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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, October 31, 2007

 

-- Old Quotes Revisited --

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Not much news, so I'll just repeat a couple of old 1930's quotes from T. Gilbert Pearson, one of the premier American naturalists/ornithologists of the 20th century :
"The supreme moment of my life as a bird student came in May, 1932, when in a great primeval forest in northern Louisiana, I saw, for the first time, a living ivory-billed woodpecker... The ivory-bill is decidedly larger than the pileated, and this difference in size is very apparent, as we had ample opportunity to observe, when by chance birds of both species fed at the same time on a tall decayed stump within 80 feet of our hiding place."

"The reduction in abundance in this species is due most probably to persecution by man, as the species has been shot relentlessly without particular cause except curiosity and a desire for the feathers or beaks."
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Elsewhere on the Web:

Most folks in the east have taken down their hummingbird feeders by now, assuming the Ruby-throats have made their way south, but as many know, more and more western hummingbirds are almost routinely showing up in the east each winter in regular, if sparse, occurrences. So put that feeder back up, keep it filled with fresh sugar water (and try to keep from freezing), and watch what shows up. Moreover, many people around are intently studying the phenomena/movement of winter hummers in the east, so If you're actually lucky enough to get one, try finding an appropriate person in your area, or on the Web, to report it to. More info here (and there is a LOT of other info on the Web):


http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/Late_hummingbirds.html

And here's a beaut of an example from current news! (a Green-breasted Mango banded in Georgia recently):

http://www.narba.org/index.cfm/MenuItemID/144.htm

(hmmmm.... hummingbirds in winter.... gotta wonder how long they'd been coming before skeptics accepted it....?)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

 

-- Extinct in 1931 --

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fer shuuuuur....

A poster on the Arkansas listserv writes about an old book find from 1931 already referring to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker as extinct, well before the Singer Tract study:

http://birdingonthe.net/mailinglists/ARKS.html#1193619323

Of course this species was thought extinct in many minds by 1900, then again by 1920, then by 1930, and then again by 1950, only to be followed by more decades of reports. It's entire history is that of a species prematurely declared gone by the impatient and short-sighted, based upon little solid evidence. Evidence for 'rarity' is one thing, and not so difficult to document; evidence for 'extinction' is quite another, and exceedingly difficult to establish. One ought tread carefully.

....and one last time (well, may do another reminder in a week), Noel Snyder's monograph on Ivory-billed Woodpecker decline available here. It has a limited initial printing so may want to get any orders in early, although if enough demand, could get a second printing.
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Web Grab Bag offering: The new biography of Roger Tory Peterson by Douglas Carlson is now out. I prefer folks support their local bookstores if practical, but nonetheless here is the Amazon link.
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Monday, October 29, 2007

 

-- Hill Article --

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A couple of folks emailed me saying they thought I'd given Geoff Hill's latest article short shrift on the blog. That wasn't my intention, even if it seemed so because I only linked to it as a short "Addendum" to a longer post (and maybe some folks missed it entirely). So again, here is the link for Dr. Hill's latest perspective on things (while we still await the actual 2007 summary reports from both Auburn and Cornell) :

http://ww
w.birdersworld.com/brd/default.aspx?c=a&id=1018


Dr. Hill argues among other things above that, even without a clear photo, the totality of their Choctawhatchee evidence is difficult to explain away as anything other than Ivory-bill presence.

And another reminder that Noel Snyder's new IBWO monograph is available here:

http://www.wfvz.org/html/pub_prog.html

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....on the lighter side of things, from the Web Grab Bag, this story of turkeys in Massachusetts acting badly:

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2007/10/23/turkeys_take_to_cities_towns/


and lastly, here one poor humiliated Screech Owl (what pray tell will his relatives think?!) ;-)

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

 

-- Mistakes --

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===> First, excuse the redundancy, but for a few posts I'm going to repeat the site to order Noel Snyder's new monograph, "An Alternative Hypothesis for the Cause of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Decline," because I think it so important (despite the high price, $25) (see prior Oct. 26 post if you missed it) :


http://www.wfvz.org/html/pub_prog.html
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"Birders make mistakes"... comes the constant, polite, catchall refrain from Sibley et.al. And how true it is... all birders make mistakes, ID'ing one gull for another, one sparrow for another, one fall warbler for another, a Northern Cardinal as a Summer Tanager, and on and on. BUUUUT... how many of us, in an entire lifetime of birding, will EVER walk in from the outside and say we just saw an extinct, or nearly extinct bird? or, in a more qualified version, even say we 'think' we may have seen such a bird? Very, verrry, verrrrrry paltry few of us I suspect, because, if wrong, we recognize the magnitude of such an error. Most experienced birders will only voice such a sighting if they have a very heightened level of certainty. In fact, given the cautionary nature of experienced birders there might well be far more actual rare birds going UNreported, due to fear of ridicule or inability to validate, than those getting reported inaccurately. But, of course not all IBWO reports come from "experienced birders," so lets start there:

