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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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Web ivorybills.blogspot.com

"....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, February 28, 2010

 

-- Ivorybill Stalking --

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Intro/Chapter 1 of Michael K. Steinberg's 2008 volume, "Stalking the Ghost Bird" available for free viewing on Google books here:

http://tinyurl.com/yg8m5pw

Meanwhile, John Trapp, at his blog, has previously noted a link to all the Ivory-bill-related blogposts of Ohioan artist/birder John Agnew who was active with the Choctawhatchee group, as well as claiming a sighting himself in 2008 (which he depicted in a painting). His latest IBWO post (a week ago) touches upon "paranoid thoughts on Ivory-bill conservation":

http://herps2art.wordpress.com/category/ivory-billed-woopeckers/

Mike Collins, continues his La. quest, reporting he'll return to the Pearl area "permanently later in the spring," following a trip back to Wash. DC.

Lastly, on a side-note, another fine live nestcam here (Barn Owl with 6 eggs, in Calif.):

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/the-owl-box
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

 

-- Whatevah --

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Conditional probability, Bayesian statistics, and the Monty Hall Problem:


( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT0E_Scg7l0 )

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Friday, February 26, 2010

 

-- Open Access Science --

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For decades many feared that if the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was found it would create a mass crush of birders, scientists, news-folk, and curiosity-seekers into an area, disturbing the bird further. But IBWO sightings in recent years haven't resulted in such a trampling horde of humans. Indeed, at this point, it's more likely that any IBWO claim will be greeted with a yawn, than with frenzy. Thus, one major reason for much secrecy around Ivory-bill sightings seems no longer to hold, if it ever did. The off-the-beaten-path areas where sightings occur, usually are not even amenable to casual weekend birders or naturalists visiting on a whim.

When IBWOs were discovered in Cuba in the late '80s, another group took over that search, and held their cards closely, just as the broader confederation of agencies involved in the current 'recovery' effort has done. The underlying fact (that everyone realizes) is that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a cash-cow for anyone who can corner the market on proof of its existence. Early on in the Big Woods effort the very harshest critics/skeptics accused Cornell/Nature Conservancy of a 'hoax,' or at best an exploitative P.R. scheme for funds and attention. As ridiculous as those charges were, the reason they stick at all in some people's minds, is because of the appearances that officials have permitted to go forward, by virtue of secrecy, silence, and confidentiality (and appearances are important).

As recently as three years ago I couldn't see the value or practicality of "open access science," but over time have become a convert to its value, efficacy, and need (and, it IS the wave of the future). The Ivory-billed Woodpecker saga is a glaring example of why the slow, inefficient, old ways are breaking down and becoming obsolete, in favor of openness, in the digital age. 'Open access' doesn't mean EVERYthing has to be laid out on the table, just a whole lot more than we've witnessed in this instance.
[...p.s.: may be worth noting that Cornell University was itself at the forefront of open access "arXivs" for physics, math, and computer science papers].

A few germane articles/links (on "open access" science and "science commons") :

http://tinyurl.com/qovbgn
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=science-2-point-0
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_Commons
http://sciencecommons.org/about/
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Thursday, February 25, 2010

 

-- One of Many Species Nesting Now --

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Good Bald Eagle live nestcam, (from California):


Free video streaming by Ustream
( http://www.ustream.tv/channel/Two-Harbors-Cam )
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-- Too Funny --

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( http://tinyurl.com/yezxp78 )

(...this is not really a wise interaction of household pets, and I don't want to encourage it... but entertaining, yes)
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

 

-- Are We Having Fun Yet? --

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Am a bit tuckered out on a certain topic for the moment, so may just post some non-Ivorybill stuff for a couple days of respite, unless breaking news occurs...

WONDERFUL shot of Barn Owls here:

http://tinyurl.com/yzba9v5

Old fun video of a 'fishing' Green Heron here:


( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNTw7GH325U )

And lastly, some relaxing nature/bird video here:


( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2zr2iTgrZE )
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

 

-- Other Angles --

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Some emailers continue to ask why there would be such a delay in settling this matter, unless there is in fact something to Rainsong's claims? I don't know the answer... but until the silence lifts, s'pose I can keep speculatin':

Cornell, as I understand it, is trying to reach consensus on the Rainsong case with the various reviewers from Arkansas, Louisiana, Iowa, Ithaca, and Jackson in Florida (and for all I know maybe others are involved at this point). The sheer bureaucracy of it no doubt accounts for some of the sloth --- personally, I'd rather actually see a dozen independent opinions expressed, but no they seem to prefer manufactured unanimity. There is always the possibility that given what they have they simply can't "prove" fraud, and can't "prove" the photo'd bird to be an IBWO, so are left lacking enough substance to pursue the claims, but also lacking enough hard first-hand evidence to prove a hoax either.
Or, could be that just 1 or 2 reviewers are holding out for more information/analysis and unwilling to completely diss the Sabine claims just yet, stalling any unanimity. It is unfortunate that a rebuke of Rainsong's story may tend to paint (and taint) anyone coming forth with sightings from the Sabine (or even searching there), with a broad brush, even though the Sabine Basin is a perfectly legitimate area to look for Ivory-bills.

