LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Kip Davis and Jay Robison saw what they believed was an ivory-billed woodpecker on Thursday, one of thousands of reported sightings piling up as leaves in an east Arkansas swamp drift down.
On the typical day, someone somewhere reports that they've seen the rare bird, believed extinct until a Hot Springs kayaker said he spotted one along the Cache River near Brinkley in 2004.
Davis, the city planner for McCrory, and Robison, who works for the Arkansas Department of Economic Development, said Friday they were driving near Cotton Plant when a female ivory-billed swooped in the sky behind an oncoming truck.
"I saw something come off the tree, like the truck has spooked it," Davis said in a telephone interview from his office in McCrory. "It came by again and it had its wing span out and it just kind of glided back into the woods, and I said 'Is that what I think it is?'"
Davis, who has attended workshops about identifying an ivory-billed woodpecker, said he and Robison believe it was a female because the bird had a black head and body with white wing-tipped feathers, but no red. The male ivory-billed has a red crest.
Connie Bruce, a spokeswoman for Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology, which is researching the possible re-appearance of the ivory-billed woodpecker, said the search continues despite no evidence being turned up last winter.
"The search is on," Bruce said. "This is very important to us. We all want to locate this bird."
Two years ago, Cornell researchers said the bird was spotted in the swamps of eastern Arkansas. They released recordings and a grainy video after searching for the bird in the Cache River Wildlife Management Area. The video, however, was deemed inconclusive.
In September, ornithologists at Auburn University in Alabama and Windsor University in Ontario published a report in Canada's online journal Avian Conservation and Ecology, claiming an ivory-billed may live along the Choctawhatchee River in the Florida panhandle.
The report came after researchers documented 14 sightings and extensive sound recordings of the bird.
But those reports didn't change the findings in Arkansas, and Bruce said they are encouraging anyone who thinks they've seen the bird to report the sighting.
"We get thousands of sightings ... and we're pleased that the public is interested and actively involved and that they do call us and advise us of these sightings," Bruce said. "It's a tremendous help."
Davis said he and Robison reported their sightings to the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge where they made sketches of the bird they saw and provided a statement detailing where the bird was seen. They also took photos of a tree they on which the bird perched on before it flew away, Davis said.
Robison, who said he has done independent research on the bird since its rediscovery, said they found holes on the tree consistent with what the ivory-billed would make. Robison said the holes were elongated and the bark had been chipped off around the holes, as well.
Though it remains to be seen whether Davis and Robison's sighting will send researchers flocking to the immediate area and specific tree, ivory-billed woodpecker volunteer search teams will return to Arkansas in January 2007, Bruce said.
Davis said the two are still shocked and excited by their possible sighting while doing other work in the area.
"It was just chance," Davis said. "What are the chances of this happening?