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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.

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

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! ;-)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


-- Those Kenting Blue Jays --


The circumstance of Blue Jays doing expertly-rendered Ivory-bill 'kent' calls has long been an issue for IBWO searchers. There is no doubt that Blue Jays, well-known "mimics," utter a near perfect copy (to the human ear) of the Ivory-bill's signature sound. Why or how that arose is more a matter of debate, but anyway, I was amused to see a recent exchange on the Texas birding listserv... 
After a poster made note of a mockingbird imitating a blackbird's sound, Fred Collins chimed in with,

"And then there was the Blue Jay doing a perfect imitation of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Nacogdoches, TX in 2007. When and where did he learn that!"

To which another poster responded:

"Referring to Fred's Blue Jay doing Ivory-billed Woodpecker calls in 2007 the Blue Jays at Cache River in AR in winter of 2006 made perfect IBWO calls!! A call passed down generations that became a regular call or…"

Rarely, but occasionally, I've heard/watched Blue Jays give clear "kent" calls in my own area, where IBWOs were never known to exist, and it is a bit spooky!
Cornell attempted to address the issue of Blue Jay calls years ago, though I'm not sure much was ever resolved (though on spectrographic analysis they seem to feel they could differentiate the calls):


I suspect we will never know why, how often, or under what circumstances, Blue Jays voice the calls, nor how much the frequency varies (if at all) by area of the country.


Tuesday, January 07, 2014


-- Of Tragedies and Centennials --


"Martha" from Wikipedia
While hope for the Ivory-bill seems to hang by a thread, hope for another species is gone. This is the centennial year for the official extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, with the death of "Martha" in captivity in 1914. "Project Passenger Pigeon" hopes to tell the story of (and lessons from) the Passenger Pigeon saga to all who will listen this year. Their website here:


One of the projects they're connected with is a documentary film, "From Billions to None" hoping for release later this year:


And today on NPR's "Diane Rehm Show" writer Joel Greenberg, author of "A Feathered River Across the Sky," told the Passenger Pigeon's incredible and sad story to a national audience. If you missed it, worth a listen (1 hour):


The demise of "Martha," at the time in the Cincinnati Zoo, means we at least have a marker by which to celebrate a centennial for this extraordinary species... No one currently knows when/if? the last Ivory-bill died.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


-- Jerry Jackson Retires --


Well, this is sort of big news to start off the year (though certainly not unexpected):


Dr. Jerome Jackson is retiring. Dr. Jackson has been one of my heroes for the last 30+ years, both in ornithology more generally as well as in the IBWO story more specifically -- and I realize a number of Ivorybill enthusiasts have issues with Dr. Jackson (nor have I agreed with everything he's written). But pretty much the only reason a Gene Sparling, or a Tim Gallagher, or Cornell Lab of Ornithology could step forth in 2005 and claim to have found an Ivory-billed Woodpecker... and not be laughed at... was because of the earlier work done by Jackson. His work is renowned on many fronts, as is his reputation as a teacher of budding naturalists.

On those very rare occasions over the past several years when something IBWO-related crossed my desk that I wanted to hear the opinion of others higher-up about, Jerry Jackson was at the top of my list of the views I wanted to hear.

Julie Zickefoose, in her 1999 essay (well before all the Arkansas excitement) for Bird Watcher's Digest wrote:
"Jerry Jackson, by virtue of his unique combination of ornithological expertise, woodsman's smarts, and unalloyed faith, refuses to close the book on the ivory-billed woodpecker. Alone among all those I've spoken with, he continues to search. He truly believes that, somewhere on the planet, ivorybills still hitch and rap and toss their fluffy topknots, pound their great shining bills into bark, fly in long straight lines over a sea of treetops. As much as I would like to see an ivory-billed woodpecker, I wish more that Jerry would see one."
And of course, I too wish, that in retirement, just maybe, perhaps, possibly, the-gods-be-willing and the stars aligning just so, Jerry will find the time to at long-last document the most elusive quarry of his career, because after-all, as his wife intones, "he's kind of driven." ;-)

In any event, sincerely Happy Retirement Dr. Jackson!


