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Wednesday, 12 April 2006 00:00

The ivory-billed swami predicts

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For those not acquainted with the ivory-billed swami, I will give you a bit of history.

This is from the Smoky Mountain News edition on Jan. 30, 2002, as Zeiss Optics was mounting a search for the ivory-billed woodpecker in the Pearl River bottoms of Louisiana:

“I will pull out my ‘gris-gris’ and voodoo dolls and give you a ‘reading’ of the results of this search: Officially results will be inconclusive. Some researchers will report ‘not a chance.’ Some will have heard something that might, could have possibly been an ivory-bill. Some will have seen birds flying through the swamp at a distance that sure looked like large woodpeckers. Those who want to believe in ivory-bills will point to the study and say ‘they couldn’t prove they don’t exist.’ Others will say it was just another futile search. The Louisiana Ornithological Society will keep selling ‘do you believe’ ivory-bill T-shirts. Birders will flock to New Orleans to peer into the swamp and coincidentally drop a buck or two on Bourbon Street, where they will indeed see some strange birds, and Zeiss optic deals and specials on birding paraphernalia will be flashing across the computer screens of hundreds of thousands of rabid birders for, at least, the next 60 days or so.”

Now another ivory-billed search season is coming to a close in the Big Woods of Arkansas. More than 100 volunteers guided by 22 Cornell-selected search team leaders have been scouring the Big Woods since November 1, 2005. All searchers have been sworn to secrecy, and Cornell has stated that results of the search will not be made public until May 2006.

It’s time for the ivory-bill swami to dust off his black and white crystal ball and see the official Cornell report: Déjà vu all over again. Despite several sightings by search team members and tantalizing sound recordings, no definitive photos or video have been obtained. While the Luneau video — now available on DVD — proves conclusively that the ivory-billed woodpecker exists in the Big Woods we have yet to find a nest cavity. The Big Woods are big and the swamp is nearly inaccessible and quite inhospitable. Several search teams reported becoming disoriented and noted that if it weren’t for the constant noise of traffic on I-40 and the numerous roads and ATV trails they may have never found their way out of the gooey wilderness.

We are undaunted by the lack of success during this season’s search and we pledge that with your tax dollars we will intensify and enlarge the search next season. It is only a matter of time until we find those nesting birds. Remember, besides the DVD, we have numerous ivory-billed books for sale, and we are available, for a small fee, to speak to your birding group.

I liked the ‘02 funding approach better and noted in the Feb. 27, 2002, Smoky Mountain News column:

“I’m all for supporting and encouraging birders. Wouldn’t it be great if Zeiss Optics set a trend here? If this sort of thing catches on, we could see the Buschnell Bachman Warbler Survey; the Pentax Passenger Pigeon Quest; the Celestron Carolina Parakeet Pursuit and/or the Leica Labrador Duck Expedition.”

We could even add the Eagle Optics Eskimo Curlew Extravaganza.

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