My behind-the-scenes connections seem to be busy doing other things, so I am not getting the latest news as quickly as I was. I am bummed out about this, but I am still happy to pass the emails along to you when they finally make their way to me.
This is another email from Tim Barksdale, the lead cinematographer for the ivory-billed woodpecker (IBWO) search team. Some of you might recall that I published another email from him a couple days ago. I picked this email up from the birder’s email list, TEXBIRDS@LISTSERV.UH.EDU. I removed Tim’s email address and telephone number for obvious reasons. Some html code and grammatical fixes were made, and editorial comments added by me [in brackets, like this].
Hi Missouri and Montana Birding Folks,
This will be the short version of what will be a longer piece to be published in the Bluebird.
I was hired in early April 2004 to be the lead digital cinematographer in the effort to produce a definitive documentation of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker sighted in Arkansas.
Yes – I saw the bird briefly – however, very unsatisfactorily – so much so – that I insisted my sighting not be included as one of those in the Science Article. However, I had 3 other acoustic encounters that were electrifying. More on all that later.
Ivory-billed Woodpeckers still exist.
Let things in Brinkley settle down a bit. Then plan on visiting either Cache River NWR or White River NWR. We had indications but never confirmation of more than one bird in this vast area of over 300,000 acres. Unfortunately, only sections of this area are undisturbed and there are no virgin tracts. Few key areas still remain to be searched. But we have only used transects in 8% of this huge area.
There are many new pieces of TNC [The Nature Conservancy] land that have been bought and will be planted to trees, and allowed to be restored to natural habitat. In 100 years we will have 1000’s of acres of amazing Ivory-bill habitat. This is not about whether you and I ever get to see this bird. This is about whether we can do things to encourage a species to survive. Our Grandchildren will hopefully appreciate what we are doing now.
The following discussion is the result of hundreds of hours of conversations with other team members, including Martjan Lammertink, considered by many to be the leading expert on the worlds [sic] declining large woodpeckers. Jim Tanner died a few years ago and believe me all of [us] wished he or George Sutton had still been around to help us understand what was going on.
Although many things in Tanner’s study apply there are many differences that have occurred for the birds to have adapted and survived the bottleneck. [I think he is referring to a habitat “bottleneck”. A reader points out that this might refer to a genetic “bottleneck”. If so, Tim is dead-wrong on this; these birds have only begun to enter and thus, adapt to, their genetic bottleneck.]
As to Bill Edelman’s comments about Big Oak being too small – according to TANNER standards – yes. And this is why the birds have been missed for so long. We keep looking for habitat that is gone. There is no Singer Tract [the Singer Tract, owned by the Singer Sewing Machine Company, is located along the Tensas River in northeast Louisiana]. These blocks of large undisturbed bottomland forests have been totally raped. However, any blocks of undisturbed virgin forest represent islands of unique favorable habitat. Marginal habitat may surround these special islands and act as subsistance level survival only feeding areas.
However, Bill [Edelman] may not be aware of how close Latourneau Woods (870 acre virgin forest immediately north of Hickman, Kentucky), Donaldson Point, CA and Reelfoot NWR [National Wildlife Refuge] are to Big Oak. In terms of Ivory-billed Woodpecker in any century this is not a significant distance. Put together, these 4 areas alone – involving 4 states – could easily represent a feeding area for a single bird. Given the fact that no areas of virgin forest is found in Cache River nor White River NWR we [must] be vigilant to use scientific analysis to explore and inventory EVERY area of potential use to Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
In addition, skeptical ornithologists belittled men who reported encounters with ivory-bills. John Dennis’s career was ruined and he very likely had birds in the Big Thicket of eastern Texas in 1968. His recordings were recently re-examined in light of the Arkansas bird and watch for future papers on acoustic information of ivory-bills.
Many biologists may be critically over estimating the importance of large cerymbicid beetle larvae in the ivory-bills diet. The ONLY 3 [ivory-billed woodpecker] stomachs ever examined held 60% vegetable material including pecans, poison ivy berries, wild grape, etc. This is probably the critical point to realize that IBWO’s [ivory-billed woodpeckers] had to find something else when the Singer [Tract] was cut.
The birds at Singer left the areas alive. Ivory-bills are very capable strong fliers. Several key points to consider which drive home this point. Ivory-bills are not much larger than Pileateds [pileated woodpeckers] but — They have about [a] 3-inch longer wingspan and are about 3 [inches] larger from head to tip of tail as well. The wings appear much longer [than pileated woodpeckers’] and the tail as well. Perhaps the most important point to consider is that Ivory-bills weigh nearly twice as much as Pileateds do. This is not as critical in food requirements – but is very relevant in terms of powered flight and speed.