Friday, December 27, 2013


-- Year End --


I probably shouldn't let any year go by without re-playing Sufjan Stevens haunting tribute to the Ivory-bill:


Saturday, December 14, 2013


-- "interesting followup"... --


Cornell's John Fitzpatrick is in a new ~11 min. audio interview, recounting the Ivory-bill story. Nothing new in it, until the 9-minute point when he mentions what he terms an "interesting followup" occurring in the winter of 2008-9 when a "colleague" recorded a lengthy (but "inconclusive") set of kent-like sounds about "every 10-15 seconds" from treetops -- I think it's implied that this was in the Big Woods (Arkansas), though I'm not at all positive about that:

(click on the arrowhead to start the audio)


Sunday, November 03, 2013


-- Mike Collins Summarizes His Work --


Mike Collins has produced a set of YouTube videos recapitulating his case for Ivory-bills in the Pearl River (LA.) region, based on his work there over ~8 years. There are a total of 10 videos, generally 10-15 mins. each, beginning with this one (the other clips accessible by clicking on the "14 videos" link beside Mike's name):



Monday, September 16, 2013


-- More of Same --


Earlier this year I cited the abstract to the final official report on the 2006-8 search for the Ivory-bill in South Carolina (from Matthew Moskwik et.al., and focused especially on the Congaree), and now I see the entire report is available for free on the Web:


A nice read... that sounds all-too familiar.

Monday, September 09, 2013


-- Georgia's Altamaha... --


Just passing this along, in the event anyone might be interested…

A reader ("Tony") from McDonough, Georgia, has the birding 'bug,' in particular the IBWO 'bug,' and is very interested in exploring (starting as early as October) parts of the lower Altamaha River habitat "from Big Hammock to I-95," including setting up some automatic recorders. He's looking for anyone who would be interested in joining/assisting in such a search.

If there are any takers, especially from the area, send me your name and email address (or other contact info) and I'll pass them along to the emailer (I expect he'll be searching through wintertime, not just in October). Or, if you have any particular ideas/suggestions/contacts for searches along the Altamaha send those to me for passing along to Tony.

Though Georgia never seemed to receive extensive attention during the Cornell/USFWS search, the Altamaha has some interesting (though distant) history with the IBWO, and secondary growth along much of it should be quite good. And just to stir a little additional interest, here's a prior post I did on Georgia awhile back:


Saturday, July 27, 2013


-- More History From Houston --


"Houston" at IBWO Researchers Forum continues to post documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, the latest ones being old Ivory-bill sighting claims from various states:


South Carolina:


Mississippi & Louisiana:

Even when one is familiar with an individual claim from the literature, I still find reading the actual, raw first-person accounts from the time fascinating (and sometimes they include certain nuances not included in the more general literature reviews).

Anyway, of the above, I probably find the Mississippi claims the most interesting (even though old) as Mississippi remains among the most under-searched of the likely IBWO states, and shares a long border with Louisiana where IBWO's were last confirmed.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


-- Just Passing These Along --


A couple of tangential things showing up in my feeds today:

New podcast of Tim Gallagher in a radio interview (haven't listened yet myself, but assume it is good):


And relatedly, Audubon Magazine has posted online this old George Plimpton article, from 1977, on searching for the Imperial Woodpecker with Victor Emanuel:


And finally, below, Jack Neely writes the most moving press tribute I've seen yet to Nancy Tanner who passed away a few weeks back:



Monday, July 22, 2013


-- Sounds of Silence --

 "And no one dared disturb
  The sound of silence." -- Paul Simon

To my surprise, have had no substantive feedback on the historical questions previously raised, that I was hoping could be closed out… indeed, the silence has been deafening (not sure if that makes the whole matter even more... or less... intriguing!). Anyway, will move on momentarily to note a couple of updates: 

Mark Michaels updated the Project Coyote site (Louisiana) awhile ago, for any who missed it: 


 And Mike Collins left the Pearl River area to return permanently to Virginia (will probably still make occasional visits back to the Pearl). Before leaving he'd been posting a few short video tutorials on some of his video evidence (he seemed to be putting them up, taking them down, putting them up, taking them down??) -- they wouldn't persuade doubters, but I thought they were at least helpful in clarifying what he believed he saw in some of the clips; presumed he would probably group them together somewhere on his site, but instead they are difficult to locate, if they are even still there. Without them, there is still plenty of past material for people to work with on his pages for anyone with the time and interest. 

