37-23:20 FX: Bird calls - Woodpecker
Chatter about enormous cypresses dated at 1500 years.
SS: Historically a lot of the swamps like this had more cypress. After the cypress was cut, the tupelos would just grow faster¿. young forest that comes up would typically has more tupelo.
DL: For instance right here is a heavy cypress area.
29:58 AMBI: [VG] Rafting up until 30:16 when David says going to get a little bit of bush here, not much + Ambi [with no talking] of getting out of boats [31:11]
31: 31 Everybody hold onto each other
FX: 31:34 Loud FX sound, then very unusual and great sounds til 31:59
[Note: you can make a good little sound bed of many parts of all of this canoe trip from beginning to end, but it would take work. The FX and Ambi are definitely there]
INTERVIEW WITH BOBBY ?
Bobby: There's a cypress. The bird was about 50' up. Of course, I didn't know. I was hearing some chipping. I didn't know what it was. I was looking up, and a big woodpecker came off of the side of the tree, but there were a lot of leaves and branches in the way. I couldn't see what it was. I cut my motor. I was still moving
upstream. I had a clear view once it reached the bottom of its glide. Now I could tell it never flapped its wings. The wings were just out but I couldn't see a lot because of the leaves, and as it reached the bottom of its glide, it went up, and that's when I went into a clear area, and I could see it, and I could see the trailing edge of the wings, the black back of the bird, the white feathers going into the inner primaries again. I could see the back of the head, had a clear view of that. There was a definite
contrast between the crown, the nape area, and the neck, but it was all black, but there was a difference in contrast with that. As it was soaring up to alight on another cypress which was 68' away. I got out to measure the difference. I then moved the canoe. I reached for the camera and it disappeared. It's a real ghost. It really does disappear on you. I stayed here in the area and never saw the thing fly off, never saw it again.
CJ: So the total duration?
DL: About 3 seconds. I got more out of this than my first sighting that was around 7 seconds. I was not in shock. I'm out here looking for it now. I know it's here.
CJ: You were in shock the first time.
DL: Oh, I was in total shock after seeing it. I had just seen and ivory billed woodpecker, something I always believed existed, that it wasn't gone, but you never expect to find. And I saw one.
CJ: What went through your mind then?
: Did you ever see the Enemem commercial. Santa Claus and Enemem. They run into each other, and they say He does exist. They do exist. It was that kind of shock. I was right. It really does exist. It wasn't a figment of my imagination. They really do exist.
CJ: Did you think about all those people who doubted you, said you were a fool?
: I have a friend, I just can't wait for him to find out about this. He's an excellent birder. He believes they're extinct. He thinks I'm crazy for looking for one. I'll be real interested to see how he handles this.
CJ: Dou you think you have enough evidence to convince him?
: Yeah, He's a real reasonable person. That's all he wants is evidence. The problem in the past is that only one person sees it at a time. And when Tim and I saw the bird at the same time, it was the first time since 1944 when Don Eppleberry and Gene Laird [sp] who was a warden in the Singer track had gone out to find an ivory bill for Eppleberry to make sketches from life, and that's the last time that two people had seen the bird at the same time, who knew what they were doing. And when Tim and I saw it, it was an incredibly emotional moment for me.
CJ: You had to sit down for that?
: Oh, yeah, it was great.
CJ: And after that, you've seen it how many times?
: I saw it the next morning, and I wished Tim and Gene had seen it at that time too. We were just south of the camp which you'll see as we go up. I was just looking perpindicular to the canoe, and here the thing comes along, and it turns on edge, and I immediately see the pattern, just about 150-200' out, and I tell 'em, here it is, it's here, and Gene couldn't hear me, he was too far out. About that time some wood ducks flushed off the bow of the canoe, and Tim was looking at that, and then the thing turns and goes off away from us, and of course, they never see it. That was just me seeing it then. And it was not again until May, that was the next time I saw it. And it's just about 150, 200' up here. I frightened the thing off a tupelo butt.
