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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, November 30, 2009

 

-- Last Man Standing? --

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Kinda wondrin' if there may be a last IBWO website standing at some point?....
Mary Scott took down the majority of her Ivory-bill pages long ago; and of course Steve Sheridan's long-time and Gary Erdy's short-term sites vanished well in the past. I suspect The Nature Conservancy Ivory-bill site may fade from existence at some point, and even the sites from USFW and Cornell will likely get whittled down to a fraction of their former selves over time. Bobby Harrison and David Luneau only post occasionally at their respective websites. Recently, the IBWO Researchers Forum was asking for $$$, reminding members that their site costs money to keep running. Mike Collins at one point said he was 'retiring' from the Pearl River search (although he has since removed that posting from his journal). Geoff Hill wrote last August that, short of getting a photo, he wouldn't be doing any more updates to his Auburn IBWO site. With the exception of Bill Pulliam's site even most birding blogs don't report on the Ivory-bill story any longer, short of a crystal-clear photo coming along. What does the future hold?

I only get messages sporadically and second-hand from official sources anymore, but what little I do hear leads me to surmise that key people at Cornell may even have significant doubts about their own evidence at this point and might be inching away from the story (that's just me interpreting certain emails I get, since Cornell says little on their own behalf anymore). If their final report is as weak as I expect it to be, that may say a lot (on the surface it could appear hopeful, while a more critical reading between the lines may disclose a shallower document, possibly with a lot of ecological information, but little really promising for the Ivory-bill... again, just speculatin' here).

Worse yet, I still believe that a large-scale academic team approach was by far the best chance for documenting this species, yet has failed to do so. Am seriously doubtful that any independent searcher can accomplish the task, although someone might get a good enough sighting to attract dozens of other birders in who then finally document the birds' existence if methodically organized. More power (and fame and fortune) to any independent who does succeed.

Moreover, I see no way to piece together the totality of IBWO evidence in a nice, clean, logical manner at this point --- any explanation given for the overall findings runs into major problems/contradictions, whether you believe the species exists or is extinct --- just my disconcerting view. A catch-22 all the way around: one can only explain the IBWO's existence by employing arguments which in turn imply counter-arguments for its very extinction (in short, any view one takes holds the very seeds for the opposing view).

Well, "Ivory-bills LiVE" will be here as an information hub
whether others stick around or not, continually attempting to sort through the evidence and ideas on-hand, positive or negative. And once current final summaries are out I'll draw my own independent conclusions of where things stand.
For now at least, a good number of folks will continue to follow this story... but harder to predict how many will be left standing (...or posting) 6-12 months from now, when the story could have no legs left. My intuitive/gut hunch says the documentation will... somehow... emerge in that time-frame... but my empirical sense says... it won't. The countdown begins.
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Friday, November 27, 2009

 

-- Job Posting --

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Interested parties:

Posting for a 'woodpecker research technician' (Feb.-Jun. 2010) in Arkansas here :

http://www.nature.com/naturejobs/science/jobs/120737-Woodpecker-Research-Technician

(...some place called the "Cache River National Wildlife Refuge")
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-- Flying Far Afield --

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Just an upbeat report on the California Condor recovery program below. It's an 11-minute clip, but I've only really selected it because of a couple off-hand, interesting comments within the first 2 minutes, when a participant mentions that the first captive-bred birds let loose in Arizona initially flew 300-400 miles away (to Wyoming), and no one knows why, before returning and establishing a territory. ...If young Ivory-bills routinely flew even half that far when dispersing it might help explain some of the geographically-disparate claims made for IBWOs over decades (of course, comparing IBWOs to Condors may make no sense at all from the get-go!):


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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

 

-- Giving Thanks --

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I've generally done some sort of 'things-I'm-thankful-for' post at this time of year... so in the Holiday spirit, 10 things I'm grateful for this year:


10. Tim Dee's book, "A Year On the Wing: Four Seasons In a Life With Birds"

9. Apple Computer/Steve Jobs

8. Twitter

7. Internet music radio

6. A Vice-President of the U.S. named "Joe" and not "Sarah" (...or "Dick")
5. Birds of the world from hummers to parrots, wrens to raptors, puddle ducks to seabirds; luv 'em all!

4. Small entrepreneurs and risk-takers who persist in a world of corporate behemoths

3. The Hubble telescope

2. A job


1. Thankful the country is in no worse, horrendous, calamitous, decrepit, financially-bankrupt, depression-teetering, de-regulated melt-down shape this Thanksgiving than it was one year ago today!

....But hey, a healthy, happy Holiday to all!!
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

 

-- More Ramblin' Thoughts --

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If Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were simply hanging out in remote and very restricted territories they would've probably been found by now and fully documented. The alternative, that many have suggested, is that they are ranging over large swathes of territory, and not restricting themselves to a given area. But I've also argued that the farther afield they routinely fly, the MORE sightings we should have by now, given the wide casting of searchers over the last four years (i.e. the more ground the birds cover, the greater the chances of human encounters).
But why would the birds even move about so much? Some surmise the constant search for new food resources keep them nomadically moving around; that would make sense if their numbers were great enough that they truly cleared out food resources of any given area in short order, but I don't believe that to be the case. I suspect the numbers are so paltry low that they could sustain themselves in a given area for a significant length of time (the fewer the birds, the fewer the resources required). Perhaps frequent human disturbance causes them to keep moving on. Or maybe it is the search for mates that constantly drives them to new grounds (of course they must have had enough success finding mates over the last 60 years to still be with us at all, and when they do locate mates their movement would likely then be constrained at least through the breeding season).

If Ivory-bills are both looking for mates AND actively trying to avoid human encounters, that combination might account for their movements and elusiveness; this in turn largely assumes we are dealing primarily with juvenile and unmated birds at this point... and maybe we are. Given the paucity of sightings though, can there even be enough of them to find mates with regularity needed to sustain the species going forward? Finding an active nesthole is key to this whole story in so many ways, including getting the clear photos/film sought, and documenting that the birds are breeding, as well as studying the breeding process itself. Finding a nesthole... keeping its locale top secret, but broadcasting its activity via remote videocam over the internet with moving pictures reminiscent of Singer Tract film a la 70 years ago... ahhh, a jaw-dropping prospect to be devoutly wished!

