=> THE blog devoted to news and commentary on the most iconic bird in American ornithology, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWO)... and... sometimes other schtuff.
"....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.”
"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third,
it is accepted as self-evident."
----------------------------------------------------------------------- Mike Collins has a new piece out on the use of drones to search Ivory-bill habitat: http://www.mdpi.com/2504-446X/2/1/11/htm (...haven't yet thoroughly read it myself or perhaps I'd say more) Mike has uploaded various drone flight examples over different areas to YouTube, including this example from the Choctawhatchee region:
Wow, there are so many episodes (for lack of a better term!) going back over the whole IBWO saga in just the last dozen years! I see over on Facebookthey have brought up the “tmguy” or “Bill Smith” story from very early on. I don’t participate on Facebook (for all the reasons despisers of FB normally give), but I’ll try to offer a little off-the-cuff back-story here — I say “off-the-cuff” because I used to have quite a few notes on “tmguy” which I’m now too lazy to try to find, so will simply go on memory, which I hope is mostly right (but no guarantees):
Here’s the photo (he actually had a couple of photos, but this was the main one) that bought him his 15 minutes of fame over 12 years ago (OK, actually the controversy went on for quite awhile, though most everyone concluded this was a painted decoy or model of some sort, in an orange tree no less?):
“tmguy” stood for “that magic guy” because, as a hobby he was a stage magician; his full name was “William Frank Smith” and he emerged out-of-the-blue to claim many encounters with IBWOs in Florida. I think he was from the Lady Lake area of Florida, and at least some his claims/sightings (NEVER-ever verified) may have come from the Green Swamp area — though I may be confusing him with another claimant in that regard.
I communicated with him a few times, never getting very detailed or satisfactory answers; always a noticeable bit of evasiveness, though he’d stick to his basic storyline. He did seem to have some sincere interest and knowledge of wildlife in general, and while I could give him little credibility on his IBWO tales I was willing to look at the book he promised and promised and promised for 2+ years that would detail his Ivorybill exploits (including more pics) — the book of course never appeared; for a long time he had limp excuses for its delay, but eventually he just faded away after the beating he took online.
Even then I continued to follow his online behavior on aquarium forum sites that he frequented — he actually owned/ran an aquarium shop for awhile (in Tampa perhaps?, before it went out-of-business) — his fish comments were almost always reasonable, intelligent, helpful, upfront… but of course one can be an honest, upfront person I s’pose in one area of their life, and a total prankster/doofus in some other area. 8-/
To my utter amazement I just checked and much of his original site is still up! (though most of the pictures are long gone):
...note too, his URL was "bill is mad dot com" -- which I dare say many of us began taking literally!
That's about all I recall at the moment; if I think of more of pertinence or run across my old notes I might add more here later.
....on a side-note: I don't know how many folks have had difficulty bringing up the Ivory-bill Researchers Forum site recently (I've had major difficulty with it for over 3 weeks), but I contacted one of the proprietors this week, so they're at least looking into it (I'm not sure how aware of a problem they even were?).
In fact if any reader here has been successfully loading the site, with no problems, the last 3 weeks I'd be curious to hear what browser you are using, what time of day, and are you using mobile or desktop...
Herb Stoddard's claims for Ivory-bills in Georgia in the 1950's are among the last ones that some people take seriously. ICYMI, hat tip to Mark Michaels for pointing out a new account of Stoddard in an ejournal freely available here (the Stoddard piece beginning on pg. 38):
[...on a sidenote, some folks have emailed me asking about the Ivory-bill Researchers' Forum being down -- I don't know anymore than you do, except this has happened before, and it's usually a temporary glitch, so just keep checking back on it.]
