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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






Friday, April 30, 2010

 

-- Calamity --

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Much will no doubt be written/blogged about the massive oil spill now threatening so many fragile Gulf Coast areas; one of the worst ecological disasters in modern times. Chuck Hagner has a "Birder's World" post enumerating some of the key bird habitat areas potentially affected here:

http://tinyurl.com/29aag4d

and National Audubon is reporting on the tragedy here:

http://web1.audubon.org/news/pressRelease.php?id=2441

Of course a lot of creatures besides just birds will be affected by this barely-imaginable calamity. I won't dwell on the story here, but the magnitude of the catastrophe and mournful reports to come must be noted. [If you find a website or a post that covers the bird/nature/habitat consequences of this unfolding disaster in a particularly insightful way, feel free to post the URL in the comments.]

...Addendum: I said I wouldn't dwell on this... but... I will link to one more story, from the UK actually, focusing a bit on the first bird (a Northern Gannet) pulled from the slick:

http://tinyurl.com/2vuajw4

(commenters below have justly noted that these wildlife-saving efforts are trifling relative to the overall devastation rendered, but still.....)
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-- With Friends Like These... --

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[We've just passed the 5-year anniversary of that incredible public pronouncement on the IBWO.]

Have covered this ground before, but due to some email I've had, repeating it...:

I grew up at a time when the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology was automatically revered without question by birders across the land. ...Boy, how times have changed.

I hear increasingly from birding-critics embarrassed that the Lab spent so much time, energy, and money on what they believe was a wild goose chase from the get-go. The harshest cynics continue to chant the outrageous notion that the IBWO search was little more from the start than a sinister money-grubbing conspiracy on the part of major conservation groups, including CLO (I won't dignify that ridiculous charge by wasting time refuting it).

But unfortunately Cornell is losing more and more friends on the other side as well.
I've been perturbed by the incomplete, undetailed, almost lackadaisical reporting of one of the most important ornithological stories in my lifetime; in the process permitting cynics to flourish; this isn't just one more 'citizen science' project (some more detailed reports are finally being released now). I don't know if their failure to respond adequately to critics is due to simple lack of time (the principals involved have other responsibilities besides the IBWO project), or lack of consensus in their own ranks, or due to simple hubris ('HEY, we're CORNELL, and we don't have to respond to others' petty opinions'), but as I've noted before, appearances are often more harmful than reality.

And other "believers" are sometimes even harsher, concluding that Cornell was inept, heavy-handed, and/or misguided in their leadership of this effort. As the ol' saying goes, "with friends like these who needs enemies." Still others have suggested that there were too many academic-sorts and average birders in the mix, and not enough 'pure' (and expert) birders involved. Over time, I've heard from Cornell volunteers who felt the effort was disorganized or poorly-contrived, but probably heard from more who say that despite inevitable flaws, it was a very solid endeavor, and that if the bird was in the places searched it would undoubtedly have been found... no doubt a lot depends on which 2 (or more) weeks you spent with Cornell and under whose guidance. It's still too early, in my mind, to pass final judgment.

Here's hoping the Lab finds their way out of a pickle of their own creation, but it won't be easy (if the IBWO is finally documented by independents, what will THAT finally say about the quality of this 5-year venture, and if they put out a scientific report on the entire IBWO effort next year as promised (and, the bird has not yet been found), it will serve only as a loud reminder of failure just when CLO least needs to be reminding folks). It is close to a no-win situation for Ithaca, though they will go about their normal affairs as if all is just fine; that has been their style. I have my own guess what will happen... but I ain't sayin'...

Obviously, CLO is involved in a LOT of projects besides their Ivory-bill work, and as a repository of information, remain a gold mine, but it may be a long time, if ever, before they shine again with the pristine, idyllic (and maybe unrealistic) reputation of my youth... and that is almost a sadder outcome of these 5 years than the failure (thus far) to document the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.


