If I wanted to, I could claim something that fewer than two dozen people on the planet right now can: I have seen an ivory-billed woodpecker. It was only a year ago that history was made when it was announced that this legendary woodpecker — also known as the Lord God Bird for the excited cry said to accompany a sighting — was not extinct, as had been widely believed, but had been positively identified in a swamp called the Bayou de View in Arkansas. On Feb. 26, I visited the bayou with Bill Tippit, a friendly bear of a birder. We were expecting to spend the day in the swamp with an expert guide, but in the chime of a cellphone, we found ourselves suddenly guideless, standing there with our waders, a canoe and a big desire. “I’m game,” he said in his slow, deep twang. So we put in and spent the day drifting around the primeval beauty of Arkansas’s most famous bottom-land swamp.
“You can’t find the bird,” Tippit said. “The bird has to find you.” By late afternoon, the swamp had come to life with a dozen birdsongs. Blue herons flapped through the trees, while above, the canopy was a rush hour of swallows and sweeps. Then: “Ivory-bill!” Tippit urgently whispered from the back of the canoe. I looked ahead but saw nothing. I turned to see precisely where he was pointing. I whipped back around to see the final movements of a large dark bird disappearing like a black arrow into the dusky chill of the swamp.