When Steve Sheridan forged an "Ivory-bill" photo in southern Illinois, his lame excuse for doing so was that he was so confident of the species' presence there (and he cared sooo much for IBWOs) that he felt justified doing anything to get the attention of authorities who weren't taking his claims seriously.
I don't think Daniel Rainsong cares a twit about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, but I think he does care a lot about $10,000 checks, and so in another scenario, it could even be that Rainsong genuinely thinks he has seen IBWOs in the Sabine area on earlier trips, and felt justified committing a hoax to get the money he might truly believe he deserves. Indeed, it raises the whole issue of what happens 6 months or a year from now, if another individual actually were to document the presence of IBWOs in the Sabine River Basin --- does Rainsong suddenly become a hero or birding martyr of sorts, in retrospect (even with no evidence that his own photos were real)??? As a blogger I don't feel the constraints of all the nuances and what-ifs that Cornell might be fully working through before releasing any statement; they may simply be exploring every conceivable scenario...

Finally, is it possible authorities are actively pursuing legal charges against Rainsong, and taking time to assemble full documentation toward that end? (as one emailer notes, if it is indeed fraud, there are interstate aspects to this that could make it a Federal case, with serious consequences)... I just don't know. OR hey, maybe nothing is at it seems to me, and Cornell is actually preparing to declare that there is at least one male IBWO, we'll call him Elvis II, loose along the Sabine River!
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Monday, February 22, 2010

 

-- The Photos --

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Soon another 100+ birders who were sitting on the fencepost over the possibility of Ivory-bill existence may throw up their hands in exasperation and join the ranks of skeptics; such is the unfortunate impact of cases like this. And the evidence bar (already high) required for inexperienced or unknown birders who want to turn in claims will be just that much further out of reach, but so it goes... That's why some of us have no patience whatsoever for the likes of hoaxes, as I for one, believe we have here.

The entire background/credibility of Daniel "Rainsong" is alone enough to call this story into serious question (UNDERstatement), but I won't even delve into that for now. The complete lack of transparency in having a blood relative post a "news-release" containing inaccuracies on a hokey news website, and involving your own sister in the same story, are more huge red flags, but I won't spend time on those details here either. Nor does planning to write a book, before you even have acquired solid material to write about, bode well. And finding an Ivory-bill to photograph within 10 days of setting out, when others have spent years looking, is damn fine luck. In short, everything that surrounds this story is crap-assy from the get-go, but since a lot of people seem only (and foolhardily) interested in Rainsong's photos, that's what I'll address at the moment.

My understanding is based on various sources whose information I trust, and who have generally been consistent, but if anyone believes any details wrong, feel free to say so:


Out of a great many photos (and videotape) taken, Rainsong turned in but two pics as the sole examples showing the bird in question; ALL other (before, after, intermittent) photos of the area conveniently discarded along the way, before any review. The bird bears some markings (and size) consistent with male Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and other features (shortish bill and tail) not consistent, but basically is too unclear for definitive identification. But the real question is not what the bird is, but rather is it even a living bird at all? I would argue the posture of the bird has changed little in the two pics (some may feel it has changed much more), and yet the pics are determined to have been taken more than 3 MINUTES APART (...do you understand how much a bird typically moves in THREE &$%#@!! MINUTES!!! --- count out 180 seconds), despite Rainsong initially claiming that the pics were taken 5 seconds apart! (...just a teensy discrepancy... NOTTTT!!!). This alone spoils/destroys/annhilates his storyline (for me), but when added to WHO was present at the time he took the pics, and why his first travelmate departed early, and his clear central focus on monetary reward, and why he never led other searchers to the site, and his stated intention to write a book before any pics were ever taken, and his lack of birding experience or knowledge, and unwillingness to publicly release the photos, and... well nevermind, you get the idea... this story isn't resting on quicksand, it's sliding around on donkey puke, and someone more official than this blogger ought to say it (in their own tepid words). There are multiple ways of positioning a painted decoy at the crotch of a tree... but there's one requirement for photographing a living Ivory-billed Woodpecker: it has to be there. I believe the photos show a painted decoy, possibly blowing in the wind, perhaps on a rope pulley system, and that ought clearly be the null hypothesis until shown otherwise... and I doubt that showing otherwise is within the realm of possibility.

I trust my sources, my own research, and my conclusions, but sure there's always the possibility that they're all wrong. Until someone can demonstrate that (or, that humans never walked on the moon), I don't believe Mr. Rainsong saw or photographed an Ivory-billed Woodpecker (or any other bird for that matter). I don't believe Mr. Rainsong, period. I think we likely have a clearcut case of fraud for money (by someone essentially already charged with such in other matters in the state of Iowa). That's my belief as we await with baited breath to hear what folks in Ithaca, NY believe.
In the meantime, maybe some real work can yet get accomplished in Arkansas, or Louisiana, or Florida, or Tennessee... Good luck to the real searchers still out there, trying to accomplish things the old-fashioned way... honestly.
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Sunday, February 21, 2010

 

-- Overview --

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Just a little overview today, before tomorrow's post re: the photos...

If David Sibley ever walks in with a photo of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, I'd like to sit down and pore over that picture (while David can go quietly sip tea in another room). But if "Daniel Q. Public" walks in with IBWO pics, I don't initially give a crap about the photos; they can be set aside --- I want to sit DQP down and find out WHO the HELL he is, and what possible credibility he brings to the table. It is concerning that some folks interested in this Sabine River episode seemed to want to focus on Daniel Rainsong's evidence when they hadn't even established his credentials, background, knowledge-level, experience, integrity, motivation etc. to any significant degree (...BTW, maybe worth noting that "tree trimming" and arborist work is part of his family business, and J. Hepperle himself called Daniel a regular "Daniel Boone" at one point --- dare I guess that climbin' trees is second nature to him?). A 2-hour+ grilling of most fellows will crack open any tall tales like a raw egg and put them to rest quickly. That a few have taken this particular story seriously when almost nothing about it appears solid is disconcerting (luckily, a healthy, vast majority, saw through the transparencies --- but those who didn't, really need to take their BS meters in for a major tune-up, and if they have college degrees in science, well, maybe they ought to relinquish them).


