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

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

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

-- Hamlet

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

-- Arthur Schopenhauer






Thursday, November 30, 2006

 

-- Texas Note --

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A note here about some details of the upcoming Texas Ivory-bill search:

http://gcbo.typepad.com/gulf_coast_bird_observato/2006/11/ivorybilled_woo.html

And elsewhere on the Net it's mentioned that the S.C. search begins anew this coming Mon. (...I didn't realize any of the major organized searches were initiating before Christmas!).
As mentioned before I'm not terribly optimistic about either the Texas or S.C. searches, but still good to see serious and enthusiastic searches taking place in these locales, which need to be covered once-and-for-all in an organized manner. Go for it and prove me wrong!
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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

 

-- Stuff --

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A few things makin' the rounds:

Zoologist/chemist Fred Virrazzi has written the following article for a local Audubon newsletter regarding the level of evidence for Ivory-bill existence:

http://www.monmouthaudubon.org/PDF_files/DecJan07c.pdf


Geoff Hill has an update on his Auburn IBWO website, focussing on one specifically-recorded loud knock that correlated with one of their team's original Ivory-bill sightings:

http://www.auburn.edu/academic/science_math/cosam/departments/biology/faculty/webpages/hill/ivorybill/Updates.html

David Luneau has posted some pictures of fall in the Big Woods here (...all the pictures, except the one everyone clamors for!):

http://www.ibwo.org/Pictures/Fall%2006%20album/index.htm


Don't know whether or not The Ghostbird movie, an independent documentary originally centered on the find in the Big Woods and the town of Brinkley, AR., is extending itself to some coverage of the Florida panhandle events or the coming winter searches... If not, it ought to be out by now or very soon (at independent film festivals). Final preparations will soon be being made for the searches to begin in earnest in January.

Soooooo.... are we having fun yet?!!!
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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

 

-- Parrots Down-Under --

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In a case of good timing, John Trapp who I just referenced a few days ago has a post today alerting readers to a rather fascinating story about an Australian parrot that has some parallels to our American IBWO controversy (it also has some parallels to some historical cases I shan't mention!):

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20816235-28737,00.html

John ends his post wondering if "
the whole world is going stark, raving mad!" ...I guess I'm more inclined to wonder if we are possibly coming to our senses as to how flimsy and bare our assumed knowledge of flora/fauna is. . . .
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Monday, November 27, 2006

 

-- Another Scientist Weighs In --


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European mathematician/physicist Dr. Jan Swart wrote the following essay (in PDF form) on the Ivory-bill controversy, entitled "Rediscovering Tanner's Woodpecker; reflections on the survival of the Ivory-bill," summarizing several of the arguments put forth thus far (needs some U.S. editing):

http://staff.utia.cas.cz/swart/IBWO.pdf

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

 

-- This Just In --

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Of possible interest, this note just in from an "anonymous" source, regarding discovery (in October) of a large South American woodpecker:
"It appears that a large woodpecker, Celeus obrieni, known only from a single specimen collected in Brazil in 1926, was just rediscovered. Details, including photos of the bird in the hand, are posted in Portuguese at:

http://arruda.rits.org.br/notitia/servlet/newstorm.ns.presentation.NavigationServlet?publicationCode=
6&pageCode=67&textCode=19739&date=currentDate&contentType=html


Surely details will be posted soon in English. "
There is much debate over whether Celeus obrieni is truly a fully separate species or just a subspecies of Celeus spectabilus --- see: http://www.museum.lsu.edu/~remsen/SACCProp59.html
The division of species is often a difficult, tricky, and dare I say, somewhat arbitrary decision (not nearly as scientific or definitive as some assume) --- when there is only one prior specimen recorded, all the more difficult and shaky. I haven't seen any genetic analysis on this particular case (which would also not necessarily be definitive), and physical features and habitat alone, can be very misleading cues in individual instances.
Still, having said all that, the idea that a large living woodpecker specimen has been found that doesn't match anything seen since 1926 is, needless-to-say, intriguing. Make of it what you wish....
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Saturday, November 25, 2006

 

