I’ve heard the cliché “Never give up hope” many times but a fairly recent incident has brought me to believe that it is hope for improving the future and sometimes even what seems past that keeps keeps us moving forward.
In April of 2004, I traveled to North Carolina in search of the Black Rail, a small marsh bird so elusive that I felt I needed to join a guided birding tour group to find it. As I got out of the car at the airport, I told my husband, “I’ll also be seeing the last of the woodpeckers!” I was referring to adding the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker, another target bird I planned to see on my first trip to the southeast, to my “life list”—the record birders keep of all of the species of birds they have seen in their lifetimes. I’d been dreaming of seeing the rail, woodpecker, Brown headed Nuthatch and Swainson’s Warbler among other birds all during the long Iowa winter.
A hotel in New Bern, North Carolina was the base for our group. I arrived a day early to explore this historic town went back to my room to shower before our tour group’s first meeting at a dinner in the first floor restaurant. As I was drying my hair, I thought I heard a voice on CNN say something about a “thought to be extinct” woodpecker being discovered and video-taped. Wearing only a towel, I rushed from the bathroom and waited to hear more. The message light on the motel’s phone was blinking and my cell phone indicated I had several missed calls as well. “Ivory-billed,” I thought, “ Oh, my God!” and burst into tears.
At dinner it was all anyone could talk about; all other birding discussions seemed trivial. The Ivory-billed, the grail bird, the symbol of wilderness lost, had been found. The News media was reporting it and information was coming out on reliable birding web sites. At this point, no one was questioning the validity of the reports, only celebrating the most intriguing and encouraging birding news of my lifetime.
We didn’t see the Black Rail. It wasn’t for lack of trying. For four days and nights we donned high rubber boots and waded into an isolated marsh of waist high grass; heard the bird’s plaintive call; surrounded him within a six foot circle; and had him scurry unseen between us or our own legs. One woman from New York thought she felt wings brush her legs. The spotlight illumined bats and owls but never the Black Rail.
A sighting of the last of the Titan missiles launching from Cape Canaveral and flaring amongst the stars right over our heads, late morning and afternoon birding in the Croatian Forest, and at the Rachel Carson Nature Preserve located on an offshore island made the trip worthwhile. I saw the Red-cockaded Woodpecker which I so recently had dubbed my last woodpecker and left for home without regretting the trip.
Because of the Black Rail as much as the reports from Alabama, I believe in the possibility of the existence of the Ivory-billed. Because of immediate actions taken by conservation groups in response to the sighting, I believe that the great wild places on earth can be saved. I believe that when all seems hopeless, things can change in an instant and so, we should never give up trying to do what is right; hope should never be abandoned. As Emily Dickinson wrote:
Hope is the thing with feathers–
That perches in the soul–
And sings the tune without the words–
And never stops–at all–
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