Over the years, probably 75+% of the IBWO reports I've heard/read appeared NON-credible from the get-go with but a few questions asked and little investigation; mostly mistaken identifications, and a few outright hoaxes. The vast majority of the 75% are NOT from experienced birders, and often from people with limited, if any, experience with Pileated Woodpeckers. Those are the easy cases. And these are folks who honestly do 'make mistakes' in the Sibley sense; having read or heard something about the Ivory-bill and jumping to sincere but erroneous conclusions upon seeing a Pileated --- and they make mistakes BECAUSE their competency level for such identifications is low. But one CANNOT generalize from those 70 or 80 or even 90% of cases to ALL cases (no matter how tempting it is to do so) --- each case requires separate, individual review.
I fully agree that the vast majority of IBWO claims reflect mistaken identifications; the problem is that 100% of them MUST BE such for the IBWO to be extinct, and that is not so likely. Only a small percentage of claims fall into the seriously credible category from knowledgeable, capable people (who are familiar with PIWOs and IBWO field marks), in suitable circumstances with details that fit and no obvious flaw; and finally, the remaining 20+% of claims (I hear) fall into the amorphous, possibly-credible-but-not-as-fully-credible-as-I'd-like category, in need of further information and checking.

Ideally, one wants to hear an IBWO report from an active, knowledgeable birder with plenty of experience in the woods with Pileateds. If such an individual (who recognizes the significance of their claim) says they are confident they saw an Ivory-bill, even briefly, you are now beyond the arena of simple errors. It may qualify as a mere "mistake" when someone having no full recognition of the import or gravity of such a claim inaccurately reports an Ivory-bill, but it borders on foolishness or incompetency to do so when you are fully aware of that gravity. Saying you saw a bird that 'might have been' or 'looked kinda like' an Ivory-bill is one thing and reasonable. But to say "I know I saw an Ivory-bill" or "I'm virtually certain I saw an Ivory-bill" is quite another, and if it comes from someone with a previous history of seemingly accurate, knowledgeable, accepted reports then it becomes the BURDEN of skeptics, to not just blythely write-off the claims as "mistaken ID," but truly demonstrate that the specific sighter is either NOT knowledgeable, NOT competent, NOT experienced, NOT honest, or has a previous DEMONSTRABLE pattern/tendency toward hasty or wish-driven IDs. Without such an explanation how is one to account for a lifetime of reasonable bird claims that have been routinely accepted, followed by a sudden, lone report of this magnitude that is dismissively labeled "mistake" merely because it falls outside some PRECONCEIVED boundary of expectations? --- Questioning an ID that is unaccompanied by a photograph, and that clashes with preconceptions, is just tooooooo incredibly easy. And going on to assume that conjectured alternative explanations must automatically be true just compounds the problem. This does not mean that we tear down birders' reputations, it means simply that we try to review their individual tendencies and competencies better if we are going to pass harsh judgment on their claims, rather than simply assuming that Person A is in error based on our own prejudiced expectations, or on Person's B, C, or D's flawed history.

Yes, it is always 'possible' that every single birder with experience and knowledge, who report Ivorybills are 'mistaken' in their bold claims, JUST AS it's similarly possible that some of the 1000's of Pileateds
reported on bird counts every year are in actuality Ivory-bills, MIS-identified during brief looks (...and no I'm not kidding). Nor do I buy the notion that under all circumstances the Ivory-billed and Pileated (let alone other species) are easily confused in brief views; they are markedly different birds, not as easily/automatically confused by a birder well experienced with normal Pileateds as endlessly implied. Moreover, skeptics continue to work circularly from the unvalidated assumption that IBWOs are extinct, through alternative concocted explanations and overgeneralizations (from a few specifics to ALL), back to their initial assumption; how convenient. Throw out the initial assumption and all considerations change.

Skeptics are fond of noting the many false manias, fads, and hysterias, that have dotted the landscape of science, while failing to note the other many instances of 'unconventional' individuals and views which, given enough time, became standard (a fellow named Einstein for one), once the intransigency of the dominant paradigm gave way to further evidence --- happens all the time in the history of science.

In the past, a few folks speculated that James Tanner was harsh with John Dennis and other claimants because at some subconscious level Tanner wanted to go to his grave as the last person to have closely studied Ivory-bills. I'm doubtful that's true, but I do recognize that many current skeptics have painted themselves into very tight corners now, not only presuming the Ivory-bill extinct, but proclaiming it gone for 60+ years. The more forcefully they state these positions the greater stake they have, for the sake of their own reputation/credibility, in NOT having the species confirmed, and disparaging any evidence toward such confirmation (I'm sorry, but I DO NOT believe the refrain that every birder would be delighted to have this species documented at this point; some, a small group to be sure, will be ashamed and embarrassed).

The Ivory-bill debate has long ceased being just the story of a bird, and become a story of scientific process and thought; and if the debate is ever resolved, we may yet see who most mis-construed the science. So yes, it is certainly true that people make mistakes, and I'd even venture that, overall, biologists make MORE mistakes than any other scientific group, and just maybe, in the current prevailing IBWO orthodoxy, they've made a real doozy.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

 

-- Snyder Hypothesis, plus --

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Gary Graves posted the following review of Noel Snyder's latest monograph on Ivory-billed Woodpecker decline on the Arkansas listserv today (the monograph argues that hunting/collecting, NOT forest ecology, may have been the greatest cause of IBWO decline) :