...And just this weekend I received an email report of a 39-minute view of an IBWO in an area outside Atlanta, GA. of all places (darn, no camera available)... and so it goes… and goes… and goes… and……. 

Meanwhile, this blog is approaching its 8th anniversary... refusing, like some bird species, to go extinct! ;-)

Saturday, July 13, 2013


-- Freedom of Information Act Requests --


First, for any latecomers to this line of posts, here's a link to the original letter-exchange put up by "Houston" at IBWO Researchers Forum that started the ball rolling on this tangent:


Again, you can also read my posts starting with 5/31, and followed on 6/2, 6/15, 7/4, and 7/7 to catch up.

 [The simple question we are trying to get to the bottom of is whether or not there were any private (timber industry), or governmental lands in the late 1960s/early 70s that were specifically managed for the presence of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, and if so was such action based on any evidence for the species beyond what is already in the public literature?]

Of the documents Houston more recently posted to the Forum, I find this 1985 letter from Dr. John Funderburg (a naturalist and museum director, since deceased) to a USFWS official regarding a study of the IBWO, quite interesting, simply because of some of the opinions expressed:


[Many of the other documents Houston has received are HERE.]

Anyway, I asked Houston if he'd be willing to send along a little primer on making FOIA requests for IBWO documents, for anyone else interested in doing so, and he kindly sent along the following info (and also confided he's still learning as he goes):

Some state agencies have an official form to complete. Others provide a sample letter to modify, and there is usually an easy email submission process. Here's an example of the basic letter format Houston uses:

 Freedom of Information Act Request

I am requesting all < name of government body> communications and documents held from 1900 - present that mention, refer or relate to the presence or possible presence of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the state of < State>. These should include but may not be limited to sighting reports, follow up investigation reports, search reports, habitat assessments, management plans, and other internal communications.

The following documents are in my possession and may be excluded from the response:
       [list of documents that may be excluded]

Please also exclude any correspondence or reports that are specific to ongoing search efforts by private citizens.
Documents in the response will be shared with other Ivory-billed Woodpecker researchers on http://www.ibwo.net/ to provide the public with a better understanding of how to respond to claims of Ivory-bill sightings, and what management practices are considered and implemented for potential Ivory-bill Woodpecker habitat. I am therefore requesting a fee waiver. If a fee assessment is required, please advise if the amount exceeds $25.00.

Thank you in advance,
       [Your name, address and phone number]
 He notes that the governmental agency contacted is supposed to respond within a week or so (variable) to confirm receipt of the request, and that thus far he hasn't had to pay any fees. The agency may ask questions in order to clarify certain points, and may ask in what format (hard copy or pdf) the requester would like the documents.  And then it may take days, weeks, or months to receive the documents.

 Anyone wishing more details about the procedure can private message Houston over at the Researchers Forum for further assistance. (If you're not a member of the Forum I s'pose you can send any inquiries to me for forwarding to him.) 

Further, Houston sent along contact info for a number of states of interest, and notes that it may be helpful (but not necessary) to be a resident of the state you are contacting: 




South Carolina


Tennessee Wildlife
P.O. Box 40747
Nashville, TN, 37204
attn: Executive Director
 or email melinda.raymond@tn.gov

Georgia Wildlife Resources Division
2070 U.S. Hwy. 278, SE, Social Circle, GA 30025

Now don't everyone file your inquiries at the same time....

Anyway, great information; thanks for sharing it Houston.


Sunday, July 07, 2013


-- Re-hash --


The prior blog-post brought in a small odd mix of email responses, so, re-tracing a bit....