-- Bird Blogs --

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Just a 'filler' post today, not very IBWO-related: Sometimes people ask which general bird blogs I read regularly, so herewith a list of 8 U.S. blogs, rounded out with 2 general bird sites, I frequent --- this is not necessarily a list of "best" or "most informative" blogs, just some I often find newsy, interesting, quirky, or otherwise entertaining (for my personal taste) :

http://birdstuff.blogspot.com/ --- Possibly my favorite blog just to lean back and take a gander at. John (Trapp, who runs it) will probably be surprised to hear this since we have some itsy-bitsy, teeny-weenie disagreements over matters, but the quirkiness and unpredictability of John's posts is often a breath of fresh air (although he also covers the more routine 'headline' news of the birdworld as well). He also includes an excellent set of links to other bird blogs (recently updated) in the right-hand margin.

http://birdwatching.birderblog.com/
--- Laura Erickson's popular and widely-followed blog --- very frequent and varied posts; a routine daily stopover for many of us.

http://birdchick.com/blog.html --- Another fairly familiar, well-read and somewhat quirky blog, and one that I think gets better and better over time... but be aware, you need a high tolerance for bunny rabbits to visit routinely!

...and (in no particular order) five more fairly 'standard,' basic bird blogs that I think are consistent from week-to-week :

http://birdchaser.blogspot.com/

http://birddigiscoping.com/blog.html

http://dendroica.blogspot.com/

http://wildbirdonthefly.blogspot.com/

http://10000birds.com/

and finally, 2 general birding sites I usually find worth stopping in on:

http://www.littlebirdiehome.com/

http://www.surfbirds.com

A majority of you are likely already familiar with the above sites, but if not, drop by them during your internet hopscotching, and give a look-see... or, there are a jillion other birding blogs/sites out there to suit everyone's particular tastes/interests.
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Thursday, November 23, 2006

 

-- Another Not-So-Extinct Bird --

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(Among other things) Yogi Berra was known for saying, "the game's not over 'til it's over," but he might just as well have said, "they ain't extinct 'til there's no more left." The Madagascar Pochard, a nice-sized diving duck many thought extinct, has been found (13 of them so far) swimming around oddly enough, in perfectly fine habitat in northern Madagascar --- on the count of ten I guess we're all supposed to act surprised about this! The last known one was captured (and died in captivity) in 1991. Multiple sightings hadn't occurred since around 1960. How DARE living things exist for years outside the sight of humans!!

It's said that you can't be 'a little bit pregnant'... some of us hold strictly to the odd notion, ungrasped by others, that you also can't be a little bit extinct....

http://www.kbcitv.com/news/4700151.html
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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

 

-- The Thanksgiving 'List' --


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---> Ten Things I'm Thankful For This Thanksgiving :


10. Seinfeld re-runs

9. Wi-fi

8. Shetland sheepdogs

7. Dark chocolate M&Ms

6. Presidential term limits

5. Steve Jobs

4. Google

3. The Auburn Biology Dept.

2. Rumors

1. ...A pulse


--- Here's hoping all of you have many things (...and don't forget the 'simple' things) to be grateful for this Thanksgiving!!

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Monday, November 20, 2006

 

-- Winter Surprises --

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Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have long-migrated from my local southeastern locale, but this weekend I got to watch as a lst-year Rufous Hummingbird was captured and banded at a house a few blocks from me. In recent years the appearances of these Rufous Hummers (and occasionally other "western" hummer species) have become routine, though still rare. As word gets out for people in the southeast to leave their hummingbird feeders up in wintertime and watch for the possibility, each year more of these oddities get reported. Still, one can't help but wonder how many of them are missed totally each and every cold season --- dozens... 100's... 1000's across the region???

It is difficult to know if more and more of these li'l jewels are making the winter sojourn eastward than ever before, or, as may well be the case, they have in large part always been here (in winter), but only in recent times been noticed. Watching this feisty little tyke get fitted for a leg band I couldn't help but think how just a few decades ago someone reporting a hummingbird in their backyard in winter here would've been met with all-knowing skepticism, but now we know better, and it is a cause of much interest and serious study. Just another example in the bird-world of how little, really, we know, or comprehend with certainty.... and how that knowledge constantly changes over time.
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Sunday, November 19, 2006

 

-- Stretched Thin ? --

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A post on the Arkansas listserv this weekend again sought volunteers to sign up by Dec. 1, for the Cornell Big Woods search this winter. If interested go here:

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ivory/latest/volunteer/document_view


