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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






Sunday, January 31, 2010

 

-- Waiting --

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While we await for authorities to resolve the Rainsong situation, Radd Icenoggle (great name, by the way!) takes a stab at categorizing bird hoaxes of the past in this blog post:


http://tinyurl.com/yb7z3ly

Meanwhile, FWIW, here are a few other tangential webpages that might harbor teensy elements of pertinence to the Sabine River story... or, NOT:

http://www.gamblingphd.com/gambling-psychology.htm

http://tinyurl.com/yblyse5

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/15_minutes_of_fame

http://tinyurl.com/6qa7ar
(Clifford Irving was sentenced to 2 years of jail-time for his money-scheming book hoax ---
sometimes the best avenue a claimant can take is to make a full and public apology, in exchange for walking away, before evidence is gathered to prosecute for fraud/jail-time.)

(p.s. --
if this case hasn't been closed by the end of today I'll issue my own challenge-of-sorts to the situation come Monday... stay tuned.)

Some readers, I realize, are fascinated by the whole affair (like craning your neck at a roadside accident) and glad for efforts here to track it (Jan.19 - 28 posts), even if much can't be divulged, but others are already bored stiff and sick of hearing about it. I can only say that hoaxes represent the bottom-of-the-barrel for me and anything smacking of one ought be torpedoed (or vindicated) as soon as possible --- unfortunately, fraudulent storylines can be hard to 100% DISprove --- come to think of it, I saw 3 Ivory-bills fly over my backyard just last week; it vividly sticks in my memory because one of them was carrying a Carolina Parakeet in its beak... uhhh, "prove" that it didn't happen.

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Saturday, January 30, 2010

 

-- Sorry... I Just Can't Resist --

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( http://tinyurl.com/djwqmd )

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Friday, January 29, 2010

 

-- Into The Weekend --

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Was looking for something upbeat to head into the weekend with, but not much out there, so will just use one of Snowball-the-Dancing-Cockatoo's old videos (always entertaining):



( http://tinyurl.com/djjqu4 )
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Thursday, January 28, 2010

 

-- And Back to Rainsong (More Questions) --

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[Other posts covering the Daniel Rainsong yarn run from Jan. 19 to Jan 26]


Just some questions rhetorically posed to those in charge of the investigation:

What sort of forensic analysis of the photos has been, or is currently being conducted (if any)?

Have any individuals been dispatched to the GPS coordinates for the Sabine sighting site (to look for rope, climbing gear, tools, footprints leading to the tree of interest, whatever, or hey, Ivory-billed Woodpeckers)?

Have you traced Rainsong's travels, whereabouts, timeline, contacts, since he left the Sabine River Basin?

How does Rainsong's storyline match up to that of any claimed traveling partners?

Have all the other frames of Rainsong's photoshoot been studied at this point?

What (if anything) do the timestamps reveal?

Any linkage yet uncovered to still other family members besides Dan and Joe?

Have you interviewed "Joe Hepperle" at length?

How many total prior trips did Rainsong make to the specific Sabine River Basin location before the fateful 2-week holiday excursion?

What are Rainsong's woodworking skills (or maybe plaster-of-Paris)?

(some of these I actually already have partial answers to, but still worth putting in print)

Can't verify it, but according to at least one source (who I'll simply call "DeepBeak" ;-)), Rainsong's storyline has suffered significant inconsistencies under the scrutiny of interrogation. And yet, it appears that investigators are trying to cross all their T's and dot all their i's before making any public pronouncements. Since hardly anyone is taking the case very seriously in cyberspace maybe it doesn't even matter, but I would so like to see this over before the weekend is over, and Mr. Rainsong can go back to dabbling in silly Blackjack theories (or, if this proves to be fraud is it legally prosecutable?).

Over the decades many Ivory-billed sightings have been followed up on within 48 hrs., always to no avail (as far as definitive confirmation), and yet to believe Mr. Rainsong's bravado he is going to lead investigators back to find a lone bird he spotted over 30 days ago in a vast area (actually he DIDN'T spot it, it just showed up when reviewing his film later). If the bird was there it would be an incredible task... with the bird not there, it's more like... an impossible bluff.
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-- Gotta Love the 60's --

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I'm feeling a little nostalgic today, so no birds, just a li'l blast from the past:


( http://tinyurl.com/ybdk95m )
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

 

-- ...In Other News --

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....in other news:

Mark Bailey of "Hog Foot Holler" blog informs me of an upcoming book by wonderful artist Stephen Lyn Bales (in collaboration with Nancy Tanner) that will detail the years of James Tanner's Ivory-bill studies. Sounds GREAT! (tentatively titled "James Tanner and the Ivory-bill," the manuscript was only turned in last December so could be awhile before appearing in bookstores, but I'm sure many readers here will want to watch for it).

