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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






Wednesday, July 28, 2010

 

-- Intermission --

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For those who followed her escapades the first-go-around (or maybe especially for those who missed it entirely), Molly the Barn Owl is back on a 2nd clutch of (4) eggs in her man-made owlbox home in a southern California backyard, and again being followed 24/7 by a UStream webcam (1st egg due to hatch in about 11 days).
Following the secret family lives/antics of a pair of nesting Barn Owls, Molly and McGee, as they raised their first clutch over several months earlier this year was simply the most fascinating, fun, entertaining, and learning experience I've had on the internet ever! Many of UStream's other bird nestcams are also fascinating, but for many reasons, Molly's was the best and most addictive! Highly recommended.
Also, they try to keep the site (and "Chat Room," but NOT the "Social Stream") very kid-friendly so it's generally suitable for young children to watch and learn as well... with the precaution that it is essentially wild nature at work, and things do occur which may be upsetting to youngsters or require adult explanation:


http://www.ustream.tv/theowlbox


(the site does require a lot of bandwidth for best viewing...)
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

 

-- The Good, the Bad, and the Fuzzy... --

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Overview of the USFWS final summary report, "Recovery Plan For the Ivory-billed Woodpecker":


I'll say, for starters, that I basically enjoyed reading this USFWS summary of the 5-year organized effort to find the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which fleshes out in greater detail some of what has transpired over that time period. But... I also recognize that in some quarters out there the very title of the document ("Recovery Plan For the Ivory-billed Woodpecker") will be viewed with utter amusement. An alternative working title might've been, "What Friggin' Little We Know With Certainty About the Wholly Mysterious and Elusive Lord God Bird" ;-)) The emphasis in this summary document, in some ways, remains not on what we know about Ivory-bills, but on how uncertain and sparse our knowledge thereof is. And in short, there is nothing here that will sway proponents of the IBWO debate from their entrenched positions.

The first 35 pages of the 160-pg. offering are the main body of the report, and largely recapitulate what has already more-or-less been publicly available, much of which will be familiar to readers of this blog. The main findings from each of 11 states where organized searching took place, are reviewed on a year-by-year basis (
habitat descriptions and conservation aspects are also reviewed). This includes mentions, though not with great detail, of sighting claims and auditory encounters, that were deemed interesting/credible enough for inclusion, as well as possible ARU remote acoustic recordings. These potential claims were of course few-and-far-between (over scattered areas) compared to the initial mini-flurry of reports for the Arkansas Big Woods and Florida Choctawhatchee areas.
I would've liked to have seen more specifics on some of the sighting claims and maybe greater indication of which claims were granted most credence (although this is somewhat surmisable from the wording).

I had also hoped for a fuller report on the ACONE automatic camera system deployed in Arkansas, which is only alluded to in one of the appendices --- I take this lack of coverage to mean that the technology (which seemed to hold great promise, despite mechanical problems), may have been a failure --- my assumption 'til someone informs me otherwise.(???)

I also wish the report could've drawn some conclusions/recommendations for independent searchers on where best to continue their efforts, but there is nothing like a rank-ordering of locales most worthy of further time (one suspects there is simply no widespread agreement on this).

Overall, these are minor quibbles.


More interesting really, are the several Appendices which constitute much of the document, and which offer greater detail on aspects of the search not always fully-covered in public before. Appendix D includes over 20 abstracts of various studies that were offshoots of the Ivory-bill search, many relating to habitat or ecological variables pertinent to our understanding of IBWOs (Appendices H and I also cover habitat). One would need to access/read the full papers to gain fuller insights from these studies, but the abstracts do bestow a sense of the variety of research carried out in support of the IBWO effort (research which may in some instances be valuable to other species or situations).

Other Appendices cover some of the actual ground-search protocols (which were sometimes controversial) that were employed at various times through the 5-year study.
And Appendix C breaks down the costs of the overall project. Appendix K serves up USFWS responses to the motley group of comments that were addressed to the original "Draft" Recovery Plan.

I especially liked Appendix E which is Chuck Hunter's well-done succinct summary of the natural history of the IBWO, pulling together in a nutshell a lot of information and key points that are otherwise scattered among different sources/volumes.
One simple, but I think important figure (actually in Appendix F) is "Figure F2" (pg. 97), a simple map showing the entire interlocking southern river basin system stretching across the former historical range of the IBWO.
(IF Ivory-bills travel along riverine systems, they have a lot of roadway.)

The entire report and Appendices tend to focus quite heavily on the search effort in Arkansas, not surprising given the amount of energy and man-hours spent there. Still I couldn't help but wonder, if S. Carolina and Florida didn't deserve a little more space and detail, given certain reports (perhaps Louisiana as well), but again a minor quibble (and they are of course covered).

