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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.
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Google
 
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






Friday, June 26, 2015

 

-- Some of Us Can Relate... --

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Feel like I should post something before the month ends, so here's a quick story of a man with an obsession, that some of us understand better than others:

http://rethinkrural.com/Blog/PostId/52/close-encounters-of-the-bird-kind#/images/1

(somewhere in South Georgia)
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Saturday, May 30, 2015

 

-- ....and more --

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Further update on the Big Cypress wildfire here:

http://www.nbc-2.com/clip/11548586/big-cypress-wildfires-span-35000-acres-more-land-needs-to-burn

Meanwhile, don't know quite what this project is all about (but it won't make verifying Ivory-bill videos any easier!!), have come across this recent "animatronic" addition to YouTube:




(...and they have a second clip from the lab here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aepxT4ZUYrc )

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

 

-- South Florida Burning --

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The largest wildfire currently burning in the U.S. is unfortunately at The Big Cypress National Preserve in south Florida (sandwiched between the Everglades and the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve), with over 35,000 of the Preserve's 700,000+ acres burned.  Started by lightning strikes earlier in the month, weeks later, it is still only half-contained. Smoke from the now multiple fires has carried 100+ miles to other Florida cities. More here:


http://www.coastalbreezenews.com/2015/05/28/wildfire-in-big-cypress/


http://www.winknews.com/2015/05/28/largest-wildfire-in-u-s-continues-to-burn-30-miles-from-naples/


The Big Cypress was home to Ivory-bills in the distant past, and even the setting for a 1996 novel about Ivory-bill rediscovery.




Best of luck to the firefighters and all involved!....
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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

 

-- Anniversary --

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In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the announcement that Ivorybills had been rediscovered, Arkansas Online ran a piece including updates with Gene Sparling and David Luneau:
http://tinyurl.com/kna7wb7

(unfortunately, nothing new to report though)

On a sadder note, Mark Michaels relates the recent death of Edith Kuhn Whitehead, daughter of J.J. Kuhn, perhaps one of the most under-appreciated heroes and experts in the entire Ivory-bill saga:
http://projectcoyoteibwo.com/2015/04/27/in-memory-edith-kuhn-whitehead/
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Saturday, April 25, 2015

 

-- Fantasies ;-)) --

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While awaiting any other news, perhaps just some entertainment today... 'tis the season of avian webcams. Bird nestcams are among the most wonderful, extraordinary uses of the internet. My favorite nestcams are of hummingbirds and Barn Owls (also enjoy European white storks on rooftops), but there are many other
fabulous ones including eagles, falcons, Ospreys, Barred and Great Horned Owls, penguins, and other species (including this year a popular Laysan Albatross nest). The best cams are live in real time, and often even include infrared photography for night viewing... a world that was largely hitherto unknown to scientists has been revealed by all this gadgetry.

The site below lists a GREAT MANY birdcams, though not sure how many of them are currently active:
http://www.beakspeak.com/index.php/birdcams/

Two of my own favorites are this Allen's Hummingbird in California:
http://www.bellahummingbird.com/

and these Barn Owls in Texas:
http://cams.allaboutbirds.org/channel/42/Barn_Owls/

The famous Decorah Bald Eagle nest in Iowa though has long been a crowd-pleaser as well:
http://www.ustream.tv/decoraheagles

(WARNING: these sites are addictive)
 

I mention all of this because of recently noting to an emailer my own personal fantasy for Ivory-bills from the last couple years... no reason not to share it, runs like this:

I wake up one morning and an email note, or science news headline, or an RSS feed, or instant message, or whatever, directs me to a new webpage... yeah, you guessed it, it's a live-stream website of a remote camera, deep in green-laden woods, on an Ivory-bill nest cavity. The parents fly in and out; two chicks occasionally pop their heads out the hole and look around... it's live, it's real, it's high-definition and it hardly even requires explanation.
There's no announcement from Wash. DC.; no friggin' article in a science journal; no press conference from the Cornell Lab; no ornithologists in research-disclosure mode; and definitely no description of where this location is; just the unmistakable visual evidence that nobody can discount and everyone can partake in 24/7 (...and a whole LOT of birders calling in to work sick for the following week)... ohh, and hey, maybe there's a banner above the page that reads: "Ivory-bills LIVE!!!" ;-)))


