My paying job is with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), where I am an Associate Professor of Electronics and Computer Engineering Technology and Information Technology.
I spend much of my spare time searching for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, deploying remote cameras, maintaining this and a few other websites, giving talks about IBWOs, playing tennis, etc.
I first became interested in IBWOs in 1991 when I bought a copy of Research Report Number 1 of the National Audubon Society: The Ivory-billed Woodpecker (1942) by James Tanner from the UALR library for $0.50. I began actively searching for the bird in 2000, very soon after I heard of David Kulivan's report from Louisiana.
The story in brief
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker has been thought to be extinct in the U.S. for many years. There are many choices for the last "official" sighting - 1944 in Louisiana, 1950s in Florida, 1960s in Texas, 1970s in Louisiana, 1990s in Louisiana, etc. On February 11, 2004, Gene Sparling started this recent wave of rediscovery by spotting an IBWO in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Arkansas. A search ensued that produced numerous additional sightings and one lousy video (mine).
A brief summary of the search
There were many people representing many entities involved in the initial search. The effort was a very collaborative one, involving the US Fish & Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology among others.
I found out on March 1, 2004, that the bird had been seen in Arkansas. I made my first trip to the area on March 3. There were no sightings reported in the month of March. In April, things picked up. There were good sightings on April 5, 10, and 11, as well as a couple other possible sightings.
I led a search of the White River National Wildlife Refuge in early 2003. We didn't find any IBWOs, but we found some interesting scaling.
On April 25, 2004, I was checking cameras with Robert Henderson, my brother-in-law, when we flushed a woodpecker off of the side of a water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) tree near where I had two remote cameras deployed. Robert reported seeing red on the head of the bird as it took off, initially about 20 m from our canoe. I probably did not see the bird until it was several wing-flaps away since I had just raised my trolling motor and was picking up my paddle to guide us through the trees off of the main channel.
Since we got just a view from the rear of the bird, we could not tell where the white on the wing was - leading or trailing. We listened for several minutes to see if the bird would land and call in the distance, but we heard nothing.
You can find the paper written by many of the members of the search team describing our findings at the Science magazine site. You can also find a detailed analysis of the video at the Cornell site.
Search techniques I use
Trolling motor - I use a trolling motor on my canoe to keep motion to a minimum and to keep my concentration on the woods and not on a paddle.
Video camera - I keep a video camera running all the time, which is how I was fortunate enough to capture the bird on video. If you are fortunate enough to have a five second look at the bird, you will not have time to turn your camera on and find the bird in the viewfinder. I started with several camcorder batteries, but this is an expensive way to go, and recharging all the batteries each day is a pain. A better way is to get a 12V power adapter for your camcorder and connect it to your trolling motor battery. You can get a universal camcorder power adapter (e.g. Sima SUP-1) for around $25 - less than the price of a single lithium-ion camcorder battery.
Autonomous video and audio recorder - for the first few trips to the swamp I took a VCR with a 10-hour tape. I connected an external microphone and web camera to the VCR, powered it with a lead-acid battery, and put the whole thing in a waterproof container. I recorded about 40 hours of video and audio. There is one major problem with this system: somebody has to watch and listen to these tapes. On Feb 12, 2008, I finally finished reviewing the tapes. Lots of woodpeckers, even some very loud chiseling, but no IBWOs. The audio quality is quite good, but the webcam video on VHS at slow speed is not very good.
Remote motion-detecting cameras - The partnership initially purchased eight "game cameras", which are designed primarily for deer hunters to monitor feeding stations. I adapted these for use on trees that had possible IBWO feeding sign, i.e. bark stripped from the tree, especially in large strips. We bought four each of TrailMac and CamTrakker models, which I kept deployed in the woods for more than a year from April 2004. To date no IBWO has been captured by the cameras. I do have several pictures of Pileated Woodpeckers from these cameras, which you can see on the Pics & Videos page. I also have several time-lapse cameras made by Reconyx, as well as motion-sensing cameras from Moultrie and Bushnell.
Wireless cavity-viewing camera - I modified a "Dancing Daisy" baby monitor from 4UCam.com to be used as a "peeper cam" for looking into cavities. I have not used it for looking into potential IBWO nests yet since I don't own a 50' telescoping pole to mount it onto. Brandon Noel at Arkansas State University uses two of these wireless video systems to inspect Pileated Woodpecker nests, and they work very well for that purpose.
Some personal thoughts
I would like to thank the hunters, fishermen, and others that have been involved in the conservation efforts in Arkansas for many years. Without the efforts of these people, the habitat where the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was found would not exist in its present form.
The IBWO made it to the 21st Century without any interventions from man except those that gave it a place to live. Let's leave it alone and allow it to continue to survive. The best thing we can do for it is to provide it more and better places to live and breed.
For those that were not involved in the search effort, but trust the scientific minds that put many hours of work into this effort, I thank you for your support. Any who may have doubts should spend some time in the magnificent Big Woods of eastern Arkansas and see what field work is like - you may just get lucky and put your doubts behind!