CJ: Do you think it's possible to get across to a person a birder just how powerful the emotion is to be seeing this?
: You know, you look for something. I've had the interest for 33 years, and when I got Tanner's report, read that, I'm thinking, there's got to be habitat out there, the South, it's so big. I've been in places when I was that age that I thought could be habitat. You believe that the bird has made it through that bottleneck when the forests were bad, now they're improving. You really believe that it's there, you don't think you're ever going to see one, because there are so few, and if they have survived, they're going to be so shy, it would take a miracle to see it. Then you hear reports, some you can believe, some not¿..active in sighting and research, spent hundreds of libraries, and then you come out here on a good sighting like Gene had.
Gene is the ivory bill searchers dream come true. He really saw the bird. When I did the interview with him, and the told me things like that head was real cartoonish looking, what a great description. I'd never heard anyone say that, and as soon as he said it, yeah, it is, cartoonish, and the crest wasn't like a piliated. It came to this kind of point. Another great clue that's not really in any literature. And then he talks about it being nervous and it flew away in this straight line, it didn't call like a piliated does, so you really believe this guy. Gene, he either saw it, or he's lying about it , and when I met Gene, he wasn't lying. I knew immediately when I saw him, he'd seen the bird. This is not a guy who's going to make a lie about this. So I came out here believing there were ivory bills, expecting to see habitat, and say yeah, the habitat looks great, there could be ivory bills here, and then on the second out to have one fly in front of you. I lost it. Because it's real, it really does exist, and it's still alive. At least it was by September 4th, I know it was.
CJ: Do you think you'll find it again.
: Yeah, I feel real confident when the crew gets down into Dagmar, I feel real confident they're going to find a nest of them. They may not. It may disappear, and we may never hear of it again here. Herbert Stoddard mentioned that this bird is a disaster species, and I really believe that. It comes to an area where something has happened that kills trees. It feeds on it as long as it can, and then it moves to another area. Maybe that's happened here. Maybe it's in this bayou, because something happened here that's killed trees, food supply is plentiful, and when it's over, it moves out. We know they're made for powered flight. These birds cover a lot of ground.
CJ: The trouble is, it wouldn't know where to go.
: There's a lot of forest here along the bayou. Scott Simon has a better handle on the forest here. And the second growth in most areas is incredible now. Since the 60's the second growth forest has increased. The White River for example has second growth trees that are three feet in diameter.
Obviously this bird has adapted to various food supplies.
Since Tanner's study, we just don't know anything about this bird.
And that was really unique situation that Tanner had there. He had birds that became accustomed to people, an area that had not been hunted, so he had a chance to really study those birds. [44:03]
44:15 - 45:25 AMBI [for interview]
47:37 - 49:18 AMBI: heading upstream - then with motor around 48:20
49:18 FX: Turning off motor on the stream [plus talking at end and getting out of boat.
51:18 CJ: Tell me what we're rafting up to here?
DL: You see the tupelo butt, now the water is up a couple of feet here, and I'm trolling up fairly slow, and as I get abut at this angle, something explodes off this tupelo butt. I am so startled. I almost capsize. And as I look there's nothing but a blur of red, and nothing but blurs of white, And then it turns and flies off this way, and again it's the back of the bird is all you're seeing, but there's nothing but white on the back of this bird. It was on the inside of this tupelo wet. It flies off, and there's nothing but white on the trailing edge of the wings. It's a big woodpecker.
CJ: Were you carrying a camera.
DL: The camera was on the on my canoe, and it was gone, This thing disappears so quickly. As it flies off, it disappears so quickly, and it's summertime, it's all leafed out, and it disappears into the canopy. And you sit and you wait, and you hear nothing, you see nothing, it's very elusive. And that's one of the reasons it's been able to survive. It's so elusive. You're in an area where people hunt. So it's going to be elusive.