(In fairness to CLO, I ought note that the IBWO Recovery Team in charge of the search planning, was composed of a lot more members than just Cornell-ites. It may have been as bureaucratic a committee as there has ever been in avian work, and we all know the jokes about what happens when you try to accomplish anything important by committee... Over the years a few folks have emailed me, in fact, to say they didn't believe any large-scale group effort could likely succeed at documenting the Ivory-bill; that only a single, persistent, dogged individual or small, stealthy team had much chance of accomplishing the task --- I've always found that view hard to fathom, but now needless to say... by God I hope they're right!)
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

 

-- Project Coyote Update --

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Mark Michaels has a new update from the "Project Coyote" group in Louisiana, which focuses on IBWO anatomy (with links to several papers) as an aid to recognizing their foraging sign:

http://www.south-run.com/coyote/updates.htm

I'm not sure that the discussion (primarily of IBWO footing and stance) will result in a clearer indication of IBWO foraging sign than we already have. Much work has already previously gone into trying to relate IBWO bill size and shape to their foraging sign (which seems logical), but without much success in distinguishing their sign from that of others. And scaling and peeling of bark can also result from critters (and natural forces) other than woodpeckers, so it's not singly a matter of distinguishing IBWO from PIWO. I'm just not sure that focusing on other attributes will lead to clear distinctions, but will wait to see where the discussion eventually leads. (I believe, if not mistaken, that Cornell had a system for rating foraging sign for IBWO probability, just as they did with cavities; it would be useful to know their criteria, if they had such).

Mark also mentions that further (inconclusive) camera-trap images and audio examples may be posted at their site in the future.

I've had a post on Cornell waiting in the wings for awhile, and also a post on why bird counts are scientific crap (and scientific crap can be very useful! ;-)) so maybe one of those for tomorrow... or not.
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

 

-- Nutshell --

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On-the-one-hand, probably no bird in history has had so many sighting claims (even eliminating all the least plausible/credible ones) and still been thought extinct by so many people, as has the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. On-the-other-hand, it's likely that no extant bird species has ever before been the subject of so much time and energy and yet failed to be definitively confirmed. That, in a nutshell, I think are the two competing views that cannot be easily conjoined here.


One side sees the sheer volume of repeated IBWO claims (and associated evidence) as hugely difficult to just explain away, especially by simple, ad hoc proclamation of "mistakes" regarding a bird that is nearly unmistakable. They picture a wary, cavity-dwelling bird, fast in flight, thin in numbers, spread out among vast habitat, with essentially, bumbling ill-able humans in not-so-hot pursuit.
The other side finds repeated failed follow-ups (often within 48 hours) to sightings over and over and over again for decades, to be the part that is almost impossible to account for --- how could such a large forest creature traverse known locales and escape solid detection for so long by experienced, skilled humans? ...Two stances, looking at the same circumstances, but with conclusions irreconcilably in stark contrast.

Yeah, I'm oversimplifying a bit, but not by much. The longer searches go on, the more the skeptic case is slowly bolstered, and the thinner the tightrope that optimists must walk to account for the facts at-hand --- simultaneously, explaining the scarcity of the bird and sightings, yet allowing for continuous active breeding for 6+ decades --- it can all be explained, it just gets harder with each passing year.

And while human inability to get an adequate photo is comprehensible, I remain troubled by matters I've referenced before:

1. Lack of a photo from ACONE cameras at Bayou de View -- these were the "intelligent" automatic cameras that were placed to continuously film a logical flyway for Ivory-bills in the Big Woods, that only snapped shots of birds fitting a software algorithm which described an Ivory-bill in flight. While the technology was very advanced, the idea was beautifully simple: no humans needed, just set the cameras in an open flyway that IBWOs were likely to cross, given other evidence from the Big Woods, and wait for it to snap a picture of the wanted bird. The system was down a great deal and had various mechanical problems, but also, as intended, took a great many pics... just none (identifiable) of IBWOs. I've never heard an adequate explanation of what in total it did collect, or how much of the time it was down, or any sort of clear explanation for why it failed to capture the bird on film in a locale the bird was expected to be.