I continue to believe that for the above scenario to play out the birds must travel along wooded river corridors (where there may be diminished chance of sightings), with the Mississippi River itself, and its tributaries, offering the most obvious possibilities as it stretches from western Tennessee/Illinois along Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. And Florida with its multiple interconnected swamps and waterways stretching from the central part of the state, northward and westward, likewise retains interest. Alabama, Georgia, South/North Carolina, Texas... don't seem (to me) as riveting, nor as readily able to account for 60+ years of evasiveness. But... in the Ivory-bill arena, little can be taken for granted.
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Monday, November 23, 2009

 

-- Video Analysis and Assumptions --

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Bill Pulliam has a new post (as he promised) wrapping up the analysis of the initially-interesting Collins Nov. 5 video from the Pearl; examining why folks were quickly, but falsely, enthused over the clip.
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-- 2010 Choctawhatchee Expedition Planned --

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Artist John Agnew, who had one of the more detailed Choctawhatchee IBWO sightings in 2008 (which will be recounted in the Jan.-Feb. 2010 issue of "Bird Watcher's Digest"), reports that he is returning to the Choc. area with Auburn's Dr. Hill and others in Jan. 2010 to try and confirm current Ivory-bill presence:

http://herps2art.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/upcoming-ivory-bill-expedition/
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Sunday, November 22, 2009

 

-- Haunting Notes --

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Not the greatest costuming ever... but, another vid of Sufjan Stevens memorializing the Lord God Bird:



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Friday, November 20, 2009

 

-- Quite A Hoot, Indeed (OT) --

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Barred Owls... gotta love 'em!

Another off-topic story too good not to pass along, heading into the weekend:
(Barred Owl in a Boston Christmas tree)

http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/11/whos_that_hangi.html

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

 

-- You're Velcome --

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A li'l housekeeping....

For those who've emailed recently saying "thanks" for the blog, and for continuing through thick and thin... that's what it's here for... to see this story through to the bitter... or glorious end!

BTW, I assume when folks tell me things in email it is for my eyes only, but if you ever wish your ideas added to a "comment" section (but are unable to comment yourself), just let me know that and I can transfer them there --- just say if you want them associated with your own name or left anonymous (I choose the latter unless someone explicitly gives ok to use their name).

Still in a bit of limbo myself... believing the bird is there, but unable to make good sense of several things at this point... things that just don't add up well (but they don't add up well on either side of the debate). The IBWO story seems so utterly different than the search for any other endangered species in the history of ornithology... and difficult to say why that should be.

We may now finally be heading into a quiet time for IBWO news (though, every time I think that, something pops up), until summary reports are issued.

For now, continue thinking, pondering, dialoguing, debating, and of course, searching....
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

 

-- Get A Photo, Sherlock --

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Maybe time for something on the lighter side... so today just a revamped version of a post from over 3 years ago:

TOP 10 Ways To Finally Get a Photo of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker:


10. Sneak up on it from behind.

9. Instead of calling it "Ivory-billed Woodpecker" just re-name the bird "Britney Spears" and paparazzi will get all the pics you want.

8. Use ‘Google Earth' to zoom in on the Arkansas Big Woods and scan for a foraging Ivory-bill; as soon as you spot one snap a screen shot.

7. Use mental telepathy... or, if that fails, pray a lot... or, if that fails, use Photoshop.

6. Go into the swamp and do your very best David Attenborough impersonation.

5. Use a swinging pocketwatch to hypnotize the bird and lull it to sleep; then snap all the pictures you want.

4. Give a nine-year-old kid a camera and tell him it's humanly impossible to get a picture of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

3. As long as you’re in the swamp just stop and ask Bigfoot where to find an Ivory-bill.

2. Use an MRI machine to take a photo of one of Cyberthrush’s midnight dreams.

1. Elementary, Sherlock: find some Ivory-bill poop... look up... snap a picture!!
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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

 

-- To Whom It May Concern --

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My email lately contains a large divergence of opinion on all matter of IBWO things... this, after 4+ years of study... we are hardly any closer to consensus now than we were before the process began, and maybe even further apart. Disappointing. My hunch is that even the 'powers-that-be' harbor widely differing, unresolved opinions such that their final summary report may be another wishy-washy document. They may even be parsing out all the data they've collected by now to see how many different publications they can squeeze out of it --- that's not meant as a dig, just an honest reflection of the workings of academia these days...

At any rate, to whomever it may concern, here are some things I'd like to see addressed in that final summary report, whenever it appears:

1) A rank-ordering or rating of pertinent states for how great officials view the likelihood of Ivory-bill presence based on all the data gathered. And further a rank-ordering/rating for the specific areas (within states) that are regarded most promising for further study.

2) More specifically I'd like to know how many man-hours were expended on central and western Mississippi, and the details of any searches there. Same goes for central Louisiana and northern Florida (not counting the Choctawhatchee).

3) Suggestions given for independents, who won't have the time and resources of official teams, on techniques that are deemed the most and least useful from the Recovery Team's experience (i.e., if doing cavity inventories is unproductive for the man-hours required, say so).

4) An account of the sightings from the last 4 years that officials believe are the most detailed, credible ones they have on record.

5) A fuller accounting of the results from the ACONE remote camera system used in the Big Woods: how many total photo-captures were there? How many were Pileated Woodpeckers? How many (if any) captures were unidentifiable, but in the size/shape range for Ivory-billed Woodpecker? They could supply similar data for the Reconyx cameras as well, but I'm most interested in the ACONE results.

6) Officials' own best speculation for why, IF the species persists, the last four years has failed to conclusively document them.

