.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

IVORY-BILLS  LiVE???!  ...

=> THE blog devoted to news and commentary on the most iconic bird in American ornithology, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWO)... and... sometimes other schtuff.

Web ivorybills.blogspot.com

"....The truth is out there."

-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

-- Hamlet

"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

-- Arthur Schopenhauer

Thursday, March 26, 2015


-- Of Pileated Poopology --


Back when the major IBWO search was underway one possibility considered was to look for feathers from suspected-activity sites that might prove, through DNA analysis, to be Ivory-billed.  I don't recall what, if any other remnants for DNA analysis, were seriously considered at the time? And am not sure how practical it is to tease out from the various DNA in bird droppings the specific bird species involved. Anyway, just passing along this Julie Zickefoose post in which, about half-way down, she instructs on finding Pileated poop below Pileated workings:


I've often looked below Pileated excavations myself for feathers without success, and never even noticing poop being prevalent, but will have to look more closely next time.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015


-- The Cuban Ivory-bill --


I don't recall ever mentioning(??) this small book (covering Cuban IBWO searches between 1985 and 1993) that's been out for awhile, and popped up on my Twitter feed today:

"Looking for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Eastern Cuba" by Alberto Estrada

I guess I'm not sure how the Amazon preview system works?: The first time I "looked inside" the book, over 50 pages (text and pictures) of the 130 page book were available for viewing at the above link, but I just went back to it and only a few pages were available???

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


-- More Retrospective --


Mark Michaels has newly-posted a retrospective of Ivory-bill sightings (and other info/commentary) from 1944 - 2003 at the Project Coyote site:


Nice job Mark. Makes for a good adjunct-read to Chuck Hunter's historical review of the evidence in Appendix E of the "Recovery Plan For the Ivory-billed Woodpecker" from USFWS (starting on pg. 66):


And I agree with most of Mark's points, especially regarding scantiness of valid information, certain flawed analyses and assumptions, and the circularity of various arguments (though he's probably more favorably-disposed towards certain bits of evidence than I am). The bottom line for me still remains:
There have been a significant, even if rare, number of sightings over time (not always highly-publicized) from individuals (birders, wildlife officers, park rangers, etc.) who should be able to reliably recognize an IBWO apart from similar species. To which skeptics will frustratedly opine, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, so get a #$%@*^%!!! photo!" ...and I DO sympathize with them and several of their arguments. But the possible habitat of the IBWO is remote, dense, and neither visited by birders in great numbers nor with great frequency. My only excuse for the lack of a definitive photo by now, even when areas producing credible claims are scoured, is, as previously noted, the combination of the species' sparseness with a lifestyle, I think, spent mostly in the upper tree canopies, out of easy or good view.  So while hope fades, it is far from gone. And while I wish I had enough faith in the practice of science to draw a conclusion of extinction based on the evidence so far collected... I don't.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015


The Truth Is Out There....


As we approach the 11th anniversary, in a couple of weeks, of Gene Sparling's find in the Arkansas delta, couple of podcasts that pay tribute to our subject. First, a simple 5-minute retrospective of the 1935 Cornell expedition to see and record the Ivory-bill in the Singer Tract:

...and then, a 12-minute tribute to Brinkley, Arkansas ("...a place you can call a wrong number and talk for five minutes..."), and its 15+ minutes of fame (mixed with Sufjan Stevens' haunting song):


Sunday, January 11, 2015


-- Catching Up --


I assume that most follow the Project Coyote group updates, but in case not, there are a couple posted since their latest end-of-year searches in La.:

(I probably won't be reporting much though, in any ongoing way, on what few searches I'm aware of, unless something highly noteworthy pops up.)

The latest (February) issue of Birdwatching magazine includes a retrospective article by Jerry Jackson on the IBWO saga that started with the Big Woods announcement in Arkansas -- it's an indication of how far the Ivory-bill has fallen from grace, that despite Jackson's article being the longest in the issue, the magazine cover bird is a Hooded Merganser and not the IBWO; I s'pose at this point an Ivory-bill cover is just as likely to hurt sales as to increase them. Anyway, nothing too new in the piece, but if you wish to review some sketchy history, it's worth perusing. Like most former Ivory-bill optimists, Dr. Jackson has been pessimistic for quite awhile about the bird's chance of survival. He does however end the write-up with his now trademark thought of, "The truth IS still out there."

In the piece, Jackson reviews Cornell's handling of the whole affair from the same critical perspective he's voiced previously, including some focus on various distortions and weak science involved in the story.  Of course Jackson is mild, compared with those who, early on, ludicrously charged Cornell and the Nature Conservancy with perpetrating a hoax for fund-raising purposes. I'm not sure to this day that Cornell comprehends how badly the whole story was mishandled (starting from an incongruous, and failed, plan to have First Lady Laura Bush announce the re-discovery, and spiraling downhill from there).

Even with that said, I remain among, what Jackson (and others) call the "true believers," for reasons that aren't worth debating, and that admittedly dwindle with each passing year.

Birdwatching has posted a couple of IBWO web posts in conjunction with this article, and  these posts in turn, link to several of their older articles on the subject:


Lastly, on a side-note, Jackson mentions in passing that the IBWO story inspired several blogs (pro and con) along the way -- which made me think back to my own favorite (unmentioned) very short-lived, blog from 2007: it was called "IvorybilledSeptic" and was a parody blog of the rest of us bloggers -- gave me some belly laughs at the time, but disappeared in short order. Back then I sleuthed around a bit and thought I had it's author pegged to being 1 of 2 people, but could never confirm the authorship.
SOOOO, if anyone wishes to now fess up, lo these years later, and admit to having been IvorybilledSeptic, I'd be curious to hear ;-)

Anyway, next month marks 11 years since Gene Sparling's original fateful observation while out kayaking. Eleven years of sound and fury... signifying???

