Quotes From the Searchers

The challenge--and thrill--of the search

Many who searched for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the Big Woods were changed by their experience.

"The place really is like being in a cathedral," said Martha Fischer, an audio archivist in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library. "As you paddle through the huge cypresses and tupelos you realize what a special place this is. And of course, the excitement of possibly seeing an ivory-bill around every corner really added to the atmosphere."

Ron Rohrbaugh, director of Natural Resources and Visitor Services at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, became the search crew leader for the first season, leading 15 to 20 volunteers at a time in the rediscovery efforts in the Cache River area. They made several significant sightings during this time. Like everyone else involved in the project, Rohrbaugh expected someone to capture an image of an ivory-bill on film at any moment. "Every time my cell phone rang I expected it to be from someone in the bayou saying ‘We got it!'" said Rohrbaugh. "The days were long but the excitement was in the air – it was just electric. It was thrilling to be with birders and impassioned conservationists all working together in the hunt to rediscover this bird that had been thought to be extinct."

"In the first phase of the search, we were all crammed into motel rooms, sleeping two or three to a room, eating out every night because we didn't have any kitchen facilities," said Ron Rohrbaugh. "We'd be out in the field from dawn until dusk every day, then come home and strip out of the wet clothes, throw on some dry ones, go grab a bite to eat, and then have a nighttime meeting. I'd bring the entire crew into my motel room and we'd go over the plans for the next day."

"I think most of the members of my crew never had any idea of the beauty and fascination of the bottomland hardwood forests of the Mississippi Delta region," said Peter Wrege, coordinator for the White River search area. "The best forests that we surveyed are full of interesting plants and beasts--from many species of snakes and turtles, to fish like alligator gar and bowfin of ancient evolutionary lineages, to Barred Owls too numerous to count."

"Living in a very rural part of Arkansas, with nearly a dozen energetic and enthusiastic searchers has been both exciting and exhausting!" Wrege said. The logistics of keeping them in the field with their complement of electronic equipment, canoes, motorboats, and a lot of PB&J was daunting at times. Supplies were difficult to find and a long way away--and the field sites were often several hours apart, so I needed to keep track of subsets of workers, equipment, and the progress of the search. But the support of everyone on the team, the refuge staff, and local people lending a hand with stuck vehicles was phenomenal and very heartening."

Wrege continued, "Perhaps most surprising and rewarding to me, was that through months of extremely hard work without much evidence that ivory-bills were using our parts of the forest system, these young people never flagged in their enthusiasm for the project, its goals, and the value of these natural areas."