"Noel Snyder (a retired USFWS biologist and the chief architect of the successful California Condor recovery program) has just published a 57 page monograph entitled, "An alternative hypothesis for the cause of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's decline." Snyder's persuasive monograph counters the prevailing wisdom on Ivory-bill ecology (largely derived from Tanner's work with the remnant population in the Singer Tract in the late 30's and early 40's) and the underlying causes for the species' apparent extinction in the United States. In-depth research of historical archives and letters suggests that Ivory-bill population densities in the 19th century were much greater than currently believed (perhaps nearly as common as Pileated Woodpeckers), that Ivory-bills were not foraging specialists on recently dead trees in virgin forest, and that population declines were not related so much to habitat destruction as to direct human depredations: (1) subsistence hunting (yes, people used to eat large woodpeckers); (2) sport and curiosity hunting, and (3) the zealous activities of commercial collectors who procured Ivory-bills for private collectors and museums. This later activity was mostly restricted to Florida populations between 1880 and 1910 (only five museum specimens are known from Arkansas-collected from 1844 to 1884). The impact of sport and curiosity hunting alone was probably enough to account for the extirpation of Ivory-bills in the Singer Tract (Louisiana) and many other locations within its historic range. Snyder draws parallels between the plight of the Ivory-bill and the California Condor and Whooping Crane (both of which were nearly exterminated by curiosity hunting). Snyder also emphasizes the fact that there was little evidence that a shortage of food or selective logging was responsible for the Ivory-bill's decline. Cuban Ivory-bills, for example, persisted for over 50 years in a heavily cutover region. Although severe logging (clear-cutting) is undoubtedly detrimental to woodpecker populations, Ivory-bills in the United States disappeared from many locations decades before the virgin timber was cut. Snyder hypothesizes that the most detrimental affect of logging was to facilitate the entry of humans (with guns) into formerly remote and inaccessible areas. There are several explicit and implicit messages in Snyder's synthesis. Perhaps the most poignant is that pure human curiosity (the desire to examine the magnificent bird in the hand) might have led to the extinction of the Ivory-bill. The list price ($25) of Snyder's monograph is rather steep but it is a must read for ARBIRDERs with a strong interest in Ivory-bills. The monograph can be obtained from the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology: http://www.wfvz.org ."


I began making this very same argument over 6 years ago privately to people, as well as including it in a post at this blog over two years ago here. (In saying that, I'm NOT at all inferring that Noel stole my idea, but rather that it is interesting that two individuals, stepping back from the orthodox IBWO gospel, and looking freshly and open-mindedly at the evidence, ended up approaching the same hypothesis.)

ADDENDUM: a timely new article by Geoff Hill (actually written last May) is now online in the latest edition of Birders World Magazine:

http://ww
w.birdersworld.com/brd/default.aspx?c=a&id=1018

ADDENDUM II: Well lo-and-behold!, now someone over at BirdForum has found a link to an old August 1997 BirdChat post by Mike Collins also alluding to the possibly overlooked and underappreciated effects of hunting/collecting on the Ivory-bill (he's got me and Noel beat by a longshot):

http://listserv.arizona.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind9708D&L=BIRDCHAT&P=R8303&D=1&H=0&I=-3&O=D&T=1

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

 

-- Sibley et.al. --

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First, as a sidebar, please take note that David Luneau has published a few corrections to a prior (skeptical) Science article at his website here:

http://www.ibwo.org/science_errors.html


In a long, passionate (or some might argue dispassionate) post at his blog David Sibley summarizes the skeptical view of Ivory-bill persistence and the dollars requested by the Federal Draft Recovery Plan:

http://sibleyguides.blogspot.com/2007/10/ivory-billed-woodpecker-status-review.html

Obviously, I disagree with several things he says, but there is nothing new here
(though it is a fine summation) and it would be redundant to respond yet again to every single point of disagreement. But a few things... The bottom line as I've said before, has to do with which error one is most willing to risk making: looking for a bird that turns out to be long gone, or giving up on a bird that turns out to be hanging by a thread. David thinks evidence for the Ivory-bill's existence is inconclusive (and so do I), and settles on the default conclusion that it is extinct. I think evidence for extinction is itself hugely inconclusive, and remains so until a thorough, systematic, coordinated search of Southeastern habitat is concluded (David thinks it's been largely done already; I don't view it as even close to accomplished).

In the early 1900's it was the Mason Spencers of the time who said Ivory-bills existed and the David Sibleys of that time who persistently said 'no, you're mistaken.' 100 years later, deja vu. David fails to recognize that those in his kind of position (who routinely review a lot of mis-identifications) can themselves develop a natural or jaded bias against unusual reports, just as strong and prejudicial as the 'wishful thinking' bias others may have favoring such reports. David is willing to discount all sight records that are brief, and risk throwing in the IBWO towel early --- I do wish skeptics would at least be consistent and request that ALL "brief" sightings,
if they are deemed so UNreliable, be disallowed from yearly bird counts and reports --- you can't have it both ways, routinely accepting thousands of such reports for more common birds, assuming them accurate and including them in databases, and then just as routinely dismissing any such IBWO reports based on brevity.)

