December 21, 2006

Experts Look Into Woodpecker Sighting

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Researchers have scoured the area where two Arkansas men reported sighting the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker last week, and more search teams will arrive near the spot in January, an ornithologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said Wednesday.

Catherine Rideout, who helps lead the search for the rare bird for the commission, said a team went to the site near Cotton Plant Tuesday with Kip Davis, one of the two men who reported they caught a glimpse of the woodpecker.

"Based on his sighting we decided to do a follow up in person at the location," Rideout said Wednesday. "There are search team members in that general vicinity this year and it helps to know there was a possible sighting there."

Davis, the city planner for McCrory, and Jay Robison, who works for the Arkansas Department of Economic Development, were driving near Cotton Plant last Friday when they saw a female ivory-billed swoop behind an oncoming truck.

Davis, who has attended workshops about identifying an ivory-billed woodpecker, said he and Robison believed it was a female because the bird had a black head and body with white wing-tipped feathers, but no red. The male ivory-billed has a red crest.

Two researchers - one from Cornell and the other from the Arkansas Audubon Society - met Davis at the site Tuesday to gather more information about the sighting, Davis said Wednesday.

"I took them down to where we saw the bird, and they were really excited about it. They wrote down everything," Davis said. "I know it's their dream to find the bird ... and I hope this helps."

Two years ago, Cornell researchers said the bird was spotted in the swamps of eastern Arkansas. They released recordings and a grainy video after searching for the bird in the Cache River Wildlife Management Area. The video, however, was questioned by some experts.

Additionally, after last search season, researchers with Cornell said they had found no new evidence of the bird's existence.

In September, ornithologists at Auburn University in Alabama and Windsor University in Ontario published a report in Canada's online journal Avian Conservation and Ecology, claiming an ivory-billed may live along the Choctawhatchee River in the Florida panhandle. The report came after researchers documented 14 sightings and extensive sound recordings of the bird.

And Rideout said it is possible that Davis and Robison did see an ivory-billed woodpecker.

"It's definitely not always a black or white with this kind of thing," Rideout said. "I think because the sighting was in an area where there have been other sightings, we will have some search effort in that area this year," she said.

Ivory-billed woodpecker volunteer search teams will return to Arkansas in January 2007, Rideout said.