Was hoping for the Rainsong story to fully deflate before turning comments back on. There are just certain specifics and details I don't want discussed here (and certain ones I'm sure investigators don't want disclosed either for that matter), and it is easiest to insure that by keeping comments closed. However, I've now turned them back on in 'full moderation mode,' which means they won't appear until approved (and since I'm often away from the computer for 6 - 8+ hrs. a day, understand that can take awhile, and I will be selective).

Bill Pulliam's latest thoughts here:

http://bbill.blogspot.com/2010/01/recent-history.html

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-- Intermission... --

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The Sabine River "claims" are addressed in the previous 14 posts, but for right now just need to chill-out:



( http://tinyurl.com/yetw3t5 )
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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

 

-- Winding Down? --

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I've seen enough at this point to believe this entire episode may soon unwind to its ignominious conclusion. As I said back at the beginning, no reason to hold one's breath.
(And sorry, probably won't be responding with any specifics to email questions, but will have much to say when/if the end comes, I'd like to think before end of week, but who knows.)
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-- Limbo --

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I mostly receive information that is 2nd, 3rd, or 4th-hand in nature, and it's possible for elements of that material to change (and be less accurate) as it gets passed along the way (the old 'telephone' game). Am therefore feeling constrained from reporting specifics that I can't independently verify right now with multiple sources, even when I know the people emailing are honestly trying to pass along accurate, but fragmented, information (and even when they give permission to report it). Not sure how much I'll say beyond vague generalities for time being.

Would again be best if those University and/or Government ornithologists now most directly familiar with the story/evidence made some simple initial public statement regarding level of plausibility they find in Mr. Rainsong's evidence, and the likelihood of further follow-up (they can always revise it later, as needed). I suspect technical analysis and validation of the photos could take some time, and it may be their intention, unfortunately, to say nothing until that is complete.
By the way, I think it HHHIGHLY important that Rainsong's traveling partner NOW be interviewed at LENGTH (assuming Rainsong will release her contact info) if this has not already been done.

It seems clear at this point though, the only way this story will have a truly favorable resolution is if Mr. Rainsong can indeed lead ornithologists to a living Ivory-billed Woodpecker (the photos are far from conclusive), at which point a handsome monetary reward indeed awaits him. Short of that, or a finding of fraud, we will be left with yet another dead-end in this long excruciating drawn-out Ivory-bill saga... and, a whole lot of questions.

....Lastly, genuine THANKS to all of you who are trying to send good information my way --- if it isn't incorporated on the blog don't assume it means I don't believe you! --- there are many reasons I don't post material --- Sometimes, Person A says 'here's some info for your blog, just don't attach my name to it,' but Person B comes along with the very same info saying this is 'confidential so please don't post on blog' --- in which case the info won't appear, and, there are other complications. But thanks for all your efforts. I'm fairly confident we'll get to the bottom of this in short order, though I still doubt it will be a happy landing, but time will tell.
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Monday, January 25, 2010

 

-- FLASH! + addenda --

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First off, I've now received significant indication from a single source, but one I consider credible, that the Rainsong story could be a sincere effort, and the pics might even be interesting enough to warrant followup (they are certainly not slam-dunk photos of Ivory-bills). I'm unable to verify any of this yet, but at least it's a glimmer. Of course, even a case of sincere mistaken identification would be far preferable to a hoax, and if there is follow-up by the individuals I've seen named it would be an incredible turn of events, even if... once again nothing is eventually resolved.
Combining that with the fact that none of the named experts in the original press release has yet to openly rebuke the story, I can only say the plot thickens for the moment. It would be nice if someone in authority (a University figure) could step forward and make a public statement on where things stand. (And I'll apologize to Mr. Rainsong here if it is proven that his excursion was even a naive, misbegotten, but genuine endeavor, let alone if Ivory-bills arise from it.) There's still a lot of dust to settle.