Anyone else have some things they'd like the final report to cover....?
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Monday, November 16, 2009

 

-- Stepping Over to the Dark Side ;-) --

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I'm expending a lot of brain cells recently trying to understand how we could have so little firm evidence of Ivory-bills after this widespread, 4-year effort. But let me now turn it around for one post and ask the opposite question: IF the birds are long extinct how could there be so many repeated sightings over time? In a famous 'Seinfeld' scene (fans will remember) Elaine answers, "Fake, fake, fake, fake" to a question. The common refrain from skeptics to the IBWO situation is similarly going to be "mistake, mistake, mistake, mistake" (and, well, occasionally also 'fake'). But that is too simplistic; if you believe in such a long history of mistakes, how do those mistakes come about? There is only one feasible explanation that has ever made any tenuous sense to me (...and to give credit where credit is due, I believe "PCoin" was the first to propose this to me long ago... apologies, if it was someone else and my memory is lapsing!):

We know Cornell found a largely albinistic Pileated in the Big Woods (body mostly white), and additionally partial leucistic PIWOs (with small white patches somewhere on their body -- see comment clarifications) have appeared from time-to-time. The question I asked at that time, over two years ago, was, what might the parents, siblings, and offspring of such birds look like? Might there not be, somewhere in the mix, birds with intermediate amounts of white (not small patches, but not the entire body)... and among those, could there be the rare, occasional individual where the added white actually appeared as a back mantle triangle, mimicking that of the Ivory-bill? What are the chances?? Well, as many know, Noel Snyder (a thoroughly reputable, credible birder) reported just such a bird in Florida back in the 70's (I believe?); no photos, just his verbal report of a Pileated he dang near took to be an Ivory-bill, before getting a better look at the head. If there was one, how many others might there be stretched across the Southeast at any given moment, or in any given decade for that matter. And would it not be easy, in brief glimpses, to mistake them for IBWOs given the long-time emphasis on wing pattern for ID'ing these two species?

Moreover, the "PCoin" view further hypothesis (as best I recall) was that such birds, being mutations, might be less healthy, living shorter lives than their counterparts; maybe even being shunned by them as oddballs/outcasts, in turn causing them not to remain long in any given area; staying on the move. People wandering in the woods might report these specimens as IBWOs, and then upon followup they can't be found. ...Sound familiar?

That, I think, was the gist of the argument. I find it a weak and UNprobabilistic theory, but one I can't entirely rule out... and can't banish from my mind. Surely, by now someone would've captured one of these impostor birds on film, or at some point a follow-up search would be quick enough to spot it and recognize/report the look-alike, even without a photo. Surely? or maybe not? Could such birds account for the few-and-far-between, but never-quite-ending chain of reports over the last 60 years? If "mistakes" are what we are dealing with, I can't come up with any better explanation... (though of course there are still the 'sound' encounters to deal with ...another form of 'mistakes'?)

Through this last Pearl River episode I remarked to some folks that we needed a shot/frame where we could make out the bird's bill --- THAT would move the identification along significantly; to see the IBWO's big, white, honkin' beak stickin' out there. Plumage interpretation in rough video may always be subject to artifactual, illusory, inconclusive elements, but that beak...

That's the best I can do for the skeptical side... and once again, it's not very satisfactory. Someone, puuhh-leeeeze bring me a clear photo of an Ivory-bill (showing the bill)... or, bring me a photo of a Pileated that truly mimics one.
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

 

-- Up To The Task??? --

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A little more background before explaining the point of yesterday's 'story'. Through the 60s, 70s, 80s I thought Ivory-bills existed and a major systematic, concerted, organized search, throughout the Southeast, if done, would easily demonstrate it within a couple years. The small size and paucity of previous searches was the principal reason for failure to document Ivory-bills in my mind. Fast forward to 2005, Cornell's announcement, and finally a real intention and plan to do just such a widespread, methodical search... my wish come true. Fast forward four more years. Still, no rock-solid documentation of the species' persistence. Not only has the IBWO not been confirmed, my faith in a large-scale, methodical, team approach has also not been confirmed (...though I still believe in it). If Ivory-bills exist (as I also still believe) what could've gone wrong???

Some think the methods/protocols employed were poorly designed or deeply-flawed. I've thought long about that, and concluded that despite weaknesses and flaws (expected in any such large scale project), they were sufficient enough, and even quite good in many respects; good enough to expect positive results. But if the planning and methods were adequate the only thing left is the execution, and really that means the searchers themselves.

This isn't meant as a slam at the 100's of dedicated volunteers and staff who spent so much time and energy in the swamps, but I do wonder how many were up to the task. In short, what percentage of IBWO searchers were, in reference to yesterday's 'story,' essentially "9th" choices (or 4th, 5th, 6th... choices)?

Early in the search, a few volunteers in the Big Woods even emailed me with remarks like, "I'm not sure what half these people are doing here; they're really not cut out for this," or "most of these folks aren't up to the task at-hand," or "the quality of searchers isn't really what it ought to be".

Is it possible that IBWO searches largely attracted people with the interest, time, and money to do so (and maybe a sense of adventure), but NOT the best, most experienced, keen-eyed, sharp-eared, intuitive, skilled backwoods birders in the country, as needed (even just being stationed in a spot and asked to watch a certain quadrant of forest for the next 8 hours takes skills and attention not everyone has). In addition to all those qualities, the searchers needed to be good photographers with other technical skills, and have great backwoods instincts about them. Ultimately, that is a tough combination to come by. And once found, those people then must have the time and money to part from family or job for the endeavor.
In short, I can't help but wonder whether most of the highest caliber candidates for this 4-year effort never even took part? And the leaders who were highly-qualified couldn't pull this off by themselves; the support staff was crucial.
I'm not asserting that the bulk of searchers lacked the competencies most needed... just saying I don't know what percentage did; it remains a question in my mind --- were search techniques that appeared adequate on paper, compromised by a shortage of outstanding practitioners to carry them out?
The Arkansas search, with by far the most volunteers, would've been the most affected by any potential shortage of qualified people; other search areas may simply not have had enough people period, whether qualified or not. (Time, money, and job precluded my own participation, but more importantly I recognize my own limits, and know I'm not the least bit qualified for this work, despite birding off-and-on for 45 years; but I wonder how many people of my ilk did take part for the thrill of a lifetime.)