The sightings and sounds continue, few and far between, just as would be expected of a rare species, but, for lack of a photograph naysayers choose to give up on a creature that can fly on a whim, perch in dense canopies, or invisibly reside inside cavities. Hubris, not science, sustains the belief that such a creature could never have eluded cameras for this length of time. In the skeptical view, repeated sightings over decades are all highly fallible, but human camera skills over time apparently are deemed infallible.
We are still awaiting the Cornell and Auburn summaries from last season, further study in South Carolina, and hopefully organized exploration of other key areas, but David and others cast the game as over, based upon current limited evidence. They see the last few years as conclusive; I see it as a beginning. Nor do I accept that "millions" of people have somehow spent significant time in Ivory-bill habitat looking for this bird over 60 years. In my own 40 years of off-and-on birding I've only known a small handful of birders who ever spent any significant elapsed time in the heart of IBWO-like habitat; adjacent or peripheral areas sometimes, but not the real core habitat (and many of them weren't specifically looking for IBWOs).

Loggers, hunters, collectors of the 20th century drove the Ivory-bill toward extinction with their actions, but they were merely doing their jobs as defined by the times. Those who really began pounding the final nails in the IBWO's coffin, were the ornithologists/birders of the day who failed early-on to work toward saving the species, as only they might've been expected to do (there were good reasons they failed, but they failed nonetheless). David and others, I fear, are continuing in that tradition, and right or wrong, I wouldn't risk joining them, until more, much more, is known, and sightings abate (or actual evidence of lying, pathology, or lack of competency of each of the sighters is demonstrated --- I may talk about competency in an upcoming post, since David dances around it --- there is no way to doubt ALL IBWO claims without doubting the competency of those making the claims; to simply say 'birders make mistakes' is courteously glib and timid). The belief in extinction rests upon a scaffold of conjecture about the species' needs, behavior, and habitat; a scaffold that could turn out to be solid, but also that a single photo could bring down.

No doubt David has thought about it much, sincerely believes what he writes, and thinks he is siding with the best scientific judgment. He sounds like the voice of reason, but he also sounds like the voice of Arthur Allen (a premier ornithologist of his day) who repeatedly thought the IBWO extinct until taken to them. David is an artist and field birder, not a scientist (not that scientists don't make plenty of errors themselves), and he professed his belief in IBWO extinction long before the Cornell announcement, so he does not enter the fray necessarily as a neutral source, but views matters through his own prism of belief. Yet if he is rushing to judgment, he will, by force of his reputation, drag others with him. David's contributions to birding and his general civility are enormous, and I wish on that basis alone, I could have more faith in his judgment here. But again, I'll risk erring on the side of the Ivory-bill and its numerous reports, before I'll risk erring on the side of any given individual, until due diligence is done.

It is somewhat ironic that shortly prior to his Ivory-bill post David had another post which links to an odd story of the unlikely, and purportedly first-time ever, link-up of two Greater Flamingos in Louisiana --- do such rare events in nature only happen when they are captured on film by humans, or would this improbable story have still been believable and reportable if the sightings had been brief and unaccompanied by photos???
Similarly, some say that if a tree falls in the forest, and there are no humans present, the tree makes no sound --- it seems fairer to say the tree does make a sound (heard by other creatures), but humans can't be in all places at all times, and thus can't always hear trees... nor photograph Ivory-billed Woodpeckers when they would like. How long we try or how much money we spend in the process remains for now a point upon which many of us can only agree to disagree....


...Ohhh, and speaking of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, this current solicitation from Cornell :

-- Ivory-billed Woodpecker Search Team Leader --

"The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is seeking an experienced and motivated team leader to guide Ivory-billed Woodpecker surveys in Arkansas from 11/19/2007 – 4/30/2008. The work will involve applying avian survey techniques while camping in remote areas of the Cache and White River basins. Most excursions will include 2-5 days of camping while surveying for the presence of IBWOs and other bottomland birds. Lodging and transportation will be provided between camping surveys. Leader will direct 4-6 field biologists. Required Qualifications: excellent organizational skills; strong (proven) leaderships skills; ability to design day-to-day search strategies and make decisions; past field experience conducting bird surveys; good bird identification skills; technical experience with computers including Word, Excel, and some familiarity with ArcGIS and GPS downloading is preferred; previous camping experience and ability to withstand difficult field/living conditions; good communications skills and ability to occasionally represent Cornell at meetings with agencies/partners (TNC, USFWS, Arkansas Game & Fish, and others). Position includes $1,400 semimonthly ($2,800/month) and benefits.

To apply please send cover letter and resume with 3 references to: Martin Piorkowski (E-mail: mp362@cornell.edu) 159 Sapsucker Wood Road, Ithaca, NY 14850. Email submission of applications is preferred. Apply ASAP."

ADDENDUM: just discovered this additional Cornell solicitation for field techs on another listserv:

Arkansas Field Biologist, Ivory-billed Woodpecker Search Team:

Arkansas  Duration: 12/1/2007 - 4/30/2008; Required Qualifications:
Excellent bird identification and observational skills; Must have good
working knowledge of general field biology techniques and data
collection methods; Good work ethic; Willingness to tent camp in remote
locations for up to 5 days; Ability to hike through difficult terrain in
flooded, bottomland hardwood forests; Ability to follow directions and
survey protocols. Other Qualifications: Good paddling and canoeing
skills are preferred; Ability to use and understand GPS unit and
navigation skills; General knowledge of camcorders and cameras (however
specific details will be taught). This position will be contracted at
approximately $2000/month.