Friday, December 26, 2014


-- End-of-Year Notes --


Birder/writer Jim Williams recently reviewed a new bird book, but spent most of his time talking once again about the search for the IBWO:

And once again have to give Mike Collins an "A" for persistence (even if it seems misplaced)... Christmas Eve he posted the following to the birding "ID Frontiers" listserve group (a place he hasn't exactly had a warm reception in the past):

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


-- Holiday Note --


-- HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all! --

Whenever the world seems to trample on hope... we still return to it . . . .


We believe in things that we cannot see
Why shouldn't we, why shouldn't we
Hands that heal can set a chained man free
Why shouldn't we, why shouldn't we

We believe in peace within every heart
Why shouldn't we, why shouldn't we
Burning brightly, brightly in the dark
Why shouldn't we, why shouldn't we

So come on darling feel your spirits rise
Come on children open up your eyes
God is all around
Buddha's at the gate
Allah hears your prayers
It's not too late

And we believe in things that will give us hope
Why shouldn't we, why shouldn't we
Let your voice be heard, celebrate your vote
Why shouldn't we, why shouldn't we

We believe in things that make us all the same
Why shouldn't we, why shouldn't we
Love belongs to all in deed and name
Why shouldn't we, why shouldn't we

And we believe in things that can't be done
Why shouldn't we, why shouldn't we
Lift up your heart, put down your gun
Why shouldn't we, why shouldn't we

We believe in things
We're told that we cannot change
Why shouldn't we
We had heroes once, and we will again
Why shouldn't we

So come on darling
Come on children
God is all around, Buddha's at the gate
Allah hears our prayers
It's not too late

Why shouldn't we
Why shouldn't we
Why shouldn't we
Why shouldn't we
Why shouldn't we


Wednesday, December 10, 2014


-- Thought I'd Read It All... --


Thought I'd read all the old Ivory-bill stories, but this one from the Texas Big Thicket crossed my screen, and I don't recall it (IBWO part in second half of story):


Upon first reading, I figured it was some sort of fictionalized account or creative natural-history writing, but upon researching it, turns out to be a true story from 1967.

This old volume (among other places) on the Big Thicket references it:


The fellow took his specimen back home with him, and there was no serious follow-up or further indication of IBWO on his property, so I can't tell if there's any validity at all to the almost 50-year-old tale... it sounds a bit fishy, if only because it rings so much like a fabricated knock-off of the much-earlier Mason Spencer story from Louisiana (which of course is true)...  nonetheless, entertaining.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014


-- Mike C. Back at Pearl River (last month) --


Mike Collins keeps re-posting various past videos at YouTube (perhaps to keep them appearing as 'recent' in the search criteria, or maybe he adds new commentary or footage, I'm not sure since I don't have time to check them all), but he's also added some fresh footage from his latest Pearl visit, two of which I include below. Nothing new, Ivory-bill-wise, but I did enjoy this first, almost meditative, 15-min. clip from one of his rigged treetops. Almost no commentary in it, and not much action to be seen, just a nice, tranquil canopy-view of the Pearl area in late fall. 

Don't know if he has new equipment or is simply more-practiced by now, but I was impressed with the film-quality and his ability to quickly maneuver/focus the camera in that tree'ed-position. Given that I now believe IBWOs may spend 80+% of their time at canopy-level, of course this tree-top view, and the panorama it provides, is all the more interesting (though it also means the viewer is locked in place, and with but one set of eyes, is missing much of that panorama at any given point in time). Will still take a great deal of LUCK to chance upon a clearly-photographable IBWO from that position. Anyway, this might bore most readers, but I enjoyed it:

The other (also 15-min.) video is from ground-level in a kayak, demonstrating Mike's "paddlecam" (camera attached to a kayak oar); more wildlife action here, and much commentary from Mike, so may be the more interesting clip to most people, though I preferred the first (and again, even with videocam attached to paddle and moving kayak, film quality surprisingly good):



Friday, October 31, 2014


-- Congrats Geoff!! --


A quick side-note today, as I just learned that Geoff Hill, known in ornithology circles for various areas of research, but familiar to most of us for leading the Choctawhatchee-area search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the Florida Panhandle, has been awarded the 2014 William Brewster Memorial Award of the American Ornithologists’ Union -- quite a lifetime honor! Way to go Geoff!


Interestingly, by the way, last year's recipient was J. Van Remsen of LSU, who also has a large body of research work, but is likewise especially well-known for past efforts within the Ivory-bill search arena.


Sunday, October 26, 2014


-- Passing Time --


Don't know when (if) there will be any major IBWO news to come along, but for now will simply refer readers here to the two ongoing searches already linked to:

Project Coyote has put up several new postings in last couple of months:  http://projectcoyoteibwo.com/

Additionally, they also have a Facebook page here:

And Chris Carlisle's Mississippi search continues with reports here:

Those appear to be the only ongoing searches with a Web presence. I continue to hear from brief forays into traditional IBWO search areas, but of course those have tailed off considerably by now, and are turning up nothing I've heard of.

Meanwhile, indefatigable Mike Collins has put up yet another YouTube recounting of his first 2006 video encounter with the big woodpecker (as best I recall this was the initial encounter that brought a lot of attention to Mike's efforts):

Otherwise, not execting to hear much new before the Jan.-Mar. winter period... and quite possibly, nothing then.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


-- I Get Emails (...plus IBWO Speculation) --


(1935 Arthur A. Allen, Singer Tract)

Several seabirds spend almost their entire lives far out at sea. Chimney Swifts spend a remarkable percentage of their lives in the air, coasting on the wing. Even warbler species have fairly specific physical niches they inhabit and don't depart from much… some rarely encountered more than 20 feet off the ground, others rarely found lower than 40 feet high. All bird species adapt to fit niches, sometimes narrow ones...

