Friday, April 29, 2005

Maybe birders have more sense than we're given credit for

So everyone has been expecting a mad rush of birders to try to track down Arkansas' Ivorybill. But, checking the news reports, it doesn't seem that this is actually happening. Instead, what I have seen inklings of might be the beginning of a new and much more positive wave. Now it seems that the quest for an Ivorybill, until two days ago considered to be on par with a quest for Bigfoot, has suddenly been legitimized. I see hints that birders throughout the former range of the species might be getting the idea they they should go search diligently and exhaustively through their OWN bottomland forests in their own States and Counties. Instead of being fools, we'd now be the eyes and ears of a movement to determine if that one bird in Arkansas is a sad, sorry, final survivor; or the herald of a resurrection, a sign that the species has not only survived but might even be starting to increase.

So maybe we binocular-toting hoardes ain't so dumb after all.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Phantom of the Swamp

For those who don't understand why, in these days or exctintion everywhere, the ressurection of some "bird thing" is so noteworthy, I offer this:

The Ivorybill is not just a swamp bird. It is *the* Swamp Bird. Even more than gators and baldcypress, it is the very embodiment of antiquty, wildness, remoteness, the primeval mystery of the deep dark woods and waters. The very name carried magical, spiritual significance, like dragons or centaurs. Like the other magical creatures, they vanished when civilization entered their realm. The Ivorybill became metaphor for everything that technology and settlement had driven away, into the farthest recesses of the wilderness or even entirely from the face of the planet. A swamp "deep enough for Ivorybills" was one that was entirely beyond human influence. They became a phantom, a rumor, something that rational people were no longer supposed to believe in. By the 1970s, searching for Ivorybills was viewed with nearly the same eye as was searching for Bigfoot. Someone who claimed a sighting of one was likely to be treated worse than someone who reported seeing a UFO. The Ivorybill's status became almost godlike. And rational scientists aren't supposed to believe in gods.

But the stories persisted. Hunters, mostly, and the occasional boater, told mysterious and intriguing tales. But no one could confirm, no one could produce a photograph, a recording, a feather, even a flake of wood that was unequivocal. Just a few years ago what seemed to be a very promising lead in extreme southwest Mississippi was finally taken seriously and pursued actively. But it was more of the same: hints, tanatlyzing signs, unusual noises, but in the end... nothing. The failure of the Pearl River expedition after such promising signs was a serious blow to us few hopeful holdouts.

And so comes along Mr. Sparling in his kayak and the huge red-crested woodpecker with the big white spot on its back that landed on a tree in front of him 14 months ago. A year of follow up and amazingly well kept secrecy, and then the announcement. There's a dragon perched on top of the Empire State building, Elvis calls a press conference to apologize for having been away so long, a flock of Thunderbirds is circling Mount Rushmore and pecking George Washington's eyes out, and the Lord God Woodpecker is
happily cruising the swamps of Arkansas.

Anything can happen.

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