If you are interested, please e-mail your resume and contact information
for 3 references to cwrideout AT agfc.state.ar.us or by mail to:

Catherine Rideout
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
2 Natural Resources Drive
Little, Rock, AR 72205
501-978-7329
cwrideout AT agfc.state.ar.us

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

 

-- Snyder Monograph & More Ghost Birds --

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Noel. F.R. Snyder's monograph, "An Alternative Hypothesis For the Cause of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's Decline" is finally available here ($25):

http://www.wfvz.org/html/pub_prog.html

(anything Snyder writes is usually good).

And a new book by David Sakrison, "Chasing The Ghost Birds," covers efforts to bring three other large bird species back from the brink: Whooping Cranes, Trumpeter Swans, and Siberian Cranes. Not specifically on Ivory-bills, but nonetheless some of the issues, concerns, considerations are similar. A couple of book reviews here and here, and book website here:

http://www.chasingtheghostbirds.com/contents.html
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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

 

-- Pure Speculation --

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hmmmm, I sense another TOP 10 List incoming....


In the event the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is eventually confirmed, what might be the first words uttered by T. Nelson :

10. Oh ^&$#%#&@*!!!

9. Say WHAAAAAAAAT!!??

8. well geeeeez, I was just k-i-i-i-i-dding, afterall...

7. ShaaaaZZZAAAAAAMM!!!

6. uhhh.... I'm OUTTTA heeeere

5. ooops, my baaaaaaad....

4. Whoooooa, Cyberthrush RU-U-ULES!!

3. ehh well, guess tomorrow I'll start my new blog.... "Dodo-skeptic"

2. yeah, Ivorybills exist, sooooo?; that's just one more piece of rock-solid evidence that glo
bal warming is a sham!

1. DOHHHHHHHHH!!!!
...................................................................

And from the Web Grab Bag, interesting NY Times article on birds and sleep here.

(...apologies in advance if this requires registration, which is free,
for access.)

And how much more bad luck can California Condors have... finally, a law is signed into effect working to diminish lead in their environment (a frequent cause of death), only to find a group of them threatened by the incredible wildfires presently devastating parts of Southern California (they are safe within San Diego Zoo facilities at the moment):

http://sandiegozoo.org/wpmu/fire/


Best of luck to all those being affected by this current catastrophe.
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Monday, October 22, 2007

 

-- It's (Not) All About the Money --

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When I first read the USF&W Draft recovery Plan for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the $27 million figure for the task immediately jumped out at me as something that would grab skeptics' attention (...and I don't mean that in a positive way ;-))

Sure enough, some have seized that figure like a rottweiller grabbing a towel and, weeks later, continue shaking it back and forth. The proposed funding was for the years 2006 - 2010, so as I understand it (but feel free to correct me if you know I've got it wrong), the first $13 million, allocated for 2006- 2007, has essentially already been spent if it was going to be. What we are really talking about is the $14-or-so million scheduled for 2008 - 2010. Of course there are possible reasons why that expenditure can be criticized, although I'd quickly add that almost all science spending the Gov't. does can be criticized by SOMEone in terms of finding a better use for it SOMEwhere.

I love the space program --- they can double it as far as I'm concerned --- but as a practical matter I could never "justify" its cost given the pressing and immediate problems afflicting us, and all the PR-created-justifications regarding side-benefits that are spun off by it (according to NASA) DON'T justify it either (truth be known, I suspect the REEEEAL justification for the space program is 'national defense' and not a whole lot more). Buuuut, exploring space and the cosmos gets at the essence of what we are as humans, in both our desires and our capabilities... and that's all the justification I need.


Like the space program, the proposed in-depth study of Southeast bottomland habitat and search for the Ivory-bill will also have numerous side-benefit spin-offs for natural history study and other endangered birds potentially. But I wouldn't use that as the justification for going forward with the Plan. The simple fact is that there are claims, beliefs, hopes, and scientific controversies (even personal reputations and integrity) involved at this point that are difficult to put a monetary figure on and that need resolution... as well as obviously one of the most inspiring, charismatic birds that ever graced the American woodland, at the center of it all.

A long-deceased Senator once famously said, regarding Gov't. expenditures, 'a million dollars here, a million there, pretty soon you're talking about real money...' Yes, the Draft Plan involves 'real money,' but had we spread that $27 million over the last 60 years on this very work I don't know that anyone would've ever batted an eye, and no telling what the gains might have been. Personally, I don't have much problem spending it now.
Still, I realize it is a roll of the die: the possibility of rolling snake eyes (NO Ivorybills found) and potentially affecting future endangered species funding well into the future, far outweighs, for many, any possibility of confirming IBWOs. But the reverse is also true:
because of the way this saga has played out, just documenting the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (even if it could not be saved) would now likely be the greatest boon to both private and Federal funding for endangered species support and habitat conservation ever imaginable.