2. Lack of a photo from automatic cameras placed at promising foraging sites or cavities --- even with all the failures, problems, and poor quality of automatic cameras, the fact is these cameras DID capture recognizable Pileateds, flickers, mockingbirds, mammals, etc. etc. on film... just no IBWOs. Either IBWO's weren't in those areas or researchers truly lack any insight to select out active IBWO foraging sign and cavities from others. Are we this incompetent?... possibly.

Further, on a 5-year project, I'd expect information gathered in the first two years to translate to refined, more focused efforts in the 3rd, and then a more focused search in the 4th etc. etc. I'd expect more sightings, sounds, foraging signs as time proceeded... but such has not transpired. Instead there seems a remarkable lack of progress to this story... a lack of progress, and an equally remarkable lack of consensus of what it all means.

"Cotinis" fairly asks over at another site, 'where are we headed from here?'... are we to conclude yet AGAIN that the IBWO may be in any of a dozen or more places, ohhh, but BTW it's kinda hard to find? Is that what 5 years and $10 million will bring us as a scientific conclusion? Something is amiss. Despite it all, I still believe probabilities (yes, based on sightings) broadly favor the persistence of this species, but for that to be so, something must be very amiss with the science employed.
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

 

-- FWIW --


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I've been scanning over the various IBWO claims that people have sent me over the last 5 years, that haven't really been in the press/internet. A lot of them of course have little substantive detail, and the vast majority of those that do come from well-known, previously-rumored areas, the Apalachicola/Chipola, Big Thicket, Congaree/Santee, etc. But there are a tiny few leftover reports, that have just enough detail to be intriguing, and not enough detail to totally rule out, other than their unusual/unlikely locations in some cases. I'll just mention the general locales involved in case anyone should wish to look into the areas further; nothing to lose at this point (and most of these claims BTW, are not particularly recent, generally being from 5 to over 15 years ago):

a. southeast of Heflin, Alabama (Cleburne County, AL.)

b. north of Wright City, Missouri (Warren County, MO.)

c. near the Savannah River/Broad River Basin in either Elbert or Wilkes County, Georgia.

d. near the Deep River in Moore County, North Carolina, and similarly near Siler City and Deep River in Chatham County, N. Carolina.

I throw these out, for what it's worth, simply in the event that someone is near them and wants to explore the possibilities in a place that few may have spent much time looking, but I don't want to exaggerate what the likelihood is.
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Sunday, April 25, 2010

 

-- "Probability Can Bite" --

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A digression down the road of intuition and probability:

http://www.maa.org/devlin/devlin_04_10.html

Addendum: by sheer coincidence (no, we didn't plan it) Bill Pulliam also did a post today dealing with probabilities, and both of us are essentially intimating the same underlying point; i.e. that people's perception of probability is often mathematically fallacious. My link touches on the point in a very general way; Bill much more specifically tries to apply the notion to the IBWO situation:

http://bbill.blogspot.com/2010/04/schroedingers-woodpecker.html
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-- More of Same --

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Report from another recent Big Woods searcher HERE.
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Saturday, April 24, 2010

 

-- Of Final Reports and Ghost Birds --

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Presumably, living Ivory-billed Woodpeckers traverse about and forage everyday, 365 days a year, week-after-week, year-after-year, decade-after-decade. And at some point during those daily jaunts they likely vocalize with 'kents' and double-knocks that have some carrying capacity through the forest. I've said before that while the lack of a clear photo/video after a 5-year effort isn't overly taxing, the lack of a marked increase in sightings, foraging signs, and auditory encounters with more and more searchers out-and-about in more and more fields over a 5-year period, is troublesome, and difficult to explain IF searchers are in the right places. With that said....