To all those who have been sending me background material on the Hepperles, thank you; most of it I already had, but a few new tidbits keep coming in (and yes I'm now convinced that Dan/Joe are two separate individuals, almost certainly brothers, who have simply lived very parallel lives). Obviously though under the circumstances, I'll be holding my fire, no matter what their backgrounds look like, while awaiting for things to further clarify.

This is possibly the most bizarre story yet in 60 years of the Ivory-bill saga, regardless of how it ends.
Had some other things I was planning to discuss today, but the new turn of events puts those matters on a back-burner.

Quick Addendum: info is very much in flux at this point (I'm already getting some mixed signals) and may stay that way for awhile, so just want to stress for clarity that what is "FLASH"-worthy about the above news (from my standpoint) is NOT so much the possibility that IBWOs have been discovered (still unlikely), but the possibility that the storyline being told might at least be honest/sincere.

Addendum II: sorry for the insanity... but because of emails I'm getting, trying to walk a very fine line here and be clear: NOTHING has changed any of the earmarks of a hoax that surround (saturate?) this story; they still exist. What has been added though is that some key figures who have directly talked to Rainsong and seen his pics are showing an interest in his claims. The photos have not been technically analyzed and are not at all conclusive, and frankly for all I know the interested individuals could even be being played for suckers, but at least it is a first indication that the claim may not be immediately dismissible, and that could be encouraging.
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Sunday, January 24, 2010

 

-- Miscellany --

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I'll just note that ornithologist Stephen J. Dinsmore of Iowa State University, who Rainsong claims as a contact, and who was active on the Iowa birding listserv the first 3 weekends of this month, has not posted anything thus far this weekend (the Rainsong story broke last Tue). No doubt his email and phoneline are bulging. Hopefully, any silence from him or Dr. Van Remsen at LSU might be broken later this week...? (supposedly Rainsong was to re-meet with Remsen by now?) [Addendum FWIW: Both Drs. Dinsmore and Remsen did have posts, totally unrelated to the Rainsong matter, on their respective listservs on the following Tue.]

Bill Pulliam has posted at his blog some of the background material which I've been reluctant to make explicit here (while I'm still trying to nail down some other elements), but now it's out there:

http://bbill.blogspot.com/2010/01/facts-on-hepperle-and-rainsong.html [sorry, Bill's post now seems to have been taken down]

I think this is Kenneth Joe Hepperle's last entry on his own site regarding the matter (unless by the time you see this there's a newer entry):

http://www.joehepperle.com/Joe/Opinion/Ibw.htm

[By the way, it is still not even 100% clear to me if "Daniel Dean Rainsong" and "Kenneth Joseph Hepperle" are two different people (brothers?) or just possibly one-and-the-same person; that's what a convoluted mess this whole matter is at this point.]
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-- Questions --

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Just some of the very basic initial questions I'd want Mr. Rainsong to answer:

How many days were Ivory-bills seen on? And how many total Ivory-bills seen?
Were they seen both flying and perched?
Were they seen going into or out of tree cavities?
Were they seen foraging for food? Or ever seen on ground-level?
What (approximately) is the closest distance you got to the Ivory-bills?
Roughly speaking, how many Pileated Woodpeckers did you see on a typical day along Sabine? Also, how many Red-headed Woodpeckers on a typical day?
Did you ever see both Pileateds and Ivory-bills together in same area?
Other than Ivory-bills, did you see any other interesting or unusual birds during the trip?
Did you cross paths with any other birders/hunters/outdoorsmen while on the expedition?
What determined the 2-week limit to the planned outing?
Do you have any receipts indicating your presence in the Sabine River Basin over the time you say you were there?
Are the photos of perched or flying birds? Describe the pose of the bird(s) photographed? Is there video, of the birds or at least of the area?
Were the photos in question taken by you or your accompanying photographer?
I believe only two photos have been mentioned, taken by "film,"... what is on the remainder of film roll (is it all from the Sabine area), and how many total exposures are there? (or, if digital, clarify that that is the case)
Who were the first two University persons you contacted about your findings/photos and how did you contact them?
What led you to go to the specific area you searched? Or did you already know from past experience that the birds were there (if so, when did you learn of their presence)?
Have you looked for Ivory-bills in other locations? states?
What brand/model binoculars were you using, if you used binoculars?
Did you write down any field notes of your encounters with the IBWOs in some sort of notebook?
How much, if any, of your proposed book, was already written prior to the Sabine outing?
Is this book to be self-published, and how many books have you self-published in the past?
Will the book still be published if there is no monetary reward for your photos?
How far in advance was the trip set up and organized before placing an ad for a traveling companion?
How many previous trips had you made to this particular area?
Who specifically was with you on the expedition, and will they be speaking about their experience at some point? Can they be contacted?
There are any number of birders/scientists who might've loved to have gone on such an excursion; what possessed you to place an ad on Craigslist to find a partner likely with fewer credentials? Or was that just the quickest, broadest way to attract a wide variety of applicants on short notice?
How many applicants did you interview and what criteria finalized your selection?
Summarize your own previous birding experience and that of your traveling companion?
Explain your logic in doing the "press-release" prior to having any photos confirmed or authenticated?
What has been the chronology of your travels and activities since departing the Sabine area?
What classes (major?) did you take at Iowa State University, and did you graduate?
What is your current or most recent full-time occupation? (What permits you the time, opportunity, expense, to drive between various states/locales hand-delivering photos?)
What are your main hobbies?
What is your relationship to Kenneth Joseph Hepperle?
Where does the name "Rainsong" come from?