The history is of course interesting, though I’m not sure it will help find IBWOs today, but his main point that IBWOs likely succeeded in a greater range of habitat than Tanner would later imply, still holds (especially if you go back far enough). Mark also adds this original mapping of historical claims or specimens from uncharacteristic habitat:
In this regard I’ve previously mentioned that I thought Bill Pulliam’s writings on western Tennessee (and other claims for there) of some interest, but there are many other such odd or outlying areas as well (over the years I’ve had reports sent to me, that I couldn’t always completely discount, from southern Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, and parts of Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina outside the traditional IBWO range). One of my hopes for the widepread USFWS/Cornell search was that it would at least narrow any possible IBWO persistence down to a very few (perhaps 2-3) localized areas; instead the failed endeavor left open the possibility of 2 dozen or more (sometimes little-birded) areas that scarce IBWOs might conceivably utilize. The lack of a single Ivory-billed Woodpecker appearing on remote, automatic cameras by now at more traditional and well-searched areas remains a pretty devastating obstacle to hope for the species… unless indeed it has found a home in the canopies of less-obvious, lightly human-trafficked woodlands.
I don’t want to hold out too much false(?) hope for this species, but on the other hand I believe most southeast woodland habitat is rarely birded in any regular or significant fashion and the vast majority of individual woodland birds are never systematically recorded — moreover, the ornithological literature is rife with weak, unscientific conclusions/generalizations/assumptions about bird behavior, and perhaps even bird biology. There's just a lot we don't know, while pretending we do.
One of the more intrepid participants in the Ivory-bill debate (and more generally, a very active-and-respected Tennessee birder) has passed on at the too-youngish age of 56. For those who followed the IBWO debate closely early-on, Bill is probably well-known, though in recent years he was more quiet about the subject. I never met Bill, but in those earlier years some of my most interesting (and enjoyable) backchannel encounters were with him… we didn’t agree on everything, but we agreed on a lot and I hope he respected my opinions as much as I respected his.
More recently, he had tweeted about suffering through a tic-borne illness, but apparently that turned out to be an aggressive, undiagnosed form of lung cancer that he succumbed to a few days ago. A tremendous loss of an intelligent, independent, entertaining cuss, if I dare say so!
I always wished that he had pursued more searches of the Ivory-bill in western Tennessee, following up on some claims, but if he did he never reported it back to me. At one point he indicated IF the bird was there it ought just be left alone.
When Bill's father died a few years back I sent him this well-known poem I've always enjoyed and sent to many over the years upon such occasions. I feel odd using it again, so soon, but in his honor, and for his loved ones, I will:
Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there. I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain. I am the gentle autumn rain. When you awaken in the morning's hush I am the swift uplifting rush Of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry; I am not there. I did not die.
-- Mary Elizabeth Frye
eBird, where Bill was very active as a regional editor and more, has posted this memorial:
Mike Collins persists with his efforts to document the Ivory-bill, now heading to Arkansas with plans to utilize a drone for above-canopy forest surveillance (he’s done this before in Louisiana). His notice to the Arkansas listserve group is here (not sure what sort of reception he’ll get from them, but if anything significant, I may add it to this post later):
...and he'll no doubt add his Arkansas video, once completed, to the same YouTube site. ADDENDUM: oy, trip off; Mike now reports the following to the listserv:
"Thanks to all who replied, but my plan to visit Arkansas has hit a snag. I had a small window of opportunity, but there isn't enough time to obtain permits for using a drone in the area. This is unfortunate because a drone is a small battery powered aircraft that has no effect on habitat or wildlife."
Myron Wasiuta has posted on YouTube the below brief flight of a departing Pileated Woodpecker:
This may well be the first such video I’ve seen that shows in at least some individual frames the sort of broad white visual effects that Sibley/Jackson/et.al. posited in critiquing the Luneau video. Hard to compare completely since angles/heights/speed vary somewhat, and only certain frames pertain, but still interesting (Luneau video below):
---------------------------------------------------------------- I see Bob Russell, retired USFWS official and long-time IBWO searcher, is giving a talk this coming Thur. night (May 25) at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge Center in Bloomington, MN. If any readers here happen to hear his presentation please let us know whatever he has to say about the current outlook for the Ivory-bill. ----------------------------------------------------------------
A nice article on Iowa wood-carver Dean Hurliman for the many who know of him through this blog… and I can’t help but note that it ends with him saying, “I plan to do 10 more ivory-bills.” 10 more lucky people or groups out there somewhere.
