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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






Monday, June 29, 2009

 

-- IBWO Simulation/Jeff Wang's Master's Thesis --

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Jeff Wang's 180+ pg. Cornell Master's Thesis from 2007, "Animating the Ivory-billed Woodpecker," is available online as a pdf here:

http://www.graphics.cornell.edu/pubs/2007/Wan07.pdf

Unfortunately the work stops short of the ideal goal of animating both an Ivory-billed and a Pileated Woodpecker and then seeing which one in simulation matches the reality of the bird in the original Luneau video. How much additional work has been done since 2007, or whether Cornell will yet publish its own re-analysis of the Luneau video based on this simulation work, I don't know (they had at one time said a paper would be forthcoming).

The dissertation is HIGHLY technical, but even apart from its tie-in to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, it may be worth reading for those interested in bird anatomy, evolution, feather structure, and/or flight dynamics.
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Friday, June 26, 2009

 

-- Lucky James Tanner --

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A reader sends in this link to a Univ. of Tennessee alumni article on the "lucky life" of James Tanner:

http://www.utk.edu/torchbearer/2009/01/a-lucky-life/
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

 

-- Midweek Check-in --

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The bulk of the few rumors/whispers/glimmers filtering my way these days emanate from Arkansas and Louisiana (nothing at all solid), and I'm hearing less from Florida and South Carolina than in the past. Meanwhile, Texas, so far as I can tell, has dropped off the IBWO radar.
Speaking of Louisiana, Mike Collins has added a few overhead birds-eye views of the Pearl River area onto his website here:

http://www.fishcrow.com/airshots.html

Things seem quiet on most fronts; pretty usual for June... although if there are Ivory-bills out there, they are probably moving through the dense forest by now foraging and tooting away, with young in tow...

Meanwhile, some calming avian Web entertainment below :


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Saturday, June 20, 2009

 

-- Science Communication and Twitter --

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A timely talk from a recent Twitter conference in NY city, discussing the ways in which 'Twitter' is altering the nature of current-day science reporting (for those not familiar with it, this is actually a hot topic right now for science journalists, editors, reporters, and scientists themselves). Will we ever have biologist field technicians 'twittering' the latest actions in recovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker? Doubtful... but not impossible.



[hat tip to "Coturnix" at 'Blog Around the Clock' for bringing video to my attention.]

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

 

-- What Are the Chances... --

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Off-topic, but in case you've missed it, the story of one bizarrely-unlucky (or, extremely lucky, depending how you view it) Great-horned Owl:



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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

 

-- 2008 Synopsis --

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The USFW synopsis of he 2008 search season in pdf form is here:

http://www.fws.gov/ivorybill/IBWAccomplishments2008.pdf

In reference to ongoing studies of Pileated Woodpecker ecology in the Big Woods they note that,
"An important issue that the research will address is the potential limiting influence of predation on the productivity of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker population"... interesting, though I'm not sure that predation upon Ivory-bills is exactly the biggest concern for whatever few individuals may remain. Although, there may be one sort of predation to be concerned over... At another point the summary notes:
"Since the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker local interests in eastern Arkansas have been concerned that their traditional economic activities; such as farming, hunting, fishing, and forestry might be disrupted. The Big Woods of Arkansas Habitat Conservation Plan will allow the continuation of these activities and promote the recovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and five other endangered species."
But they further acknowledge that a questionnaire given to the Big Woods populace indicated that, "About 50% of the landowners surveyed still have concerns about government intervention and control of their land if Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were located on their property." 50% is NOT an insignificant number. One suspects that no matter how much conservation "outreach" is done by academic and governmental authorities a worrisome portion of the resident population may NOT look kindly upon IBWOs being found on land they utilize. The potential reaction of private landowners to IBWO presence on their property (...or even on public property that they use) was a concern 60 years ago, and it's at least as big a concern today.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

 

-- ACONE System Detailed --

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For engineer and tinkerer-types, a journal article (pdf) HERE explaining the ACONE digital camera system and its successful deployment in the Arkansas Big Woods (though it hasn't captured an IBWO image). Early on, the article mentions that the system will be "active for at least another year," but I suspect this piece was published in 2008 (not sure when?) and that its use may now be over??? --- if anyone knows for sure the current status of the system in the Big Woods, or any other updates, feel free to let us know...