A couple of weeks ago someone sent me a picture of bark scaling, they thought interesting, at the base of a large tree trunk. I don't think there's any chance it's Ivory-bill work, but I'll get back to that in a moment.
Over the course of this blog people have occasionally sent me pics and audiofiles they find interesting of things encountered in their outings.
Unfortunately, in 9 years, hardly a single photo, kent sound, or double-knock sent my way has looked/sounded very promising to me. Double-knocks are hard to judge (and highly ambiguous), especially on often scratchy or muffled recordings so I can't rule out IBWOs on many of them… but I also can't rule out a multitude of other sound-alike alternatives. "Kent" sounds that people have sent along rarely sound like IBWO to me (sometimes I can't even tell why the sender finds it interesting); I can only remember one, or perhaps two, such recordings sent in that really made my ears prick up quite a bit (I've forgotten now if that was from Arkansas or Florida); and, in any event, again there are a LOT of ambiguous, kent-like sounds possible in the woods. Nor has any photo of a bird sent my way been cause for excitement. Lastly, folks send photos of cavities and foraging sign -- again, none very compelling (though some more interesting than others).  I don't want to discourage people from sending such things along (...I'd rather view 100 worthless pics, than risk missing out on the one photo that actually 'rings my chimes'), but I do want folks to realize that the chance of getting a positive response from me is incredibly slim, especially if you yourself can't determine what you have -- but if you do send something, please include as much additional information/details as you can that might add any significant context to the attachment that I'm viewing/hearing.

Anyway, back to the more recent (bark-scaling) photo… basically I don't believe that any current-day IBWO would forage low on a tree trunk for any significant amount of time -- depending on the nature of such scaling, there are numerous other possible critters from deer, bear, beaver, squirrels, wild boar, humans, that might cause such damage.
I'm in the camp that believes any remaining IBWOs have evolved heightened wariness and caution, and as such DO NOT spend ANY extensive time at ground level, where they would be far more vulnerable. In fact, I believe they are now almost exclusively residents of the upper canopies, other than when flying from point A to point B and requiring a clear pathway. While they might land momentarily lower on a tree, they probably spend most of their daily lives minimally 35+ ft. high up (maybe 50+ ft.) on tree trunks/branches and inside cavities, well above levels frequented by Pileateds and other woodpecker cousins (and generally out of easy sight-line for searchers). It's not clear to me how many of the remote automatic camera traps were ever set that high (though it's clear several were not). Like Swifts in the air and Albatrosses at sea, I think Ivory-bills may spend most of their lives solely in the canopies… if you send me a photo of foraging sign or a cavity or a fuzzy bird lower than ~35 ft. high, I probably won't take it too seriously (even though there are historical records of such cases), unless there are overriding additional details to catch my attention. If Ivory-bills currently lived and foraged below 35 ft. to any significant extent I believe we'd have the definitive evidence we need by now (well before now!); only perhaps as a denizen of the upper reaches might they be able to carry on successfully, while also evading encounters and detection to the degree they have.

I recall a veteran birder once imploring other birders (who missed interesting birds flying overhead), "always look up (...unless you're driving down the road!)" ...perhaps, just perhaps, in the case of the Ivory-bill no truer words apply.

Monday, September 01, 2014


-- Commemoration --





Wednesday, August 06, 2014


-- Updates --


Mark Michaels passes along his latest speculations regarding IBWO survival here:


He was inspired in part by the ongoing work of Christopher Carlisle, searching for Ivory-bills in Mississippi. Follow along here at his blog (with some nice views of habitat):


Meanwhile, perseverant Mike Collins has uploaded yet another 30 min. summary of his case to YouTube, which he seems to be aiming especially at the current editor of Science magazine:



Wednesday, July 23, 2014


-- Yes, I'm Still Here --


A wildfire was put out quickly this week in Ojito de Agua, part of Alejandro de Humboldt National Park of eastern Cuba, one final possible home of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the 1980s:


 Sorry, for the 2-month lapse in news here (longest in history of the blog I believe), but am not expecting much news through the summer months, and pretty busy with other things. Otherwise, for those wondering, all is well here other than the sparsity of news worth passing along.
I have been asked to mention that just last weekend well-regarded ornithologist/conservationist/museum curator David S. Lee tragically passed away. His main work was in other areas, but he had a sighting of a female Ivory-bill in central Florida back in 1967, at a time many claims, never fully substantiated, came from that state.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


-- For Yours Entertainment --


A number of short IBWO-related student films have been posted to YouTube over the last few years. I don't usually call attention to them, but this one includes just enough creativity and humor, while still sticking pretty much to facts that I don't mind passing it along (and always good to see that the species continues to capture the imagination of young people):


Saturday, May 17, 2014


-- From the Forum --


For any not following the IBWO Researchers Forum, Mark Michaels last update for Project Coyote is here:

And "Houston" continues with some more FOIA request documents:

One from Georgia:

And a fascinating set (to me), even though 40 years old, from Mississippi:

I say fascinating, both because of the details, and because Mississippi has always seemed to be a glaringly under-searched state (relative to Texas, La., Fla., and S.C.)
(I suspect that MS. simply isn't birded, in general, as heavily as those other states.)

also this followup:


Friday, May 02, 2014


-- And Now This --


Yet another story of a leucistic Pileated Woodpecker today, this one in Thomasville, Georgia:


[some other leucistic Pileateds on the Web here:  http://tinyurl.com/npnhppo ]

It calls to mind yet another conundrum of the Ivory-bill situation. One thing I expected from the USFWS/Cornell searches, even if adequate documentation of Ivory-bills wasn't attained, was a very honed-down list of serious locales for further study, from the prior many possibilities. But after years of major, costly, wide-scale searches, we have an even wider list of prospective locales for study, than we had before. Incredible! 
It makes little sense that this species could reside in so many widely disparate areas, for so long, and yet not be adequately documented in 70 years. People will try to account for it by the bird's nomadic nature in search of food, but this hardly seems adequate, to explain a species possibly stretching from S.C. to east Texas, from Tenn. to the Gulf of Mexico, in such puny numbers, yet breeding successfully for decades.

