An Anniversary

Two years ago this morning, I saw an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. It’s my only certain sighting in over 15 years of searching.

For new readers, I’ve had two others of which I am slightly less certain and another handful about which I’m a lot more skeptical. To honor the occasion, I’m going to repost my voice recorded notes from the moment and the more detailed write-up I did the next morning:

Here is a transcript of my brief, voice recorded notes about the sighting (in bold and italics) with some commentary (in italics) added the next morning:

7:54 AM stakeout at tree number one, Ivory-billed Woodpecker sighting, bird flying at canopy height east to west. (This was an excited error, compass showed direction was wsw to ene.) Silhouette only, long neck and tail projections, rapid flight, and one clear wing tuck noted.*

Before recording the above I had yelled “Ivorybill”! Not ‘what was that’? Or ‘did you see that’? Or even ‘I think I saw one’. It was an expression of shock and certainty.

The sighting lasted perhaps 3 seconds. Skies were overcast, and no field marks were noted on a couple of pileateds that flew by. The bird I saw did not remotely resemble a PIWO in profile, flight style, or speed.

My first impression when the bird entered my field of view was that it was a duck. Seeing the distinct wing tuck is what led to the shout.

In the aftermath of the sighting, I thought about what kind of duck it most closely resembled, and I came up with Common or Red-breasted Merganser as the best analogy. It’s possible I subliminally noted a crest, but I don’t have a conscious awareness of that. I looked at a field guide and thought, merganser’s a good analogy, but the tail’s too short.

I had always intellectually understood Tanner’s reference to Pintails. It’s apt in terms of neck and tail projections, less so in terms of body shape. This sighting deepened that understanding. Overnight, it struck me that the similarity in body structure to a diving duck might relate to some of the swooping and diving we see in one of the drone videos.

I’m really adept at questioning myself, but this was not a mistake about the position of the marks. The default to duck followed by the shock of seeing the tuck would seem to rule out some kind of expectation bias.

I have had nagging doubts about all my other possible sightings, though I also doubt the one from 2016 could be anything else. If I were serious about keeping a life list, this would be on it. That’s a first.

*For the casual reader, wing tucks are also known as flap bounding, a flight style that is universal or nearly so in woodpeckers, including the ivorybill.

I anticipate posting somewhat more frequently this coming season and am planning a post discussing, among other things, the recent US Fish and Wildlife Service decision not to decide for now. Look for that in the near future.

Stay tuned . . .