Two of Cornell's recent posted reports are early summaries from the Arkansas Big Woods, but since searching continued in Arkansas I'd prefer to wait for a final wrap-up before concluding much from the Big Woods in general. On-the-other-hand, the posted Louisiana and Florida "final" reports (essentially from Cornell's Mobile Search teams) are more interesting in that there may be no further significant data coming (from Cornell) for the specific locales addressed, and some very important areas are covered: in Louisiana, the central and northern Atchafalaya Basin, Lake Maurepas, and the Pearl River WMA are reported on, and in Florida the Fakahatchee Strand. And the bottom-line, take-home message seems to be that no sightings nor signs of any significance for the presence of Ivory-bills was found in any of these habitats (nor any response to artificial double-knocks played). Cornell always cautions (and rightly so) that they have not done an exhaustive search of these regions, and some suitable habitat certainly does exist therein, but still the implication seems clear that they find little basis for holding out great hope of Ivory-bills residing in any of these often highly-touted areas, even though they add the following about south Florida:
..."south Florida contains a remarkably large contiguous area of protected lands that has scattered areas of forest suitable for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, including pine forests, mangrove forests, bald cypress stands, and subtropical hardwood strands and hammocks. It is the largest block of protected areas in the historical range of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and has received too little survey effort for the species. "
and also this:
"...we cannot rule out the continued existence of a few Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in south Florida. If any birds remain in south Florida, the Fakahatchee Strand is a likely area to attract Ivory-billed Woodpeckers because it is the largest tract of tall forest in south Florida,with a suitable mix of hardwood and cypress forests and large royal palms mixed in. "
(Moreover, they recommend the use of Automatic Recording Units as a means of monitoring the more remote areas of interest in the event the need arises.) But the above are a few hopeful sentences couched within a primarily pessimistic report.
I've said for some time now, we probably need to begin setting aside from consideration many of the multitude of areas that have been touted for 60+ years for IBWO potential, and then see what remains. Perhaps we are finally, slowly on the way to doing that. Even though these reports only cover a few of the areas to be considered, they are some very key areas --- the Atchafalaya is often historically cited as one of THE most promising of all habitats; the Fakahatchee I believe was a key area of interest for Jerry Jackson (and others), and of course the Pearl is given quite a different take currently by Mike Collins (Cornell actually notes that the density of woodpeckers in general in the Pearl is much reduced since Hurricane Katrina.)

My sense from the reports, once again, is that these constitute areas that IBWOs might conceivably stray into on occasion, and future credible claims ought certainly be followed up on, BUT the likelihood of resident, ongoing populations of the species therein is EXCEEDINGLY slim; i.e. better to look elsewhere. Hopefully, future summary reports will cast doubt on other areas as well from major focus.
There are limited, even though several, plausible locales left for Ivory-bills; if they persist at all they must be residing/breeding in 1 or more of them, not merely hopscotching around willy-nilly from place A to place B; my interest in stray, dispersing birds is waning; we need to find a pair on a territory, that can be re-found (not because they are easy to see, but because they should be repeatedly audible and then locatable, although this will be very difficult for lone searchers)... anything else seems indeed, to be a ghost bird.
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Friday, April 23, 2010

 

-- Back To Nestcams --

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For folks' weekend interest, while I'm playing around with different posts that may or may not ever see the light-of-day, I'll just again refer viewers to several of the beguiling Ustream nestcams currently running... 3 linked to in left-hand column under "Other" (including the unsurpassed 'Molly and McGee' Barn Owl site), and others linked to in this previous post (where I keep adding a few on):

http://ivorybills.blogspot.com/2010/04/in-spring.html

(And there are a great many additional nestcams across the Web as well.)