I wrote here long ago that one thing that might account for the number and wide range of IBWO reports (the credible reports, once the weakest claims are discarded), would be leucistic Pileateds that by sheer coincidence mimic the markings of IBWO. I was heartened by the fact that, with the single exception of a Noel Snyder verbally-reported bird decades ago, I've never seen nor heard of such a Pileated ever being found (that actually looked like an Ivory-bill). But, still one wonders… if such birds do exist, they are certainly few and far between… probably popping up but very rarely in random disparate locations… oh yeah, sorta like Ivory-bills...

In any event, it's good that others are looking for diagnostic qualities in ancillary characteristics like foraging/scaling sign, flight style/speed, wing ratios, audio soundprints, etc., even if not conclusive, since rapid visual identification itself is now so widely-regarded as inconclusive.

Just a quick ADDENDUM, since an emailer writes that they don't see how any of these 'mutant' PIWOs could be mistaken for an Ivory-bill in the field: so to stress again, I'm not concerned about these specific leucistic individuals that have been documented, but concerned about what their parents, siblings, offspring, and cousins, who we may not have encountered, look like... leucistic patterns amongst them, or yet other PIWOs, could, by sheer genetic chance, follow far more IBWO-like patterns than the specimens shown here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


-- Fermi's Paradox… The Drake Equation --


Caution:  long-windedness ahead….

Off-and-on I read a fair amount of popular physics, often running across "Fermi's Paradox" along the way.

I've never quite understood how anyone could take such a paradox seriously (or, indeed, how a competent physicist could've concocted it).  And then I suddenly realized why I have this immediate aversion to Fermi's so-called paradox… it parallels somewhat the "paradox" of the Ivory-bill situation!
For those unfamiliar, here's a synopsis of the Fermi case adapted from Wikipedia:

'Fermi's paradox is the seeming contradiction between the probability that extraterrestrial civilizations exist in our galaxy and humanity's lack of contact with, or evidence for, them; the basic argument running as follows:

a) There are billions of stars in the galaxy, billions of years older than our Sun.
b) Some, perhaps many, of these old stars have Earth-like planets suitable for evolving intelligent life.
c) Some of these older civilizations would long before now have developed interstellar travel; a technology Earth is only just now investigating.
d) And once interstellar travel is achieved, the galaxy can be colonized, such that by now we should have had contact.

In short, the Earth itself should already have been visited. Yet there's no convincing evidence of such, nor any confirmed signs of intelligent life elsewhere, even in the more than 80 billion+ galaxies of the known universe. Thus, Fermi's question, 'Where is everybody?'


Or, in a different context, 'Where are those dang Ivory-bills?'

Fermi's Paradox deals with immense distances (and ages) of interstellar space and then makes huge unknowable assumptions about "development" and 'advanced civilizations,' and our own technological capabilities… BUT, perhaps there are 10 extraterrestrials in my living room right now, but due to my limited perception and their superior means they remain invisible to me… seriously, there's no way to know. Fermi's Paradox relies on using our current primitive, myopic knowledge to adjudge the potential of possible lifeforms millions of years ahead of us, about whom we'd likely understand little… 100 years ago what human would've understood the operation of a current-day smartphone?… I can't imagine what all we don't understand of any alien even 10,000 years ahead of us, let alone a million years ahead (...or, as others believe, perhaps every civilization much older than us, has already killed themselves off, as some theorize all advanced civilizations do). The whole matter is a preposterous thought exercise, fraught with pitfalls.

Similarly, at the other extreme, is the Drake Equation, which seems equally ridiculous -- Drake's Equation purports that there are almost certainly 1000s of other intelligent civilizations (in the Milky Way galaxy alone) based on values plugged into a certain contrived equation (though BTW, I don't object so much to the equation itself, but just to the idea that we can accurately determine valid, meaningful numbers to plug into it).

Both Fermi's Paradox and the Drake Equation are the sorts of things one could expect sophomore physics majors to argue over after a Friday night of late beer-imbibing… that professional physicists seriously discuss them boggles my mind. Both are too simplistic, and too chockfull of things unknown.

Anyway, the point is, this situation nicely parallels the Ivory-bill debate in some ways:

In the IBWO case we are dealing, not with vast distances of interstellar space, but great swathes of remote, barely-penetrable earthly groundspace, with beings that, if they exist, are few and far between, and easily missed etc. etc. (you've heard it all before) -- it is not so paradoxical that IBWOs should be exceedingly hard to find, hard to photograph, and hard to document at a level of certainty, anymore than finding alien life, even after decades of high-tech searching, should be easy.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, analogous to Drake's Equation, there is no amount of math or statistics one can slap onto Ivory-bill data (such as it is), that will be tight enough, conclusive enough, to say, "Ivory-bills exist" -- at this point ONLY direct, clear, well-documented, unarguable (and preferably repeatable), photographic evidence of living Ivory-bills will accomplish that… otherwise, the unknowns, the variables, the disputed assumptions and subjective elements whenever "analysis" is required, are too many. I don't make the rules, am just reporting how they seem to have evolved. We need evidence that EVERYbody agrees on, not evidence that requires extensive analysis.

