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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






Wednesday, February 28, 2007

 

-- Another Endangered Species --

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Interesting news on yet another endangered (and once-believed-extinct) avian species, the Sumatran Ground Cuckoo, here. Are these news reports almost becoming routine? In this instance they have recorded the bird's call for the first time ever (...assuming of course that it wasn't in actuality a Blue Jay ; - ) --- actually I suspect this 'shriek' upon human capture may not really be the bird's typical call.

...and for some more sheer avian entertainment/wonderment, while we tread water in IBWO-land, check out Mike McDowell's link in his post of today:

http://www.birddigiscoping.com/2007/02/riflebird-mating-dance.html

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-- IBWO Foundation Inaugural --

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Mary Scott's report on the inaugural of Bobby Harrison's Ivory-billed Woodpecker Foundation here.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

 

-- Texas Doings --

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John Arvin, head of the Texas IBWO search, posted this generally discouraging news on the Texas listserv today:

"Temple-Inland, the largest landowner of forested land in East Texas, has
announced a sell-off of their land holdings in the region. Why is this bad
news? Because continuous forests, both bottomland (especially) and upland pine
will be fragmented into thousands of little parcels as people obtain land for
their weekend homes. There are few conservation dollars available to pick up
some of the more important tracts. Birds and other organisms associated with
large tracts of intact forest will be especially affected. So, we can forget
about the (admittedly slight) chance that Ivory-billed Woodpecker might once
again inhabit extensive tracts of bottomland forest. Existing preserved tracts
are insufficient to support a viable population of that species and others like
it (e.g. Louisiana Black Bear). The almost extinct Longleaf Pine ecosystem of
the uplands is also in peril, along with its specialty species (Red-cockaded
Woodpecker, Bachman's Sparrow, Brown-headed Nuthatch). Habitat fragmentation is
almost as damaging as outright habitat loss for many species. Sorry to be the
bearer of bad tidings."
...speaking of Texas, another article from a few days back on the Big Thicket search here.

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-- Focus on Fitzpatrick --

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New article about Cornell's John Fitzpatrick here. Ivory-bill stuff starts about 1/4 of way into the piece.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

 

-- IBWO Foundation Kicks Off --

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Article on the IBWO Foundation gala (last evening) here.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

 

-- Like Father, Like Son --

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Recently, John V. Dennis Jr. participated in the Cornell Big Woods IBWO search -- here. John is the son of his more famous ornithologist father who made Ivory-bill headlines decades ago (but also contributed much else to ornithology). I believe John Jr. is also in the process of writing a book about his dad's birding endeavors. Jerry Jackson's son has helped his dad search for the elusive woodpecker on occasion, also. And in the late 80's Fred Sibley believed he may have heard an Ivory-bill call in Mississippi.... Yo, David, get with the program! ; - )

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

 

-- Updates Continue --

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Both Auburn's Dr. Hill and Cornell's Mobile Search Team have posted new updates (use the links at left to get there). Some interesting things said, but nothing conclusive Ivorybill-wise. The mobile search team has finished up at Pearl River and is moving on to the Pascagoula River region of Mississippi --- good to hear, as Miss. remains the most under-explored IBWO-likely state, unless much more is going on there than has been publicized.
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Monday, February 19, 2007

 

-- More Arkansas Thoughts --

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Thanks to "Bootstrap Analysis" for calling attention to a Dec. article in the Journal of Wildlife Management, by wildlife biologist Albert Bivings regarding the persistence of Ivory-bills in Arkansas, here.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

 

-- Listers Beware! --

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I've long believed the concept of "species," especially as it relates to birds, is far more arbitrary than most acknowledge. The ramifications of this fascinating article go far beyond the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (which has now been DNA-barcoded), detailing how molecular/genetic studies are both expanding bird species count (finding "cryptic species" within birds that look physically the same) and also lumping together birds previously thought to be distinctly different species. Some day the constant (virtually silly) AOU bickering over such matters will be put to rest by the newer techniques (although the molecular approach itself will have its own ambiguities).