....just don't watch while driving!
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

 

-- "For The Birds" Film Series --

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If you happen to be in NY City the week of April 28 -- May 5, you oughta try to take in some of the "For the Birds" film anthology. Nice line-up (2 films per night), including Crocker's "Ghost Bird" along with some major and indie classics:

http://tinyurl.com/yya5yrz
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

 

-- Cornell Summaries --

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Cornell has posted a brief summary statement at their Ivory-bill homepage here:

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

with links in the left-hand column to further info --- the top link, "Final Reports" does bring up summary reports (pdfs for download) for certain searched areas in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida. I haven't had a chance to read through them yet, but assume they will offer much more of the detail that has been sorely lacking in their previous online material. I hope they might in time be posting summary reports for other areas (in South Carolina and Mississippi particularly, but others as well), but don't know what their plan is.

Final Reports: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/ivory/folder.2010-04-20.2993097079/

May have more to say about the reports later as I make my way through them, or about Cornell more generally in a later post.

And for those emailing me (you can stop) about Mike Collins' press release, yes, I'm aware of it... and I'll comment on it or link to it, if-or-when I feel news warrants it.
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

 

-- Geoff Hill Interview --

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Online interview with Auburn's Geoff Hill from Birder's World magazine here:

http://tinyurl.com/y84yfdl

Mostly covering his new volume for National Geographic on bird coloration (his academic specialty, and interesting stuff in its own right), but at the end they do review the Ivory-bill scene, including this:
"...the whole thing is going to change overnight as soon as we get a clear picture of these birds...
The thing is, if we’re wrong about this, it’s already being forgotten, it’ll fade away and be a footnote in history, but if we get a picture of one of these birds — definitive, you know, there’s no doubt — everybody’s going to have to rethink all of this certain skepticism.
Everyone who thought for sure it was extinct is going to wonder, How crazy is it that this bird could avoid detection all these decades? It’s going to be a really interesting thing. It’ll be humbling in a way because we’ll see that we don’t quite have dominion over nature like we thought. "
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

 

-- Sunday Entertainment --

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Can't remember if I've used this clip here before or not:



[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jiq6V0Shs_s ]

...And in a li'l bird news, nice story of a blue stork in Germany:

http://www.burdr.com/2010/04/blue-stork/

...OR, if you've truly nothing worthwhile to do, you can visit more of Whole Truth's saucy, scintillating, self-absorbed insights at his blog here:

http://dpreviewsucks.blogspot.com/
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Saturday, April 17, 2010

 

-- 'nuther "Ghost Bird" Review --

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Corey at "10000 Birds" blog has a review of Scott Crocker's award-winning "Ghost Bird" independent film today:

http://10000birds.com/review-of-ghost-bird.htm
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Friday, April 16, 2010

 

-- Truthiness --

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Heading into the weekend, somehow it seems appropriate:

http://tinyurl.com/3r35sn

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

 

-- Rohrbaugh Comments --

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Hardly necessary, but another press notice that, barring future leads providing more impetus, Cornell's search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is officially suspended without definitive evidence for the species:

http://news.discovery.com/animals/ivory-billed-woodpecker-search-ends.html

Cornell's Rohrbaugh of course defends the effort made and conclusions reached, (and I do too --- I just find almost indefensible their communication to the public of that effort), and continues to say a text will be published next year summarizing all the data... I'll believe that when I see it.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

 

-- In The Spring.... --

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For Yours Entertainment:


Nestcams seem to be all the rage these days (and they've improved tremendously in the last few years). Here are some additional real-time Ustream cams, similar to the 3 I've linked to over in left-hand column, under "Other" (caution: they eat up a lot of bandwidth, and can be quite addictive, so visit at your own peril!):

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/california-hummingbird (hummingbird)

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/eagle-cam (Bald Eagles)

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/ospreycam (Ospreys)

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/bri-ospreycam (Ospreys)

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/stork-family-live (storks in Spain)

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/mercury-education (Peregrine Falcons)

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/the-franklin-institute-haw-cam (Red-tailed Hawks)

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/nicasio-owl (Barn Owls)

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/owlivia (Barn Owls)

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/Screech-Owl-Cam---Austin (Screech Owl)
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

 