We can all fantasize.... (although as my emailer properly warns, marriages might be imperiled, if there ever actually was an IBWO nestcam!... be careful what you wish for ;-).
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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

 

-- That Old Reward...? --

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Many will remember the $50,000 reward offered in the course of the Arkansas Big Woods search for information that led wildlife officials to a living Ivory-billed Woodpecker. As far as I'm aware that reward STILL STANDS. If anyone knows otherwise please let me know (if it's changed or rescinded). Though the reward was initiated in Arkansas, I believe it applied to proof of the Ivory-bill's persistence ANYwhere (in the U.S.), and required one to lead officials to a living bird (simply providing photos/video or any other evidence, no matter how conclusive, was not enough, unless it led to a location of individual birds).
I also believe at least part of the reward was provided by a single private individual (who I assume, but am not certain, is still around).


Anyway, just want to nail that all down, since I consistently use the reward as an inducement to people who write me with claims of Ivory-bills, but don't realize the necessity of getting a photo/video (to get wildlife officials to pursue a report). Those claimants who write to me from Oregon, or Washington state, or Massachusetts, or Canada ;-) probably won't have much luck, but couple times a year someone writes from an area, and with enough detail, that I can't so easily discount, and a $$$ incentive may encourage them if they believe enough in their own claims.
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Saturday, April 18, 2015

 

-- No, Nope, Nada --


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Which is to say, thus far I've not found anything adding weight to a rumor previously referenced. Most folks writing me are speculating or making guesses about things I don't have answers for, since the rumor is so undetailed. All I'm really looking for is someone familiar enough with it to say it is bogus or already dispelled... OR, is still being actively followed-up on (will worry about additional details later). Anyway, will keep checking around a bit, but for the moment, not putting much weight on it.

Meanwhile, noticed that another site has re-posted an older podcast on cryptic/extinct animals which includes a segment with Cornell's John Fitzpatrick talking about the IBWO (that I've linked to previously). May be worth a re-listen. Fitzpatrick's segment begins at a little past the 26-minute point, and proceeds for about 11 minutes.
direct download here:  http://tinyurl.com/k7ae7um

or, it comes from this Webpage:
http://radio.seti.org/episodes/Skeptic_Check_Monster_Mashup

(I believe the recorded treetop call Fitz references from 2008-9, came from the Congaree in SC., though it sorta sounds from the interview context as if it was from the Big Woods, Arkansas, so am uncertain about that.) [...A respondent now writes me that the '08-9 audio was indeed from Ark. The somewhat similar incident I'm thinking of from the Congaree may have been 2010.  In checking my loose, disorganized notes looks like the Congaree case was spring of 2007.]
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Monday, April 13, 2015

 

-- 10 Years and Counting --

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"Every time my cell phone rang I expected it to be from someone in the bayou saying ‘We got it!'
The days were long but the excitement was in the air – it was just electric. It was thrilling to be with birders and impassioned conservationists all working together in the hunt to rediscover this bird that had been thought to be extinct." 
-- Cornell's Ron Rohrbaugh speaking about the original Big Woods search for the IBWO

We're approaching the 10-year anniversary of the USFWS/Cornell announcement that, for a short while back-in-the-day, set the birding world aglow. Meanwhile, not much good search-time remaining in the current search season.

I assume most readers continue to follow along Mark and Frank's searches in central La. Their last two search-entries here:

http://projectcoyoteibwo.com/2015/04/06/trip-report-part-one-march-31-april-5-2015/
http://projectcoyoteibwo.com/2015/04/08/1184/

and an additional new post on bark scaling here:
http://projectcoyoteibwo.com/1087-2/


As long as I'm citing Web material, should probably mention that Mike Collins continues to upload IBWO-related videos/mini-talks (on various aspects of the controversy) to his own YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/user/IBWOvids/videos

Finally, I don't usually go public with such things, but have been trying without success (unlike in prior times) to nail down a loose, vague, non-public, slightly intriguing rumor that crossed my screen in March. If anyone knows something about it and can pass along any info (in confidence) to flesh it out a bit, would appreciate it: cyberthrush{AT}gmail{DOT}com  

Likely nothing to it, or it's already been dispelled, but would be nice to clear off my radar if that's the case... or, if still being pursued, to at least know that that is the case (...no need for guessing, and am unable to spell out any further details unfortunately, but if you've heard it, then you probably know the one I mean without any further details).  Vast majority of rumors I receive go nowhere, and this one is likely no different, but....