And I don't say all of that lightly, because it is certainly possible that some non-birding countrified fellow from the boonies will indeed one day be the documenter of Ivory-bills --- wouldn't surprise me at all (the Mason Spencer story still haunts all of us). But first, unknowns HAVE TO establish their credentials, character, motives, background, WHO they are, etc. It's basic (falls under the rubric 'common sense'); their so-called "evidence" can be dealt with later.

Reminds me of decades ago when some intelligent people (including scientists) fell for Uri Geller's "psychic" abilities because they chose to focus on what they saw with their eyes rather than first investigate Geller's past and training, and find out who the heck the guy was (...DUHHH!).

I've often considered writing a post that would describe for readers how to recognize:


a) a claim that is most likely a hoax vs.

b) a claim that is sincere, but almost certainly a case of mistaken identification vs.

c) a claim that is sincere and actually has some credibility to it

But long ago concluded that such a post would only serve as a playbook for ne'er-do-wells to concoct plausible hoaxes. And I do believe a really careful, intelligent, patient, well-rehearsed individual could hatch a highly plausible Ivory-bill hoax, not the plate of steaming rubbish we've recently seen. The Ivory-bill arena is an absolute buzz-saw for lightweights trying to pull off such a charade... and yet a few clowns will try, and someone with a higher IQ might actually succeed.
Did I forget to mention... I'm a bit peeved :-[

...Tomorrow, a little about the unconvincing pictures (as if they even matter, when all other aspects of this case are considered).
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

 

-- Hindsight --

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I originally presumed the Sabine River storyline would last 7-10 days. Hindsight is always lucid... If I'd realized 31 days ago how long authorities would take on this matter I'd have said more way back then --- I suspect there may be 15-year-olds in my neighborhood who could've thoroughly analyzed Rainsong's photos in 48 hours (but Cornell seems bent on a quest for 100% consensus, lest, heaven-forbid, they have to modify any preliminary findings that could've already been announced by now, or take any flak as they did following their Luneau video analysis).

It's been awkward to have formulated a clear opinion on this story early on, but been uncomfortable divulging the basis for that opinion --- in the future, in a similar situation, I'll try to say more earlier. With that said, next week I'll indicate at least a few of the key elements to this story (as I perceive it).

Meanwhile, Cornell says their technical summary volume reviewing the entire IBWO search will be out in 2011. Either the bird will be found by then, in which case the tome will no doubt be put off further, or it won't be found by then, in which case the volume will be perceived in many circles as a face-saving joke.
(We're living in the digital 21st century, but some scientists seem stuck in the ways of the 1970's --- am I peeved... yeah, a tad.)

Lastly, on a complete sidebar (and speaking of the digital age), worth noting that The Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America is now available as an app for the iPhone or iPod:

http://tinyurl.com/y9zclbt

(stay tuned: tomorrow an "overview" and Monday a few more details on photos...)
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Thursday, February 18, 2010

 

-- Iowa News --

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Several folks have emailed me the brief notice from yesterday's Iowa police blotter listing Daniel Rainsong's recent arrest:

"Daniel Rainsong, 53, 1916 Ferndale Ave., was arrested and charged with theft in the first degree. (reported at 7:30 p.m.)."

While this could relate to his IBWO saga, it could easily relate to several other things as well. For those who haven't already explored the credibility, background, character, of Mr. Rainsong they may want to look up information under the names "Daniel Rainsong" and "Daniel Dean Hepperle" that is available on a variety of internet search and people sites.

While I'm still waiting for Cornell or someone official to make an announcement about the purported photos in question, if they have said nothing by next week I may go ahead and disclose certain details/understandings I have, as this matter is dragging on way beyond any sense. They need to put this matter behind them so they can concentrate on getting summary or 'recovery' reports out that might actually aid field searchers in the current ongoing season. Time's a'wastin'.

=> ADDENDUM: a commenter below sends a link to much more info on the Rainsong arrest here:

http://tinyurl.com/yz83zc9

NOT Ivorybill-related, but not a pretty picture either.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

 

-- Tidbits --

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Nice piece on New Zealand's Takahe here:

http://tinyurl.com/yf66orm [<-- corrected URL]

...and mystery tidbit on Mexico's Imperial Woodpecker here:

http://tinyurl.com/yzgasgc

Lastly (since I've been on a nestcam kick lately), interesting video of cleaning/maintenance of a Barn Owl nestcam here:

http://tinyurl.com/yfz26rw
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-- Gender Imbalance or, Where Be the Girls? --

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Longer-term readers know that I share Cornell's Ron Rohrbaugh's recently-expressed pessimism about any recoverable population of Ivory-bills persisting in the Southeast. I don't doubt that Ivory-bills could hang on for another couple decades in some low steady-state numbers, but see no hope for them being around a century from now. Of course that goes for a LOT of bird species --- while the next few decades bear glimmers of hope, the next century or two do not (and the case for many mammals is even worse).