....It won't be long before the next IBWO search season, whatever form it takes, gets underway; which means it will be even less time 'til the Auburn and Cornell summaries of the previous season are released. Oh, and from the Pearl (La.) Mike Collins reports he's given up his "trusty old '78 Fairmont" and purchased an '08 Honda Civic while embarking on yet another search season. Surely, a good omen! ;-)
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Saturday, October 20, 2007

 

-- Florida Ivorybill Distribution --

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"Dacol" over at IBWO Researchers Forum recently posted this map from Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission which shows the historical distribution, by county, that Ivorybill specimens in museums came from:

http://www.ibwo.net/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=976&d=1192809820

Two things of note: few panhandle counties (where the greatest interest has been the last 1-2 years) are included in this distribution, and the four counties with the highest numbers of specimens, rather than being clumped together (as one might expect), are actually spread widely apart in the north, central, and southern areas of the Sunshine State.
(Doesn't necessarily mean anything at all, given the small numbers involved, but interesting.)
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Thursday, October 18, 2007

 

-- More Old Ground --


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Covering some old ground once again....

The lack of confirmation for various Ivory-billed Woodpecker claims over the decades, lack of a definitive photograph in 60 years, and failure to find an active nesthole, are all excellent reasons for postulating that Ivorybills are very rare creatures indeed, but insufficient for proposing extinction of the species, without a more thorough and systematic search of habitat, as now underway. The potential sheer rarity of the species can adequately explain all these (lack of) findings.

The strongest argument skeptics can muster for extinction is probably what I'll term the 'bottleneck' argument --- i.e., that one can't both assume the species is so rare that it exists only in small isolated, disparate populations, and yet simultaneously believe it has managed to persist for 60 years, through the breeding or genetic 'bottlenecks' that would result --- Either the population must be (or have been) much larger to still be around today (in which case good, confirmed sightings and/or photos would be available by now), or, if so rare for decades that it couldn't be documented, than individuals simply couldn't persist to today --- you can't have it both ways... To which I simply reply, "schnickerdooooodles!!"

The reproductive drive of animals is incredibly powerful (and mysterious). Moths of course employ pheromones to traverse amazing distances in locating mates, and larger creatures as well, routinely defy odds to link up with their own kind. Tanner presumed at the time of his study that there were small populations of IBWO in Louisiana, Florida, and S. Carolina. He may have underestimated the numbers and locales, but even if he was correct that presents both potential Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast corridors for Ivorybills to move along in pursuit of mates and territory --- corridors, that since the 50's have gotten slowly but steadily richer in (second-growth) habitat. Ivorybills were known as strong fliers that could easily cover wide distances, even if not migratory by nature. And with hunting pressure off them, odds for survival could further increase.

Moreover (as I've said previously), under some circumstances, animal populations can actually drop much faster from say 1000 individuals to 500, or 500 to 200, than from 50 to 0, because at the lower numbers, 'sustainability' sets in; i.e., the number of individuals being produced over a given time period offsets the number being lost, once territory, food, and other needs can now be met easily at the lower densities involved. (Whooping Cranes were down to around 14 individuals before humans stepped in to turn their situation around --- I don't know if there are any records indicating just how long they hung on at the under-40 level before that human intervention took place? --- cranes of course are very different from woodpeckers, but if they could sustain a viable population for decades,
while only raising one chick per year in the wild, before Man stepped in, than the IBWO would seem to have the same opportunity.)

So, could the Ivorybill sustain itself at such small numbers over a lengthy period as to elude being definitively documented? Obviously, my answer is yes. How probable is it? --- I don't know (...maybe just as probable as every last report of the species over 5 decades being in error?).... and afterall really, in the grander scheme of things, how probable is a giraffe or a duck-billed platypus??? Or, as Annie Dillard reminds us, "improbabilities" are the "stock and trade" of nature....
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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

 

-- Steinberg Speaking --

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If you're in/near Tuscaloosa, Dr. Michael Steinberg, author of the forthcoming (next year) book "Stalking the Ghost Bird: The Elusive Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in Louisiana" is giving a talk to the West Alabama Sierra Club Thur. night (Oct. 18) at Univ. of Alabama's Museum of Natural History, 7 pm.:

http://uanews.ua.edu/anews2007/oct07/ghostbird101607.htm
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Link

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

 

-- Extinction --

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I get emails....

...repeatedly, asking when, if ever, I'd consider the Ivory-bill extinct, so we'll cover this again:

First, it must be said that contrary to what sometimes is stated on the Web, Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were never and have never been declared extinct by any official Governmental agency. Only individuals and a few impatient non-governmental groups over the years took the liberty of labeling the species "extinct."

Now, the Moa and Dodo, yeah probably extinct --- I'd certainly be hugely surprised if any evidence to the contrary arose. On-the-other-hand, Passenger Pigeon and Carolina Parakeet, while certainly most likely also extinct, I would not be completely surprised if evidence to the contrary arose in either case, even if unexpected.

Declaring a species extinct is a serious matter, never to be done lightly, and can logically be based only on one of two things:

1. A truly lengthy lapse of time with no credible sightings for the species. And for a species with an extensive prior range like the Ivory-bill's, 60 years is not a long enough time even with no sightings, and certainly not enough time
when a continuous string of reports is involved (as further borne out by the number of species re-discovered after a 50-60 year absence, or even after 100 years).

or,

2. A thorough, systematic search of the remaining habitat that might harbor a species reveals no indication for its presence --- this can sometimes be accomplished for species with very small ranges (such as a single island), but again, in the case of the Ivory-bill it hasn't, and realistically can't, be accomplished.

What is necessary then in the case of the Ivory-bill is as thorough a search as practical of remaining habitat (which is finally underway) combined with a lengthy passage of time with no credible sightings. This may eventually come to pass, but it hasn't been achieved in the previous 60 years. Those who think it has, vastly overrate the precision of human foot-searches.