That is the best I can do to account for the negative or questionable results after four years, other than simply reverting to the notion that we are looking for lone, quick-moving needles in immense haystacks and it requires more time (a notion that I think is getting stretched thin by now). This is not a satisfying answer... but then there is little at this point that is satisfying.

ADDENDUM: having received a few emails now in response to the above I've moved the discussion over to the new "Permanent Open Thread" to try and kickstart things there, if anyone cares to add to it...
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Friday, November 13, 2009

 

-- Pulliam et. al. +Addendum --

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The majority of views coming into my mailbox as well as what I've seen on the Web (certainly not unanimous though) point to Red-headed Woodpecker as the ID for Mike Collins' Nov. 5 bird (even Mike has vacillated greatly on this video and directed folks back to one of his earlier videos as being 'stronger' evidence of IBWO). Bill Pulliam has begun weighing in as well, indicating a likely conclusion for RHWO --- he'll have more to say later:

http://bbill.blogspot.com/2009/11/mike-collins-11-5-2009-video.html

While I continue to lean toward RHWO, my main point, as indicated early on, is that I don't believe it to be an Ivory-bill, whatever else it may be. Moreover, to be more blunt, after the first few days that this story played out I no longer needed to even view the video (let alone analyze it) to reach that conclusion, the tell-tale signs against it were so strong (I did continue to analyze it though to try and pinpoint what the species was). I don't expect an IBWO will be documented in the Pearl anytime in the near future, though other parts of La. may still be fertile ground.

*ADDENDUM*: Bill P. now adds a new post confirming, with analytical frame-by-frame comparison (of new Red-headed film), his firm belief that Mike's bird is a Red-headed Woodpecker:

http://bbill.blogspot.com/2009/11/side-by-side.html


We're probably rapidly reaching the 'time-to-move-along-folks-nothing-to-see-here' phase of this episode. (Actually, there are likely some worthwhile teachable moments that may come out of this, and I'm sure Bill will have more to say.) Where-to, next?
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-- Just A Story --

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Today, just a quick story, and then tomorrow I'll explain why I've told it:

Shortly before Auburn made their original announcement about the Choctawhatchee, Dr. Hill told me that he was already recruiting searchers for the upcoming search season, and if I knew 1-2 people who might be interested and suitable I could have them contact him. I thought of 8 of the very best birders in my area --- birders who have that knack for spotting rarities, or picking up something in their peripheral vision, or noticing field mark details missed by others, or picking out that one gull in a 1000 that looks different, that almost intuitive sense, and sent them a sketchy email about the chance to be part of an Ivory-bill search team.

I guessed I would probably need to contact about 8 people to come up with 1 or 2 who might be interested and able to do it. A day later it occurred to me that a veterinarian I knew, who was not a birder per se, but had a very deep interest in the Ivory-bill, might be a little resentful if he ever learned that I'd sought out 8 folks for this task and never mentioned it to him. So as mostly a polite gesture I sent him (I'll just call him 'Doc') the same email, figuring there was no way a veterinarian at a major state university would be able to engage in the 2-3 months involvement that Dr. Hill was asking for.
Lo-and-behold... All 8 people with the skill levels I wanted for the Florida effort turned down the offer (usually because family or jobs made such a commitment impractical, though I suspect some thought it was a wild goose chase from the get-go, and were too polite to say so), but 'Doc' jumped at the opportunity (turned out he had a sabbatical coming up anyway).
Make no mistake about it, I'm thrilled that Doc got to go, that he had a great time and it was an incredible life-experience; he's a highly competent individual who I'm sure did a superb job for Dr. Hill... BUT hey, in all honesty, he was my 9th choice!!!
Tomorrow... the rest of the story... or, why I've even bothered to mention this.
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And heading into the weekend, a re-post of some links for quick access as needed:

Mike C.'s Nov. 5 video: http://www.fishcrow.com/flight5nov09.mp4
Mike's journal page: http://www.fishcrow.com/winter10.html
Frontiers of Identification site: http://birdingonthe.net/mailinglists/FRID.html
Bill Pulliam's site: http://bbill.blogspot.com

...and open thread below if desired.
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Thursday, November 12, 2009

 

-- Permanent Open Thread --

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Issues, Thoughts, Ideas, Concerns, Questions....

Taa Daaaaa!... an experiment: trying a permanent "Open Thread" (which may or may not succeed).
As I'm mulling over all-things-Ivorybill these days I suspect others are as well, with other thoughts. At the top of the "Ivory-bill Links" in the left-hand column I've listed "Permanent Open Thread" linking directly to this one post. I'm attempting to create a space that folks can quickly access for more open-ended discussion of things on their own minds. Am dubbing it a place for issues, thoughts, ideas, concerns, questions that readers just want to throw out for discussion.
The operating rules, as usual, are 1) keep things civil, and 2) that space not be monopolized too much by 2 or 3 people going 'round and 'round with each other repetitively on a single matter --- make your best case, maybe with a couple of follow-ups, and then move on if it's clear that you and another person simply don't agree on the matter.