[As a sidenote, there is BTW, one paradox that DOES concern me: it's one thing for humans to have difficulty encountering IBWOs, it's another for non-thinking, non-tiring, 24-hour-working cameras to fail to encounter the bird. Despite 1000's of hours of automatic, remote camera-recording (literally millions of picture frames) from habitat, cavities, and foraging sites that appeared favorable, we have utterly failed, over years, to detect a SINGLE Ivory-billed Woodpecker -- even though these birds must, to exist at all, regularly forage, roost, fly about, breed, etc.  This is the single most devastating result of the entire USFWS/Cornell search -- having said that, I'll quickly add that the cameras (which often malfunctioned, BTW) were used in relatively few areas -- compared to all the suitable habitat available.  Still, cameras were placed where, following much study, the best chance of capturing an Ivory-bill on tape was anticipated -- either Ivory-bills were not there, despite prior alleged evidence that they were, or we humans are bumblingly, mind-blowingly incompetent at ever understanding/predicting this species' behavior (personally, I'm voting for the gross friggin' human incompetence option, but I could be wrong, maybe they aren't there)].

Anyway (getting back on track), "FAV" asks in a prior comment what I think the bird is in Mike Collins' "flyunder" video. The problem with all of Mike's videos (and the "flyunder" clip is one of the more intriguing ones) is simply that the quality is too low. [Mike's own analysis of the "flyunder" clip is here, with the key footage and discussion beginning around the 3:50 mark.]  Mike, FAV, some others think they can draw empirical, analytical conclusions from such graininess; others don't believe the precision required is possible. Strong skeptics would put it simply as, "Garbage in, garbage out." I wouldn't go that far… you can definitely tease information out of garbage, but it tends, of necessity, to be limited and speculative, especially when human subjectivity enters the mix.
So I don't feel as confident about the precise size, features, or even speed of the "flyunder" bird as FAV does.  Even if the white appearance (or is it gray) of the dorsal wing, for example, is real (not some sort of artifact) it is too extensive for an Ivory-bill, so glare or photographic 'bleed' must be involved, but if bleed is involved than how much; 10%, 70%? I don't know all the specifics of the sunlight that day, or angles, or atmospheric conditions, or all the camera specifications, that may have affected filming or the look of a distant fast-moving object. As Donald Rumsfield :-( would say, I don't even know all the things/variables that I don't know. Maybe Mike's analysis is spot-on, but, for plenty of reasons, most folks aren't persuaded.
FAV asks which of 10000 species that bird could alternatively be… I WISH I could glean enough indisputable detail to make a good guess. But if my choices are, it's either an Ivory-bill, or it's one of 9999 other species, including possibly a leucistic individual, then I'm not willing to stake my choice on the former, based on this degree of detail. It's too easy, as optical illusions repeatedly demonstrate (and Sibley of course states), to fool ourselves. (...I happen to think the bird in the Luneau video is most likely an Ivory-bill, but again, based on that clip's poor quality, I'm unwilling to assert with certainty, it's even a woodpecker.)

We all know where Mike stands on his evidence… if he wants it to gain any more traction at this late point he needs to have a reputable but independent party, who hasn't already committed themselves in the IBWO debate, analyze the film clips and reach the same conclusions he has (and publish or post it somewhere)... No one in the broader birding community will assume that I or Mike or FAV are objective or impartial parties at this point on IBWO matters. Serious evidence needs to be looked at by other detached, but competent, third parties, whenever possible; even Cornell and USFWS are largely viewed as tainted in this arena, by now.

Like me, I imagine Cornell continues to receive an ongoing trickle of Ivory-bill "sightings" that are so weak (and sometimes comical) that there is no point in publicizing them and adding to the ridicule that already abounds. Similarly, even if say, Bobby Harrison has had 10 more sightings by now, I suspect he knows he'd be foolhardy to announce it publicly, without photographic evidence, accompanying.
So, I love Mike and FAV's passion and persistence, but they don't seem to understand that we're well past the time when even interesting, tantalizing, intriguing, but ultimately fuzzy evidence requiring interpretation, gets us very far. Collecting, analyzing and discussing grainy evidence is fine, but asserting conclusive results from it, and dissing those with different interpretations, won't fly in today's atmosphere. When/if the species is definitively, conclusively documented, there will be plenty of time for dissing! ;-)
Anyway, while skeptics argue from the Fermi perspective, FAV and Mike argue from the Drake perspective… and the nice thing for me about having them around, is that they make me seem like a moderate!


Friday, April 25, 2014


-- Flights... of Fancy --


For what it's worth, just some videos I've lumped together (essentially, meaning I've had a wee bit too much free time on my hands this week...):

The famous Rhein video of an Imperial Woodpecker (Mexico) showing it taking flight around the 1:12 and 1:20 timepoints:

A couple of clips showing a Pileated Woodpecker in flight:


And a couple of clips of Pintails in flight (the species often historically compared to an Ivory-bill in flight):

I don't know all the specifications of these clips in terms of film speed or any de-interlacing, so wouldn't read too much into the perceived speed of the flights... but am more interested simply in the style or giss of the flight patterns (wingbeat speed, as a topic, is actually covered more fully in this old Bill Pulliam post: http://bbill.blogspot.com/2011/11/woodpecker-wingbeats-revisited.html).