This whole matter began with some simple sentences in a 1967 memo uncovered from a timber industry official to a Government wildlife official (as quoted in my 5/31 post):

"One major company has ivory-billed woodpeckers on its lands in the South and has taken steps to protect the areas where they are located. Fearing that any publicity might attract people to the areas and disturb the birds, the company has kept this matter a secret. It does no harvesting in those areas."
Now, either that statement is:

1) a bald-faced lie
2) a bald-faced mistake
3) a bald-faced truth (and there were living Ivory-billed Woodpeckers under protection on timber industry property in 1967 that several people knew of)… which implies, in turn, lies or deception on the part of many.

My take from the beginning has been that the most likely explanation is an ill-informed mistake/misidentification.
Yet, some emailers felt the last post (7/4) needlessly pushed a 'conspiracy theory'… so will reiterate that I DON'T believe there could've been any group of IBWOs under official protection anywhere in the Southeast in the 60s/70s… in part because I don't believe the folks required for such an effort would've had the brights to successfully pull off such a large-scale deception! ...BUT, circumstances remain that seem peculiar.

The agency receiving the above memo (including those remarkable sentences), surely would've investigated such a claim of Ivory-bill presence at the time, and probably found no verification (there were many IBWO claims across the Southeast in the 60s/70s, and so far as the literature is concerned, none were ever confirmed; but is there a written record somewhere of investigating this particular claim?). I've speculated (6/15 post) that the property referred to in the memo may have been near the Neches River (TX.) where several claims came from, though it could've been from a completely different locale.

But then along comes the last memorandum (7/4 post) which now once again hints at Ivory-bills in Texas, this time at Sam Houston National Forest in 1971, and specific actions taken to protect them (indeed, an "Ivory-billed Woodpecker sanctuary and buffer"!)… perhaps all of these memos reference mere proposals or planning documents, pointing to actions that were considered but never implemented… though as written, they certainly sound like actions that were indeed underway and with the knowledge of a Government agency.

Multiple emailers referred me to this passage (pg. 35) from the 2007 USFWS Draft Recovery Plan for the IBWO, which simply reflects what was already in the literature, and only ADDS to (does NOT resolve) any intrigue:

"Wherever the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is suspected to still exist it stirs both excitement and action. In the early 1970’s Sam Houston National Forest in east Texas proposed to modify timber harvests based on three unconfirmed Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings by their staff (Ruediger 1971). These and other sightings in east Texas were never widely accepted and, consequently, did not stimulate forest management changes to promote the welfare of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  Similar stories of unconfirmed sightings have generated no change in land management throughout the southeast." [Bold added]
This is the same general version of events that fills the historical writing on the IBWO, but what "Houston" has provided with his FOIA gleanings are raw background materials that appear to directly contradict the above gloss-over statements, indicating that "land management" practices WERE in fact altered in certain instances upon belief of Ivory-bill presence. WHY the discrepancy??? Were these instances of management-changes so minor as to be considered insignificant; were the seemingly altered practices never actually carried out? Is the language in these documents so loose and sloppy that it doesn't mean what it appears to mean?  Or maybe the above statements simply say, rather insipidly, that no broad-scale land-management changes took place all across the entire Southeast on behalf of IBWOs, even though isolated changes did occur in select few areas? Something just seems amiss…

I'm pressing the issue because OTHERS will believe a 'conspiracy theory' is what best fits the pieces together (that the timber industry or a Gov't. agency had IBWOs secretly under protection in the 60s/70s)... which I believe IS a near-preposterous notion… unfortunately, the alternative is that multiple people are lying, concealing, or badly mistaken about some matters, and the question is simply why? 

Almost certainly, there are still at least a few individuals alive today from that period (early 70s) who know what the answers are… and they don't seem to be saying much. The answer may be very simple; I'm just waiting to hear of it.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker saga has for awhile held a sort of reverse Midas-touch effect… many of those deeply involved, eventually become too embarrassed by their association with it, to say much out-loud on the topic -- it becomes the touch, not of gold, but of quicksand.

Thursday, July 04, 2013


-- WHAT did they know and WHEN did they know it?… --


...that was the question raised during the Watergate era, and it's beginning to rattle in my brain anew….

