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 user 2005-05-01 at 9:53:00 am Views: 92
  • #9276
    Rare Woodpecker’s Home Remote, Dangerous
    Snake-Watching the Safer
    Way to Go

    DIXIE, Ark. (April 05) – The Arkansas swamp that’s home to
    the recently rediscovered ivory-billed woodpecker is a forbidding place, and
    visitors searching for birds above are wise to scan for snakes below.

    Some officials believe the remoteness and dangers of the
    area where the bird is believed to live are enough to deter all but the most
    determined bird watchers, but others aren’t so sure.

    “This is just a special thing. Thousands of people will
    want to come right here,” said Sam Hamilton, director of the U.S. Fish and
    Wildlife Service’s Southeast region. “This is the world’s greatest

    The strikingly beautiful bird – sometimes called the
    white-back, pearly bill, poule de bois and even Lord God bird – was thought to
    have been extinct for decades when a kayaker found one in February 2004. Cornell
    University and a number of government agencies announced the discovery Thursday,
    and researchers took a handful of outsiders Friday to the site of the find.

    The rare bird – a little larger than a crow, with a wing
    span of about 19 inches – can easily fly about undisturbed in swamps like the
    800-acre tract where researchers focused their search. It’s hard for humans to
    even reach it, and once they do, it’s hard to focus on bird watching.

    One team that recently searched for the bird counted 17
    poisonous cottonmouth snakes in 20 minutes, said Doug Zollner, an ecologist on
    the research project.

    Stopping his motorized canoe on the river to describe the
    search efforts, Dennis Widner, a manager of the Cache River National Wildlife
    Refuge, said he wasn’t worried about an influx of bird watchers possibly
    disturbing the bird because the region is so remote.

    “It’s dangerous work to be out in these swamps,” Widner

    The remoteness could be one reason Gene Sparling became the
    first person known to have seen an ivory-billed woodpecker since 1944.

    To help verify Sparling’s find, Cornell students spent part
    of their winter helping researchers sweep the swamp searching for roost holes
    large enough to hold the stately bird. To date, only six people have seen the
    ivory-billed woodpecker since Sparling found it.

    The bird is known for the two-note rap of its bill as it
    rips into tree bark in search of edible grubs and beetle larvae. It became known
    as the Lord God bird because people seeing it would exclaim “Lord God, look at
    that bird.”

    Hamilton said it is too early to discuss whether a captive
    mating program might increase the ivory-billed woodpecker’s population. So far,
    no more than one bird has been seen at a time – but the woodpeckers live only to
    age 15, so there was likely a mating pair in the region since 1990. “The best
    way is to let it be for right now,” he said.

    Federal agencies are putting up $10 million to help
    preserve the habitat; the 800 acres that support the woodpecker is within a
    55,000-acre preserve. Hamilton said the ivory-billed woodpecker likely survived
    because channels hadn’t been cut in the Cache River, which would have sped its
    flow and altered the nature of the land around it.

    “I had known about that bird my entire life,” said
    Arkansas Game and Fish officer Mike McCormick. “A lot of people never realized
    what a treasure this place is.’