- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Scientists and birders will resume their search this winter for the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker to prove, once and for all, that the bird really lives in the vast eastern Arkansas wetlands.

The bird, with its massive wingspan and signature double rap, was thought to have been extinct for decades when a kayaker reported finding one in February 2004. In April, the interior secretary acknowledged the chance sighting.

But the steamy Arkansas summer conditions halted the search for the woodpecker.

“The birds are relatively silent,” said Tim Gallagher of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and member of the search team. “The woods, they’re like a jungle, just thick foliage, just incredibly hot, humid, buggy and snakes everywhere. Everything about it is just as bad as could be.”

Now that leaves are falling off the trees, creating a clearer view, and the snakes are at bay, search conditions are perfect for woodpecker spotting, Mr. Gallagher said.

“The birds tend to be more vocal and active because they’re coming into breeding season and it’s much easier to see,” he said.

A crew from Cornell and its partner agencies will train 100 volunteers for the six-month search of 500,000 acres, Mr. Gallagher said.

Finding a nest, or even better, a breeding pair of woodpeckers that could be nurtured, would be a major breakthrough, he said.

“It would re-energize the whole process,” Mr. Gallagher said. “There are a lot of people who really want to see some more solid evidence.”

The search includes stationary observers, teams in canoes on rivers and streams, and recorders and video cameras set in the area to possibly catch the bird’s sounds.

“We will continue to search for this bird until we find it,” said Gene Sparling, the Hot Springs kayaker who spotted the woodpecker in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge. “He’s out there somewhere.”

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