And on a different note, a local TV story about the IBWO search in the the Big Thicket area of Texas here.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

 

-- Interesting --

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Well now, this is interesting... more high technology at work in the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker: two high-tech robotic cameras have been installed in the Big Woods area of AR. specially programmed to scan the skies and snap pictures of overflying birds that might meet the characteristics of an Ivory-bill; hard disks are removed regularly (by D. Luneau) and results analyzed by birders. Sounds a bit far-fetched at first, but apparently has met the serious muster of those involved, as yet another jointly-based techie tool in the ongoing endeavor.
A couple of articles relating the story are here:

http://www.physorg.com/news90942222.html

http://news.mongabay.com/2007/0217-ibw.html


....a-a-a-and fierce, unbridled septicism (and unabated mirthmaking) continues to emanate from here.
(where, for those who have followed the internet IBWO debate from the get-go (and know the many Web players and arguments), the 'comments' sections are virtually funnier than the posts.)
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Thursday, February 15, 2007

 

-- Another Article --

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Dr. Hill seems a tad late with an update out of the Choctawhatchee... no doubt, busy, processing some film or something : - ) ... No, no, seriously, while we bide time, decent overview article out of Oregon of all places here:

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/science/20070215-9999-lz1c15knockin.html

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-- IBWO Foundation --

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Haven't seen much new information on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Foundation whose inaugural gala is little more than a week away in Huntsville, AL., but their mission statement is here on the BirdingAmerica website.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

 

-- Keep 'em Comin' --

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Well, the Ivory-bill blogs just keep on comin', and I must say this one looks pretty promising : - ):

http://ivorybilledseptic.blogspot.com/index.html

This Gnarls Pagan fellow sounds like someone I could sip some Beaujolais with.

hmmm... let's see, is Pete Dunne behind this (he never stops writing), or does someone on Team Nokuse have way too much time on their hands????
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-- Hill's Book Forthcoming --

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One of the latest auditory "kent" encounters at the Choctawhatchee is now up on Dr. Mennill's site for listening, here. Like a lot of the acoustic data, interesting, but not altogether meaningful by itself without full spectrographic analysis. The paucity of previous IBWO recordings for comparison makes any definitive conclusions unlikely; but another datapoint for followup.

For believers and agnostics, Geoffrey Hill's book on the Auburn Ivory-bill find/search is due out in a week or so. Look for it in your local bookstore or on Amazon
here (see below). I s'pose many of the skeptics won't have any interest since they've already made up their minds, based on a pittance of science and a whole lot of armchair speculation, that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is not only extinct, but has been since the 1940's (all for lack of a photograph). In the meanwhile, the first multiple and serious searches of some of the areas of interest have barely begun, and not all information is public, but that never keeps some cynics from speaking with certitude, as the rush, rush, rush to judgment continues.

"Ivorybill Hunters: Search for Proof in a Flooded Wilderness Forest" by Dr. Geoffrey Hill.
Table of Contents:
Chapter 1: Gone but not forgotten
Chapter 2: A most improbable discovery
Chapter 3: From possible to certain
Chapter 4 : My Quandary
Chapter 5: Is it a miracle?
Chapter 6: The Boynton Cutoff
Chapter 7: Hunting ivorybills in the backyard
Chapter 8: Let the search begin
Chapter 9: Good science, bad science, or no science at all?
Chapter 10: Tangible evidence
Chapter 11: The mule: hauling out the audio evidence
Chapter 12: Voices in the wilderness
Chapter 13: Cat out of the Bag
Chapter 14: Return of the Lord God Bird
Epilogue: How to be an ivorybill hunter

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

 