Instead, skeptics repeatedly equate a
'failure to confirm' a claim, to evidence that the claim is false, when it is nothing of the sort. Indeed, a lot of good science would be tossed aside if failures to confirm were all it took to falsify.
Moreover, skeptics assume that if 90% of IBWO claims are quickly demonstrated as mis-IDs, wishful thinking, illusions, mutated Pileateds, and the like, than ALL such claims must be assumed as such. But one cannot simply dismiss a sighting as 'mistaken' without specifying inaccuracies or falsehoods in the claim; nor does the invention of alternative explanations allow for the automatic dismissal of a stated claim. Generalizing from a set of specific cases (mistaken IDs) to ALL cases, instead of evaluating each one independently, is simply sloppy science, especially when involving different people in different places at different times. The fallacy of over-generalization is risky in all of science, but especially so here, where confirmation of but a single recent Ivory-bill report validates the species' existence for the entire 60 years prior, regardless of how many other claims prove false.

Over the last 40 years, and well before any news from the Big Woods and Choctawhatchee, my personal confidence in Ivory-bill existence ranged anywhere from about 85% to 98% probability --- and nothing that has happened in the last 3 years much changes that overall range for me.
But yes, if time passes with increased and wider searches, and still no photo, and fewer and fewer credible reports arising, then that percentage might easily fall well below the critical 50%. But, it isn't likely to reach the certainty level that so many skeptics already preach.

Certainty in life is rare and boring. Probabilities are the very stuff of life --- what make it interesting and worthwhile. And in the realm of the Ivory-bill, we can disagree over what those probabilities are, but in the end, probabilities and not certainty, are what we have to work with. For now, I continue to put my trust in the actual on-site reports of certain individuals who's knowledge and experience is such that they ought to know what they witnessed with their own eyes, and not in the conjectures, speculation, and denigrations cast out by others, often from afar.

....in the meantime, on the off-chance you think you spot a Dodo crossing your backyard... well, DON'T notify me.
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Sunday, October 14, 2007

 

-- Still... No... Evidence --


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Stiiiiill.... no solid evidence to support the notion that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is extinct:

1. No thorough, coordinated searches of Southeast habitat for presence of the bird yet completed (just recently gotten underway). Those few areas lately focussed on resulting, almost invariably, in at least some sightings claims and/or evidence for possible presence.

2. No proof or even strong evidence that the 100's of claims over decades, are, in every single instance, examples of lying or mis-identification, often from individuals who's birding reports otherwise have been routinely accepted.

3. Not a single photograph of a leucistic Pileated Woodpecker with copycat markings of an Ivory-bill to account for all those IBWO claims over the years.

4. Never a single replication, authentication, validation, or even peer-reviewed critique (as customary in science) of the only solid study done on Ivorybills by Tanner. Whether Tanner did what he claimed he did, or accurately recorded his data, or drew valid conclusions, can in many instances never be known, anymore than the claims of more recent Ivory-bill sighters can ever be known with certainty; and even if Tanner's Singer Tract data/observations were 100% accurate, there remains no way of knowing what such a small sample even tells us about other Ivory-bills in other locales outside the Singer Tract...

In short, while there is plenty of evidence for the rarity of this species, there is little evidence for the absolutist stance of 'extinction,' just ongoing loads of conjecture, speculation, over-generalization, and circular talk.

Ultimately we are left with essentially two probabilities:

a. that all the claims/sightings, by different individuals in different places at different times under different circumstances and from different angles, are in every instance, errors, or

b. that an already-scarce bird living out its life in the upper canopies and cavities of deep forest has eluded definitive photography for a 60+ year period (over which time most people didn't even routinely carry cameras into the woods).

And each person must decide for themselves which probability they find greater, unless-or-until ongoing science answers the question for us...
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Friday, October 12, 2007

 

-- 10-12-07 --

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CONGRATULATIONS! to Al Gore

While Cheney and Bush fiddle on....
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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

 

-- Swamp Watching --

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David Luneau has a possible request that will likely interest some here (seeking volunteers to help review swamp videos remotely this coming season):

http://www.ibwo.org/

(check his first entry, "Upcoming search season.")
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-- More Festivals --

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This coming Saturday evening (Oct. 13) Cornell's Dr. Fitzpatrick will give the keynote address for the Georgia Colonial Coast Birding and Nature Festival (on Jekyll Island), "How Ivory-billed Woodpeckers (and other birds) Can Save the World" :
http://www.coastalgeorgiabirding.org/sat_dinner.htm

and... as long as you're at their site, if you're familiar with Steve Holzman you just might want to also read his bio given here, for a few tidbits you may not have known about him ;-) :

http://www.coastalgeorgiabirding.org/bios.htm


The following week, Auburn's Dr. Hill will be giving a keynote address on guess-what-topic at the Alabama Coastal BirdFest, the evening of Friday, October 19.

....a reminder also that tonight is the evening of the Bobby Harrison/Jerry Jackson Ivory-bill presentations at Ding Darling Days (Sanibel Island, FL.).

..................................................................