-- "Extensively" ? --

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Following the 5-year effort, Cornell has concluded that "it is unlikely that ivory-bills still exist in the areas that were extensively searched," which suits me fine, but I wish they would elaborate on what areas they consider "extensively searched." No doubt parts of the Big Woods and Choctawhatchee are involved and I suspect sections of the Congaree as well, but exactly which parts, and which if any parts might need further study? And what about the Big Thicket, the Atchafalaya, Pascagoula... are any of these to be regarded as "extensively searched" by now? Are any of the locales visited by their 'Mobile Team' deemed "extensively searched"? Again, the Big Woods and Choctaw. were never really part of the dozen or more major sites with Ivory-bill rumors from the 50's through the 90's (yet that is where the main manpower and energy was expended in the last several years). What sites should still be under consideration, including those only newly-given attention in more recent times? Or have Cornell officials thrown in the towel on the IBWO, just without saying it out loud or in public....
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Monday, April 12, 2010

 

-- Cantor's Whole Truth --

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Again, I digress....

As long as I'm re-running some old posts, here's one from the past that the math-squeamish should probably just skip:




[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WihXin5Oxq8&feature=related ]
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Sunday, April 11, 2010

 

-- Intermission --

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Just re-running one of my favorite past 'intermission' posts this Sunday for all those who still dream of flying:
(don't try this at home children...)



[ http://tinyurl.com/y8jv2z8 ]
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Saturday, April 10, 2010

 

-- Talks Upcoming --

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If you're in the Knoxville, TN. area you may wish to attend a talk this coming Thurs. (4/15) at the Ijams Nature Center by artist/writer/naturalist Stephen Lyn Bales, about his upcoming book on James Tanner's Ivory-bill work:

http://stephenlynbales.blogspot.com/2010/04/ivory-bill-talk.html

And at the end of the month, Jerry Jackson is scheduled to give a woodpecker talk at the Buffalo Museum of Science on Wed., April 28:

http://tinyurl.com/ylmygdy
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Friday, April 09, 2010

 

-- Where Oh Where? --

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One question that arrives in my email off-and-on is why am I not more optimistic about chances for Ivory-bills in the Congaree, or South Carolina more generally (many consider it the best Ivory-bill habitat remaining anywhere)? Here's the problem: even taking ALL the suitable S.C. habitat together, it is a circumscribed, contained area (large, but self-contained). If IBWOs have been living/breeding there for the last 60+ years than either the young have been dispersing out (and there's essentially nowhere to go except possibly the coast of North Carolina (where there is a real paucity of sightings), or they would have to stay in that contained area, greatly increasing the density of IBWOs there over 60 years, such that one might now expect far more encounters. In short, if the species has not been successfully breeding there, then that population would be extinguished by now, and if they have been successfully breeding for 6 decades there ought be more sightings, as well as foraging signs of them, by now (that's my view). I find it difficult to have it both ways --- that they've been hiding out there in numbers adequate to stretch across 60 years and yet organized searches fail to better document them (granted there's always the possibility that they are breeding there, but only very poorly so).

The best way in my view to account for 60+ years of breeding, yet sparse sightings, is if the birds reside in pockets along lengthy corridors of habitat that they may traverse up or down at will, and especially including patches not searched that well in 60 years. And the two best such corridors are north-south along the Mississippi River and east-west along the Gulf Coast, in both instances stretching across multiple states.
Even this would be a delicate dance for IBWOs to pull off, but it is made possible by the expanse and remoteness of suitable habitat, and the likely behavioral nature of a cavity-dwelling remnant species. Where along those extended corridors the highest-probability search sites reside is still the unanswered question, but again one may need to focus on tracts least combed-over in recent times, rather than areas that have had 60 years worth of attention.
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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

 

-- A Little History --

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Nice 6-minute newscast on the Ivory-bill from a Memphis PBS station, including an individual named Fred Carney, who I don't recall hearing of previously (saw 3 IBWOs in the Singer Tract back in the days...):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9E2fWkyIt4
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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

