My Search For the Ivory Billed Woodpecker
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AUG 05- I was intrigued by the description of the "dinosaur birds". Did I "lead" this person along? I really don't think so. I did mention that I liked birds. I let him do most of the talking. I also did ask him if anyone had ever quizzed him before about his birds. I was worried that someone may have come along before me asking about ivory bills. He didn't give that impression,,,he was just an older man that wanted to go fishing.
It took awhile to figure out exactly where he was talking about. He gave me a few landmarks,,,I am lucky because as a child I would tromp through forested areas and I became very good at finding my way around and often with just a smidgeon of information I can find places.
What I found was that this area he was talking about is a very large forested area with mostly pine trees,,,with a few very large stands of cypress and tupelo,,,some hardwood trees,,,,and it is at the very south end of this property that he saw the birds.
I was mesmerized at the piece of land. I spent most of my youth in the woods. But as I got older I have spent so much less time,,,I've seen the sytematic destruction of Florida's wild places,,,but in the protected and managed areas there has been alot of regeneration of these old forests. I was spellbound by the trees and woods.
I spent the first few weeks taking my car into these areas. I quickly got over the fear of losing the car,,I got quite good at driving along good terrain and winding around bad. I was merely scouting and looking at what I would be faced with on an extended search.
I saw the pileated woodpecker of course, red bellied woodpeckers and a few downies. Lots of egrets and herons. Birds of prey are common in Florida, there were surprisingly few songbirds in this area,,palm warblers, that sort of thing.
Butterflies, butterflies, and more butterflies. I love butterflies, and there was a tremendous mix of all types,,types you don't normally see in the garden, tiger sallowtails, spicebush swallowtails, red spotted purples, zebra longwings,,,,many others,,,oh and the viceroys,,,,I love these,,they use the black willow tree here in Florida to lay their eggs.
Most  of the time I did not have my camera,,,,I was only scouting the area,,,I did go out and take some pics of terrain and plants.
I had previously, before taking my search seriously, gone to the lower suwannee region of florida to look for the bird,,,it is a very promising area for anyone looking for the ivory bill,,,,but I saw none. I did not like toting a camera through the swamp.
I think my goal now, in my search, was to find evidence that the bird really did exist,,,eg. SEEING ONE,,,and then locating it's roost and then bringing a camera and photographing it's natural history.
I have never been interested in selling the one photograph. I read on forums that people talk of the riches one can expect from bringing forth the one picture. I have my doubts. I have seen the pictures that George Lowery brought to the AOU meeting from the man in the swamps who photographed a male woodpecker. The one photograph is very good. It was taken with an instamatic camera,,,the picture is wonderful. No one believed it. No one. Except George Lowery. Here you have a lovely color photograph, but no one believes it. Imagine coming forth today with a photograph. With digital cameras and photoshop. Any creative person could come forth with a wonderful "ivory bill". Anyone who really takes a picture is in for their share of abuse. The photos will be "analyzed" to death by experts and mean forum skeptics,,,I don't see riches.
My goal was to simply prove to myself that the bird indeed does fly in the woods of Florida,,I had already convinced myself that it does. I simply needed to seal the deal.
I have become familiar with this particular tract of land,,,it is 80,000 acres or more, and it hosts many types of  terrain. Cypress swamps, pine forests, some scrub habitat, and everything in between. There are homes along and inside of it. Not many, but a few. There are access roads throughout parts, and a large portion is inaccessible by motor vehicle.
Friday, september 16, I was in the swampy area of the forest, 200 yards from where the woods become primarily pine forest. This particular day I was driving along a trail, and I saw to the left and front of my car a large bird flying through the trees towards me parallel to the road. My first impression was that it was a small heron, I think it was because the wings were flapping kind of slow, more stiff than what I would think a woodpecker would be. I then noticed it landing on trees, but actually grasping the trunk. It flew almost parallel to my car, less than  50 feet away. It was moving from tree to tree. It was a female ivory billed woodpecker. I had an extended period of time to observe it,,it never sat still for long but was moving from tree to tree. All of the famous white markings were there,,it really does have a spectacular black color, reminisce of the grackles. It's crest was tilted forward a bit,,,not what I expected,,,it's bill was large and white,,it held it's bill open most of the time. It's eye was not yellow. This was peculiar to me. It was more of a golden reddish brown, not yellow, I remember in Tim Gallagher's book when he was talking to Jim Tanner's wife,,she commented on the yellow. This bird did not have yellow. It's legs and feet were large. The tail does extend out farther than I imagined. The bird is BIG. The wings are big. They flap heavier than a pileated. Let me say this. No one, no one could confuse the two birds. they do not look alike. The bird flew away perpendicular to my car,,I saw the wings clearly and the trailing edges of the wings are indeed white.
So there it was. I was so excited. But you know what? I have obsessed over the bird throughout the years,,,not really wanting to go find it per se,,but it was always there,,along with the puzzle. Anyhow, I think I was expecting some sort of enlightenment or something. It was there,,I got a good look at it,,but I think the prevailing thing that I thought and continue to think is that "it is a bird, a native of Florida,,and it is a bird".
I now know that the bird exists,,,and I do plan on videotaping it. But my search continues in other places,,,I want to prove that it does live in other areas as well and I already have two more places in mind. I will be back here. I have found large nest holes bordering pine forests,,they will be there,,,the birds will be there,,and the fall season is quickly approaching and the mosquitos and deerflies will be gone.....I will be back.