There are a limited number of birders around the country who have the time, backwoods skills and equipment, personal funds, and interest to take part in these searches, and with serious endeavors planned for Florida, S.C., Texas, and possibly other locales in addition to AR. one wonders if the qualified applicant pool isn't pretty well thinned out now for the amount of acreage deserving of interest.. This has always been the catch-22 of IBWO searching: there probably aren't enough qualified, willing searchers to thoroughly cover all potential habitat out there at once, and if you use available manpower to fully cover certain specific locales then other worthy areas likely go inadequately investigated.
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Saturday, November 18, 2006

 

-- National Geographic Article --

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Nice summary article in the latest National Geographic edition on the Arkansas situation:

http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0612/feature6/index.html

Nothing really new to report, but interesting, extended, and well-written piece with some good quotes.
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Thursday, November 16, 2006

 

-- Just Another List --

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--- Nine Things NOT likely to happen in 2007... and One That Might :


1. Sacha Baron Cohen releases his latest film entitled "Borat Wanders the American Southern Swampland In Search of that Very Most Elusive Ivory-beaked Woodpecker, For the Benefit of Mankind."

2. David Sibley claims to see an Ivory-bill in Arkansas but nobody believes him, when the bird in his only photograph appears to be an Imperial.

3. By a sheer random drawing, Geoff Hill and John Fitzpatrick are picked to compete against one another on "Wheel of Fortune."

4. The great great grandson of Mason Spencer walks into Van Remsen's LSU office one Friday afternoon and plunks down a freshly-shot Ivory-bill, inquiring, "So is this the dang thing you fellas been lookin' fer???"

5. Bobby Harrison's Ivory-billed Woodpecker Foundation receives $2.5 million from George Soros (...and boy, is the Big Woods Conservation Partnership pissed).

6. Following the double impeachment of Bush/Cheney, President Pelosi and Vice-President Kerry are sworn into office.

7.
Peace on Earth

8.
Bigfoot is captured in the Minnesota woods and discovered lo-and-behold to be a well-known internet skeptic.

9. Jennifer Aniston marries Cyberthrush.

10. A photograph taken in Florida shows a large black-and-white woodpecker that everyone agrees is NOT a Pileated.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

 

-- Ripples --

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As predicted earlier, 2 conservation groups as well as a local pilots' group are now suing the government over plans to construct a new $300+ million airport in a remote area of the Fl. Panhandle near the Choctawhatchee River (potential home of Ivory-bills):

http://www.commondreams.org/news2006/1114-05.htm


Whenever, wherever IBWOs are found there will be ripple effects.
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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

 

-- And From S.C., This --

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http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/16006134.htm

or,

http://www.heraldonline.com/109/story/9063.html
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Monday, November 13, 2006

 

-- Louisiana Searchin' --

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Funding is being sought for aerial flyovers of appropriate habitat in parts of (east, west and central) Louisiana in the search for Ivory-bills:

http://www.2theadvocate.com/news/4626651.html

This is likely a response to many rumored IBWO sightings in La. over the last year --- although Fla. probably has the largest IBWO population, La. may well have had more actual rumors the last couple yrs. stemming from different parties, and both states have much excellent, but difficult to access habitat.

I am personally doubtful that IBWOs remain in either Texas or S. Carolina (though many think so, and I'm glad to see serious searches being conducted there), but should IBWOs be located in both La. and Fl. I believe it will say much about prospects for the entire Fl.-Ga.-Al.-Ms.-La.-corridor that the bird could easily have moved along and remained hidden in for the last 60 years. The Arkansas find opened up the potential for a more northerly (and even less explored) corridor as well: Mo.-IL.-Ar.-Tn. Or, it is always possible we are dealing with separate and isolated populations, though this seems more doubtful given the risk of genetic bottlenecks over time.

It's amazing that so many individuals who claim to be interested in and concerned about endangered species have given up so quickly on this species with so many reports afloat, just because the initial spot-checks done to date (and they're not much more than that) have failed to confirm. Some people are putting tremendous (and unwarranted) faith in human knowledge which is neither perfect or all-encompassing, while greatly (and routinely) underestimating nature, the 'will to live,' and the drive to reproduce.
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Saturday, November 11, 2006

 

-- The Question of Cameras --

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One of the points made in Auburn's update of their winter search plans is their decision to employ digital SLR cameras rather than videocams while searching --- based on the premise of higher quality/resolution for any pictures attained, at a reasonable cost. People may have varying opinions about this depending on their personal photography experience, and notions about photographic evidence as well as any trade-offs involved. I'm sure the Auburn group already has access to excellent opinions on the subject, but if any readers have thoughts they want to contribute on the matter (or want to recommend brands or pertinent features/specifications) send them along as a comment for posting (...the Auburn group reads the blog) --- do keep in mind that the team has budgetary constraints, so there's no point in recommending the most high quality, failsafe, precision-operated equipment you can imagine...