Hope folks of all persuasions in the debate will feel free to voice their thoughts in constructive, yet critical ways.
If this works, you may wish to just check in from time-to-time to see what if any discussion is taking place even if you have nothing to add... or, it may simply not succeed at all!
With that said, comments are open to you readers:
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-- Just a Ramblin' Kinda Guy --

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Steve Martin used to stand on stage with an arrow through his head and a banjo in his hand, and explain that he was just a ' 'ramblin' sorta guy.' ...That's kinda how I'm feelin' these days (...without the banjo) --- so I may post a few days of ramblin' entries, 'bout things just rattlin' 'round my brain (there are many) at this point:


We'll start with Ivory-bill sounds... Lots and lots of claims by now for possible kents and double-knocks heard in search areas (indeed many recorded); even a few cases of kents and double-knocks heard in conjunction, or better yet sightings and sounds in conjunction. But still, over the entire last 4 years most sounds seem to be heard largely in isolation (with the occasional short series), and upon daily followup often not heard at all.
I'd be curious to find out what we know about the repetitiveness or rate of calling or double-knocking for Ivory-bills historically, or other Campephilus species (if there is too little data for IBWO). I would've expected more sounds by now; much more.
During the breeding and pre-breeding months (Jan. - April) I think one can go onto Pileated-established territory and through the day hear repeated calls from these birds. The sparse and isolated sounds of supposed Ivory-bills from many of the search areas doesn't seem normal, and is as troubling as the sparseness of the sightings. It argues for the likelihood that the sounds are not coming from live birds but from other more random sources. Or do Ivory-bills fail to 'communicate' much or regularly because they lack counterparts to communicate with? (One can always come up with explanations.)


The photo problem is similar; should there or shouldn't there be a better photo by the end of 4+ years? These large birds no doubt engage in extensive and significant foraging activity. Methodical categorizing of promising foraging sites as well as cavities in several of the search areas has been done (granted the land tracts involved are huge and many such sites may be easily missed), followed up with either remote camera or live human monitoring of the sites... and not a single adequate picture. Yes, the chances may be small of photo capture, but we only need ONE picture; not 10 or 5 or even 2, just ONE decent picture in 4 years of watching methodically, carefully-chosen sites; it is not encouraging.
As I try to wrap my brain around how the last 4 years of data sync with the previous 60 years, various issues and disconnects come to mind. If other news doesn't intervene I may ramble through some of 'em in ensuing days. People sometimes get bogged down in minutia, and possibly miss the bigger picture which is more telling....
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

 

-- The Discussion Proceeds --

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A somewhat extensive post, that I largely agree with, over at IBWO Researcher's Forum from "PORCAR" regarding the possibilities for Mike's Nov. 5 bird (narrowed down to 3 woodpeckers for PORCAR). The one thing he doesn't address directly that I think can't be entirely ruled out (however unlikely it seems) is a mutational Pileated (or for that matter possibly a mutation of something else):

http://www.ibwo.net/forum/showpost.php?p=5286&postcount=1231

For the moment we seem to be headed into Luneau Land on this video, but maybe the fog will lift and there will yet be a firmer consensus.

Also, thus far very minimal response over at the "Frontiers of Identification" birding site to the Collins videos. Could be, as I surmised earlier, that no one is taking them very seriously there... or, it could be just the opposite, that some folks are viewing them so seriously as to take significant time to analyze and prepare their response. But if we haven't seen more analyses posted within another week-or-so, I suspect it is the former explanation.
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-- Underwing Miscellany --

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For what it's worth, nice views of the extended dorsal and ventral sides of both Ivory-bill and Pileated wings from actual museum specimens HERE. (hat tip to pinguinus blog for pointing me to these.)

Additionally, Fangsheath points to one of Cornell's pages for various underwing views here:

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ivory/evidence/segments/wingshape

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-- New Bird Book --

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Nothing to do with Ivory-bills, but a new bird volume out: "A Year on the Wing: Four Seasons In a Life With Birds" by Timothy Dee

http://tinyurl.com/yg77vrr

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1416559337

http://tinyurl.com/yh2ac9y
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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

 

-- Pulliam Wrap-up (on Tenn.) --

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Bill Pulliam has put up his final post on the Tennessee goings-on, essentially asking for suggestions and giving his own thoughts on how best to proceed in the next season (what works and what not so much). He plans to concentrate his limited time at Moss Island in February-March:

http://bbill.blogspot.com/2009/11/where-do-we-go-from-here.html


(Nothing in this post, btw, about the Pearl videos, but no doubt Bill will have more to say on that in the future.)
I'm sure we wish Bill (and any other Tennessee searchers) good luck ahead. IF Ivory-bills exist in Arkansas I believe the chances of them being in west Tennessee are quite real (indeed more real than in the Pearl); but if there are no IBWOs in Arkansas (and I'm still debating that in my own mind at this point), than I'd find the Tenn. chances very slim.

If any Ivory-billed Woodpeckers yet exist, they are likely 'functionally' extinct. If we find them, recovery efforts will be made (because that's what we humans do... after we devastate a species), and they will likely be futile. If we are unwilling to set aside huge tracts of land from human encroachment for these and other creatures (and we are unwilling to do that, opting instead for 'management') than any future for them seems bleak. My best hope is that we find them, so that we can, in a sense, say our final farewells, and just maybe learn something in the process that will assist us in dealing with the 1000's more species now headed their way.
And lastly, my hats off to all those who work so assiduously and selflessly, in any capacity, in conservation. Even with the occasional successes, rewards, the good people, the constant hope, any progress is very slow and almost miniscule compared to the burden-at-hand; the depressing moments and days must be abundant. Thanks for all you do....
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Monday, November 09, 2009

 

-- Carry On --

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For easy access I'll post again two of the pertinent links for Mike's latest video:

Mike's Nov. 5 vid: http://www.fishcrow.com/flight5nov09.mp4

Dave's GIF series of vid: http://www.birdforum.net/attachment.php?attachmentid=227512&d=1257733025

Mike has posted 3 of his videos (links) over at the "Frontiers of Identification" website. I suspect a lot of folks over there are quite exasperated at spending time on fuzzy purported IBWO videos, but I'll be interested in any response that does result (so far the only guess made is that the 3 vids show a Red-headed Woodpecker, a Kingfisher, and an Anhinga).

I too spent further time with the video today and hold to my belief that no Ivory-billed Woodpecker appears here (and there are several reasons, having nothing to do with the video images themselves, why I believe that).
Further, at this point in time, I don't believe there are Ivory-bills in the Pearl, the Big Thicket, the Choctawhatchee, or the Congaree... just my current opinion (always subject to change).

