Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Sighting

Ivory-Bill Through a 200mm Lens
After exhausting my collection of books and photos, it occurred to me that perhaps there WERE some ivory-billed woodpeckers I could draw, right here in Colorado. I wrote the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and asked if they had some ivories in their extensive collection of stuffed specimens, and sure enough, they do.  Several, in fact.  So I went down for an afternoon of birdwatching.

 The Artist and Her Subjects

In the "Rare Birds" hall, not only were there ivory-bills on display, but Carolina parakeets and passenger pigeons, as well.  Their expertly placed glass eyes seemed to gaze back at me as I sat down to study them in detail.  

The first thing I noticed about the woodpeckers was their size.  They were quite large, about the size of a small duck, and had skunk-like streaks of white banding down their backs.  Their feet were also larger than I'd imagined, and despite being nearly 100 years old, their broad tail feathers retained a rich black color -- not dull, yet lacking the irridescent sheen of a grackle or magpie's feathers. The male's red crest was presumably a little faded, a deep flamingo red (I had this confirmed by Chad, whose color vision is far better than my own.) while the females' crest was a fashionable black. Of all the things I noted from the session, the beaks were perhaps the most surprising.  They really did look like they were carved from the finest ivory: antiqued and delicately translucent, ending in a distinctly blunt, plier-like tip.

Frozen in Time

Sitting there, sketching in the echoing stillness of the museum hall, I tried to imagine that my subjects were somehow still alive, making brisk hops about the cypress trees, drilling out beetle grubs for their young. How they'd stretch their 30 inch wingspans in the dappled sunlight. How their calls would reverberate through the humid marsh air.  Then a group of out-of-state tourists came by and my reverie ended.

"Oh look! Woodpeckers!"

"Yeah. Pileated. We've got those kind back home."

They then walked out, with nary a glance at the parakeets and pigeons, not even pausing to read the signs that recorded their fate.


Art Collector's Corner said...

Interesting story - thank you for sharing!

Linda Lawler said...

Thanks for the story Laura. We have some fantastic photos of Pileated babies and mom taken by my brother in law.....I marvel at them and often wonder what it must have been like when the Ivory Billed and Passenger Pigeons were still around. One account says the sky would blacken when the pigeons migrated. Sad, what we do to our planet in the name of progress. Linda, Western View Studio

Laura G. Young said...

ACC- Glad you found it of interest. :)

Linda -- I agree about our "progress". *sigh*. If only people treated every bird species like it was something lovely and rare instead of common and expendable. Glad to hear your brother-in-law was able to capture some nice snaps of an Ivory Billed cousin. Speaking of which -- have you seen the last known IBW fledgling photos? Link: