Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rare Birds...

I go through periods were I have to watch a movie before bed; maybe I'm regressing and want to hear a story?  This week is turning out to be one of those times; I clicked on Netflix, and as much as I wanted to watch the new Portlandia episodes, I was afraid I would binge watch the night away. 

I settled on a documentary, Ghost Bird.  It peaked my interest as it detailed one of the most recent Ivory Bill Woodpecker sightings in recent history.  Growing up in Louisiana, about 20-30 miles from Pearl River, where numerous unconfirmed sightings were reported, I often would keep watch that I too might happen on one (as you can tell, I was a really cool kid back in the day - most kids want to be popular, I wanted to find an extinct species). 


Popularity aside, it wasn't a totally unreasonable expectation - the last uncontested sighting was in Louisiana, in 1944.  The film, though, put a pretty dismal spin on the bird's chances of ever being confirmed; I still found it fascinating to finally really see what one looked like through archival photos, drawings, and yes, even many, many collected taxidermy examples (a possible contributor to its demise).  I realized I probably wouldn't of recognized it had I seen it with my own eyes.  With a wing span of 30 inches, it was a large bird with strange yellow eyes, and for the males, a crown of bright red.


If you need one reason to watch the film, do it for the story behind the rare encounter ornithologist, James T. Tanner had with a juvenile in the 1930's.  A pair of Ivory Bills had been found and even better, a nest!  Once the parents briefly parted for food, Tanner climbed the tree to band the nestlings.  He found one, that clumsily fell out the nest.  Talk about a bad day at the office; the little guy shook it off and proved to be one tough chick.  They captured the cutest pictures (and the only that exist of a juvenile Ivory Bill).  You can read a bit more about that here and see more pictures. 


Perhaps, the Ivory Billed Woodpecker has join the ranks of unicorns, mermaids, even Santa Claus, and will live on in fantasy - extinct but immortalized.  The film quotes Naturalist, William Beebe, putting it best:
"when the last individual of a race of living things breathes no more, another Heaven and another Earth must pass before such a one can be again."
--Lisa LeBlanc

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