Carry on....
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-- On the Lighter Side --

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Don't know if it's because we now have a commenter named "spatuletail" or just coincidence, but a reader sends me this link to wonderful video of the Peruvian spatuletail hummingbird (from BBC and the incomparable David Attenborough). Enjoy... :

http://tinyurl.com/ybp7x7h

I'll probably review the last Pearl video again on a larger computer screen this afternoon (not expecting my conclusions to change though), and likely won't be back at my own computer before 3 or 4 pm today (EST), so in the unlikely event that any news would break you may want to keep in touch with Bill P.s site, Mike's site, or IBWO BirdForum (guessin' there will be ongoing discussion, but no major new news; links below provided as needed for quick access, or of course folks can carry on discussion here as well):

Bill Pulliam: http://bbill.blogspot.com

Mike Collins: http://www.fishcrow.com/winter10.html

IBWO ResearchersForum: http://www.ibwo.net/
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Sunday, November 08, 2009

 

-- Continuing... --

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For anyone not following along over there, "Dave in Michigan" (this is NOT Dave Nolin as I initially printed) at BirdForum (different from IBWO Forum, I know this gets confusing) has posted the latest Pearl video as a series of GIFs here:

http://www.birdforum.net/attachment.php?attachmentid=227512&d=1257733025

Of course, you lose the sense of flight pattern/style/speed etc. but some may find these views very helpful... or it may confuse the issue even more, depending on your point-of-view.

And he posts some animated gifs here:

http://www.birdforum.net/showpost.php?p=1640468&postcount=13974

Thanks for the good work Dave...

If you want to follow along the discussion over there you can start around here:

http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?p=1640468#post1640468

Addendum: I might further note that that good British bloke Dr. Martin Collinson (who we haven't heard much from for awhile) did check into BirdForum long enough to say he would be looking over the videos more closely as well and probably offering an opinion at some point.
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-- Where To Now??? --

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Mike C. has additionally eliminated the Nov. 5 video bird from contention as an Ivory-bill (another Red-headed Woodpecker? -- Addendum: Mike now doubts the likelihood of this bird being a RHWO; other suggestions have also been made; I suspect continuing analysis may reach some general consensus but still not be definitive; just my guess. And I assume Mike will leave the clip up and available while that debate continues; the Nov. 3 (with RT Hawk...) clip seems to have been taken down from consideration).

For a range of reasons far too many to delineate (and only some of which have anything to do with the latest Pearl episode), I'm rapidly moving to the view that there are NO Ivory-bills residing in the Pearl (possibly some in central La. or southwestern Mississippi that might occasionally stray through the Pearl, but none residing). The Pearl has been combed over extensively in the last decade by good birders, and I believe the conclusion of Cornell, Fish and Wildlife, and most competent, experienced Louisiana birders is that the species IS NOT there. As always, my mind is open to be changed with new evidence, but I find no evidence from the last 4 years even close to persuasive (and I won't take the time to summarize what has transpired in the last week of hyperbole and miscues).

Those who have only entered this story since Cornell's 2005 announcement, now should have a greater appreciation for why there are so many strongly-inclined skeptics. What we have witnessed in the last 4 years is so reminiscent of what occurred over and over for 50 years prior. Nothing new here, just the same story of claims made and claims unverified that repeats and repeats and repeats and repeats. Various individuals through the 50's, 60's, 70's really did painstaking followups to most of the better claims back then (as painstaking, as single individuals or small groups could do), and came up empty. They must be shaking their heads back and forth in a knowing fashion now, maybe chuckling under their breath (while also sad at these outcomes), and feeling deja vu, deja vu, deja vu. This story has never ended as wished in 60+ years. That's the bad news.

Having said all that, people need to realize that before 2004 there was not major interest in the Big Woods, the Choctawhatchee, or the Pearl as potential home for IBWO (a few individuals voiced interest in parts of the Big Woods, but basically none of these areas would've made any typical Top 10 list for IBWO potential, in say 2003). So even eliminating all these areas from interest now (if one chose to do so), still leaves historically-promising areas in contention: Apalachicola/Chipola, Atchafalaya, Pascagoula, Congaree, and several others. I'll await to see what the final official report has to say about such long-time locales of interest (and some newer locales as well). Can any (or all?) now be eliminated? Are certain ones especially deserving of additional special attention? Can they be rank-ordered in some meaningful way for future searchers, or will we, after four years, just be handed the same laundry-list of places that were already known, before $10 million was spent?
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-- A Side Note --


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In a comment below (prior post), "spatuletail" inquires about the "wingbeat frequency" in the videos....

However, a problem with the measurement of flaps, speeds etc. is that we have little good historical basis or data on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker for comparison, so it all quickly becomes highly speculative. But moreover, there is no such thing, for example, as A cruising speed for a bird; there are cruising speeds; it depends on too many variables. Is it really cruising or is it being chased (or spooked) or chasing something; is it flying into the wind or with the wind; is it flying long distance or from one branch to another 30 yards away; is it flying above the trees or through the forest; is it sick or injured or tired or well; is it a young juvenile or a gravid female; is it hungry or full; and on and on. These are living, breathing creatures, not marbles on a tabletop that can be easily calculated and predicted. Yes, there are physical constraints that will put a defined range on what, for example the "flap rate" of a given bird might be, but the variables are many and complex, and just a couple of values mis-calculated slightly at the beginning of the process can result in a final computed value that is considerably off.