Consider two other species very similar in size and how it effects [sic] feeding behavior and other parameters. American Kestrel and Merlin are actually really great comparative species. [The] Merlin is much heavier, [a] significantly more powerful flyer and feeds in a different manner [from the American kestrel]. So Ivory-bills and Pileateds are like Merlins are to Kestrels. Some one may want to refine my comments but this is roughly it.
Throw out all the old ideas of home ranges of Tanner. Those were from a habitat which [sic] no longer exists, there are no more blocks this large. The only exception is [that] you can take [that] and expand it at least 5 times to begin to understand what current Ivory-bills must do. But the good news is that at least some have made it through this bottleneck. If one looks at the very good reports from Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi and yes, Louisiana, and apply the difficulty we have had in documenting this bird then one can see that it is very possible that several Ivory-bills are out there. Certainly, if Ivory-bills live at least 15 years then in the past 15 years there was a pair that bred and produced the male which has been positively documented in Arkansas.
Dispersal is a difficult story. Young birds of most species disperse from the parental home range. Colonial species have other sets of behavior. Ivory-bills fed in family groups often and Tanner was never able to document any aggression between neighboring pairs. Our bird in Arkansas, fledged from somewhere within the past 15 years. So there were 3 Ivorybills at the time of fledging. Could the source pair have been in the Pearl River? Yes. Could the source pair have been in a remote remnant forest swamp in northern Florida? Yes.
When searching for larvae of beetles, Ivory-bills chip away the bark, often in very large pieces .. They tend to feed on freshly dying or newly dead trees which beetles have recently invaded. We were very lucky to have perhaps the only cerambycid/tenebrionid beetle expert in the world who was not interested in KILLING them, li
ving right in Little Rock!!! So I was excited to read Michael Warriner’s papers early on and apply this knowledge to my search images.
Tanner visited the White River in the 1940’s and dismissed it as a place for Ivory-bills. He and others were not impressed by the Tupelo/cypress areas as good habitat. Yet somehow as the hardwoods in adjacent tracts were harvested, these ignored areas were left behind with 1600 year old monster trees! We found several cavities that clearly were made by Ivory-bills although these showed no signs of recent use. Cypress are known as insect resistant species but much of some searchers’ excitement was focused on this species. We had some evidence that ivory-bills were feeding on Scolitidae beetle larvae in upper branches of these trees.
What is needed is a massive effort of perhaps multiple years to find and document Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the south. There is an enormous amount of habitat which could support birds. In the Pearl [River], I was told many times by our team members who were involved in both crews, that the Tupelo/Cypress breaks were ignored. The other factor is that everyone felt it would be easy to hear and see the birds. We now know that these survivors have become very wary of humans.
After a day long intensive hike through Big Oak Tree [State Park] and a follow up conversation with Martjan Lammertink – I can state that peeling of Sweet Gum bark was done in a manner consistent with the characteristic methods used by what we feel is certainly ivory-billed Woodpecker has been photographically documented in Big Oak Tree St. Pk. There were two other trees that were recently dead which showed characteristic peeling of bark about 50 feet up. The number of peeled trees was not large throughout the park but this is not found in Pileated-only areas.
We have found that Pileated diggings are inconsistent with this type of peeling. Ivory-bills often open up the trees and Pileated take advantage of secondary beetle larvae that borers deeper into the dead trees. Tanner noted that Ivorybills can also bore deeply into the dead wood areas of trees.
But – I doubt that if a bird is trap-lining a large feeding territory in Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee that it is the same bird that is using the areas in Arkansas.
Carol and I are working on a special offering of a Fair Trade/Shade Grown/Organic Coffee we are finalizing the brew tomorrow and the label is next. This coffee will feature a robust taste and we will donate $5.00 to the Arkansas Chapter of The Nature Conservancy for each pound sold. For those of you who don’t know Carol started CAZBAR Coffee Traders LLC about a year ago and is doing really wonderful things for Non-profits.
Unfortunately, scientific skepticism (witness the collected bird of Mason Spencer) and a lack of passion (the destruction of the Singer tract) doomed the Ivory-billed Woodpecker to be sent down a narrow dark corridor toward oblivion. I will not be one who will sit back and not put my best efforts to helping this bird recover.
I urge all of you to become involved in helping search Missouri to thoroughly determine what is going on. It could take months of dedicated search to uncover a bird that could be visiting Big Oak once a month for a day at a time. Other areas, to mention just a few, like the Chipola River forest, the Neches River in Texas or the Congaree National Park (11,000 acres of Virgin bottomland forest) beckon. They deserve our best efforts to follow up good reports.
I am 100% convinced that David Kullivan had a pair of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the Pearl River in 2000. There were 100’s of people involved in that search and it turned up nothing. We didn’t understand why — until this one became successful.
Very best to you all,
Timothy R. Barksdale
Birdman Productions L.L.C.
P.O. Box 1124
65 Mountain View Dr.
Choteau, MT 59422