 

-- GISS Birding --

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I've written previously here about the "GISS" or "jizz" of bird identification, also sometimes known as the gestalt or "Cape May" school of birding. The term was especially popularized by Pete Dunne, with his volume, "Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion," wherein he attempted through verbal description alone (no bird pictures of any sort), to convey a sense of the GISS of each North American bird (GISS really comes more from experience, than verbal description, but Dunne does a very admirable job). For experienced birders, the vast majority of bird identification has always been done by GISS, long before Dunne's emphasis on it (..."GISS" originally stood for "general impression of size and shape," but, in birding, actually includes many other factors).

I won't again go into its significance in the Ivory-bill situation, but a couple of further general Web references here:

http://tailsofbirding.blogspot.com/2008/10/giss-of-bird-watching.html

http://learningbirding.com/tag/giss/

The second article above quotes David Sibley thusly on the subject (from Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Blink"):
"Most of bird identification is based on a sort of subjective impression — the way a bird moves and little instantaneous appearances at different angles and sequences of different appearances, and as it turns its head and as it flies and as it turns around, you see sequences of different shapes and angles…

"All that combines to create a unique impression of a bird that can’t really be taken apart and described in words. When it comes down to being in the field and looking at a bird, you don’t take the time to analyze it and say it shows this, this, and this; therefore it must be this species. It’s more natural and instinctive. After a lot of practice, you look at the bird, and it triggers little switches in your brain. It looks right. You know what it is at a glance."
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Saturday, April 03, 2010

 

-- April Comes --

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April is typically the last major month of the IBWO search season. And I don't see much on the horizon yielding more hope for this season than previous ones. Indeed, in the last 5 years the only specific evidence I've seen (including things not made public) I place much weight in still comes from the original Big Woods and Choctawhatchee claims... and of course, skeptics wouldn't ascribe much weight to those. There's plenty of other tentative evidence out there (as there has been for 60+ years), just nothing very persuasive to me pointing to a really specific locale.

The greatest chance of documenting Ivory-bills (at the level people are demanding), continues to be by finding a nesthole, which can only happen if some breeding pairs (and not just dispersing juveniles and single birds) remain. Where could such pairs be breeding? I'm not convinced Cornell or USFWS will ever compile and issue a summary report really focused on the question.
My own view (trying to hone things down) is that the Auburn group did a good enough job in the Choctawhatchee and Mike Collins has done a good enough job in the Pearl that there would be either better documentation or increased sightings by now if breeding birds resided in those particular locales (just my opinion). Similarly, Texas' Big Thicket and South Carolina habitat have been well-enough covered over a period of 6 decades that I believe the probability remaining for those areas is low as well, though the habitat is vast. (Mind you, lone or dispersing birds might show up briefly in any of these areas.) Given the size of Arkansas' Big Woods and the limitations of the 5-year search there I still hold out some slim hope for it, and even moreso for less-traveled parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida with interconnecting suitable habitat and fewer man-hours spent. Western Tennessee continues to intrigue as well (if only due to few man-hours spent), even if seeming a real longshot. Plenty of also-ran-areas still out there in other states too, but pickins are gettin' sllim for those with higher probability. It is ashame that after 5 years the search for Ivory-bills seems as disparate and diffuse as ever, instead of focused into a couple of hotzones, but then the species' original distribution, even while limited and sparse, was always widely scattered.

As Yogi would say, 'it's not over 'til it's over,' but I'm not expecting this search season to end with much solid news to grasp. In which case it could be a long, hot, slow summer ahead. Having said that, it's always possible for a single photo/video to change everything on a moment's notice. I just wish, after the last 5 years, we had stronger clues where it might come from.
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Friday, April 02, 2010

 

-- FIRST Ever Photo --

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....of a Santa Marta Sabrewing (very rare, endangered hummingbird) from Colombia here:

http://www.proaves.org/article.php?id_article=829

okay, not what you want, but still exciting.
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