When I asked folks a bit ago
to relate how they may have first become interested in the IBWO story decades ago, I thought some common thread or theme to their memories might arise. Only 4 people have thus far responded and I don't see any real commonality to their stories, so I may just go ahead and re-print a couple of the more extended reports verbatim, as interesting in their own right. This one comes from Charles Williams of Louisiana and runs as follows:
"I'm now 63 and date my interest to the age of 12 when I read the woodpeckers section of Dr. George Lowery's "Louisiana Birds." My dad had an autographed copy of the1955 First Edition, which I still have, and it provided me -- a young boy steeped in the outdoors from many hunting and fishing trips in the backswamps of NE Louisiana -- with much fuel for the imagination as well as some factual information and practical skills. For one thing, I learned official names for many of the birds I had come to know -- flicker in place of "yellowhammer," ring-necked duck in place of "blackjack," and cormorant in place of "water turkey."
Lowery's account of seeing "not one but four" IBs in 1935 thrilled and saddened me then as much as it does now. I remember asking myself how anyone could know that the Singer Tract birds were the end of the road for this species, and I imagined myself finding them on a trip to some of the remote areas where we hunted and fished in the Boeuf-Lafourche swamp, along Little River near Catahoula Lake, and at a friend's deer lease on Davis Island. These fantasies were fed in those days not by media reports or acrimonious debates between believers and skeptics but by my direct contact with persons who had seen or knew of IBs occurring subsequent to 1943, which per Lowery was the last year of a definite sighting in the Singer tract area.
One of these contacts was in 1967 when I took a summer course, offered by the Louisiana Tech Forestry Department, titled as a "Delta bottomland land use seminar and tour." One of the foresters from La. Tech (probably 40 years old at that time when I was 20) and I talked about the logging out of the bottomlands, the economics of the remaining cutover forests, the rapid clearing for soybean farming that was then going on the Delta areas (later to be my M.A. thesis topic at LSU, and the wildlife. The discussion turned to IBs and when I mentioned that "many people believe they're extinct," his immediate, matter-of-fact rejoinder was something like "well maybe but I personally saw two about ten years ago along the Ouachita River." The location, it turned out, was in the Ouachita River bottomlands north of my home town of Monroe, a very low-lying area that today is part of the Upper Ouachita NWR. He commented that he knew Pileateds very well and I recall his comments about the many differences in appearance, sound, and flight between the two species. There was no question in my mind that he had seen two IBs.
During the land use seminar and tour, we also visited corporate farms and cottonwood plantations in the vicinity of Scott, Mississippi, near the Mississippi River north of Greenville. This was not far from a tract of land in Bolivar County where IBs were known to exist in some numbers in the 1930s and 1940s, a point that was mentioned by one of the company foresters. Many years later I learned that IBs existed in Bolivar County east of Rosedale in a bottomland tract very similar to the Singer Tract which was also wiped out during the same time period as the Singer Tract. This IB population completely escaped Tanner's notice and added fuel to my belief that a few birds could be out there somewhere. The Bolivar County population was especially close to the Mississippi River batture lands just to the west, which in turn connects just a little farther north with the lower White River area where some detections occurred during the Cornell searches!
A few years after the Delta land use seminar and tour, I became a student in the LSU Department of Geography and studied the economic, technological, flood control, and other factors that contributed to the rapid clearing up of the bottomland forests in the 60s and extending into the early 70s. While I was at LSU, I recall hearing of IB reports from the southern part of the Atchafalaya Basin (vicinity of Franklin, LA) and I recall Dr. Lowery's experience when he presented and vouched for the Fielding Lewis photos. I recall dismissing then, as I still do, the skepticism with which these claims and photos were met in the national ornithology arena.
So I was definitely a believer for decades and I feel sure that IBs existed at least into the 80s. Now I am somewhat on the fence about IBs. I have been in some official searches and my best result was a few kent calls in Arkansas that I could not attribute to blue jays. My evaluation of some of the sighting reports of recent years is they are valid, and probably, but just probably, there are a few IBs still out there. I'm still enough of a believer to always have my digital camera on hand when I fish and hunt in the Atchafalaya Basin areas just west of my current home in Baton Rouge."
Thanks for sharing so many recollections with us Charles....