CJ: I presume in the back of your mind, if it's the only one, how is it going to reproduce.
DL: I think it's unlikely we've found the last of anything. It's always been my idea, and I'm speculating, if this bird is in here, it's because the good habitat's got a lot of ivory bills in it, the best habitat.
CJ: Do you think if there's another bird of the opposite sex in this habitat, it'll find it?
DL: Well, sure, who's to say, there's not two here. Just because only one has been seen at a time. There's definitely been a male seen. Gene's sighting which was the absolute best, he definitely saw a red crest. I can only say I've seen a red crest on one sighting. The sighting I had on June 9th the bird flying from me, if there'd been a rest crest there, I would have seen it. It would have stood out. I think there's two birds here based on my sighting, and what other sightings people have had. [55:06]
I want to see it again. I live for it. I want a lot more people to see it. There's been ten people who've seen it now. 12. SS: 10 sightings, 12 people. This is enough evidence to sentence a man to death. [55:57]
CJ: This was sighting number what?
DL: 1, 2, 3, 4 The video was take over here, my video, and I frightened the thing off a tupelo butt there, the reason I was so interested in looking at the tape that particular evening. Usually I do my tapes and go home and take the time to go through, but when I got to the hotel room, I wanted to see that tape, I didn't get into 10, 5 minutes into that tape. And here comes that spot across the tape, and I'm thinking this might be something. You saw how fast it went through, and I wasn't too eager to say anything at the time. I didn't say anything until I got to Cornell, and they looked at the tape, and as soon as they saw the tape there, their eyes lit up., and they went to work to deinterlace the frames.
CJ: It is amazing when you deconstruct that tape, slow it down frame by frame, how much more you can see. I'm astounded by that.
DL: This is the reason you have to have the experts like that. You can have your sightings, but unless you have these experts to come in and take these tapes apart, you really have nothing.
CJ: Do you have some skeptics in the group who are more skeptical than the others?
DL: Cautious. We have some cautious people, and truthfully there were some skeptics. Some of the better birders up a the Cornell Lab were very skeptical at first of all the sightings, once again before there was evidence, but then when they have evidence, but I think to a person all the people who were initially skeptical have come around to believe it wasn't mass delusion, that there really is one here, and they would really like to see it.
DL: I'm saying I've seen it five times. He's seeing that thing too much. First they're not realizing how much time I'm out here, then the last time I took 'em video. As it is, it's still a video, and that made a big difference. You have to put in your time for sure. There has to be a bird here also.
DL: This didn't get started until after Tim and I, actually Tim going to see Fitz looking like a sheep, and Fitz thinking he's gonna die. That's when everyone came down and started really saying maybe there is something here. It's vital to have two people see this bird at the same time.
There's two sightings from Alabama. One of them sounds really, really good. Is that the Highway Dept. guy, Yes.
CJ: But the video is still the gold standard.
DL: Yeah, better than a photo in my opinion, because you've got the movement. You get so much more information from a video. In this video you have a visual of what the bird looks like, but you have the gizz [sp] of the bird, how it flies. This bird has been characterized as flying like a duck, shallow wingbeats, using the primaries to fly. Interesting enough about my video, its empowered [?] flight, and when Tim and I saw the bird, we're looking off, and here comes this bird with shallow wingbeats and the primaries doing the work, and we're like wondering what this is. But in the video there is deep wingbeats, they're there. When you slow it down, those wings go all the way down. But when you see the thing in powered flight, you never see that, it's so fast.
DL: We did the math on the video of mine, and it's about eight beats per second when it was taking off. A bird with a 30 inch wingspan beating 8 times a second, there's a lot of wing motion going on.
DL: And on the video I have on that bottom flyby from the time it enters the frame til it goes behind that big tree that the decoy is on there are 3 wingbeats.
CJ: Is this a migratory bird at all?