(again, you need to have read posts here from 5/31, 6/2, and 6/15, as background to this post)

Despite a lack of forthcoming conclusive information I still have hope that the facts behind the story unearthed by "Houston" at IBWO Researchers Forum may be resolved... He has put up another 'management plan' document received from his FOIA requests, and for now it only adds to the intrigue. See it here:


It is a 1971 memorandum from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service regarding management of areas of the Sam Houston National Forest (near to, but separate from the Big Thicket Preserve in Texas).

It contains several statements that are tantalizing, yet not conclusive as to whether they refer only to anecdotal reports of IBWOs, or some sort of more definitive evidence for the presence of the species in 1971:

"Dead trees of any species shall be protected due to probable presence of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. See proposed Ivory-billed Management Plan (attached). The removal cuts in stands 7,8, and 9 will be deferred 2 years or longer depending on the continued presence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker."

"Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings in the SE part of stand 8."

"Give the matter absolutely no publicity. We will follow up with a more detailed statement of our policy on handling publicity in connection with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, within the next few days."

one map shown includes in the key: "Removal Cut Deferred due to Ivory-billed Woodpecker"

and a 2nd map key indicates an "Ivory-billed Woodpecker Sanctuary and Buffer"


WHAT to make of it?
I don't know that any of this is directly connected to either the earlier Goodwin/McClellan memo uncovered by Houston or the reference I earlier posted about IBWO in the Neches area. It is virtually impossible for me to imagine that USFWS (and others) could have known of confirmed IBWO populations under protection from at least 1967 - 1971, and word of this never have leaked out decades ago. The best explanation I can fathom is that the proper agencies (quite rightly) at the time took very seriously a series of anecdotal reports of IBWOs and acted accordingly, but that the reports were never confirmed, and that all involved felt too embarrassed at the time (or just lackadaisical) to ever speak publicly about the matter (in terms of actual protection measures instituted)…

But what if, for years, confirmed Ivory-bills were in fact under protection as late as 1971… it boggles the mind, to think that not only the public, but such Ivory-bill luminaries as Les Short, Jim Tanner, and Jerry Jackson when he conducted his 1980s search for the species, would have been deprived of such knowledge. It would be a conservation story almost as big as the very Cornell Big Woods story that kicked this blog off.
 (...but then, 'for the good of the birds, let's keep the public in-the-dark' is not an unknown attitude in the IBWO saga).
Anyway, it all gives more food for thought while awaiting Freedom-of-Information-Act requests to slowly play themselves out and just maybe yield a fuller explanation.

Monday, July 01, 2013


-- Nancy Tanner… Last of a Unique Tribe --

I was a redhead, so I guess that’s why he noticed me.”  --Nancy Tanner on catching Jim Tanner's eye (from a newspaper interview) 

An emailer notifies me that Nancy Tanner passed away yesterday. She was the last living individual who had seen the famous Singer Tract Ivory-bills in the early 40's with her husband Jim. She had generously shared her knowledge and memories with many over the last several years amidst the Ivory-bill excitement begun in Arkansas. She celebrated her 96th birthday just a few weeks back, as recorded by Stephen Lyn Bales in this post:


I suspect (but don't know) that Mr. Bales may have another tribute to Nancy up at his "Ghost Birds" blog when he gets a chance.

Meanwhile, my emailer sends along two links as tributes to her:



…and I'll add this past post that Julie Zickefoose did when Nancy visited her home some years back:


(If I find a comprehensive obituary or other official newspaper notice in the ensuing days, I'll add a link later.) 

ADDENDUM: Mark Bailey sends along this link to an obituary in the Knoxville News Sentinel:


...and Stephen Lyn Bales now has a farewell post up here:


Saturday, June 15, 2013


-- Follow-up --


Read the prior two posts, if you haven't already, to be up-to-date for this post….

I was disappointed that no one has sent along any personal knowledge, or research, of the prior Goodwin/McClellan exchange that would clarify matters. It makes no sense to me that such a claim as voiced by Mr. McClellan wouldn't have been swiftly pursued by USFWS at the time, and there be some record of it. I assume in some form it was investigated, and nothing came of it.