If by any chance all these questions were answered satisfactorily, I have an entirely different line of questions I'd want to ask.
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Saturday, January 23, 2010

 

-- Of Hens and Ducks --

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Some loose ends...

J. Hepperle makes a big deal about me casting aspersions on the current claim while never trying to contact "Rainsong" directly with questions. First off, he doesn't know whether or not I attempted to contact Rainsong, who's email is readily available, since I would use another name, not "Cyberthrush," if I were to do so. But moreover, I'll put it this way: if you are trying to find out the health of the hens in the henhouse, you don't go about it by asking the fox who's standing outside...

For those who haven't read Rainsong's original Craigslist ad, I'll just point out that he apparently already had a book planned before this li'l 14 day excursion and IBWO pics were even completed (and was operating under the mistaken belief that producing an Ivory-bill photo would bring in a $10,000 reward). Kinda reminds one of a certain magical Florida fellow... for those who know the history.

....and I'll throw out one further wild speculation: I think it possible that Joe Hepperle is being aided and abetted in this venture by a certain individual active in the 'believer' community... hope I'm wrong about that, just a loose unsubstantiated gut feeling, but there are some indications I can't totally ignore.

Otherwise, nothing much has changed with this story; just glad to see most birders, blogs etc., reacting in an appropriately cynical way (in this instance).

If it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck... it's probably not a scarlet macaw.
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Friday, January 22, 2010

 

-- Friday P.M. --

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Over at "10,000 Birds" blog Corey's link to the Rainsong story is titled "I Feel Unclean Even Linking to It..."
Amen to that....

Am genuinely sorry that I probably won't re-open comments before Monday (if then), while awaiting for the air to come out of this farce that is catapulting around the Internet.

Let me clarify one thing (so no one thinks I was trying to shut out "Joe Hepperle's" defense of matters by closing down comments this A.M.):

1) I actually left for work about 20 mins. late this morning just so I could stick around and let Joe have his say with his morning comments that were coming into the blog right at the time I was about to depart for day and switch further comments off.

2) I should've made clearer that a major factor in turning comments off was a concern that specific derogatory material about "Dan/Joe" could find its way into the comments... I don't want to deal in that specific material here, beyond reiterating broadly that what I've seen lends NO CREDIBILITY to the storyline being pushed (I'm sorry if it seems unfair to talk in generalities and not give specific details, but many people probably have some dirty laundry in their past; the internet isn't the best place to have it raked over).

When this has run its course (and I can't believe it's going to last very long) MAYBE I'll have some sort of summation. Meantime, have a good weekend all, and get some sleep... I know I hope to, for a change.
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-- Friday A.M. --

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Will again be away from computer much of day, and unfortunately feel need to shut off comments for now lest things spin out of control while absent... may turn back on this evening or perhaps not 'til Mon. depending how things transpire and cool down. ...Sorry about this, but don't wish to dwell on this story any moreso than necessary
.
Obviously, my opinion is stated; should anything come in via email or otherwise to alter it or account for certain things, will post about it ASAP.
But for now, I'd just say 'move along, nothing to see here;' plenty of other bird news elsewhere.
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-- And More... --

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GREAT job by a reader/commenter piecing together Daniel Rainsong's original CraigsList ad for this expedition. See here:

http://tinyurl.com/yep8ub5  [ now updated here: http://tinyurl.com/ydysy5d ]

THANKS Kirk!!