DL: Never thought to be a migratory bird. Thought to be sedentary and stays in a given habitat, which I have always find hard to believe, because the bird is built for flight. It is made to travel. Nomadic is the best word to use.
SS: Bobby was describing the bird as a disaster species, moving into an area where the trees had had some stress. That occurs regularly in this place. 3-4 years ago these woods were hit with a massive ice storm. You had dying portions of trees, and you could envision had there would be a large food source. The neat thing about this place, the Cache River/White River bottoms is that they are wild. The rivers are moving back and forth here, so there is constant stress on trees, and trees dying, and beavers creating beaver ponds, but there are 200 areas of dead and dying trees in different parts of this ecosystem farther south. So if you envision a bird that is made for flight, this is a great place to constantly be exploring new areas of food, hanging out in an area, moving onto another place. And I've always thought of this area we're in now as just a little picture of the whole picture. It comes ut here, checks some things out, maybe it has a range, but it has a 130 mile corridor to explore. that's five to 15 miles wide. [1:05:52]
CJ: And remind again of the ownership of that corridor, what it was and is now.
SS: What it is now is owned by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas National Heritage Commission, some ownership by the TNC, and a huge number of private landowners who have enacted conservation
practices on their woods through the wetland reserve program, or just private clubs, so the people who live around these woods love this place. The whole ecosystem is about 550,000 acres. I think maybe 320,000 acres is in public ownership. Another 100,000 acres is conserved in private ownership.
CJ: Is it to where you want it.
SS: Over the last 20 years we've made great progress. Probably conserved about 250,000 moved into public and private conservation ownership. The next major frontier is connecting up the fragmented large forested pieces by working with private landowners to restore marginal farmland and agricultural fields, replant them with bottomland hardwoods andcreate the corridors to other forested blocks.
Long term, our ten year goal is about 750,000 total acres forested within the block. [1:07:26]
: I wanted to mention that when Tim and I came out here the thing that really impressed us about this forest was the beaver kills. Beavers are constantly killing trees out here, and that's what this bird needs. It needs that constant source of food, and the beavers provide it. It's that ecosystem working to continually feed that bird.
CJ: Has anyone gone out to look under the bark of the dead trees if there are grubs and beetle larvae.
:We see beetle tracks in the tops of the trees. Bark has been scaled from it. So there are definitely beetles here.
: The other thing we have to keep in perspective is that the stomach contents that were ever studied about this bird, I think 3 total, it was about have fruit, half grubs. And we have observed a lot of woodpeckers in here coming down to the water and eating the tupelo fruit¿..[1:09:42]
1:10:27 AMBI: Moving on with chatter, though some quiet times.
So how far do you think we've gone today?
DL: Okay, were coming up on the site where we got the video, and we're basically doing just about what Robert and I were doing that day, and that is motoring up the channel talking in low casual tones, with the video camera running looking for the game cameras I had, and this tree just ahead of us is the one that you saw in the video that the camera pointed under, through beside the large cypress, and that's where we think we saw the bird on the tree at a distance. And then, as we come up the channel, bends to the left, go around this cypress, as it we came around, I cut the motor off and raised it to the lock position and it made a click sound, and very shortly after it made that click sound the bird flew off.
CJ: He took off in the opposite direction.
The camera was pointing straight forward [focused on Robert] caught enough to give the information that we have.
Bill: sound of motor
FX: click sound
CJ: At the time, it wasn't enough to make you feel you'd seen an ivory bill.
DL: No¿.When I see a large woodpecker flying, I look for the black and white and try to figure out whether the black is in front or behind the white on the underside of the wing. If the white is on the leading edge it's a piliated. If its on the trailing edge it's the ivory bill. Couldn't see enough. Was a lot of white.
CJ: Took the film to show to someone else.
DL: Went to Robert's house looked.
Took it home and copied it to the computer, looked it over for a couple of days. Then took it to Scott Simon at TNC.