...On a complete sidenote, I was recently checking around for more recent pics/examples (since last time I checked) of leucistic Pileated Woodpeckers and lo-and-behold there's a doozy from just a month ago in Iowa:


http://ladagephotography.com/developer/2015/03/14/kips-comments-3-14-15/

(not a bird that could be mistaken for an IBWO, but just a gorgeous bird in its own right!)
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Wednesday, April 01, 2015

 

-- Geoff Hill Returns to the Choc. --

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By coincidence, while checking up on some current Ivory-bill doings, I just learned that Auburn's Geoff Hill started a new general ornithology blog last week, and it begins with his return to the Choctawhatchee last month after a multi-year absence. Nice pics, and good to hear from him, and his return to the swamp, if only sporadically!:

http://www.ornithologistsblog.com/#!Back-to-the-Swamp/cmbz/55145ef90cf21d84af58d771

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

 

-- Of Pileated Poopology --


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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:

http://juliezickefoose.blogspot.com/2015/03/dogbombed-again-plus-pileated-poop-how.html

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.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

 

-- The Cuban Ivory-bill --


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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
http://www.amazon.com/dp/150335184X/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

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???
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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

 

-- More Retrospective --

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

http://projectcoyoteibwo.com/2015/02/13/948/

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):

 http://www.fws.gov/ivorybill/pdf/IBWRecoveryPlan2010.pdf

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.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

 

The Truth Is Out There....

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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:
http://craigeley.com/01-27-2015/recording-rare-bird/

...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):
https://soundcloud.com/longhaulpro/lord-god?in=longhaulpro/sets/lord-god

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

 

-- Catching Up --

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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.:
http://projectcoyoteibwo.com/

(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:

http://tinyurl.com/oj668hm
http://tinyurl.com/nch4w4a

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???
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Friday, December 26, 2014

 

-- End-of-Year Notes --

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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:
http://tinyurl.com/n8rkpeh
 

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):
http://birding.aba.org/message.php?mesid=833134&MLID=&MLNM=ID%20Frontiers
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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

 

-- Holiday Note --


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-- HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all! --

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




Lyrics:

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

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

 

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


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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):

http://venturegalleries.com/blog/strange-creatures-really-live-thicket/


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:

http://tinyurl.com/ktw4b42

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.
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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

 

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

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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):

 

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Friday, October 31, 2014

 

-- Congrats Geoff!! --

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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!

http://www.oanow.com/news/auburn/article_d5c7eb32-60b7-11e4-8422-001a4bcf6878.html

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.


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Sunday, October 26, 2014

 

-- Passing Time --

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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:
http://tinyurl.com/mzu4lqy

And Chris Carlisle's Mississippi search continues with reports here:
http://www.ibwos.blogspot.com/

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):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUzfR-NtOW4 

Otherwise, not execting to hear much new before the Jan.-Mar. winter period... and quite possibly, nothing then.
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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

 

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

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(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.
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Monday, September 01, 2014

 

-- Commemoration --

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http://tinyurl.com/kjblw5u

http://tinyurl.com/qak3wwf




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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

 

-- Updates --

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

http://projectcoyoteibwo.com/2014/08/05/how-the-ivory-billed-woodpecker-might-have-survived/
 

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):

http://www.ibwos.blogspot.com/

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ItAS897DGqg

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

 

-- Yes, I'm Still Here --

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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:

http://www.cadenagramonte.cu/english/index.php/show/articles/18902:firefighters-extinguished-fire-in-record-time-in-eastern-cuba 

 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.
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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

 

-- For Yours Entertainment --


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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):



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Saturday, May 17, 2014

 

-- From the Forum --

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For any not following the IBWO Researchers Forum, Mark Michaels last update for Project Coyote is here:
http://projectcoyoteibwo.com/2014/05/13/trip-report-may-8-11-2014/

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

One from Georgia:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwTmMmXDrBKnc0VVUmJmbW40LXM/edit

And a fascinating set (to me), even though 40 years old, from Mississippi:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwTmMmXDrBKnd0Y1XzlvYnlnVW8/edit

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:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwTmMmXDrBKneGE5X0FmdHlBY0k/edit

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Friday, May 02, 2014

 

-- And Now This --

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

http://tinyurl.com/kwkqmvb

[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.
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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

 

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

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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:

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'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!

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