Interesting stuff, but as I indicated briefly in a "Note" below an entirely different line of evidence, I'm not comfortable stating publicly, now causes me to place NO conceivable credibility whatsoever in this story/report. NADA... ZIPPO... ZILCH!!!!!! (hope I'm making myself clear).
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-- Bookie --

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hmmm, my current odds (always subject to change), for the Daniel Rainsong story:

74% -- hoax by two or more people
19% -- hoax by one person, others unwittingly suckered in
6.3% -- sincere individual genuinely believing he saw/photo'd IBWOs, but mistaken
0.5% -- a 7th grader's prank
0.1% -- a snowball made its way through Hell
0.1% -- Ivory-bills definitively confirmed

May need some levity for the weekend, so replaying this past video from another dubiously-credible searcher ;-):


( http://tinyurl.com/y8p3vqj )

...Keep the emails coming, but don't know if I'll have much more to say before Monday... assuming the story even lasts that long (...am finding more strange interconnections as I research this thing, but not sure what will be worth reporting). [ NOTE: based on more I've uncovered, but not comfortable reporting, I'll raise the above likelihood of multiple-person hoax to 99.8% for now. ]
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Thursday, January 21, 2010

 

-- More Dribs and Drabs --

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As far as I can tell the very earliest Rainsong began his search is Dec. 18 (or a day or two later); doesn't appear to have involved a great deal of advance planning, and not clear to me how he selected the specific area he would search. And then 11 days later he finds and photographs an Ivory-bill... hmmmm, nice piece of work!! The press release came out on Jan. 19, saying Rainsong searched for 30 days, implying the news release came immediately upon completion of said search (feasible). No details yet on exactly what Rainsong did between Dec. 29 and and Jan. 18 (continued searching same area, adjacent areas, tried to get video, contacted key people,etc.???) [NOTE: commenter below finds indication that expedition was originally only scheduled to go from Dec. 21 to Jan 3 ]
Last I heard, Jerry Jackson has not seen pics nor been in contact with Rainsong, though others on the press list have.
And I can only reiterate that nothing coming in to me thus far lends any confidence in these claims at all, while there is plenty to be leery of.
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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

 

-- Small Update --

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Not much new, just passing along (on a more positive note) the slim reference given to the Sabine River area in the 2007 "Draft Recovery Plan" for IBWO, where one relatively recent claim is briefly noted (although still 25 years ago):

"Apparently a family group (4-5 birds, including young) seen in 1985 along Toledo Bend Reservoir shoreline several miles north of Pendleton Bridge in compartment 101 of Sabine National Forest. Observer interviewed by Conner, extensive scaling evident in area, otherwise no independent confirmation."

My impression is that this would be well north of the current claim, but not sure about that.
As best I understand it, Rainsong will meet with certain principals at the end of this week to show his photos. If the photos are at all interesting, I imagine the numbers of those privy to them will expand and involve conference calling etc. and drag the process out considerably (more than my 1-2 wk. guesstimate). If they clearly show Pileated birds or obvious tampering than maybe we'll hear something sooner.

I probably won't be emailing Rainsong myself any time soon (my list of questions would be too long!), but if anyone else emails him or other principals and care to share any response they get let me know.

Otherwise, carry on.... (will likely be away from computer Thur. from ~7am to 3pm)
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-- "Reeks" --

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....That was the word used by Bill Pulliam in a comment below (prior post) to characterize the recent storyline being peddled, and... I concur. Don't really want to get into all the specific problems with the alleged report (although commenters have already pointed to a few), and it's even possible that future details could abate some of those problems, but for now haven't found ANYthing to lend favorable weight to the reported claims. I've been a tad restrained, simply because, as Bill himself acknowledges, it is always possible that someone very naive about the whole Ivory-bill situation and naive about scientific evidence and communication, could stumble upon the real goods, and then produce this sort of amateurish public output... just not very likely.
Like to believe it's a simple case of sincere mis-identification, but indications I gather thus far point toward outright fraud possibly with the hope of monetary reward (even though I believe all outstanding IBWO rewards are for leading investigators to a live bird, NOT just producing photographic evidence)... could be a hoax of multiple people, or a single individual suckering others in. Will be glad to change my tune as soon as someone produces substantial-enough details to clear doubts (...or, if Jerry Jackson sends me an email saying the pics are the real deal ;-).


