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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






Thursday, April 04, 2013

 

-- Chasing Another Ghost --

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All people have dreams… some dream of power or riches or castles… some dream of big woodpeckers . . . . .

With so little Ivory-bill news to report I'll go ahead and post a blurb about Tim Gallagher's new volume on his quest (with Martjan Lammertink) for the Imperial Woodpecker, "Imperial Dreams" (I believe it is to be available in bookstores within the next 2 weeks, with its gorgeous, artsy, almost gaudy cover!):

This is a book partly centered on adventure, partly centered on a bird (known to Spanish-speaking natives as the "pitoreal"), and very largely centered on an obsession/compulsion! It is likely Gallagher's best offering yet. Certainly all Ivory-bill aficionados will enjoy it; and probably most birders, naturalists, conservationists as well. Still, having said that, those who never found Tim's prior book, "The Grail Bird," convincing, or for whom he simply lost all credibility because of that book, might not be moved much by the current volume (in which he does briefly recount the Arkansas Ivory-bill story, but gives little hint of the controversy and perceived debunking that followed).
It will be interesting to see how well this book sells to a broader audience of non-birders, who may scratch their heads at the whole premise… why would anyone risk life-and-limb to chase after a big bird that may be long-gone… how does one explain such a quest, or compulsion, to the non-initiated?

The volume is chock-full of risky adventure, man-made and natural history, fascinating details, word-of-mouth anecdotes, and also very sad accounts of lost possibilities, of human senselessness, the wanton killing (shooting and poisoning) of Imperials, and avaricious destruction of their habitat. Very sad… very very sad… But Gallagher is a gifted story-teller to be sure, be it hype or accurate history.

I won't even attempt a summary of the wide-ranging content... I sometimes felt tired just reading of the travails that Gallagher and Lammertink endured. But I will mention that my favorite chapter is chapter 9, covering the expeditions of Chicago Pennsylvania dentist William Rhein to find and eventually document an Imperial in the 1950s, and Gallagher and Lammertink's preparations to follow-up on the Rhein findings. Much of this storyline has already been covered on the internet; for starters see here: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/Page.aspx?pid=2314 

Still, such stories of human infatuation, and fervid human connection to nature transfix me (Rhein's video documentation of the species is the ONLY film of an Imperial ever known.)
I didn't personally care as much for the more suspenseful, exciting, even violence-prone chapters of the book, though I suspect those will appeal to many readers for whom 'excitement' is a desired component for a good read.

Another interesting section comes in chapter 11 when, almost out of nowhere, Gallagher proceeds to tell the back-story behind Martjan Lammertink and his wife-to-be. It has virtually nothing to do with the main thrust of the book, and I won't give away any of it here, except to say that it is a testament to Gallagher's story-telling skills that he manages to shoehorn in this wonderful little human interest story amidst the larger tale he is telling. But the volume is peppered throughout with interesting passages, more pertinent to the story at-hand.

Oddly, reading Tim's book reminds me once again (as some other Ivory-bill matters have done) of the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." In that film innumerable individuals are drawn in unison to an out-of-the-way locale by a knowledge or intuition they can't understand or pinpoint, of the impending arrival of aliens from elsewhere in space. 

Those of us who have believed in the Ivory-bill's persistence for decades (often since childhood) can't explain the intuition or source of confidence, that impels us to that conclusion (it isn't just wishful thinking), in the face of what so many view as "empirical" evidence otherwise. Intuition, though, is a powerful force in life… and... in science. The problem arises in distinguishing the sometimes thin line between valid, inspired intuition and irrational, pressing obsession. (I won't claim enough objectivity to separate the two with certainty!) Gallagher believes some Imperials still exist, even though he never found them, nor even much direct evidence for their presence… I don't assume him wrong…

In the end though, a large reservation still hovers: for one can't help but wonder if Gallagher's time, energy, and dollars wouldn't have been better spent in continued searching for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, that he helped resurrect over a half-dozen years ago. Some of us believe there remains a better-than-even chance the Ivory-bill will yet be verified, but IF it is NOT, Mr. Gallagher's future reputation may well be that, not of a good birder nor ornithologist, nor even a fine writer or interesting naturalist, nor exciting adventurer… but rather, simply as a major teller-of-tall-tales… a cherry-picker of information, with a penchant for embellishment… and… THAT... would be a shame.
(Meanwhile, we're still waiting for Cornell to publish or make public a predictably overdue summary of their aborted IBWO search.)

With all that said, I have no hesitation recommending the book… with the proviso that each reader will have to decide for themselves if it is simply a stirring story from a great spinner of tales… or, indeed another chronicle of real, if slender, hope for yet another beautiful, incredible, and tragic creature.

As Jerry Jackson... and Fox Mulder would no doubt be want to say, "The truth is out there."

You can also check out Jim Williams' review of "Imperial Dreams" here:

http://blog.aba.org/2013/04/pitoreal.html

Also, Gallagher shares some of the book at his blog to promote it:

http://imperial-dreams.blogspot.com/


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