I Once Was Lost, But Now I’m Found

Wow. If you can read this story without getting choked or moved or stirred or some other way shaken, you’re a stronger man than I am, Gunga Din. But then I’m a sucker for resurrection stories.

The spectacular ivory-billed woodpecker, which was declared extinct in 1920, has been found alive in North America, Science magazine reports. The news has stunned ornithologists worldwide, with some comparing the discovery to finding the dodo…The find has ignited hope that other “extinct” birds may be clinging on to survival in isolated places. “This find is so significant that it is really difficult to describe,” Alistair Gammell, of the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), told BBC News. “We sadly won’t rediscover the dodo, but it is almost on that level.” Frank Gill, of the US National Audubon Society, added: “This is huge, just huge. It is kind of like finding Elvis.”

I love the idea of ornithologists worldwide being stunned. For once I’m not being sarky, I really do. It’s kind of thrilling. (If you’re not careful I’ll tell you about the time I went along on a zoo field trip to release a couple of rehabilitated [after injury] bald eagles into the wild. That was thrilling, if you like.)

The discovery was first made on 11 February 2004, by Gene Sparling, of Hot Springs, Arkansas, who was kayaking in a reserve in Big Woods. He saw an unusually large red-crested woodpecker fly towards him and land on a nearby tree. He said the creature did not look quite like anything he had seen before, so he contacted Cornell University’s Living Bird magazine. After a team of experts interviewed him, they felt they might be onto something special.

See? The suspense builds. There they are, that team of experts, eyeing each other and thinking ‘…Could it be? It sounds like – but surely – but could it be?’ Quaking with excitement, I’ll bet.

John Fitzpatrick, of Cornell University, headed the search party, which included Tim Gallagher, editor of Living Bird. Within a month, Dr Gallagher had seen the ivory-billed woodpecker for himself. Describing the moment he first set eyes on it, he said: “Just to think this bird made it into the 21st Century gives me chills. “It’s like a funeral shroud has been pulled back, giving us a glimpse of a living bird, rising Lazarus-like from the grave.”

Laugh at me if you like, but I love that story! Imagine that moment – when he first set eyes on it! I don’t care what you say. It’s thrilling.

Update. There you are. I wrote that before I saw the Telegraph story.

Tim Gallagher, editor of Living Bird magazine, and Bobby Harrison of Oakwood College, Huntsville, Alabama, interviewed Sparling and they were so convinced that they went back to the same bayou. On Feb 27 a large bird flew less than 70ft in front of Gallagher and Harrison, who together cried “ivory-bill!” “When we finished our notes,” Gallagher said, “Bobby sat on a log and began to sob, saying, ‘I saw an ivory-bill. I saw an ivory-bill.'” Gallagher said he was too choked with emotion to speak.

‘Ivory-bill!’ I was choked just reading the BBC story; imagine what it would have been like to be there and see it. ‘Ivory-bill!’

5 Responses to “I Once Was Lost, But Now I’m Found”