Film explores controversy over 2004 sighting
GREAT BEND — In 2004, an Arkansas naturalist, while kayaking on Bayou DeView in the swampy Big Woods of eastern Arkansas, glimpsed a brief look at what he believed was a bird thought extinct since the 1940s — the ivory-billed woodpecker. Later, inconclusive video was captured that gave some hope the species was still alive. But no one since has found an ivory-billed woodpecker — a crow-sized bird that looks very much like the pileated woodpecker common throughout much of the eastern and southern U.S., including eastern Kansas. The pileated woodpecker is similar in size and coloration to the ivory-billed woodpecker. Since the sighting, much debate has developed over the fuzzy photos and video evidence.

On Sunday, Aug. 15, evidence of this mystery bird will be explored at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center, 592 NE K-156 Highway, on the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area northeast of Great Bend. Ghost Bird, a documentary, explores the debate over the evidence and some surprising angles to the story. Admission is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided by the Friends of Cheyenne Bottoms.

The possibility that the species still exists has invigorated efforts not only to conserve the bird but has also created an economic boon for the small community of Brinkley, Ark., according to Curtis Wolf, director of the Wetlands Education Center. "We are excited to have a screening of this documentary at the KWEC," Wolf said. "We hope we can draw a large crowd of bird watchers, nature enthusiasts, and conservationists, as well as those interested in ecotourism."

The ivory-billed woodpecker, about 20 inches long with a 30-inch wingspan, was the largest woodpecker in North America. The habitat of the last known population of the birds was clear cut in the 1940s. In 2005, University of Arkansas professor David Luneau happened upon and shot video of what may have been an ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird not seen since 1944.

Ghost Bird, produced and directed by Scott Crocker, explores all sides of the story, focusing on the debate of whether spotters really saw an ivory-billed woodpecker and also on the issue of people's role in conserving our natural resources and how natural resources can be used in ecotourism to help economies of small communities.

A second screening of Ghost Bird will occur at Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays on Thursday, Oct. 14, at 7 p.m. For more information, including a movie trailer and photos, go online to www.ghostbirdmovie.com. For information on the Wetlands Center, visit wetlandscenter.fhsu.edu or phone 1-877-243-9268.