All of which brings me backwards to Appendix B... the "fuzzy" --- the Luneau video, of course. I was surprised that an entire Appendix was devoted to discussion of David Luneau's blurry 4-second clip, an obvious nod to all those who feel this was Cornell's most crucial piece of evidence (I've never regarded it as such). The report goes to some length to argue that USFWS did not find adequate support for David Sibley's (and others') contention that the film clip shows a normal Pileated Woodpecker with wings 'twisting' in flight and escaping at a certain angle from the camera. Quite the contrary, USFWS suggests that the only good (or at least best) match for the bird-in-question is indeed an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, until some future advanced technical analysis shows otherwise. A couple of bits from the report:
"...to date no video of an actual Pileated Woodpecker exhibits from frame to frame the same plumage characteristics and flight mechanics exhibited by the woodpecker in the Luneau video."

and


"Our review of the presented arguments leads us to conclude that the alternative interpretations of Sibley et al. (2006) and Collinson (2007) fail to credibly support their assertion that the woodpecker in the Luneau video could reasonably be a Pileated Woodpecker."
... Uhhhh, let the food fight begin anew!! ;-)

Critics will no doubt feel their views got short-shrift here. It might have almost been worth including a "dissenting opinion" appendix where some of the major critics got one more chance to state the problems with the evidence as they see it, given the highly controversial nature of what is being addressed (I wouldn't be surprised if trenchant critiques of the report are, right now, being composed!).

Unfortunately, in many polarized quarters, rightly or wrongly, any 'summary' report (on this topic) from USFWS, Cornell, or The Nature Conservancy, simply will NOT be viewed as objective or credible at this point... we still need a clear video or carcass!
(I don't know for sure about real objectivity, but perceived objectivity on this subject is torn to shreds by now.)

A lot more can be dissected from this USFWS summary, but let's cut to the chase...
In the end, the CRUX of the 5-year search and debate remains: This bird has been spotted, so it is claimed, sparsely but nonetheless repeatedly, over and over and over and over... again, for 65+ years, on many occasions by individuals with the experience and credentials that ought allow them to accurately identify an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. And YET, consequent searches have failed over and over and over and over... again to consistently relocate the birds reported. USFWS attempts in this document to make the case that the evidence-on-file is persuasive, and that there are historical/logical/ecological reasons why the species may be so difficult to re-locate (let alone, photograph) once it is reported.
We can all agree that for any given instance, even subset of instances, this failure to relocate a bird, following initial encounter, may be plausible. The skeptics will part company though with that plausibility when the same fate is met in case after case after case after case, ongoing for 65 years. And there the debate stymies. Nothing in this USFWS document will put to rest the numbers or probability game that can be played by either side of the controversy. The naysayers, however, can never prove their point; they can only keep slowly building their evidentiary case (with every year that passes without documentation). The 'believers' or 'optimists' are the only ones who can yet be 'proved' right... and some of us still believe that is a very real probability.


This document from the USFWS is a nice addition to the IBWO literature, and there will be further reports and volumes still to come down the pike. Stay tuned. I'm not certain if this story will yet end with a bang or a whimper.
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Monday, July 19, 2010

 

-- USFWS Summary Posted --

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A summary statement and link to pdf of their final IBWO report is now up at the USFWS Ivory-bill site:

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

(As several matters are consuming my time at the moment, not sure just how quickly I'll get through it and make any comments.)
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Sunday, July 18, 2010

 

-- Deja Vu.... --

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A heads-up reader sends me notification of a Craigslist ad that some will find 'interesting'.... so to speak:

http://chicago.craigslist.org/chc/etc/1836571813.html

For now, I probably won't comment on it, nor publish comments on it, though that could change.

(For now I want to focus on the USFWS report once out.)

Addendum: now a similar ad (but with a few interesting changes) has appeared in a different state's Craiglist postings:

http://houston.craigslist.org/etc/1837651758.html

(THANK YOU to all who are sending me notes regarding this matter; the more eyes out there the better.)

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-- USFWS Summary --

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The USFWS has announced release of their "Final Recovery Plan" for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, assembling the results of the 5-year search throughout the Southeast, and replacing the earlier "Draft" Recovery Plan. The announcement here:

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2010-07-19/html/2010-17486.htm

However, the specific site where the report (long pdf) will be available is currently down, but may be back up by end of day (Sun.) or soon thereafter, or just keep an eye on their main Ivory-bill webpage:

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

(or you can always request a hard copy of the document through regular mail)
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Thursday, July 15, 2010

 

-- Collins Paper --

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Louisiana searcher Mike Collins has recently referenced continuing efforts to have his Ivory-bill flight dynamics paper published in an academic journal. For interested parties it is available on the Web here:

http://tinyurl.com/27my2ez or http://tinyurl.com/28gsvkp
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Saturday, July 10, 2010

 

-- Hiatus --

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Sorry for lapse, involved with other work and another Web endeavor at moment... besides, looks like this summer might actually experience the lull in IBWO news I expect every summer. End of July marks the 5th anniversary for this blog though (...are we having fun yet!?), so probably oughta definitely post something this month! Expecting things to be relatively quiet between now and December, though certainly next winter season could bring in a few more reports of note on the story that keeps on giving.
As fall/winter approaches would be interested to hear from anyone with formal plans laid out to search in 2011 (just let me know whether anything communicated is okay for public consumption or only for my info). Especially interested to hear of any further explorations in the works for western/central Mississippi, the Florida Panhandle, or western Tennessee, but of course any area of focus would be good to know about (pretty clearly some searching will continue in Arkansas and Louisiana).

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