-- Cornell Team at the Pearl --

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Mike Collins reports that Cornell's mobile search team is now in the Pearl River area, having concluded their sojourn at the Choctawhatchee. It sounds as though they may have entirely bypassed the Escambia River region of the western FL. Panhandle which would be a bit disappointing if so. (For that matter disappointing they did not explore any more southerly FL. areas, unless the plan is to do so on a return trip later.) I s'pose they may update their log tomorrow or Tues. with further thoughts on their last 10 days or so.
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Thursday, February 08, 2007

 

-- Occam's Razor --

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Oftentimes, people invoke "Occam's Razor" (or 'the law of parsimony') in discussing Ivory-bill evidence. Occam's Razor is essentially the idea that, in science, given a choice of multiple explanations one ought to opt for the simplest of the choices. Of course if 'simplicity' had anything to do with it none of us would be here reading or writing on the internet today; we'd all still be unicellular organisms pleasantly floating around in a vast roiling sea. In actuality, as many scientists have noted, the world is brim-full of complexity.

But putting all that aside, which is the 'simpler' explanation for all the reported sightings of Ivory-bills over the years, and recordings that seem to match up acoustically to the only IBWO calls on record:

1. Is it that each-and-every single one of these sightings over time by different people in different places, at different times, under different circumstances, is either a case of mistaken identity or outright fraud or insanity, and that every single auditory encounter is likewise explainable by some other possible surmised sound?

OR, is not the simplest explanation, by far, that,

2. Ivory-bills live...

AGAIN (...and again and again and again and AGAIN), the only reason skeptics find the 2nd explanation NON-simple is because they begin with a presumption of Ivory-bill extinction for which solid evidence does not exist (you can't assume something extinct that hasn't even been looked for adequately; you can assume it rare, scarce, uncommon, unusual, endangered, if you like, BUT NOT extinct). Even Tanner with all his supposed expertise could never find the Ivory-bills which he believed existed in South Carolina and Florida (he only 'found' the ones a guide led him to in La.). Why are his successors presumed to be so much more skilled than he was...

We all learned Euclidean geometry in school. But, as many of you know, in NON-Euclidean geometry they alter just one of Euclid's initial axioms (presumptions), and end up with a hugely different geometry which physicists tell us actually more closely represents the reality of the universe and curved space. Still, kids are taught the Euclidean form because it is common-sensical and a close enough approximation for day-to-day use, even if WRONG overall!
Change the presumptions, and you change the conclusions/ deductions... and Occam really has little to do with it.

By the way, a reader sends in this link to a story of rare vultures and other endangered species suddenly being discovered in Cambodia (gosh, how many times each year does this happen?) --- or maybe Occam would see it as more likely a case of spontaneous regeneration.
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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

 

-- Fact Check --

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Opinions (that have NEVER been independently verified or authenticated):

Ivory-bills went extinct in the United States in the 1940s...
Ivory-bills require large tracts of virgin forest for survival...
There were less than 3 dozen Ivory-bills left in America when James Tanner did his study...
Ivory-bills require a large supply of wood-boring beetle larvae to survive...
There have been no photographs of a living (U.S.) Ivory-bill taken in the last 60 years...
The Luneau video shows a ___________________ (fill in whatever bird you want)...

And one can invent all the alternative explanations for sightings, sounds, reports, claims, etc. that one wishes --- still none of those explanations rise above the level of opinion and speculation.


FACTS:

Ivory-bills can fly.
Ivory-bills are suited for living in swamps, and in areas that humans don't frequent.
Ivory-bills spend time out-of-sight in woodland tree canopies.
Ivory-bills spend time inside tree cavities.
Ivory-bills have been reported 100's of times since the 1940's, including credible reports from credible observers, as well as reports whose credibility can't be easily adjudged one way or the other.
"Extraordinary" is a relative and highly subjective term, not a scientific term.
A large-scale, thorough search of all habitat that Ivory-bills might live in has never been carried out.
Humans are neither all-knowing nor infallible in their judgments.
Throughout the last century birds (and other creatures) believed extinct have been re-discovered.
It is unlikely that anyone will ever know when or where the last Ivory-billed Woodpecker in existence dies.
If there is 1 living Ivory-bill left than the species is NOT extinct... and, never has been.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