---------------------------------------------------------------- No IBWO news, but a quick shout out to Bill Pulliam today... just noticed that his small Tennessee community (and house!) took a direct hit from an EF-1 tornado yesterday. All's well with him as best I can tell, but no doubt a bit unnerving (I've only been in some wicked wind shears before, never a tornado, and those are scary enough!). Many/most here, know that Bill has been a stalwart in the IBWO debate going back a long while (and is also very active in Tennessee birding). I don't have a habit of citing events in people's personal lives here at the blog, but since folks haven't heard from Bill in a long while, just thought I'd give this update and wish him well. ----------------------------------------------------------------
Occasionally people on Twitter report seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker (either recently or in the past), but rarely have any details lending credence to their claim. Once-in-a-long-while I see a tweet that may have some bit of plausibility. This week a scientist (astrophysicist) casually mentioned having seen an IBWO back in 1980. He was probably quite young back then and unaware of Pileated Woodpeckers, but nonetheless I explored it a little further and he writes “it was definitely an Ivory billed Woodpecker.”
It was in a heavily wooded (and still today, he says, undeveloped) locale “in the area between the Tallahala Creek and Chickasawhay River” (southeast corner of Mississippi). That all makes it a bit more interesting since there was an official claim of an Ivory-bill for the large De Soto National Forest in that area in 1978, and probably more anecdotal claims for that area since.
Even if the claim is accurate, what, if anything, it means for us 37 years later I don’t know, but there it is.
----------------------------------------------------------------- Mike Collins has posted 30 videos (at current count) from drone flights over potential Ivory-bill habitat -- primarily sections of the Pearl River, but a couple of clips from Florida's Choctawhatchee, and a couple from the Apalachicola area (I assume, but don't know, that Mike took all these himself): http://tinyurl.com/ja78zfa Very pleasant, even mesmerizing, to watch, though hard to tell if such overview flights could ever give the resolution necessary to permit identification of an Ivory-bill below (unless by sheer chance one flew immediately beneath the drone)... in the 40-or-so random minutes I've viewed I've only seen one bird at all! IF a narrower area of potential IBWO activity was isolated then one can imagine flying the drone lower in a more concentrated way and perhaps picking up activity; also of course the views are better when the foliage is off the trees, as in the sample below:
Anyway, check 'em out for some relaxing viewing. -----------------------------------------------------------------
I’ve been hesitant to link to this since it’s a lot of sound and fury that’s been argued before, but some may want to see it before it fades from view (and they are about to close out the thread), so I’ll note that the birding “ID Frontiers” listserv has had ongoing "discussion" (much of it superfluous) of Mike Collins’ latest piece here:
Mike, as usual attempts to reply to doubters, and interestingly one of the better known critics of Cornell’s original work, Martin Collinson, even weighs in cutting Mike a little slack.
On a separate side-note, Mark Michaels informs followers that Frank Wiley, of their search team, is in a hospital in Louisiana with a systemic infection. Am sure we all wish Frank a full recovery, and his family well:
ADDENDUM 2/5/17: Sadly, Mark now reports that after taking a turn for the worse yesterday, including emergency surgery, Frank passed on this morning... Condolences to his many friends and family... I'm happy he was one of the recipients of the beautiful Ivory-bill sculptures given out by artist/carver Dean Hurliman... perhaps that piece can hold and represent many memories of Frank's passion, for his loved ones. https://projectcoyoteibwo.com/2017/02/05/in-memory-frank-wiley-1962-2017/
----------------------------------- ADDENDUM: “Concolor1” emailed me that he had some sort of difficulty posting a comment (don’t know if anyone else has?) but he wanted to provide a link to one of Mike’s YouTube videos, which was this one from Florida:
Mike has a LOT of YouTube videos under his “IBWOvids” channel, but if I were going to point people to just one I would pick the discussion of his so-called “fly-under sighting” here (rather than the Florida vid):
Feel like I should post something before end-of-year just to indicate I remain alive... or at least had a pulse last time I checked; so here's a fun, sped-up video from Tara Tanaka of a Pileated Woodpecker making a tree cavity:
It's not the video I'd most like to see of course, but still fun to watch. The few remaining publicly-reporting searches continue to post occasional updates, but I've not heard anything promising in private email for a long while.
