Saturday, January 7, 2006

Mrs. Ivory-billed Woodpecker

Saturday, January 7, 2006
Julie taking notes while Nancy regales us with ivorybill stories.
The wonderful, fascinating Nancy Tanner visited us this weekend, driven up to Whipple from Knoxville, Tennessee by our pal Janet McKnight. Nancy is the wife of the late James Tanner, the first ornithologist to spend significant time studying live ivory-billed woodpeckers in the field. Nancy accompanied James on two of his ivorybill expeditions and has some amazing stories to tell about her own encounters with this very special bird.

Julie and Nancy first met in 1989 at one of Jim's programs in New England. The two women became friends several years ago while Julie was researching her eerily prescient article on the ivorybill for Bird Watcher's Digest. Since then they've kept up a correspondence about all manner of things, so it's been a real treat to meet Nancy in person, and to have some time to speak with her.

She brought along with her a DVD with footage on it from the Arthur Allen/Cornell expedition into the Singer Tract in 1935. James Tanner, Nancy's husband was along on this expedition and you can see him as a young man, slogging through the swamp en route to a date with history. Tanner would return to The Singer Tract on several later occasions. Nancy recalls her last visit there, in 1941, when they counted 9 ivorybills, though she saw only five. Just a few years later The Singer Tract was logged and the birds disappeared.

According to Nancy Tanner, Richard Pough, one of the last visitors to The Singer Tract to see the birds, was there as it was being logged. His encounter with a lone female ivorybill who kept calling and calling, but got no answer, moved him to pledge to save the wilderness. He later helped in the founding of The Nature Conservancy.

It's humbling and amazing to listen to a first-hand account from someone who spent several days watching a family group of ivory-billed woodpeckers. Nancy was there, watching the members of a species that few of us may ever see. She hopes the birds can be found again in Arkansas, Louisiana, or elsewhere. And so do I.
Julie, Nancy Tanner, and Janet McKnight at the overlook on The Loop trail.

We've enjoyed our visit with Nancy and Janet. We took them on The Loop walk around our farm, we watched the DVD at least half-a-dozen times, and we told stories of our adventures. But mainly we listened to what Nancy had to tell us about her husband, the ivory-billed woodpecker, and the world as she has experienced it.
Nancy Tanner narrated for us as we watched extended footage from the 1935 Singer Tract expedition.


On January 8, 2006 at 3:21 PM l.james said...

Awesome story.Can't tell you how much i enjoy your blog Bill and Julies as well.Love BWD and Julies art as well!Your farm looks idyllic!

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