...and from the Web Grab Bag:


I've never cared much for the "Dancing With the Stars" show that seems to be such a TV hit, but I wouldn't mind dancing the night away with this fellow:


http://birdloversonly.blogspot.com/2007/09/may-i-have-this-dance.html

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

 

-- Cornell Update --

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Cornell has updated their FAQ page on the Arkansas IBWO search, giving a hint of what will be reported in their final summary for the 2006-7 search season when released:

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ivory/q_and_a/


They mention that 13 possible acoustic encounters were recorded for the prior search season and 11 purely visual encounters, most of course brief, and of course none definitive. A majority of encounters occurred in/near the Wattensau WMA area. And even after 3 years of searching less than 17% of the pertinent Big Woods region has been covered. A 'mobile search team' will again be deployed in 2007-8 in various areas of the Southeast.
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Link

Monday, October 08, 2007

 

-- Another Book --

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IBWO Researchers' Forum alerts people to yet another book being published next year on the Ivory-bill: "Stalking the Ghost Bird" by LSU adjunct professor Michael K. Steinberg, focussed on the search for Ivorybills in Louisiana:

http://www.ibwo.net/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=967&d=1191891561

publication date listed at the ABA (Amer. Birding Assoc.) sales site is May 2008 --- lot could happen 'twixt now and then.... or, can be ordered directly from LSU Press site here:

http://www.ibwo.net/forum/attachment.php?attachmentid=966&d=1191891367
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Link

Sunday, October 07, 2007

 

-- Oy Vey --

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Monday night's (Oct. 8) NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams is scheduled to run a short unfavorable piece on the dollars expended by the Federal Government in search of the Ivory-billed in Arkansas. Oy veyyy... People continue to bandy about the $27 million figure from the Draft Recovery Plan (...uhhh, that would cover how many minutes in Baghdad?). This figure is actually for the 5-year period running from 2006 to 2010, and theoretically, according to the proposed schedule, half or more of it will already have been spent by the end of this year.
Maybe also worth noting that US F&W has proposed spending $150 million over four decades on the recovery of the Western Snowy Plover.

Meanwhile, over at Ivory-billed Researchers' Forum, "Sidewinder" has posed the question of 'how many active Pileated nests are being found' by participants during their searches for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Tanner originally roughly estimated there could be 36 Pileated pairs in a given area inhabited by a single Ivory-billed pair... just to put some perspective on things.

.................................................................
Addendum --- from the Web Grab Bag:

This interesting post from "DC Birding Blog" on detailed old field notes (from 1920's) recently discovered describing the Javan Lapwing of Indonesia, not documented to exist since 1940. Pertinent quotes as follows:
"These records come from areas with no previous reports of Javan Lapwings and suggest that these birds may have wider habitat preferences than was previously thought."

and,
"If it still exists the population of Javan Lapwings must be tiny and work needs to be carried out immediately to survey all potential areas."
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Friday, October 05, 2007

 

-- What's In a Name --

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One of the side-delights of reading about Ivory-bill claims and searches is the geographic names that are associated with some of the locales involved, and otherwise not necessarily well-known --- names that almost musically roll off the tongue.
So, without further adieu, here is my own list of FAVORITE Top 10 place names associated at times with Ivory-billed Woodpecker speculations:

10. Okefenokee (GA.)
9. Bayou de View (AR.)
8. Chickasaw (TN.)
7. Fakahatchee (FL.)
6. Atchafalaya (LA.)
5. Apalachicola (FL.)
4. Coosawhatchee (SC.)
3. Yazoo (MS.)
2. Buttahatchie (AL.)
1. Pascagoula (MS.)

....may one or more of these become household names in birding circles in the next year :-)
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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

 

-- Update From Dr. Hill --

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Auburn's Dr. Hill has a new post here mentioning that the summary report on their findings to date is being completed, and going on to briefly discuss/clarify the somewhat controversial 1966 Ivory-bill sighting by Sanders and Brown in the Florida panhandle. Suspect the Auburn report will be out well before the Cornell summary of their 2006-7 search season.

With tight funds and so many other areas in need of more systematized searching, ground efforts at both Big Woods and Choctawhatchee will likely be scaled back and streamlined (but still important) this coming winter in favor of more serious study of some of those other locales that were of interest long before anyone had ever heard of 'Big Woods' or the 'Choc.' [addendum: this was my own side-comment, not part of the Hill update.]

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Link

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

 

-- Stuff --

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Some Ivory-bill speculation from a new poster to IBWO Researchers' Forum here:

http://www.ibwo.net/forum/showpost.php?p=2980&postcount=164

Bobby Harrison and Dr. Jerome Jackson will be presenting together on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker next Wednesday as part of weeklong celebrations for "Ding Darling Days" at Ding Darling NWR (Florida).

....................................................

from the Web Grab Bag several things:

if you haven't already seen it, this Scottish seagull scofflaw shoplifts Dorito's chips from a convenience store:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8OG5nWyQvo&mode

just stumbled upon this website, which may interest a few, on the wild monk parrots of Brooklyn:

http://www.brooklynparrots.com/

...and if you've never seen a pink dolphin, well you can now:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,287938,00.html

with more pics here:

http://www.calcasieucharters.com/index.cfm?act=imagegallery.cfm?name=Rare+Pink+Dolphin+Photo+Gallery

Finally, possibly of interest to some out there:

http://gristmill.grist.org/skeptics

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