In other news, Scott Crocker's independent "Ghost Bird" documentary will have its U.S. debut at the Maine International Film Festival in Waterville, Maine, July 10-19.
The movie also recently won a $10,000 grant to be used toward further "innovative environmental outreach" of the film.
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Friday, June 12, 2009

 

-- Of PIWOs and IBWOs --

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Somewhat oddly, in the last two months 4 different people, from different locales, have sent me either pictures or verbal descriptions of 'abnormal' Pileated Woodpeckers (PIWOs) they've seen, with small patches of leucistic white feathering on the back or wings. These were all cases of small, virtually insignificant (and UNsymmetrical) white patches on birds that couldn't conceivably be mistaken for Ivory-bills; indeed several such Pileateds have been recorded by now. But it does all remind one of the more fully white specimen that Cornell noted flying around the Big Woods over 3 years ago.
As I wrote at that time, the concern should not be about that particular leucistic bird (which also couldn't realistically be mistaken for an Ivory-bill), but rather about the possibility of its having parents, siblings or offspring (or even offspring's offspring) that might exhibit some intermediate degree of leucism, which by sheer chance might mimic the pattern of an Ivory-bill. Such a bird was claimed in Florida in the 1970's. If there were in fact such specimens flitting around here-and-there
through the Southeast, mimicking Ivory-bills on rare occasions, it might explain a lot --- indeed, in an older post, I called it the only real leg IBWO skeptics had to lean on.

And still today I believe the two likeliest possibilities to account for the full panoply of Ivory-bill sightings on record are:

A
) Some Ivory-bills exist, or

B
) Bilateral, dorsally-symmetrical leucistic Pileateds, matching the pattern of IBWOs, exist scattered thinly around the southeast.
(...and then one must still account for all the potential IBWO sounds, signs, and possible other data recorded; do-able, but no easy slam-dunk)

The ad-hoc generalization that normal Pileateds (and other even less likely surrogates) can account for ALL IBWO reports of the last few decades, from different observers, in different locales, under different circumstances, is but slimly fathomable (except by examining a mere subset of those reports). So while skeptics await a clear photo of an IBWO to move them forward, I await a clear photo of a look-a-like leucistic Pileated to alter the debate. Without it, possibility "A" above remains the simpler, more plausible scenario.

Meantime, Cornell reports at their website that this search season is over and they will post a summary report sometime during the summer. ...Translation: an official summary might see the light of day by next January.
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

 

-- Jerome Jackson Profiled --

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Nice profile
from a Florida publication of long-time IBWO-searcher and more-recent skeptic Dr. Jerry Jackson, here:

http://fortmyers.floridaweekly.com/news/2009/0610/Top_News/019.html

An older interview with Jackson here:

http://www.natureskills.com/ivory-billed_woodpecker.html

And his book, "In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker" HERE on Amazon.

Just one compelling question still lingers :




Cornell's Dr. John Fitzpatrick (left) and Dr. Jackson (right)... separated at birth???
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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

 

-- Recent Book --

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Review HERE from another bird blog of the recent volume, "The Travails of Two Woodpeckers" by Noel Snyder et.al. on the Ivory-billed and Imperial Woodpeckers. Probably the first major volume to address the natural history of both of these species within one set of pages. Similarly-appearing birds... similarly sad chronicles.
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Saturday, June 06, 2009

 

-- Lull --

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Some skeptical sorts keep asking that various parties from the last few years admit errors, take back assertions, and apologize for 4 years of a wild goose chase... ummm, is the Pope converting to Zen Buddhism??? ...don't think it's gonna happen. Though many birders increasingly do believe the IBWO search has been a wild goose chase, in general, positions remain little changed: some folks certain they've seen the bird, some finding (at least a portion of) those claims convincing, and others still sitting firmly on the fence, though skeptics' ranks do grow. I'm not expecting much Ivory-bill news in the next several months, let alone any news that would shift peoples' views.

When the first two years of searching produced no indisputable photo of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker
I wasn't overly concerned, and even after 3 years, the lack of a picture was understandable, but I figured potential search areas were surely being more tightly delineated and defined; such that the 4th year would produce, if not a photo, at least a significant number of more detailed and credible sightings. And THAT is the most troubling part of the 'official' search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker: that 'credible' sightings have not increased significantly over time (and possibly even decreased), even though searchers should by now be honing in on the most promising areas. It's not as if a worthy variety of sensible strategies, techniques/methods haven't been tried. They have. Is the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's woodsy wisdom and wariness that much greater than all the searchers' human skills and technology? Maybe.

Or, beneath it all, is there a problem of human competencies, or too many chiefs and not enough indians, or too much discussion and not enough execution... or simply too much territory and not enough time; a combination of all of the above, perhaps???

The Ivory-bill may yet be documented, but that won't end the questions... indeed, THAT would be the start of a great many questions, and the need for a LOT of explaining from both sides: skeptics needing to explain why they were willing to so readily write off extensive evidence of the bird's persistence, and believers needing to explain why it took this long to definitively confirm that very evidence.

Meanwhile... :


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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

 

-- Thomas Berry Dead at 94 --

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"The time has come to lower our voices, to cease imposing our mechanistic patterns on the biological processes of the earth, to resist the impulse to control, to command, to force, to oppress, and to begin quite humbly to follow the guidance of the larger community on which all life depends."

"The human venture depends absolutely on this quality of awe and reverence and joy in the Earth and all that lives and grows upon the Earth. As soon as we isolate ourselves from these currents of life and from the profound mood that these engender within us, then our basic life-satisfactions are diminished."

--- Thomas Berry, R.I.P.

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