I'm curious myself if any of the growing number of binocular -digital camera-all-in-one combinations that are now on the market are yet of sufficient quality to be of much use on IBWO searches (have not heard of them being used)?
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Friday, November 10, 2006

 

-- Auburn Update... & Common Question --

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First, this update on the Auburn group's plans for the coming search season:

http://www.auburn.edu/academic/science_math/cosam/departments/biology/faculty/webpages/hill/ivorybill/Updates.html


Secondly,
John Trapp of Birdstuff blog recently sent me a question I hear a lot:
"I'm curious, cyberthrush. What would you consider to be compelling evidence for extinction" of the IBWO (or any other creature for that matter)?"
This is a simple, basic matter. "Extinction" is a very significant (maybe even extraordinary) claim and thusly requires very strong evidence. Theoretically, one should thoroughly search all likely potential habitat and find no sign of a creature in order to declare it extinct (is that so hard to comprehend?) This is occasionally possible for creatures residing on islands or very limited geography, but for most creatures, including the IBWO it is not very practical and is never fully accomplished. Thus, we usually accept some passage of time without reports as adequate. But too many creatures have been "re-discovered" after 50-60 years' absence. ~100 years with few or no credible reports is a far safer, scientifically-sounder criteria. If the Ivory-bill had truly gone even 60 years with no credible reports it would be discouraging, but it hasn't. There have been credible reports of Ivory-bills throughout its history --- since the 30's the species has probably never gone even five years without a credible report, i.e. a report that couldn't be quickly dismissed upon interrogation (though most of these reports aren't well publicized or written about unless there was significant follow-up). The fact that IBWOs, if extant, likely reside in difficult and sparsely (if ever) birded areas means even more caution is necessary in passing judgment.

As indicated in the previous post, if serious searches continue in several areas for the next few years, and 50 years pass with no credible reports from elsewhere, then I would find that, combined with the previous history, compelling evidence for the likelihood (much greater than 50/50 chance) of IBWO extinction. It's really pretty simple: to presume something extinct, look for it thoroughly, extensively, and without success, and/or let a truly significant amount of time pass --- I think that's a pretty minimal requirement, both scientifically and common-sensically. A declaration of "extinction" is essentially a declaration of (species) "death" --- how many of you would feel fine being declared dead and nailed inside a coffin based on the sorts of evidence (basically differences of opinion) thus far presented....

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

 

-- Of Loch Ness, Bigfoot, and IBWOs, Oh My --


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Surprisng how often and loosely skeptics are using analogies to the Loch Ness monster and Bigfoot in their ill-formed arguments. For starters, no one knows whether either Nessie or Bigfoot truly exists or not; these are not wholly mythical creatures like the unicorn as they seem to imply;
there IS evidence for them. But let's assume these creatures never really existed, then the analogy is useless since everyone agrees the Ivory-bill did exist as recently as 60 years ago. You can't compare the IBWO predicament to something never existent. However, if either of these creatures did exist then the analogy is perfect, as yet another example of a large creature evading confirmed detection over a lengthy period of time --- either way, the analogy in no way degrades the arguments for IBWO existence (it is either useless or supportive); it remains just further sophistry amidst the striking paucity of evidence for extinction.

On-the-other-hand... skeptics, by focussing on various uncertainties in the Ivory-bill evidence and offering alternative, wholly speculative explanations for other presented evidence of IBWOs, are using the very same commonplace techniques (for raising doubts) employed by those who argue against evolution with it's gaps and alternative explanations --- that analogy, to the intelligent design folks (who claim life is too complex, i.e. "extraordinary", to be explained by the simple mechanisms of evolution) is much more to the point of what is going on here. Ivory-bills, seen in New York's Central Park, or 30 at a time flocking in Texas' Big Thicket... now, those would be "extraordinary" claims. An occasional IBWO glimpsed in appropriate (and sparsely-birded) southeast bottomland habitats... nothing extraordinary here folks, move along, move along.

