Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

FROM THE PUBLISHER >> Old lodge to welcome bird lovers

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader Publisher

Bill Thompson of Cabot canít wait for fall, when thousands of bird lovers will descend on the Big Woods of east Arkansas in search of the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker.

Thompson, former chairman of Community Bank of Cabot, is one of the owners of a duck-hunting lodge near Brinkley, and he and his partners are turning it into a lodge for bird watchers.

The Mallard Point Lodge and Reserve can book 60 people at a time, starting in November, when the leaves will fall and the mosquitoes will bug off and visibility will improve. Thompson should have no trouble filling his place, what with ivory-billed woodpecker mania sweeping much of the nation ó especially since a couple of skeptical ornithologists who questioned the birdís existence say theyíre no longer doubters.

Bird fanciers will flock down here from all over the world, hoping to spot the regal bird that was considered extinct until a few months ago.

The visitors will fill Thompsonís lodge and motels from Memphis to Little Rock.
Thompson says heís ready for them.

ďWe have quite a few people booked in November,Ē he told us.
Those of us who live near the Cache River Refuge and Dagmar Wildlife Management area, where the bird has been spotted several times since February 2004, should have a better chance of spotting the bird in the fall.
For now, the heat and mosquitoes are keeping most bird watchers away from the wildlife refuge near Brinkley, but folks with the Arkansas Nature Conservancy who several months ago confirmed the existence of the woodpecker are back in the bottomland woods with the aim of producing more food for the ivory-bill.

Workers are killing trees with chemicals that will attract the longhorn beetle, whose larvae under the rotting bark are the woodpeckerís meal ticket.

When you visit the swamp forest, you see rotting bark ripped off the cypress and tupelos, a sure sign that the woodpeckerís been around.

Add to that several sightings and the recorded sound of the ivory-billís distinctive double rap, and the evidence keeps building that the bird is alive and well in the Big Woods.

Itís a good sign that even skeptical ornithologists recently withdrew their report questioning the ivory-billís existence.
At first they dismissed the blurry video taken at Bayou DeView, which is the only visual evidence that the bird is living there.

The scientists didnít think much of the video, but when they heard the recording of the birdís kent sound and double rap against a tree, they said maybe thereís something to this ivory-bill fever after all.

We can thank Gene Sparling of Hot Springs, who first spotted the bird more than 18 months ago while he was canoeing, as well as the Nature Conservancy, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and dozens of volunteers who have worked to prove the birdís existence and ensure its survival by improving its habitat.

If youíre interested in spending several days in the woods near Brinkley, give Thompsonís Mal-lard Point Lodge and Reserve a call before theyíre completely booked for the season.
And say hello to the woodpecker while youíre there.