CJ: That was the major on film capture. Tim Gallagher said it was the first ever video of an ivory billed woodpecker. There have been films shot [in the 30s], what's left of them, films were destroyed.
SS: Earlier, you were asking about the skepticism.
When David showed us the video, there wasn't just this oh my gosh moment. David came over and said I want to show you something interesting. We have to do a lot of interpretation of this to see what we really have. You've seen the video, and it does take a while to rule out other things that it might be. And it's gone through a pretty deliberate process that's not done. We are not finished with the analysis. It all looks really good, and we certainly believe the people who say they've seen what they've seen. That's something that's really neat within our group. Right now, we're trying to collect the evidence. [1:30:00]
1:30:15 - 1:31:37 AMBI from scene and interview.
1:31: 40 Back and forth conversation about the video - off mic
1:33:22 SS: You know one thing I've been impressed about is the careful approach and the deliberateness that everybody has approached the evidence and the video. Essentially for 9 months there were two copies, copies were in two peoples possession and then a copy in a safe. David analyzed it, showed it to a couple of people, we discussed it on our weekly conference call , which is our process for managing this project, and it wasn't to leave his possession, and we have parties every couple of months to analyze our strategy, and David had a viewing to members of the team. And Fitz flew down. And then you gave Fitz a copy for them to analyze further.
CJ: What day of the week is your conference call?
SS: Tuesdays. And we've had one every Tuesday since we started this. And that's an important part of this process, because everybody who's involved in this effort has individual goals that are very important to them, organizations have goals, and what
is phenomenal is committed to help each other reach their goals. While proceeding in a very discreet manner so that we don't get ahead of the conservation work or the future. I credit everyone involved.
CJ: What's the hardest part?
SS: I think the hardest part is having this world class secret that you know is not ready to be shared. And moving forward with continued research, search, conservation efforts in such a way that you do not trigger a lot of interest. We were altogether with 20 searchers last night, and there are another 10 searchers in a relatively rural area where they're able to do their work without attracting a lot of attention. That is the most challenging, but also, the thing that binds the team
Very closely together because everyone is holding a lot of confidences. There is a member of the team who are taking this so seriously that they have not shared it with family members who are very close by. And I think it's just a testament to how much this place means to them to do the best thing for science, for the people who live here, and for conservation of the largest, best, and most diverse bottomland hardwood system in the U.S. The history of this bird, the conservation community never quite being able to do enough, and to think that the last place where they knew it was for sure was cut, and watched it go extinct must have been heartbreaking. I think we have, if we believe the body of evidence, and the sightings, we have a chance. [1:38:08]
:I think the hardest part for me is not being able to tell anyone.
SS: It is the world class story of hope.
: When get to the end of the century, this will be the story.
SS :This is the first time the team has told the story.
1:40:00 Chatter re. cold weather and head upstream
1:45:00 ff. FX stop to pick up a feather - [NG - Chris talking, plane overhead]
then more movement upstream with chit chat
: .7 1 miles to the bridge, upwind and upstream
: When you come through this little tight area in the spring or summer, there's snakes on these logs, big snakes almost every time.
CJ: Within striking distance.
: I've been told by the snake people they can only strike over about half the length of their body. The water moccasins in the channel sometimes will kind of raise up and give this belligerent look that they're not going to move out of your way, but if they're swimming along, we stay in the canoe, they stay in the water, and everybody's happy.
****1:51:26-1:52:19 AMBI of moving up channel that is kind of pretty. Very Good
****More AMBI from 1:54:30 - 1:56:38 but with some birds FX in distance and talking + motor
1:56:55 - 2:00:09 AMBI on the boat with no motor, just listening to distant bird calls [probably you will need this]
CJ: That call - is it a pilated?
: Yeah. The really loud one. Little peeps, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker. We're hearing a chickadee, a nuthatch.
CJ: And the pounding was a piliated. And the drumming was very characteristic of a piliated.