 

-- Need a Job ? --

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Short notice, but Geoff Hill says he needs another birder for the Choctawhatchee search. The request reads as follows in his latest update(Feb 5), which also includes his contact information if genuinely interested and available:
"We have immediate need for a full-time searcher. Please contact me (Dr. Geoff Hill) ASAP stating birding experience, outdoor experience, and skill in a canoe or kayak. Also send names and contact numbers for two references. Searchers work on an eight-day rotation--six days living in a tent in the swamp and two days out. Pay is $1200/mo, no benefits, and the position is scheduled to last until May 31, 2007."
Obviously, no guarantees, but this could be the part-time job of a lifetime for any birder.
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Saturday, February 03, 2007

 

-- Of Extinction and Ether --


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Ornithological McCarthyism continues to spill forth from some internet quarters, piling speculation upon unfounded speculation to discount IBWO evidence, and confusing mere alternative explanations for science. Tsk, tsk. By all appearances one 'skeptical' blogger (actually, he gives 'skepticism' a bad name) seems to be little more than a tool of right-wing ideologue interests and the Exxon P.R. Dept. (kinda like a certain dim-witted President we know of). Many skeptics/scoffers have painted themselves into corners of no escape by now, and so keep plowing forward, all-the-while wearing blinders (gee, again kinda like a certain prevaricating Vice-President). If an IBWO photo arrives the squirming should be fascinating to watch (...sort of like the squirming in the White House for outing a CIA operative while preaching patriotism, cough, cough).

The shaky belief in IBWO extinction is a bit reminiscent of the 100+ years of physicists' belief in "ether" as a permeating medium throughout the universe, used to account for various effects. They fit each new piece of knowledge or experimental finding to the pre-conceived notion of ether as long as they could, until finally in the early 20th century Einstein deduced once-and-for-all there simply was no ether. Never had been. Even in physics (far more rigorous than biology) pre-conceived suppositions are dangerously ensnaring entities. So too, this century, may the ethereal notion of Ivory-bill extinction plummet to the pseudoscientific graveyard, despite the efforts of those who must now be wishing it to be true.

On a very sad side-note: tornadoes that swept through central Florida Friday not only devastated many human lives, but also killed 18 young endangered Whooping Cranes in a safety enclosure, that had been led down to Fla. from Wisconsin. The storms probably did not affect the Florida areas harboring greatest IBWO potential, although the Suwannee area is not too far away.
Addendum: one of the 18 Whoopers was finally found alive some distance away (tracked by a radio transmitter it was wearing); not much consolation, but at least a piece of good news under the circumstances.
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Thursday, February 01, 2007

 

-- Of Watched Pots and Ivory-bills --

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'A watched pot never boils,' we are told, and there has rarely been a more watched pot than the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Although news items continue to trickle forth they are mostly more of the same, or slight elaborations of previously-reported information --- still, people pounce on every new tidbit. My fear is that this 'watched pot' effect only lends a sense to many (skeptics primarily) that nothing much is happening and all is a waste of time. In fact, the serious search for this bird and for its photograph is FINALLY underway after 60 years of little coordinated effort. The 'patience' I've urged for 4 decades has never been more pertinent. We live in a world of instant-this and instant-that, but that's not how good science works.

I'm not sure yet, but to lessen this 'watched pot' sense, that makes time seem to drag on, I may lay back a tad from blogging the next couple of weeks (2-3 posts/wk. rather than 5-6), and just let the searchers do their work. February could be a very crucial month (but that's been true of the past Februarys as well). So if I go post-less more days than usual don't assume it means nothing is happening... NOR that it means something UNreportable is happening --- just means I'm practicing the patience I've preached. Folks can still use the links on my blog if they wish to search out any news items appearing. We'll just see what developments are forthcoming.
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