As far as authenticating the purported photos, a source I trust but who prefers anonymity, writes as follows:
"....Fortunately, software exists that can be used to authenticate photos; several scientific journals actually employ the software to confirm whether results--such as photos of DNA or protein electrophoresis gels--have been enhanced or altered. The editors of the journal SCIENCE would probably be the best source to inquire of details, but NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC likely uses this software as well. If the images were created in RAW format, they might be valid without authentication; some wildlife photographers use this approach because magazines like NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC want clean, original material."
Of course this just means that alteration of photos may well be detectable by modern means; it does not rule out the possibility of a well-done model being posed in a setting to look very real in photo-capture.

Finally THIS rather odd, intriguing tidbit, that an emailer (thanks FW) calls to my attention: Daniel Rainsong hails from Iowa, attending Iowa State Univ. in the '80s. In 1979 (as reported in Jerry Jackson's book), a student stole a female Ivory-bill specimen from the University of Iowa and it was never recovered! (...is that Twilight Zone music I hear in the background?)

I suspect this story may have legs for a week or two, and then bye-bye... (well, at least another interesting study in human behavior).

(For those who think Bill, or I, sound too negative or in too much of a rush-to-judgment, it is simply because these sideshow episodes that go nowhere do so much damage to the thin thread of hope that still remains for this bird, especially among fence-post sitters who are running out of reasons not to side with the skeptics. Mis-identifications are bad enough, but at least understandable; hoaxes, should this turn out to be one, are beyond the pale.)
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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

 

-- NOT Holding My Breath... --

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Hesitate to even pass this along, but since someone surely will, don't feel much choice: Another claim being made for documentation of the IBWO, this time from the Sabine River Basin of Texas. For the moment I doubt the authenticity of the report, though it has some credible features, it also has several questionable elements (could be a total hoax or a genuinely well-intended, but mistaken individual... but I'm leaning toward hoax unfortunately). And even if the report itself is real, I'm doubtful any photos are truly definitive of IBWO in their identification. Of course would love to be proved wrong on this one, but for now I wouldn't get too excited, unless further details prove encouraging:

http://www.free-press-release.com/news-daniel-rainsong-finds-living-ivory-billed-woodpecker-1263914173.html

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

 

-- Down To Two Options I Guess --

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Just some brief info on the current short-term Choctawhatchee search HERE.

My favorite quote from the piece (...gives me a chuckle, though I know what they meant):
"The Cincinnati Zoo is also sending participants, including a videographer, to record the expedition and hopefully, if seen, to get good enough video of the bird to prove its existence without having to collect the bird," LeFevre said.

....Ehhh, go ahead and collect it at this point; serves it right, for being so damn uncooperative!

ADDENDUM: Search has now been completed without success.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

 

-- Sibley etc. --

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If any Ivory-bills are flying about these days they must be freezing their tushes off in this unusually frigid winter for the Southeast! A January re-search of the Choctawhatchee (Fla.) is underway [ADDENDUM: search has now been completed without success], while independents continue in multiple other states (including Mike Collins further quest in the Pearl) --- with no help from 'powers-that-be' who have yet to release even a preliminary summary report that might aid independents --- perhaps the level of disagreements and wordspinning involved in such a report will delay it 'til the search season is completely over... (Personally, I'm not expecting much of note to arise from this search season of scaled-back efforts.)

Meanwhile, there seems to be a tad divergent range of opinions on David Sibley evidenced in the comments to the prior post. David is easily one of the keenest and most experienced observers of nature, and particularly birds, in America today (and I might add, one of the most highly/widely-respected). And while some of us may think him likely wrong in this particular matter, his views ought not be taken lightly. For any who have forgotten some of the background to the controversy, a couple of old articles briefly reviewing his experience here:

http://tinyurl.com/y9h7y9a

http://tinyurl.com/ybezrkr

and the original Sibley et.al. paper that instituted the controversy:

http://tinyurl.com/ybh2nyv

and Cornell's response at the time:

http://tinyurl.com/ydczg9h

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

 

-- The Floor Is Open --

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From a recent online interview with David Sibley:

"Question: Speaking of which, a big controversy in the birding world was that reported sighting of the ivory-billed woodpecker, long thought extinct, in an Arkansas swamp. Does it really exist?