If Ivory-billed Woodpeckers made it into the 21st century one might surmise they likely persisted in an approximate 50/50 sex ratio to do so; OR, if the genders are skewed in any direction, one might expect it to favor females over males to bolster the species' survival chances. Thus, I'm often troubled by the high percentage of IBWO sightings that cite males, when gender is identified (in fact in the last 5 years I can't recall a single claim arriving in my email specifying a female) --- it's bad enough that male IBWOs and male Pileateds are the easiest ones to confuse, but moreover, there simply ought be more females in the mix if the species is out there. I'd guesstimate that maybe 70++% of credible or semi-serious sightings cite male birds --- but if Cornell or someone else has an actual breakdown of the figures I'd like to see it; maybe I'm off. Yes, there have been some good sightings of females and even pairs in recent times; they simply seem dwarfed by the number of male claims over that time. There could be plausible reasons for such a prevalence:

1) The vast majority of those claims may well be male Pileateds, dropping the actual IBWO male/female ratio back down to normality.
2) Females spend more time on the nest so possibly males are out-and-about, traveling more often and greater distances, and exposed to sighters more often.
3) Males are more visually striking and possibly noisier, thus perhaps more attention-getting.

Maybe it is that simple; but to the degree that male predominance of sightings actually reflect the ratio of Ivory-bills in the wild then it would be yet one more factor not boding well for a species that needs all the help it can get.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

 

-- Nest Cams --

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Two weeks ago I posted about an active hummingbird nestcam in Calif. The lone remaining baby should've left the nest by now but is way underdeveloped (lack of feathers), and not sure what the outcome will be; you may still wish to follow along, though it could be a sad ending:

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/Hummingbird-Nest-Cam
[Update: the poorly developing chick was removed from nest and taken to a rehabber on Feb. 18, and sadly died on the morning of the 20th]

A few other nestcams of interest:

http://ospreynest.info/
(Ospreys)

http://www.iws.org/bald_eagles/nestcam.htm
(Bald Eagles)

http://birdcam.xcelenergy.com/owl.html
(Great Horned Owl)

http://www.hungryowl.org/barnowlcam.html
(Barn Owl)

http://storchennest-hoechstadt.de/live-cam
(white stork in Germany)
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Monday, February 15, 2010

 

-- This and That --

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Over at 10000 Birds Blog they're having a worthwhile give-away of a complete set of Kaufman Field Guides. You just donate $25 to their new birds Conservation Club and then enter the contest by responding to the question they pose (by Feb. 22).
(Or, just contribute to their conservation club, and forego the contest, if you already have Kenn's books.)

Meanwhile, with it being winter, a lot of waterfowl are on the move, including ones we don't see much of through most of the U.S., like Red-breasted Mergansers, which are now visiting the East and Gulf coasts, as well as waterways inland:

http://www.birding.in/images/Birds/red_breasted_merganser_fws.jpg
http://www.natureconservationimaging.com/images/Goosander.jpg
http://tinyurl.com/ykxpm4t
http://tinyurl.com/yaaugr7
http://tinyurl.com/yfk85jy
http://tinyurl.com/yhymp3x
http://tinyurl.com/yeqd3ko
http://tinyurl.com/y8dj5h6
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Sunday, February 14, 2010

 

-- I'm In Violation --

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The phrase "a laugh-a-minute" comes to mind...

Recently ran across the "terms of use" section of K.J. Hepperle's website. It reads verbatim as follows (if you can believe it); emphasis added:
"This site is owned and operated by Joe Hepperle. Your access and use of this Site is subject to the following terms and conditions ("Terms and Conditions"), and all applicable laws. By accessing and browsing the Site, you accept, without limitation or qualification, the Terms and Conditions. If you do not agree with any of the below Terms and Conditions, do not use the Site.

Terms and Conditions:
1) By reading anything on this site, you agree that it is true.
2) You further agree to hold harmless and indemnify Joe Hepperle for any shortcomings -- yours or his.
3) You agree to leave the site immediately the moment you sense anything wrong or inappropriate. "
Boy, am I in violation; and I wonder if Cornell realizes that if they conclude that Daniel Rainsong has not re-discovered the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the Sabine River Basin then they can never access Joe's site again, for gosh sakes.

(almost reminds me a bit of the old sentence paradox from logic: "This statement is false.")
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Saturday, February 13, 2010

 

-- Chasing Other Ghosts --

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May put off some posts I'd planned until after official "analysis" of the Rainsong pics is released. The AOU meeting in California has ended so maybe Cornell-ites, who would've been in attendance, will now be wrapping up Sabine River matters.
Meanwhile, if you're tired of looking for Ivory-bills, care to give the Eskimo Curlew a try...

I've tried nudging Bob Russell to send me an updated "Top 10" list of sites to search for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, and he's eluded the assignment, but in atonement ;-) has now sent along a fleshed-out list of Top 10 sites to look for the Eskimo Curlew, another controversial (possibly extinct) species that attracts wide interest. So if slogging through swamps isn't your cup-o'-tea, here's some other places to consider for a very different adventure:

1. Texas—Louisiana Gulf Coast. It seems reasonable to include the area(s) with the most recent verified report(s) and that would be Galveston Island. Hurricane Gustav recently cleaned off a large portion of the housing on the western portion of the island but left a huge debris field on former pastures and marshland where the 1959-1962 bird or birds were seen (3 birds reported together in 1962). Give this area a couple of years to recover some vegetative cover and try the last week of March and the first half of April, perhaps in association with American Golden-plovers or Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Large concentrations of shorebirds occur at other nearby sites such as the islands in Galveston Bay (Atkinson Island where a flock of 23 birds was reported on 7 May 1981). The Bolivar Flats, although well-watched over the years, is another site that should be checked if you are in the area. Base in Galveston once the motels get repaired. In Louisiana the southwestern portion of the state is frequently birded but most observers hit the usual “chain of pearls” refuges near the coast. There are many areas away from the coast that host tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of shorebirds during spring migration and many of these sites never see a birder all year. Some of these are rice fields in various stages of planting / preparation; others are abandoned or seasonally fallow fields from Crowley west to the state line. Although most birding is done south of I-10, there is extensive habitat in Acadia and Jefferson Davis Parishes north of the I-10. Base out of Jennings, Abbeville, or Lake Charles.