Don't misunderstand, I'm all for every technical analysis at our disposal being employed and thrown into the mix on these things. Just saying many of them have to be taken with a huge non-definitive grain of salt. It is why, for me, the evidence I've weighed most heavily over the years are sightings from knowledgeable, capable observers who feel certain they've seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker (and, yes, those too can be mistaken), rather than the evidentiary material that comes from any after-the-fact analysis or hindsight, involving a myriad of intervening variables.
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Saturday, November 07, 2009

 

-- Update... --

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Mike's newest clip is up here (thanks Emupilot for the heads-up):

http://www.fishcrow.com/flight5nov09.mp4

But worth reading his 11-7 entry [http://www.fishcrow.com/winter10.html], where he's now discounting, on the basis of size, the clip which I previously considered his most interesting one (prior post). And I don't believe there's much chance the "gliding" bird clip will be reviewed as an IBWO-contender either. So that leaves just the "flushed" bird clip (I don't think it's determinable, but just my personal opinion), and now the new video, which once again has tantalizing frames, but also I think has significant issues. I suspect most will recognize the traits that are IBWO-like in this footage, so once again I'm really more interested in hearing from the skeptical side what is NOT IBWO-like in this bird, and what alternatives you favor (and no longer need to respond to the prior clip which I had focused on).
(Mike is altering his log entries BTW, and this could make it difficult/confusing to follow this story if you entered late and read other people's previous references to his various posts over the last few days, which he's now re-written.)
Again, I'm seeing less and less here to get excited over, but still willing to be convinced otherwise.
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-- Just Wonderin' --

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It seems likely that the bird flying leftward through the gap is the most interesting of the clips Mike has thus far posted (more interesting clips may yet appear):

enlarged version: http://www.fishcrow.com/1stclip3nov09b.mp4

original (with RT Hawk in left foreground): http://www.fishcrow.com/1stclip3nov09a.mp4

and a zoomed, slowed-down version via "Dave in Michigan" over at BirdForum:

http://www.birdforum.net/attachment.php?attachmentid=227238&d=1257613351

There is probably room for debate over the size of this bird, and of course leucism or plumage mutation can never be completely ruled out, but putting those things aside (and assuming the film authentic), I'd be curious to hear specifically from "skeptics" what alternative takes on the clip they might have? Anyone of course is free to comment below, but honestly I'm especially interested to hear interpretations/comments from doubters (if there are even any skeptics who still read this blog ;-))...

(Possibly an upcoming post from Mike will make the above clip moot, or my same question may then apply to the new clip.)
p.s. --- if you are unable to use the "comments" section, feel free to email your thoughts to me; just let me know if they are for my eyes only, or can be transferred to the comments section under an "anonymous" or other heading.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

 

-- Joyously Alive???? --

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http://www.fishcrow.com/winter10.html

I'll try to leave the direct link to Mike's journal page near the blog top (for easy access) while this whole episode or process plays itself out (and I have no idea how long that will take, nor am I convinced that a consensus resolution on Mike's videos will be attained... but we can keep our fingers crossed).

To head into the weekend, just some words from Julie Zickefoose written 10 years ago at the end of a 'Bird Watcher's Digest' piece on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (long before the whole Arkansas story even broke):
"We've sent it [IBWO] countless messages with our saws and our columns of smoke. Leave or die out. Find somewhere else to live. This land is our land, now. And it just doesn't listen to us; it goes on, somewhere, I have to believe it; not dead, but missing in action; alive, defiantly, desperately, joyously, alive. No one can tell me I'm wrong, and, it seems, no one can tell me I'm right. There are those of us who cannot let it go."

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-- The Story That Won't Die --

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Tennessee conclusions: More final wrap-up thoughts from Bill Pulliam on the Tennessee experience, in what appears to be his next-to-last post in the series:


http://bbill.blogspot.com/2009/11/global-big-picture.html


Maybe something else will come along to pique readers' interest in the meantime... :-)


....Hits at the blog spiked considerably the last 24 hours --- even at this late date, despite all the naysayers and folks who've abandoned this saga, any glimmer of a new prospective video of the Ghost Bird ripples excitation through the ranks --- it says something wonderful about hope and the impact of this marvelous bird on the human psyche! But we've been down this road before (many many times), and may be best to restrain expectations until some dust settles.
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Thursday, November 05, 2009

 

-- Intermission --

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Fantastic footage of a Peruvian crested woodpecker attacked by a large green tree snake at a nestsite(?) --- don't know which is more amazing, the snake's speed or the woodpecker's persistence (snake attack begins around the 37-second mark, so you can be ready):



(hat tip to BirdChick for this one)
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-- The Pearl, Once Again --

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For anyone not reading the comments sections here, and thus unaware, Mike C. has posted recent video from the Pearl (La.) which he believes to be of Ivory-bills. Go to this link and scroll down to 11/3 - 11/4 posts:

http://www.fishcrow.com/winter10.html


Certain frames/aspects of the clips are interesting (indeed, the more I watch the more intrigued I am, while also having doubts). We may be headed once again straight into Luneau-video unresolvable la-la land, but will be curious to see what various others have to say, and interested to see what Mike uncovers on follow-up visits to same area (...or has this nomadic bird already moved 5 miles up the road ;-)
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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

 

-- Moss Island Musings --

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More Tennessee summary thoughts from Bill P. HERE.

The similarity between the Moss Island experience and that of observers elsewhere is striking. As Bill himself concludes, this "bird moves a LOT." No matter what 'hot zones' searchers establish, when they scour the area with increased people or increased searches, instead of confirming or pinpointing the bird, it seems to just move on. Very odd. Certainly during the nesting season, but even otherwise, one would expect it to have a restricted home base that it would return to every evening if not throughout the day, even while foraging might indeed take it very far afield (if it is feeding young though it must return again and again).
Or must the bird constantly move from place to place for new food resources in diminished and fragmented forest? This persistent lack of repeatability and final confirmation (very unlike other endangered species that are re-discovered) is what understandably drives skeptics nuts. No matter how many or how good the birders, or how often in the field, 'hot zones' just seem to evaporate or move on down the road. Bill attempts to surmise some parameters of the potential bird's behavior, and surmise is all we can do for now.


