Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Phantom birds, first bass, and hope

This weekend Kelly and I took a short trip across the big river to look for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers at the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas.

I'm only kidding.

We went to fish.

We even strapped the kayaks to the roof of the Outback with the greatest of intentions.

When we got there, the river was high and the wind was ridiculous. We had no desire to paddle or attempt to cast a fly in those conditions.

On Saturday evening we watched a documentary on the "rediscovery" of the Ivory-bill called "Ghost Bird" on Netflix. It was interesting... pretty enlightening actually.

I was already pretty familiar with the story because I bought and quickly read this book when it was first published in 2005.


Reading that book inspired me to track down an original copy of this old publication for its historical perspective... and because I like old books.

Life Histories of North American Woodpeckers by A.C. Bent, 1939

Sorry, I'm easily distracted by my books. Back to the story...

Watching the "Ghost Bird" film made me want to go to Brinkley, Arkansas and see if there was still any lingering Ivory-bill mania. If nothing else, it gave us a reasonably close destination for wetting a fly line while floating around in a kayak on Sunday.

I was disappointed to see that the local excitement about the "Lord God Bird" was apparently extinct... perhaps a mirror of the birds' actual status in the wild.

The only sign (no pun intended) that Ivory-bills may have been there.

I'm doubtful that any sort of viable population of Ivory-bills exists at this point. I want to believe, but logic suggests that the "rediscovery" celebration may have been a bit premature. I suppose if there was anything positive to be gained from the supposed rediscovery, it would be the hope that some of what mankind has destroyed may return to its original splendor.

I still have hope.

Since the fishing conditions weren't really favorable for kayaking fly fishers in the haunts of the Ivory-bill, we went up the road to fish one of the lakes at Village Creek State Park. With little daylight left we made no attempt to put boats in the water, so we fished along the shoreline for an hour or so.

We both caught two small Largemouths apiece- our first bass of the year.


Sadly, holding the fish at arm's length, it still looks to be 8".

I can only hope for bigger bass as the season continues.

21 comments:

  1. Love woodpeckers. They seem to possess the same tenacity as brook trout.
    Just wondering, what's the water temps there?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Woodpeckers are a fascinating group of birds. I don't usually carry a thermometer (I really should though), but by feel I would estimate that it was high 50s... maybe 60.

      Delete
  2. The ivory billed woodpecker seems like a close relative to the pileated wood pecker, which I always like to see. That would have been pretty cool to spot the IBW. It's always nice to get the first fish (of a species) out of they way. Especially when they are monsters like that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the chance of us seeing an Ivory-bill was about as good as our chance of catching a world-record bass out of that state park lake. You can see how close we came to the record... only about 21.8 pounds away!

      Delete
  3. Man...now yet another book goes on my list. Great post, all around! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Erin, thanks for the comment. The Ivory-bill saga is a great story all around- one of pristine nature, loss, and of course hope. I've only read that one book and it was a good one, but there are few more out there now regarding the recent "rediscovery."

      Delete
  4. Jay
    I know those bass had to be taking a nymph, surely not on top with the popper. Glad you guys got to wet a line. I am in Nashville with my Grandson this week---today the weather is supposes to be stormy, Bryson and I may have to hide in the hallway before the day is out. The wind in unreal here today.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The wind is pretty strong here right now which is keeping me from doing outdoor work at the moment. I hope y'all don't have to hide out in the hallway.

      Delete
  5. When I was in grad school, working on my master's in bird biology (in the deep south) we got to talking about the possible existence of ivorybills. We (the grad students) were discussing all the "crazies" who claim to see them. My advisor told us not to be so quick to dismiss them or the bird. As he explained, there are parts of the deep south, particularly nothern Florida, that are VERY remote and wild.

    A few years later, he and a crew found what they believed to be ivorybills in that region of Florida. After a few years of searching, they never got the photographic proof or the DNA that would be necessary to establish the bird's existence beyond any doubt. I'm torn because while I agree that sort of evidence is necessary, I also know that this guy, my advisor, is an incredible birder and scientist, and he is not one to be easily self-deceived. Several members of the crew claim to have seen the birds, while together. His account is in a book he wrote called "Ivorybill Hunters" (author is Geoff Hill). I read this along with all the other recent ivory bill books published in the last few years (Gallagher's and Jackson's), and I recommend them all. I tell "the story of the ivory bill" to my own current crop of Ornithology students. It's endlessly fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very cool. Thanks for the detailed commentary. It's nice to have a fellow biologist weigh in on the matter.

      Delete
  6. I've actually seen a few TV shows on the ivorybilled woodpecker. They don't get quite the press that good old Sasquatch does, but then again, from what I've seen and heard from people like T.J. here, I would guess that there are probably still a few around - somewhere. Sasquatch - not so much! Looks like that would be an interesting read.

    I've read a bit about the lakes at Village Creek State Park recently and have been curious about them. They seem about the right size for a kayak (unless of course you are caught in gale force winds!)

    I would still love to fish with you sometime. My weekends have really opened up, and with the water warming up, I have a lot of areas I would like to explore. Here is a bit of my list: the Mississippi River State Park (AR) lakes, Tunica and Moon lakes, the Arkabutla/Sardis/Enid/Pickwick tributaries and tailwaters, the Eastern AR smallmouth waters, and of course the trout waters of Northern AR. That should keep me busy for a while! I would love some company and especially some of your expertise. If you want to shoot me an email I check kirktmorris at yahoo dot com the most. That way we can communicate in a way besides the blogosphere.

    Take care, and nice fish by the way. If I can get my thumb in a bass' mouth, it's a good one for me! They'll grow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kirk, it would be great to get together and fish any of the places you mentioned. I'm familiar with at least some part of all of the places you mention except Mississippi River State Park. Maybe we could explore that one as a team?
      I'm not sure how much expertise I can share, but I can be pretty decent company. I'll cheer for you when you hook a good fish and maybe even help with a net.

      Delete
  7. Nice post, Jay. I've seen the Ghost Bird documentary and it's tough not to get your hopes up. Maybe there is a remote pocket of land that holds a remnant population. I doubt it, but sure hope I'm wrong.

    Congrats on the bass. Won't be long before top-water bite is on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not really a skeptic per se, but I do think it would be hard for these birds to exist only in a place so remote that they wouldn't be found. The point I would make is that there are protected public lands with habitat that could or should support them (proper habitat), but they are found in none of these places that people frequent.
      No congratulations deserved for those wee little baby bass. I'm very much looking forward to topwater time.

      Delete
  8. Jay, I think I can sit and read the stuff you write for hours. I'm learning something new every time you write. I'm glad you guys got out but sorry to hear about your discovery. I'm an optimist...I think grizzlies still exist in very small numbers in Colorado even though no one has seen one for many years. Hang in there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Howard, happy to educate and entertain as always.
      I'm an optimist too, but I try to balance that with a healthy dose of realism. I believe Cougars are probably secretly growing their populations in the east even though state wildlife agencies deny they're even here.

      Delete
  9. I think they can still exist, but not anywhere that people frequent. Especially with the number of telephoto lenses out there... If they were in areas where people frequented someone would have a picture. I would buy that a mid size bird can escape detection.... Bigfoot different story.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Nice bass. Wooly buggers? I'd take those bass any time. Any bass is a good bass to me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I caught mine on a crayfish fly of my own design. Kelly's came on a chartreuse curly tailed bug (not sure what it's really called), but we bought them at Sportsman's Warehouse. They're pretty much the fly rod equivalent of the trusty old twist tail plastic grub.

      Delete
  11. Nice fishing piece, Jay. Looking forward to reading you this year.

    Tim

    ReplyDelete