The Luneau Arkansas video, by the way, is here:


and a couple of Mike Collins' Pearl videos as well, here:



Sunday, April 20, 2014


-- Tidbits --


1) A Mississippi journalist voices support for Mike Collins here:


2) Occasionally, my Ivory-bill feeds bring in something I don't even know what to think of… the below page contains a couple of oddball quotes from a "Caleb Nelson" --  at first I assumed they were historical in nature, but turns out Caleb Nelson currently teaches at the UVA School of Law (perhaps the whole page is strictly intended as humor?); in any event, Virginia is beyond the historical range for the IBWO:


3) Someone emailed me recently asking how many searchers were employed in the official USFWS search throughout the Southeast, and I don't have any figure for that (there were also a lot of volunteers and independents who only worked short stints). I quickly scanned through the final FWS report and what seemed clear was that only Arkansas, Florida, and South Carolina really had very many active searchers (and even then not enough to cover all the habitat of interest). Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, and perhaps even Texas, had remarkably few searchers (although La. and Tx. have been covered a lot in the past). But if anyone wants to put more exact figures on it feel free to.

4) Finally, I've seen some pretty major tree work done by Pileateds in the past, but still found this recent addition to YouTube impressive:


Friday, April 11, 2014


-- Memory Lane --


First, "ChiricahuaBob" has added a couple more entries to those cited in the prior post, about further areas in Florida worth exploration:



A quick note that in the second post C-Bob refers to "the Green Swamp in NC FL," and though it's clear from the post he's referring to an area in NorthCentral FL., just to clarify, I'll note that there is likewise a Green Swamp ("Wilderness Preserve") in southeast North Carolina (NC) that has also had IBWO rumors over the years (…maybe Bob should check it out!). BTW (and I hesitate to even mention this), the FL. Green Swamp is one of the areas the infamous "Magic Bill Smith" early-on made IBWO claims for.

Speaking of Magic Bill, I had occasion recently to go back and re-read some of the discussion from the old, hot-and-heavy international BirdForum thread on Ivory-billed Woodpecker updates (I don't know, is that still the longest thread they've EVER had!?)… anyway, quite a trip down memory lane, and a cast of characters… an interesting way to jiggle the ol' memories a bit. It starts here (but takes a little while to really get going):


You can almost click randomly anywhere in the middle of the 353 564 pages and find something entertaining (and in my case I always find something I'd forgotten about!).

More recent, but still re-hash, is the below brief interview clip with David Sibley, from another site. In it he responds to what I suspect is one of his least favorite questions… what to say about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker:

David is one of the most congenial, soft-spoken, skilled and insightful field birders in the country, and I suspect he is restraining himself mightily here from saying what he actually thinks ;-) (i.e. that the IBWO saga was a wild goose chase and an incredible waste of time, energy, and conservation dollars). At any rate, David remains one of the most respected birders/naturalists around (who's opinion carries tremendous weight in the birding community) so please keep any comments here as civil as David is.

With that said, however, I'll repeat the story I've told previously:

Around the year 2000, after the David Kulivan Louisiana IBWO sighting I was in line at a book signing for Sibley when I reached the table and quickly asked him what he thought of Kulivan's story and the chances of Ivory-bills still being around. Without missing a beat, he answered that he thought it was close to impossible… that with SO MANY birdwatchers around these days and the IBWO being such a LARGE bird, there was almost no likelihood it could have gone undetected for so long. With a line of fans behind me, I didn't have time to argue the points, but it made me aware that David's mind was already largely made up (years before the Arkansas story came along) that the Ivory-bill was extinct, though his reasons seemed simplistic… big birds that spend most of their time either inside cavities, or high in tree canopies in remote dense forests, can fairly easily evade human encounter. And despite the great growth in birdwatching as a hobby the actual number of experienced birders who spend any significant time in IBWO-like habitat remains very small. So at that time, the species' possible survival, seemed well within the possibility realm to me. Today, after larger-scale, longer-term, and better organized searches it's tougher to argue the points, but still the immensity of difficult habitat, requirement for a clear photo or video, and ongoing smattering of possible credible encounters, do keep hope alive.
IBWO sighters, without a photograph, will always be accused of seeing what they want to see, but the skeptics' default position of incredulity is similarly a very predisposing position… as it was 70+ years ago when no one believed Mason Spencer's claim that he saw Ivory-billed Woodpeckers… until, that is, he shot one.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014


-- Past and Present --


Nothing newsworthy, but a recently uploaded 6-minute YouTube piece, with some nice clips, briefly summarizes the IBWO Arkansas story:


And in case you don't follow the IBWO Researchers' Forum, but are interested in Florida searches, these posts briefly report on some recent searching in central Florida:





Tuesday, March 25, 2014


-- A Voice From the Past --


Most emails I get these days are fairly lame claims of Ivory-bill sightings, or else simple questions; occasionally I get some sort of story from someone's past which is a bit more interesting, but also lacking in details and/or credibility… but today I received an unexpected treat of sorts from someone who was actually there 70 years ago to see an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the Singer Tract (some writers claimed, when Nancy Tanner died, that she was the last living person to definitively have seen an Ivory-bill in the U.S.… but apparently NOT). So this is sorta coool!! (even if it adds nothing to current-day discussion).