Again, the only solution seems to be to find an active nest site. And we've already tried human perseverance, skills, technology, and greed ($50,000 rewards ;-)) to do just that. What we seem to need is a copious dose of pure dang luck. It was certainly only luck that put Gene Sparling in a certain place at a certain moment in time to begin this whole affair, and maybe only luck can bring it to the conclusion we wish for... if such a conclusion exists.
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Sunday, November 01, 2009

 

-- Through The Looking Glass --

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Just a long mish-mash of random things a'buggin' me:

1) People keep talking about how poor/inadequate automatic cameras have been in this search... funny thing though, those dicey, poor, crummy, worthless devices DID get decent pics of Pileateds, flickers, songbirds, squirrels along the way... just NO Ivory-bills. I agree the chance of any one camera capturing the bird we want is slim-to-none, but there have been 100's of deployments and millions of pictures by now (which increases that probability signifcantly), and, still, no IBWO... THAT is concerning. Moreover, in truth, I fully expected the advanced ACONE system used in Arkansas, even with all its downtime, to get the bird on film (again, it captured plenty of other identifiable species), but nada.
Still, the lack of a decent photo after 2 years of searches was no big deal; after 3 years disappointing, but still plausible; but after 4 years (and really 5, counting Cornell's initial year-in-secret) it becomes increasingly problematic. Recall too that when Cornell discovered a leucistic Pileated Woodpecker cavorting around the Big Woods, pictures followed in short-order. Things just don't add up well. Even if we have to find a nesthole to get pics... well, 5 years seems like perhaps enough time to have done that... just once, that's all we need. The planning of search procedures, despite flaws, often seem on paper, to make good sense, so what's gone wrong in the execution I'm not sure.

2) Even without technical analysis the bird in the Luneau video always looked to me like an IBWO; or to be more accurate, maybe I should say it looks NON-PIWO-like. BUT, I have to respect the field identification skills of Jerry Jackson and David Sibley --- that both of these individuals can look at that film clip and UNHESITATINGLY perceive a PIWO gives one pause. Their "analysis" of the video means little to me; but their immediate, subjective impression ("gizz" as it were) of this bird as a normal Pileated actually DOES carry weight for me. And that's what they perceived from the get-go, not after extensive consideration or technological manipulations. I've written before that I take the "gizz" of bird identification, from experienced birders, at least as seriously as I take any after-the-fact delineation of field marks from memory. (But again, I don't ultimately regard the Luneau clip as a resolvable, or even important, piece of evidence in this saga; it simply turned into a terrible side distraction.)

3) Most, including Cornell, focus on habitat in trying to decide where to expend energy looking for IBWOs... and so they've focused strongly on South Carolina's Congaree, where possibly the best habitat remains (and credible claims have also been made). I'm slightly less interested in habitat though, and more interested in probabilities... specifically, the probability that a species could hang out in a given area for 60+ years and evade detection. I think it unlikely (though by no means impossible) that IBWOs remain in South Carolina, where they've been looked for extensively over six decades, but much more plausible that they could move back-and-forth along forest and river corridors of the Gulf Coast (La./Miss. to Fla) over that same amount of time and evade human encounter. And as I previously wrote, the possibility of a more northerly population (again with wooded and riverine corridors) between Ark.--Mo.--Illinois--Tenn. (where they were never extensively looked for), also intrigues. Someone still has to convince me that the glimpses and sounds from S.C. are so much better than those from elsewhere as to merit the time and money expended there --- if Ivory-bills are still with us it is almost certainly because their progeny adapted, and DO NOT require the quality of habitat offered in the Congaree.

4) Martjan Lammertink is highly regarded as one of the world's premier experts on woodpeckers, especially large, endangered ones. In 1995 though I was surprised (indeed, incredulous) when he published a paper entitled "No More Hope for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker." It focused on the Cuban Ivory-bill subspecies which he'd concluded was gone, after an unsuccessful search. Yet without any similar extensive search in the U.S., Lammertink was apparently willing to write off the North American Ivory-bill as well, based solely on the views of others who had already concluded such. For someone regarded as a leading expert to proclaim "no more hope" seemed almost irresponsibly loose and premature language. That was odd enough...
But I was even more surprised, 10 years later, when Cornell made their stunning announcement of the Ivory-bill's re-discovery in Arkansas, to see that Lammertink was part of the field team... someone I would've expected to be a skeptic, if there were to be skeptics... someone who's very academic reputation might even be compromised by finding the Ivory-bill alive 10 years after he'd summarily proclaimed it gone. Indeed Lammertink's association with the announcement and field work (his willingness to so publicly alter his view) was one of the many things which I thought lent the claims substantial credibility.
Lammertink never saw the Ivory-bill himself, but after declaring "no hope" for it a decade earlier, now acknowledged very suitable habitat for it in central Arkansas, and apparently became a believer... over the ensuing years as part of Cornell's Mobile Team he found more potentially suitable habitat across the Southeast (although, funny, these were the same locations that had been talked, rumored, and/or written about for six decades --- not like they were ever any huge secret). What a difference 10 years makes, I guess... from zero hope, to a mini-assortment of locales the species just might hang out.

The recent Ivory-bill saga is chock-full of ironies: Lammertink the doubter becoming a believer; Cornell, having done little on behalf of the IBWO since the 40's also becomes a cheerleader only when one of their own, Tim Gallagher, reports seeing it up close and personal. Meanwhile, Jerry Jackson, possibly the Ivory-bill's most vocal advocate for decades becomes among the first serious doubters of the Cornell claims. The best birders and ornithologists in America can't find the bird, yet amateurs do on occasion. Just as Cornell claims for Arkansas are fizzling, an unheard-of Auburn team announces even more IBWO encounters in an out-of-the-way patch of N. Florida... only to then go the same way as the Arkansas findings. The one-time birding gold-standard of repeatable sightings now barely means anything, while people apply physics to fuzzy video to try and convince skeptics. Every other place we look intensely, or so it seems, putative sounds and scrapings materialize as if by magic, but the 20" Houdini bird itself eludes us. It's almost as if we've stepped into some topsy-turvy, Alice-in-Wonderland Through-the-Looking-Glass-World... I thought I knew my way, but am now feeling less than sure-footed... and half-expect to run into the Red Queen any day now.

None of this means I think the Ivory-bill gone; indeed, for now, I'm persuaded of its presence (even as my confidence level shrinks)... I'm just less certain than ever, where, in what numbers, and for how much longer....
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