Answer: When it was first reported I went there immediately and spent 10 days. And the river was full of fishermen with binoculars. Everyone was keyed to spot it. It was not a wilderness. And I thought then, “If it’s here, someone will see it in the next four weeks.’’ That was five years ago. . . . I wrote a rebuttal for Science magazine."
.................................


... and not really a whole lot has changed since :-(

Don't know that I'll have much more to say prior to some summary reports being released (and even then may only end up repeating things I've written before), so for the sake of variety I'll again toss open the possibility of "guest posts" if anyone has some thoughtful commentary they care to pass along --- same basic guidelines as given in the original "contest" post, just no longer a contest (maybe folks were inhibited by the idea of competition???).
Send your thoughts/takes/analysis/conclusions (or Ivory-bill rock operas) along to me at: cyberthrush@gmail.com

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

 

-- "Darkest Before Dawn" --

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Narrative from another one who was there:

http://birdman-darkestbeforedawn.blogspot.com/2010/01/some-current-notes-on-this-entry-i-was.html

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Monday, January 04, 2010

 

-- We Have A Winner --

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4 weeks ago I proposed a "contest" for someone to write their own blog post here; the deadline has passed, and lo-and-behold but one entry appeared (making selecting a winner easy!!).
Below the thoughts and experiences of searcher Charles Williams from Baton Rouge, Louisiana (which I think reflect the notions of many of us):

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Ivory-bills: The Jury Is Still Out

Some people who know I have participated in several IB searches enjoy needling me about the minimal results of searches to date. Some of this is in jest and some is more aggressive, implying that there is something wrong, fiscally or morally, with the search effort. These jabs do not bother me. Based on the sightings’ reports that I’ve read and the experience level of the sources, I lean strongly toward the “believers” group but am not in the 100% sure category and won’t be until I see an IB or a clear photo thereof. More important, however, as a participant in several formal and informal searches, I have witnessed many shortcomings of the efforts, which strongly suggest that the search results are inconclusive. Simply put, the jury is still out. I begin by pointing out several fundamental weaknesses, from a thoroughness perspective, of the searches to date:

1. Over-attention to public lands versus private land. Public lands are legally accessible and hence have been the target of most searches. Private landowners are justifiably ambiguous in their attitudes toward an IB being found on their land and have not encouraged searches. Except in Arkansas, where most of the suitable habitat seems to be in public ownership, a large percentage of the potential IB habitat is in remote, lightly used private land that is often under lease to hunting clubs. Could these areas harbor IBs? Of course—and in fact they are more likely to do so than nearby or adjacent public lands due to the lower level of human activity (hunting, camping, fishing, etc.) that occurs on these lands.


2. Over-attention to areas that had the imprimatur of an institutionally reported and accepted sighting. The attention to SE Arkansas and the Choctawhatchee River in Florida was huge, based on the reputations of the sponsoring groups and their sightings, and this was later fueled by enthusiastic public and private funding. Like the recent housing bubble, these searches gained momentum well beyond when the shortage of actual, ongoing evidence raised questions about the extent of resources being devoted to these two areas.

3. Inherent weaknesses in the large, “institutionalized” search in Arkansas. I participated here for two weeks in February, 2007 and for one week in February, 2009. As an example of one weakness in the search methodology, I recall one of my days in the southern part of the White River NWR. Our search crew was staying at duck hunting lodge in St. Charles, Arkansas, an hour’s drive from the search area. We arrived in the search area around 7:30 or 8 a.m. and I was dropped off on a gravel road, with my target destination being Swan Lake, about a mile off the road to the south. After an hour of slow walking and wading, I came to Sixmile Bayou and experienced a somewhat hair-raising wade across this bayou with the water within inches of the top of my waders. Finally around 10 a.m. I arrived in the target area, which was indeed outstanding habitat with very large hardwoods of a variety of types and a good bit of woodpecker activity. I stayed in the area for around 5 hours, criss-crossing the area, and then started out by a different and longer path, getting back to the road after dark. This was a reasonably typical day in that my hours in the prime habitat were mid-morning to mid/late afternoon. These are the hours, per Tanner, in which IBs become rather inactive. How much credibililty was given by Cornell to my search effort that day? I don’t know, but I do know that my GPS track was entered into their data base and contributed, in some way, to their future decisions regarding deployment of searchers. In brief, the total time I devoted and the distance I covered that day did not necessarily mean the area had been thoroughly, or even moderately well searched. But since Cornell was working each day with, typically, 10 volunteers and half a dozen full-time staff, the practical aspects of lodging, feeding, transporting, and managing personnel produced limitations that affected search effectiveness.