2. Central Nebraska. Historically, most concentrated in York, Fillmore, and Hamilton Counties between the 87th and 98th parallel. Joel Jorgensen, Nebraska Division of State Parks, has documented large flocks of stopover Buff-breasted Sandpipers in York County in spring but has had no sightings of curlews. There is one recent sighting by Craig Faanes (author of Birds of the St. Croix River Valley) in York County in spring which some people reject. Arrives 18-25 April, departing 15-25 May. Frequented open wheat fields and “tame” meadows in later years, originally often found in burnt meadows and prairies. Base in Grand Island, York, or Aurora.

3. Christian County, Illinois / Benton County, Indiana. The largest staging flocks of American Golden-plover known in the world regularly stage from mid-April to mid-May in northwest Indiana and east central Illinois. These plovers were frequent traveling companions of Eskimo Curlew and were one of the few species able to fly as fast and keep up with the curlews. The best way to find flocks of plovers is to peruse a DeLorme Illinois Atlas and find the headwaters of various small tributaries that historically indicated wet prairie areas. The plovers still prefer these oftentimes wet areas even though most are in soybeans nowadays. Check adjacent low wet areas as well. Christian County stands out in Midwest hunting literature as a place of great curlew hunting opportunities! Of course that was 1880 but maybe they’ve recovered—someone ought to check it out. Base in Taylorville or Springfield for Christian County; in Lafayette or Kentland for Benton County. Large wind turbine fields may now threaten many of these plover sites in Benton County. Rather than direct mortality the plovers may just be abandoning these staging areas, perhaps used since the Pleistocene ice sheets retreated.


4. Southeastern South Dakota vic. Yankton. 3-10 May between Ft. Randall and Yankton. Associated here with Upland Sandpipers and American Golden-plovers. Birds once seen commonly as far east as Vermillion on grasslands above Missouri River. There are numerous small sloughs in the area and a fair amount of pastureland. Apparently this was the northernmost major staging area before northern Saskatchewan as the bird was seldom reported from northeastern South Dakota or North Dakota. Base in Yankton.

5. Newfoundland—Labrador. Although the last record was of a pair in 1932, almost every year one or two Canadian birders still visit the former haunts of this species where the species first staged south of its Arctic breeding range, feeding mainly on crowberries. Sites to try include Battle Harbor, Hamilton Inlet entrance (where they normally arrived on 23rd August), Henley Harbor, Indian Tickle, Isle of Ponds, Curlew Harbor, Table Bay, and Gready Island. This is wonderful, wild, remote country. Access by a ferryboat that visits most of these sites with reservations needed a year or more in advance. Getting to these sites once explored by Audubon is a challenge.

6. Iles de la Madeleine, Quebec. Remote, scenic and sophisticated, this chain of islands connected by sandbars and one road annually hosts thousands of shorebirds in fall including Whimbrel and American Golden-plover. Historically, Eskimo Curlews were regular here between 20 August and 6 September although there are no recent records. Area included because it was on a direct passage route for this curlew and still contains large bog areas replete with abundant berry bushes and hundreds of acres of short-cropped fields and some of the largest sandflats and tidal flats in the hemisphere. Very low level of birding activity and relatively easy to reach (by plane from Montreal or ferry from Prince Edward Island). Excellent motels on French portion of this bilingual island chain in Cap-aux-Meules.

7. Miscou Island, New Brunswick. Immense numbers of this species once frequented the coast from Shediac to Dalhousie with the largest flocks often on this small island at the tip of the province. Still largely unspoiled, the island is covered by dozens of small ponds surrounded by dense stands of many species of subarctic berry bushes upon which the birds reportedly fed. The island has hundreds of shorebirds both as foragers and flybys during August and September. During the heyday of Eskimo Curlews, they reportedly arrived often before the 15th of August and remained until about the 15th of September, departing before the Whimbrel departed. Many observers commented that the years of highest curlew abundance also had prevailing strong easterly gales during the fall. A very small motel is present at the base of the island bridge and other motels are nearby along the Acadian coast.

8. Martha’s Vineyard / Nantucket Island / Monomoy Island, Massachusetts. During periods of east winds these offshore islands of Massachusetts often held hundreds of curlews seeking shelter from the storms. Reported from Martha’s Vineyard on 6-7 August 1972 and 30 August 2002 (Gay Head), a report not accepted by the bird committee but which one committee member described as totally convincing. With 2 (yes 2!) recent reports this island may be the place to head to during east winds in autumn if you can afford the overpriced motels.