Painter Donald Eckelberry was famous for sketching/painting a lone IBWO in the Singer Tract in 1944, that some take as the very last legitimate sighting in the U.S.  One time, several years ago, when I mentioned Eckelberry's experience on the blog, a few commenters actually took issue that he more likely saw a Pileated and faked the eventual painting(!)… anyway, today I received an email from one of the then-young boys who lived in the local John's Bayou log camp from 1943 to 1949, and was with Eckelberry on that fateful day, who'd stumbled upon that blogpost and felt compelled to respond. I post his reply here for sheer historical interest:
"I am the Bobby Fought [Faught] that was with my brother Billy when Don Eckelberry sketched the Ivory-bill near the Sharkey Road log camp in Madison Parish in 1944. I happened to be looking through the internet at the hoop-lah caused by the recent 'sightings' and can understand why someone on your blog questioned the validity of Don Eckelberry's sketch.
"Don did in fact see and sketch an Ivory-bill that day. I may now be an old man, however, I still remember my time in the log camp like it was yesterday. Our mother had recently died in Tallulah and dad was transferred from the Chicago Mill switch engine to one of the log camp's Heislers. The two oldest children, Billy and I, were old enough to go with him. I loved the woods and was sorry to see them cut down, but never thought in my wildest dreams they would be turned into soy bean fields. If I had been older and more experienced, I would have realized when the Corps of Engineers dredged out and ruined the scenic beauty and good fishing in the Tensas River, changes were under way. I roamed the Alligator Bayou area hunting and fishing south of the camp pretty openly; but was wary about hunting at all in the Singer Preserve on the north side of Sharkey Road. Mr Jesse Laird the game warden, kept a close watch there. I did explore the woods on the north side of Shakley Road, sometimes along Johns Bayou and crossed it when I went to Little Bear Lake deep in the woods, to fish. I found wild hogs and wolves were plentiful on Johns Bayou. For that reason, I always carried my little .22 rifle, but kept a low profile because of Mr. Laird.
"Any knowledge about the local Ivory-bills didn't come until we met Don Eckelberry and Mr Jessee Laird on the Johns Bayou Bridge, and were told we could go with him. The bottom line: My brother and I did go with Don, and Don did sketch the Johns Bayou Ivory- bill."  
Thanks so much for writing, Mr. Faught. I truly enjoyed hearing from you. [Mr. Faught also mentioned having been given a photo of the Cuban Ivory-bill back in those days, and said he would send that along if he could find it amongst his papers.]

And below, once again, the wonderful description Eckelberry gave of that fleeting moment in time, in April, in the Louisiana swamp, 70 years past:
"She came trumpeting in to the roost, her big wings cleaving the air in strong, direct flight, and she alighted with one magnificent upward swoop. Looking about wildly with her hysterical pale eyes, tossing her head from side to side, her black crest erect to the point of leaning forward, she hitched up the tree at a gallop, trumpeting all the way. Near the top she became suddenly quiet and began preening herself. With a few disordered feathers properly and vigorously rearranged, she gave her distinctive double rap, the second blow following so closely the first that it was almost like an echo -- an astonishingly loud, hollow, drumlike Bam-bam! Then she hitched down the tree and sidled around to the roost hole, looked in, looked around, hitched down beneath the entrance, double-rapped, and went in."

Friday, March 07, 2014


Florida etc.


(via Eric Gaba/WikimediaCommons)
We're into IBWO breeding season and a handful of folks are doing a week+ long search of some central Florida locales starting next week. Coincidentally, a poster at IBWO Researchers Forum chose now to mention an IBWO encounter in the Choctawhatchee (which he continues to visit) 2 years back:


Where is Tyler Hicks when we need him? ;-) ...Actually, last time I checked, Tyler's interests seemed turned more toward butterflies than birds, and oddly (disappointingly?) his home page barely makes mention of his Ivory-bill work/claims: http://thingswithwings.org/index.html

Anyway, Florida certainly remains a key state for searching along with Louisiana (and I still think Mississippi remains under-searched). Occasionally still get updates (but no success) from folks looking in Texas, and even Georgia and Alabama; but oddly, haven't heard anything for quite sometime from the Arkansas Big Woods, where this all started, or South Carolina's Congaree, which many (not me, but others) deemed the best remaining IBWO habitat. I assume that there are indeed individuals continuing to visit those areas in search of IBWO… you don't need to report anything positive, but if any individuals can confirm time/effort/interest at least still being expended in those areas would love to hear of it.

Friday, February 28, 2014


-- 10 Years and Counting --


8+ minute clip from George Butler's 2007 documentary film "The Lord God Bird" here:


h/t to Tim Gallagher for pointing to this (in a tweet) -- Tim also nostalgically recalled the same 10-year anniversary moments on his blog recently: 



Wednesday, February 19, 2014


-- Persistence, Paradigm Shifts??? and whatever... --


This month represents the 10th anniversary of the original IBWO sightings in Arkansas. Hard to believe! (…that it's been 10 years, not the sightings ;-) Nonetheless, for a lot of different reasons, a few of us persist in hope for the Ivory-bill. 

Mike Collins not only has broadcast his views on YouTube, but returned to the Pearl In February for some searching, and says he'll be back (from Virginia where he now lives/works) in March or April for another spell. Thanks also to the few independent folks who continue to send me occasional updates on the searching they find time for in various areas, even if nothing terribly promising has resulted therefrom. And over at the Ivory-bill Researchers Forum, posters keep the faith as well…:

The general paradigm for Ivory-bill searches in the past has been to go to an area where IBWO sightings are reported, especially where interesting sounds, foraging-sign and/or cavities are found, and have human observers search the area, as well as possibly installing remote automatic cameras… i.e. go where the birds might be and have a look/see. Seems logical… but it has failed pretty dismally (at least to obtain the level of documentation now required)… so some folks over at Ivory-bill Researchers Forum are proposing a different, more proactive approach: attract the species to where you want it to be... For anyone who hasn't followed the discussion there, the basic premise is that Ivory-bills may rely on olfaction for finding the beetles and other food sources they prefer, and if one could duplicate those creature-scents artificially and apply it to an area (obviously within suitable IBWO habitat) perhaps IBWOs would appear. A university professor from Caifornia who is expert in avian olfaction is intrigued enough by the proposal to think it worth pursuing. Fleshing out all the necessary details could take awhile… but interesting that after all this time possibly new approaches are yet being formulated (at least I don't recall such an approach being seriously broached before).

