By Tim Gallagher
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2005
Borrowed from the library.
It pains me to think about all of the animals that reach the point of extinction every year. I am glad that humans have finally come to realize our hand in this destruction.
Tim Gallagher’s book covers much of the history of the search for a bird most believed died out in the 1940’s. The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (Campephilis principalis) lived in the forests of southeastern United States, an area that has been decimated by logging and agriculture since the civil war. Its last known siting took place in 1944.
Then, in February 2004, a kayaker named Gene Spaulding spotted an unusual bird in a bayou in eastern Arkansas. Word reached Gallagher, the editor of Cornell’s lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird Magazine, and he was off, traveling to the south, hooking up with his friend Bobby Harrison and beginning a search that continues to this day.
The Grail Bird is an interesting read, mostly about the connections and camaraderie between the searchers, the destruction of Ivory-Billed habitat and the struggle to set up and maintain the search teams. There are some nice passages about observation, about having to sit still in a swamp.
An hour passed. Then another hour. And another. And another. And these were not quick hours. It’s amazing how slowly time can pass when you’re deep in the swamp. It’s a fluid kind of place; all of your visual references are gone. Most of the time you can’t even tell the position of the sun in the sky, so your sole clue to the passage of time is your watch. The only way to cope is to give in to it. From page 195.
The existence of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker has not been confirmed but there are people out there, in different places, sitting and watching. There are audio recorders and cameras hanging in trees. There is always hope.
For more information about the Grail Bird and a wonderful resource on birds from all over the world visit the Cornell lab of Ornithology.