Real science often requires patience --- it's taken over 50 years just to get us to a point where serious searching is finally underway in some locales (albeit, still on a small scale); if photography/videotape is now suddenly the new standard of evidence we can wait another decade for that, if necessary. Or... if 50 years pass with no additional credible sightings, I'm willing to say on the basis of that evidence that, probabilistically, the species has likely gone extinct... except that, probabilistically, in 2056 I won't be around to say it.
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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

 

-- Happy Days --

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Happier Days are here again (...for all life on the planet),
Americans choosing to take Congress, democracy, and the Constitution, back --- neither scaremongering, dirty tricks, Rovian shenanigans, nor questionable voting machines could sway enough folks to side with the dark inept forces of the Cheney Administration this time around. What next... an Ivory-bill photo???
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Monday, November 06, 2006

 

-- Skeptics' View --

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Skeptics look at evolution:

http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=3191

....and at the supposed moon landings:

http://www.apfn.org/apfn/moon.htm

....because afterall (according to some), extraordinary claims/beliefs require 'extraordinary proof,' not mere theoretical evidence.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

 

-- The Jizz of Birding --

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Several recent bird volumes have focussed on the importance of the 'jizz' of a bird in field identification (or if you prefer, the 'giss,' general impression of size and shape). While the emphasis on this gestalt aspect of bird identification is somewhat new, it is in fact the way most experienced birders have always ID'd the vast majority of birds seen in the field.
Next month 10's of thousands of birds will be turned in on Christmas counts with no videotape, no photographs, no field notes, no verification or validation of any kind (if you want to sign up for a Christmas count, but choose instead to watch football, drink beer, eat popcorn, and turn in a totally bogus list of counted birds, hey easy enough to do). Most of these bird IDs will occur in a matter of seconds (or less). In fact upon seeing a bird in the field, only a fraction of a second is usually needed to rule out 99+% of all known birds --- see a little brown bird hop from one bush to the next --- great blue heron, goshawk, blue jay, herring gull, sulphur-crested cockatoo, and thousands of other birds are immediately ruled out without any deep thought --- upon a second brief glance you may have it pinned down to one of 3 birds, or maybe specifically to winter wren, such is our ability to use a few glanced cues to pinpoint a species. In fact after ID'ing a bird, if asked what field marks were seen, one must often pause to bring to cognition whatever marks were involved in forming the identification, the process is so quick and unconscious for long-time birders.

Yet, in the case of the Ivory-bill, we are told experienced birders are not to be trusted. Multiple field marks must be seen and recorded, and photographs or videotape required... though it doesn't apply to 99.99% of all other birding where 'jizz' is the routine modus operandi, and is even more powerful when there are only two likely candidates for a sighting. Yes, mistakes happen, especially among novice and less experienced birders who play a significant role in Xmas counts where the data gathered is truly questionable. But do I believe that the likes of John Terres, John Dennis, Tim Gallagher, Geoff Hill, and a couple dozen others were all mistaken over the years in their claims of seeing something missing the 'jizz' of a Pileated Woodpecker, leaving but one possibility --- No. Seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker is not nearly as extraordinary as adamently and repeatedly discounting the observations of so many credible observers over decades is --- a kind of egocentrism or jealousy seems involved in so persistently placing one's own personal biases and speculation ahead of multiple others' onsite observations. Birds can, and most often are, ID'd by gestalt at a glance. Still, one ought not trust the accuracy of Xmas counts or lifelists, especially given that the notion of "species" itself is imprecise, somewhat arbitrary, and in flux. These are worthy of skepticism, as are most all field studies which purport to make generalizations about birds based upon inadequately small and non-random sample sizes, poor controls, ill-defined variables, and often without any replication. There is PLENTY to be skeptical of in the so-called science of ornithology. But do I accept the likelihood that some birders in the last 3 years have seen a certain single species, Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, and that still to this day the majority of potential habitat has been inadequately, indeed barely, searched? Yes, indubitably.
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Thursday, November 02, 2006

 

-- More of Same --

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A current news story (mostly re-hash) from Brinkley, AR. centered largely on David Luneau and some video he took ; - )

http://www.kfsm.com/global/story.asp?s=5627065

BTW, David has some updated info on remote camera systems under development at his website:

http://www.ibwo.org/

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