Also worth noting, that through the Freedom of Information Act, "Houston" over at IBWO Forum obtained the summary report of helicopter searches over parts of Louisiana (Atchafalaya and Pearl) back in 2008-9. Nothing much of note in it, but why this (and other summaries) have not been released long before now is beyond me… perhaps they're holding back such material for inclusion in a final summary report to be issued around 2081... when all the principals involved are deceased and don't have to defend it. 8-\

Anyway, the Ivory-bill saga is nothing if not bizarre, so I'll close out with yet another of those bizarre elements, for your entertainment -- a recent letter-to-the-editor of an Indiana newspaper (yes, Brazil, Indiana) from someone who appears to be sincere, but is almost certainly hopelessly mistaken… or, just a teller-of-tall-tales:



Sunday, February 09, 2014


-- Ivory-bill Materials For Sale --


Several of you may be familiar with birder Jim Williams, long-time bird/nature writer/columnist in Minnesota, with long-held interest in the Ivory-bill. He contacted me wishing to get the word out that he is selling much of his personal collection of Ivory-bill-related materials: books, articles, letters, private communications etc.; and he'd like to sell it all as a "package" (price not mentioned). Here is his email for contact:  woodduck38@gmail.com

Below, I'm posting the list of materials he has sent along, many of which will be quite familiar to Ivory-bill enthusiasts, and others may be more one-of-a-kind items. Please contact Jim via email if you have questions/interest:


The Grail Bird, Tim Gallagher, Houghton Mifflin, 2005, 1st edition

The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, Phillip Hoose, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004, 1st edition, mint condition.

Ivory-bill Hunters, Geoffery E. Hill, Oxford University Press, 2007, 1st edition, mint condition.

In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Jerome A. Jackson, Smithsonian Books, 2004, 1st edition, mint condition.

Stalking the Ghost Bird, Michael K. Steinberg, Louisiana State University Press, 2008, 1st edition, mint condition.

Research, diaries, letters, articles, etc.:

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Research Report No. 1 of the National Audubon Society, James T. Tanner, published by the National Audubon Society, October 1942. First edition, 107 pages, 8x10.5 inches, soft cover, fine condition

Personal letter from Willie Aschenbrenner, Rosholt, Wisconsin, 2008, regarding map

Nature Conservancy magazine, Fall 2002, Vol. 52, No. 3, article “Swan Song of the Ivory-bill” by William Stolzenberg, illustrations by David Sibley, photos by Macduff Everton

The New Yorker, May 14, 2001, 2 copies of article by Jonathan Rosen on hunt for Ivory-billed Woodpecker, historic and personal.

The Clarion Ledger newspaper, June 30, 2000, copy of article by Bruce Reed

Field observation notes by Whitney Eastman (marked “not for publication: For confidential  use by naturalists and ornithologists”): Discovery of Two Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the Apalachicola River Swamp, Florida, March 3, 1950

Journal article (copy), Whitney Eastman author, for Atlantic Naturalist, Vol. 123, No. 4, Oct-Decc.1958, “Ten Year Search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker”

Personal letter (copy) from Herbert Stoddard Sr. to John Baker, president, National Audubon Society, April 28, 1951. A report on survey of “the sanctuary” in Scott’s Ferry, Florida, 1951.

Project Proposal (2 copies) for 1993 Search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Martjan Lammertink

Dutch Birding, article October 1992, (copy), “Search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Cuba,” Martjan Lammertink

Personal letter, To the Editor, American Birding Association magazine, (copy), from Suzanne Grill, Pocono Pines, Pennsylvania, regarding 1992 sighting of Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Florida

Bird checklist, Felicianas area of Louisiana, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, Office of State Parks, Louisiana, undated, no Ivory-bill on the list.

Map (copy) Pearl River Wildlife Management Area, Louisiana, circa 1990

Map, West Feliciana, Louisiana

Map, Lafourche Parish, Louisiana

Names and contact information, possible information sources, October 2000

Manuscript (copy), 114-page typescript account by H. Norton Agey and George M. Heinzmann of their searches 1965-1970 for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. Searches conducted in several states. Includes names of other people who have looked for the bird, plus summary of known sightings.

Manuscript (printed), article written by James J. Williams “Ivory-billed Dreams; Ivory-billed Realty” for American Birding Association magazine article late 1990s.

Article, magazine published by Minnesota Ornithologists’ Society, Minnesota Birding, March-April 2002, “Minnesota’s Ivory-billed Connection: The Whitney Eastman Story,” author Jim Williams. Magazine is intact and in fine condition.

Journal article (copy) Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, circa 1940, regarding 1939 visit to Singer Tract and observation of Ivory-billed Woodpecker as found by James Tanner.

Personal letter, Alan Brady, Feb. 2002, explaining above journal article.

Birding Magazine, American Birding Association, March-April 2007. Much of the magazine is devoted to several articles discussing various history of searches for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Very good condition.

Manuscript (copy) Historical Distribution and Habitat in Florida (of Ivory-billed Woodpecker) by Dr. Karl Miller, Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Conversation Commission, Gainesville, Florida. Date and intended publication source unknown. Basically, this is a long list of “possible encounters with Ivory-billed Woodpeckers from 1859 to 1995,” with extensive citations.

Manuscript (copy) of journal article by Jan M. Swart, Nov. 2, 2006, publication unknown.

New York Times Magazine, May 7, 2006, “13 Ways of Looking for an Ivory-billed Woodpecker” by Jack Hitt. Good condition.

Two copies of US Fish and Wildlife brochure describing the bird and the searches. This was issued after the Arkansas sightings.

Also included, a small printed handout from Mexico illustrating and asking people to be on the watch for “el carintero real” (Imperial Woodpecker). The bird is shown in color. Very cool. Mint.

(...Someone please buy this stuff, because I've already forewarned Jim that most assuredly if he disposes of his collection, the species will no doubt be found and documented a month later and he'll be left punching himself silly! ;-)

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Older Posts ...Home