9. Portsmouth Island—Cape Lookout National Seashore. This is a gem of a shorebird stopover site, a 40-mile+ long island of sand, sandflats, meadows, and islets as remote as any site on the USA east coast and virtually undisturbed. Stay on neighboring Ocracoke Island, itself well worth checking the south end for shorebirds, and hire the local boat shuttle ($25.00) for the short 15-minute ride over to Portsmouth (includes free lecture on natural history and ineptitude of National Park Service) or get an SUV and take a car ferry over to the Core Banks from the mainland (see Cape Lookout National Seashore website) and drive northward. Almost every shorebird species known in eastern USA has been recorded here. Bring lots of bug spray and sunburn oil and be prepared to walk (or drive—4-wheel drive only) miles. Uninhabited except for a few hunting camps and cabins in the now ghost town of Portsmouth. A recent spring report was made by an expert birder in 1972 at Pea Island north of here, one seen with 3 Whimbrels.

10. Prince Edward Island, Canada. This quiet, lightly-birded island of potato fields, spruce forests, and remote beaches would seem like a likely candidate for hiding migrant curlews. I would concentrate on fields on the east side of the island, the shorebird flats at Prince Edward National Park along the north shore at North Rustico, the Malpeque area where once reported to be very common, and the remote northwest corner of the island where I haven’t yet ventured but looks good on Google Earth. 25 August to 28 September. Base in Charlottetown.


Honorable mentions:


11. Cape Henrietta Maria. Ontario. Very remote but tens of thousands of shorebirds pass this site in southbound migration. Access by air and bring a gun for polar bear protection.


12. Mar Chiquita, Argentina Mar Chiquita is located northeast of the province of Cordoba and is the largest inland saline body of water in Argentina covering roughly 6000 square kilometers with a floodable plain embracing another 4,000 square kilometers. As many as 4 Eskimo Curlews have been reported from here in a single flock in recent decades. The size of the area and the number of birds is overwhelming but this may be the single best spot for searching for wintering birds. Base in the city of Santa Fe or camp along the shores.

13. Mingan Islands, Quebec. Off the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, these remote islands are reachable by rented boat or kayak. Many shorebirds stage here in late summer but the islands have been rarely ever birded. This is a major staging area for Red Knots in fall. Check out their website at: http://www.canadianparks.com/quebec/minganp/index.htm


14. Sable Island, Nova Scotia. One requires a scientific permit / reason to visit this national treasure far off the Nova Scotian coast. The breeding home of the Ipswich (Savanna Sparrow) and the most remote place in the Maritimes, one could always fake a shipwreck and bird while waiting for possible rescue. If you don’t get rescued, at least be good enough to leave us a detailed description of the curlew you see as your last lifer before expiring so we can publish it and run it by the records committee. Sable Island is a sand bar - 42 km long and roughly 1.5 km wide - located far offshore, approximately 160 km southeast of Canso, Nova Scotia, the nearest landfall. The island has been the focus of human activities, imagination and speculation for roughly 500 years. Shipwrecks, wild horses, seabirds and seals, and inaccessibility have endowed this narrow wind-swept sliver of sand with a special mystique.


15. Barbados (Graeme Hall Swamp and vicinity). The last specimen of Eskimo Curlew was collected by a hunter on 4 September 1963 near this site. The site was a private hunting club and may be still but I have no recent information on its status or current habitat. Nearby Graeme Hall Swamp ($13.00 entrance fee) has hundreds of acres of protected habitat with numerous shorebirds at low tide. Barbados was a bottleneck for the species, a first resting spot for tired birds departing from Maritime Canada and flying over the Atlantic Ocean.

[p.s. there's actually a small Facebook group dedicated to the search for the ESCU.]
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Thursday, February 11, 2010

 

-- A Week-Or-Less --

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The "Nature" piece yesterday reports that Cornell will be releasing its analysis of Dan Rainsong's photos in a week-or-less. I hope they'll fairly fully disclose what they know, but not confident of that. Still a bit surprised there was never any significant public word from Stephen Dinsmore, Jerome Jackson, Van Remsen, or others on the matter. Even a preliminary statement (subject to future change/update) from someone "official," would've been preferable to this lengthy silence that has permitted the story to trickle through chat rooms, social networking sites, and other places where it may get taken more seriously than the birding blogs/sites that have been cynical. But then public communications has never been a strong suit of the Ivory-bill "recovery" program, so why expect a change now! The question is, will officials come out of this whole affair looking professional and diligent, or looking like greater fools than they already appeared in the eyes of some observers? Perhaps we'll know in a week-or-less.
Meantime, if Mr. Rainsong wants to convince folks of his claims and have a shot at reward, he should simply return to the Sabine and VIDEOtape the bird(s) in action, and quit fooling around with near meaningless still camera shots. What part of "DUHHHH!" doesn't he understand?
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

 

-- New Article From "Nature" --

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Online article from "Nature" recaps where the Ivory-billed Woodpecker recovery program is now (purportedly a new "recovery plan" is "on the verge" of approval)... and it ain't particularly pretty.