This weekend I found an hour of time for my own quickie Web search... The closest possible 'smoking gun' reference I can find to the whole matter comes in this 1980 USFWS IBWO report which at the bottom of page 9 briefly makes note of a December 1967 message from Mr. Goodwin to a Roland Clement, which I suspect (but don't know with certainty) is referencing the same matter as originally uncovered by "Houston":
"In 1967. the U.S. Corps of Engineers halted the timber management plan at Dam B Reservoir on Neches River, Texas, in deference to ivory-bills. Federal and state wardens in area were alerted and public appeal received positive and gratifying response (Harry Goodwin in lit. to Roland Clement 16 December 1967)."
The timing is so close to the September 1967 note from McClellan to Goodwin it's hard not to conclude that they refer to the same situation… and possibly McClellan (in his note) was trying to have the foresters/timber industry take credit for actions the US Corps of Engineers had already put in place (just guessin'). At any rate, the several well-known claims for Ivory-bills at that time in the Neches (Texas) area, by John Dennis and others, were tantalizing, but of course never confirmed upon major followup efforts; indeed Tanner and others, upon studying the region, believed all such claims to be mistaken (still hotly debated to this day).

One could further research what major timber/logging companies were operating in the Neches area in 1967, but I'm guessing whoever was there 1) did not have any Ivory-bills under protection (even if they sincerely thought they did) and 2) may have been acting, not so much out of any real conservation concerns, but simply under the constraints of the Corps of Engineers (although I could have the actions in reverse, and perhaps the Corps only moved in AFTER true concerns expressed by the timber company?)

In short, I'm satisfied for now, that the fascinating story uncovered by "Houston," likely gets us nowhere... But if anyone finds evidence that the IBWO population referred to by Mr. McClellan in fact resided somewhere other than the East Texas Neches region, let us know… or again, maybe further pertinent documents will fall into the hands of Houston at some point.

(BTW, the whole 10-page USFWS report is worth a read, although it's mostly a re-hash of info available elsewhere. The report's author, J. W. Aldrich, concludes at the end that, "From the evidence presented, I believe that a few ivory-bills still exist in the United States [1980], but they are so nomadic that it will continue to be difficult to verify the occasional sighting."):



Sunday, June 02, 2013


-- Speculatin' --


In follow-up to the prior post on a most peculiar 1967 memo sent from the offices of a Forest Products Industries group to an official with USFWS, let me sketch out what seem like the only major possible scenarios that could account for the note (read the prior post if you haven't already) -- and I don't mean to be casting aspersions here, but simply stating the possibilities:

1) Mr. McClellan is simply lying to Mr. Goodwin in his statement about living Ivory-bills in order to advance the notion that the forest products industry is a good steward. [In relation to bald eagles he at least happily mentions both Weyerhaeuser and Georgia-Pacific, but in regards to the IBWO claims he conveniently offers no details at all.]

2) Mr. McClellan is writing in sincere, good faith, BUT has been lied to by another individual down-the-line, again in an effort to put the best face forward for the industry.

3) All parties involved are sincere and honest, but simply mistaken… they genuinely believed they were protecting a group of Ivory-bills, but in fact, had only Pileated Woodpeckers on site. [Perhaps wildlife officials at the time figured this out, and that is why the story never reached the public sphere; or, another alternative, perhaps the birds being protected were actually Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, another endangered species, but somewhere along the line, the names got confused during communications.]

4) All parties are honest AND CORRECT, and a small group of IBWOs (possibly a lone pair) were in existence, as stated, in 1967, on private company land. Perhaps the birds disappeared shortly after the memo was communicated... or, not. [Of course, in any event, those birds would be long gone by now, but it would open the door to speculation on how many of the species existed across the South at that time; AND it would be highly important as demonstrating once-and-for-all that the species survived LONG past the early 1940's when cynics have routinely chosen to write them off.]