4. Under-attention to Louisiana and Mississippi. These two states both have some excellent areas of potential IB presence--Louisiana in particular in the vast Atchafalaya basin where sightings have been periodically reported over the decades since the 1940s. Yet due to lack of recent sightings, remoteness and poor accessibility of the areas, lack of funding, and lack of a strong institutional backer, search efforts have been minimal and “broadbrush” compared to Arkansas and the Choctawhatchee. This same conclusion also applies to most of the river systems of the Florida panhandle. (Note: I exempt from this comment the lower Pearl River basin which has received a heroic, thorough, and ongoing effort by Mike Collins to find the birds (or their descendents) that Kullivan saw in 1999.).
As for Mississippi, there are large areas of good habitat along the Mississippi River between Natchez and Angola, Louisiana, where hardwood-dominated “loess topography” could have become a refuge for IBs fleeing the clear-cutting of adjacent bottomland areas. Searching here has been minimal. It would be simply wrong at this point to say that the search results mean that IBs are extinct. The small number of good quality sightings alone should rule out this conclusion. So what do I believe can be concluded at this point in time?

1. Despite its weaknesses, the well-funded and well-manned search in Arkansas has established that the White River NWR is not some kind of “motherlode” of IBs, and the population of 20+/- birds that I heard some Cornell people speculate about is probably not present. Instead, there are a handful of widely dispersed birds whose location and means/ability to reproduce are a mystery. This merits some further searching of a highly targeted nature.


2. The extremely meticulous search in Congaree NP, S. Carolina, has come as close as possible to establishing that IBs are not there. The Congaree search, which I participated in, was very thorough and avoided many of the glitches of the Arkansas methodology, and was conducted in a much smaller area, with searches starting from tent camps at daybreak. This is not, however, to say that minimally searched private lands closer to the S. Carolina coast should also be ruled out.


3. Based on sightings by at least four different individuals, there are almost certainly a few birds in the Choctawhatchee River bottoms in Florida, and this area probably has the best potential for yielding additional sightings and a photograph. Other river bottoms in the Panhandle also merit attention.


4. Since official searches will probably end due to lack of results, finding the IB may well depend on a chance encounter (e.g., Kullivan) in which some alert outdoorsman has a camera handy. Another possibility is that the efforts of a dedicated individual, creative and persevering in approach, and focusing on the best habitat in remote locations, will turn up a documentable IB. This could happen on private land, and I envision the possibility that a bird or birds could be photographed and their location kept secret by advance agreement with the landowner.



Comments or questions may be sent to chazbizz@cox.net. -----------------------------------------------------------------------

Thanks for the input Charles!



Friday, January 01, 2010

 

-- Happy New... Search Season --

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May it be a fruitful one....



"BE" (Neil Diamond -- "Jonathan Livingston Seagull")


Lost
On a painted sky
Where the clouds are hung
For the poet's eye
You may find him
If you may find him

There
On a distant shore
By the wings of dreams
Through an open door
You may know him
If you may

Be
As a page that aches for a word
Which speaks on a theme that is timeless
While the Sun God will make for your day
Sing
As a song in search of a voice that is silent
And the one God will make for your way

And we dance
To a whispered voice
Overheard by the soul
Undertook by the heart
And you may know it
If you may know it

While the sand
Would become the stone
Which begat the spark
Turned to living bone
Holy, holy
Sanctus, sanctus

Be
As a page that aches for a word
Which speaks on a theme that is timeless
While the Sun God will make for your day
Sing
As a song in search of a voice that is silent
And the one God will make for your way




( http://tinyurl.com/y8uuen7 )

...."Contest" winning entry coming up Mon. or Tues.
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