A few choice quotations below (with the usual precaution that sometimes reporters get things wrong):
"...the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is on the verge of approving a final recovery plan to manage the species. The plan will lay out a conservation strategy, including what habitat should be preserved — all for a bird that many prominent ornithologists have given up on."
"But after five years of fruitless searching, hopes of saving the species have faded. 'We don't believe a recoverable population of ivory-billed woodpeckers exists,' says Ron Rohrbaugh, a conservation biologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, who headed the original search team."
"Jerome Jackson, an ornithologist at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers who serves on the FWS's ivory-billed woodpecker recovery team, says that a draft recovery plan from 2007 is 'incredibly biased'. In his view, the plans have overemphasized evidence of the bird's existence to shore up political support for saving it. 'I don't think I'm going to be happy with the final plan either,' he adds."
"Meanwhile, experts are dealing with protests by Daniel Rainsong, a landscaper based in Ames, Iowa, who says he recently photographed an ivory-billed woodpecker near the Sabine River in east Texas. Rainsong filed a formal complaint earlier this month alleging ethical and financial misconduct, because biologists he approached would not come with him to the Sabine region to confirm the sighting so that he could collect a $50,000 reward.
Rohrbaugh says the Cornell team will release an analysis of Rainsong's photo in about a week."
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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

 

-- Worth Reflection --

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With independents still searching actively in several states across the Southeast, it's worthwhile from time-to-time to reflect back on the inspiring words of those historical figures who, without debate, saw Ivory-billed Woodpeckers over 65 years ago at their Singer Tract toehold in Louisiana. First the words of Roger Tory Peterson upon encountering them there in 1942 (from his "Birds Over America" volume):
"By noon, we were back at the spot, down the road, where we had seen so many diggings the day before. We would make another sortie before throwing in the sponge. Hardly had we gone a hundred yards when a startling new sound came from our right --- an indescribable tooting note, musical in a staccato sort of way. For a moment it did not click, but then I knew --- it was the Ivory-bill ! I had expected it to sound more like a nuthatch; it was much more like the 'toy tin trumpet' described by Alexander Wilson or the 'clarinet' of Audubon. Breathlessly we stalked the insistent toots, stepping carefully, stealthily, so that no twig would crack. With our hearts pounding we tried to keep cool, hardly daring to believe that this was it --- that this was what we had come fifteen hundred miles to see. We were dead certain this was no squirrel or lesser woodpecker, for an occasional blow would land -- whop! -- like the sound of an axe. Straining our eyes, we discovered the first bird, half hidden by the leafage, and in a moment it leaped upward into full sunlight. This was no puny pileated; this was a whacking big bird, with great white patches on its wings and a gleaming white bill. By its long recurved crest of blackish jet we knew it was a female. We were even close enough to see its pale yellow eyes. Tossing its hammer-like head to the right and left, it tested the diseased trunk with a whack or two as it jerked upward. Lurching out to the end of a broken-off branch, it pitched off on a straight line, like a duck, its wings making a wooden sound."
And next, the haunting words of artist/birder Donald Eckelberry back in 1944, describing what was to become one of the last fully-accepted Ivory-bill sightings, a lone female in the same Singer Tract:
"She came trumpeting in to the roost, her big wings cleaving the air in strong, direct flight, and she alighted with one magnificent upward swoop. Looking about wildly with her hysterical pale eyes, tossing her head from side to side, her black crest erect to the point of leaning forward, she hitched up the tree at a gallop, trumpeting all the way. Near the top she became suddenly quiet and began preening herself. With a few disordered feathers properly and vigorously rearranged, she gave her distinctive double rap, the second blow following so closely the first that it was almost like an echo -- an astonishingly loud, hollow, drumlike Bam-bam! Then she hitched down the tree and sidled around to the roost hole, looked in, looked around, hitched down beneath the entrance, double-rapped, and went in."
And maybe lastly, those eternal words from Jerry Jackson, that still apply: "The truth is out there."
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Monday, February 08, 2010

 

-- "Ghost Bird" Podcast --

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Today, just a year-old podcast interview (from Steve Moore's "Birdwatch radio") with Scott Crocker, producer of "Ghost Bird":

http://www.birdwatchradio.com/audio/bwr019_20090317.mp3

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

 

-- More Fiction --

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For your entertainment today, just a fun little piece of short O.Henry-esque fiction, entitled "Eating Ghosts," offered up over at another blog:

http://tinyurl.com/ycjz7hv
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Friday, February 05, 2010

 

-- Upcoming... and SNL? +addendum --

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If you happen to be in Minnesota or Tennessee, a couple of upcoming events of potential interest:
1) Eastman Nature Center holding an open house at 1:00pm Saturday, February 13, to introduce the public to the Whitney H. Eastman Archives. Whitney Eastman (1888-1979) was well-known for his Ivory-bill searches/claims in Florida in the 1950's.
The Archives are catalogued into a searchable computer database and will be available for public access and study at the Eastman Nature Center by appointment. If this interests you plan to attend this free introductory session.
The
Eastman Nature Center is located in the northwest suburbs on the west side of 5,000-acre Elm Creek Park Reserve, at 13351 Elm Creek Road, Dayton, MN 55369. To reserve a seat on Feb. 13, please call the nature center at 763-694-7700.
2) Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, is hosting Stephen Lyn Bales at 5:30pm on Feb. 11, at its "Science Cafe," talking on "Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Ivory-bill." Bales discusses his upcoming book "Ghost Birds" about Dr. James T. Tanner's 1935-41 study of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. This is of course the same book I mentioned a brief while back, as tentatively titled "James Tanner and the Ivory-bill" (a title I actually prefer, but then I'm not the mass public!)
Register for the event by calling 865-577-4717, Ext. 10.
(If any readers attend either event and care to send in a report feel free.)