There can be other nuances, but I don't see a lot of wiggle room outside of these 4 basic scenarios (but open to suggestions if you have some).
Personally, I'd bet on some form of #3, but would sure be nice if we could put this baby to rest one way or the other....

....In other matters, a new article from South Carolina on biologist John Cely's searches for IBWOs (he'll be giving a university talk upcoming on June 6 about those searches):


The S.C. searches produced a number of tantalizing claims, but, as usual, none ever confirmed.

And here's a short YouTube clip of Cely describing the Congaree habitat (in S.C.):



Friday, May 31, 2013


-- The Houston Files... --


"The truth is out there," so it is said….

 "Houston" (IBWO Researchers Forum) has unearthed yet another fascinating piece of written history from his Texas FOIA inquiries. It's a Sept. 1967 letter from "James C. McClellan" with the American Forest Products Industries Inc. (name has since changed)  in Wash. DC. to "Harry A. Goodwin" with USFWS also in Wash. DC. Goodwin had basically inquired about efforts major forest products companies could make to assist in the management of endangered species (such companies owning the bulk of old growth forest tracts remaining in private hands). The letter exchange is here:


The pertinent (intriguing) part of the letter from McClellan back to Goodwin reads as follows:
"We have been working with the Audubon Society on this endangered species problem and major companies such as Weyerhaeuser and Georgia-Pacific have surveyed their properties for bald eagle nesting trees and have taken steps to protect them.
One major company has ivory-billed woodpeckers on its lands in the South and has taken steps to protect the areas where they are located. Fearing that any publicity might attract people to the areas and disturb the birds, the company has kept this matter a secret. It does no harvesting in those areas."
Just a nice... brief... casual... off-hand... incidental mention of IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKERS!… or... as they are fond of saying on Twitter… WTF!!!!!! ;-)

Could there really have been a company-protected group of Ivory-bills somewhere in the South in 1967 and word not have leaked out long before now? Who all would've been privy to such information? I have real doubts that this is anything more than yet another case of mistaken Pileateds, but...?????  Where is Fox Mulder when we need him? (Any reader here perchance know anything further about the claim…? Someone alive today must have some connection to it.)

"Houston" is still expecting to receive more material from the archives so perhaps the whole situation will clarify itself in time. Or, in the meantime seems like there's a nice little sleuthing/research project here for someone: Are McClellan, Goodwin, or any associates still alive and reachable? Which "major company" is involved? -- from the wording I would guess it ISN'T Weyerhaeuser or Georgia-Pacific, but some other large forest or paper/pulp products company that has operations both in the North and the South, and obviously on lands (in states) where IBWO might be found (be aware there have been many mergers/acquisitions over time among these companies). I suspect one could find out what company (and perhaps even individuals) made the claim, and even the location, but I suspect also there's no documentation of the actual birds themselves, beyond weak anecdote (...or else USFWS follow-up investigation at the time showed them to be PIWO).

Sunday, May 26, 2013


-- Historical Reading --


For anyone not following the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Researchers Forum, "Houston" from Texas has been posting some additional archival documents lately, related to Texas/Big Thicket claims (old, but always interesting):




And if you missed them, some other documents (John Dennis, Whitney Eastman) that Houston had posted previously here:



Thanks for all the document-sleuthing, Houston!

....When there is a resolution to the Cornell Chris Dennis disappearance I will append the prior post to reflect it (he was scheduled to graduate TODAY). Yesterday, the local paper ran the following article:



Friday, May 24, 2013


-- Possible Tragedy --


Just a quick, potentially sad side-note to pass along (as some here would want to know)....

A notice from Cornell today reports that Chris Dennis, Cornell student and son of John Dennis Jr. (and grandson of John Dennis Sr., of Ivory-bill fame) is still missing after his canoe capsized on Cayuga Lake on Wednesday:


If by any chance you live in the area and can assist in the search, contact information is given above.

--> 5/27/13 Update: by the end of today (Mon.), sadly, there has still been NO conclusion to the disappearance of Chris Dennis while canoeing last Wed.  A blog is posting updates here:


And I'll also post any significant news as updates onto this post as well.

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