The Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, with a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is leading the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Texas this winter (check the GCBO website to read the "chronicles" of last year's initial efforts by John Arvin, GCBO's Research Coordinator). Most have heard of the still-controversial rediscovery of this long thought-to-be-extinct woodpecker in Arkansas in 2004. Here we'll give some insight into the overall effort, and how the work is done.
There is an overall umbrella organization comprised of researchers, conservationists, woodpecker experts, and ornithologists which is coordinating the search for this majestic bird throughout the southeastern U.S. This "team" meets regularly via conference calls and in-person sessions to hammer out the strategy for the search for definitive proof of the Ivory-bill's existence. Currently, there are teams of scientists and volunteers from this organization working in eight southeastern states - TX, LA, MS, AL, FL, SC, NC, and AR. There is a separate Ivory-billed Recovery Team, composed of many of the same people, whose responsibility it is to plan for the ongoing management of the species if and when its presence is documented.
Contrary to what most people think, the search for the Ivory-bill does not consist of a bunch of birders scouring the woods for days on end in hopes of glimpsing the bird. There is an established, fairly complex methodology that each search team must follow. Part of that methodology involves the random selection of 2 sq. km plots of suitable habitat, which must be searched for 4 hours at least 3 times. Of course, still and video cameras and sound recorders will be the primary means for documentation. The teams are also resourceful - an ornithologist has demonstrated that the distinctive double-rap sound the bird makes can be imitated closely by two drumsticks of a certain thickness. John has a pair.
In Texas, the search is centered around remaining bottomland hardwood forests along the Trinity, Neches, and Sabine Rivers in southeastern Texas. Historically, this was the westernmost occurrence of the species. John Arvin has a team of three paid biologists (along with assorted volunteers) to conduct the work between Nov. 1, 2006 and March 31, 2007. As I write this, the lead biologist is finalizing the plan for the application of the methodology in the Big Thicket, the name for this area in southeast Texas. The actual searching will begin in a matter of days. Unfortunately, there is no concrete funding for this search beyond March - we hope that Congress approves more money, or that generous donors step up and help.
Be sure to check the GCBO website periodically for John's chronicle updates. And we'll post again here with updates from the field.
Bill and John