==> And in other news (...and I use that term loosely), Joe Hepperle has a somewhat silly Feb 4 update at his site reporting that a planned expedition to the the Sabine River basin by authorities and Rainsong had to be "scrubbed," and then closing by saying, "The season (and Dan's available time) for mounting a confirmation expedition yet this year are rapidly coming to an end." (Oh my WHAT a surprise!) Apparently no $50,000 reward for the Iowa boys, this year. [Joe has now altered the wording of the Feb 4 update as I figured he might, so below is a copy of the original wording; and I also have a copy of the original press release, since that too may disappear from the internet at some point.]
Man, if only there was a "Saturday Night Live" program just for birders!...

Addendum: The original verbatim Feb 4 entry from JH prior to alteration:

"A new expedition (with personnel from several independent Organizations) that was in the advanced planning stages had to be scrubbed because the other participants refused to wear the appropriate camouflage covering, and they insisted on using a motor-boat to get in and out of the area. The season (and Dan's available time) for mounting a confirmation expedition yet this year are rapidly coming to an end. Stay tuned..."
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Thursday, February 04, 2010

 

-- Sir David, Ya Gotta Moment --

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[For newbies still showing up here for the Sabine River claims, coverage of that story began on Jan.19th and follows intermittently from there on... I'll have a postscript (written over a week ago!) to the story, when it finally ends.]

I've always sort of whimsically wished that David Attenborough and his crew would get involved in the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. On TV they usually accomplish their tasks in an hour or less ;-)) So for today just a little vintage footage of Sir David at work (Attenborough's almost 84 years-old now, but can probably still show the young whippersnappers how it's done!):




( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MK6nlsOZpuU&feature=related )
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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

 

-- Will There Be A Rainsong Swansong --

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One suspects that Daniel Rainsong may be changing his name yet one more time when this whole episode is over (and without any $10,000 check to cover all his expenses)...
THANK YOU to all who have sent along pieces of information to me about various phases of the case. You never know when some one tidbit will be new to me or a crucial straw in tumbling this quivering house of cards (more like a house of phlegm!). I still don't know why authorities haven't made some official closing statement on the matter unless they are truly seeking to gather enough hard evidence for formal prosecution, rather than let the lad go free with a simple public flogging as so often happens. Or possibly they are trying to determine if this is a one-man show, or if others (J. Hepperle?, R. Goldstein?) are to some degree complicit, rather than mere dupes in the process? (BTW, CheyAnna Donaldson, mentioned in the initial press release, is an innocent bystander in these shenanigans).
Don't know if the photos will ever see the light of day either, which is unfortunate, since some craftsman, whittler, or store salesperson just might recognize his own handiwork or sales goods on display in them pics. I think it more likely that Joe H.'s weblinks to this story will magically disappear at some point, than that the photos will appear.
What a sordid shame it will be if 10 years from now the greatest legacy or memory in a lot of minds from the entire 5+ year search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is this foolhardy tale... told by a Mr. Rainsong, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.


[Having said all this, it may be worth noting that there is always the remote possibility that Ivory-bills actually exist in the Sabine River Basin, just someone would need to find and photograph them.]
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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

 

-- Live Hummingbird Nestcam --

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Might be cold where you're at, but it's sunny in southern California, and time to raise a family:


Video clips at Ustream

( http://www.ustream.tv/channel/Hummingbird-Nest-Cam )
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-- The IB Woodpecker Helps Avoid a Depression --

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Changing subjects, for a moment....

The role of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in saving America from financial collapse! :-):


This article tells of the pressures on finance guru Henry Paulson (a birdwatcher no less) at the peak of America's credit crunch and financial crisis. But here's the pertinent passage:
"During infrequent interludes of downtime, Paulson tried to relax by going bird-watching -- while travelling on government business, he sometimes found a few hours at foreign summits to go off in seek of a glimpse of the local avian species. But even birds weren't enough to take his mind off work during the week of Bear Stearns' collapse. Paulson writes that he and his wife took an evening off to go and see "The Lord God Bird", a documentary about the ivory-billed woodpecker, at the National Geographic Society. As he struggled to make small talk with environmental movie enthusiasts, Paulson was scolded by his wife for discourtesy."

And this article quotes directly from Paulson's memoir:
"That evening Wendy and I went to the National Geographic Society to see The Lord God Bird, a terrific documentary on the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird so spectacular it made people say Lord God!! Normally, I would have enjoyed this immensely, but I was preoccupied with Bear Stearns. Every time one of our friends from the environmental community came over, I would look right through them. Wendy got really upset with me.
“I understand that you’re under pressure,” she said, “but that’s no excuse for not being courteous to people.”
“I am being courteous to everyone,” I protested.
“You aren’t saying anything to them except ‘Hi.’” I apologized, adding, “I’m worried about the world falling apart!”
Never underestimate the reach of the Lord God Bird into the halls of power.
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Monday, February 01, 2010

 

-- Throwin' Down The Gauntlet --

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So far as I can tell, the Rainsong/Hepperles have now done everything necessary to legally insure their claim to an Ivory-billed Woodpecker sighting, and the photos that demonstrate it!!! (Hip hip hooray... yawn). There is no reason left for secrecy, confidentiality, or holding back on their part --- their legal standing (about which they were so concerned), is established...


I therefore challenge them, in fact triple dog DARE them, indeed IMMMPLORE them, to now place the two splendid photos in question on the internet (or direct the proper investigators to do so) for the world to see and judge and comment upon (hey, Joe, think how many more hits your wacky website will get if you upload the pics --- I absolutely, positively GARRR-AN-TEEE it!! ...just no fudgin' with 'em beforehand, OK).

Let the games begin...

(someone wake me up if he actually has the gumption to do it...)
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