Sorry for long dry spell, but been busy this summer with other things, and none of the very few IBWO dribs and drabs I’ve heard reached a threshold worth passing along. Wouldn’t expect there to be much if any significant news before wintertime, and quite possibly not even then. (p.s… apologies to a few folks I just realized I never got back to in email this summer with IBWO being on such a backburner right now… I usually respond, to acknowledge emails, fairly quickly, but a few have slipped by, though I do still enjoy hearing people’s ideas).
Also, thanks to all who have written about their delight in receiving one of Dean Hurliman’s incredible life-size sculptures. I know Dean requests folks to email me, though it really isn’t necessary unless you feel so-compelled, and I’ve certainly heard from enough recipients by now to know how appreciated these generous gifts are. At the very least they are fantastic mementos and heirlooms of the creature that transfixes us, and, if ever finally documented, perhaps Dean’s work might even one day have major art or collectable value (…or 100 years from now one will show up on “Antiques Roadshow”! ;-)
Wood carver par excellence, Dean H. will have more Ivory-bills ready to ship before this coming winter. Those who received these life-size beauties last year were overwhelmed both with the specimens themselves and with Dean's generosity. Here is the verbatim note he sent along to me awhile back about coming offerings: ***************************** Once again presented to partisans and fellow travelers: a few carvings of the American Bird-of-Paradise Lost. Free. Post-paid. Skeptics check the blog of Sept. 30, 2015 and with CyberThrush.
Welcome centers and educational arenas will find this IBW a commanding addition to entryway or exhibit. Let no indecisive committee table a request.
Remember a letter of rank enthusiasm. Stay positive -- no debunkers, dilletantes or deadwood.
How grateful I am that the mystery and romance of this seemingly lost bird has followed me far into adulthood.
Hey, are there any better things in life than "mystery and romance"! :-) And as you can see Dean is especially interested in seeing some of these artworks make their way to appropriate museums and educational centers -- what a GREAT idea!!! If you can spread the word and help make that happen feel free to.
Contact Dean here: email@example.com
He also does several other species, especially waterfowl/decoys, so if there's something specific you're looking for, probably worth checking with him (unlike the IBWOs, those may have a price or charge for shipping). And if your interest is solely in the IBWO I'd touch base with him ASAP, since the order-list could fill up quickly.
Summer rapidly approaches with full leaf-out, heat, humidity,
bugs, snakes, Zika! etc... a time of diminished IBWO searching, so not expecting to post much in next few months. Obviously, very few areas even getting much organized attention these days. As I'm
too busy with other things right now, maybe just as well.
Anyway, IF the blog
goes silent for a good while, I'm still around, but just not finding much to get excited over. We'll see what, if anything, transpires next winter. Meanwhile, continue to follow some of the left-hand IBWO links for any updates.
I'm not overly hopeful of a small team finding the birds in Cuba (not clear to me how long the team will spend?), even on the slender possibility of some remaining there, but it will at least add one more data point to the few searches remaining in the American Southeast. Wish them well.
Today, re-running an entry I posted here over 10 years ago!
Mark Michaels linked to an older Geoff Hill review of a Noel Snyder
monograph where he [Snyder] argues that hunting played a much greater
role in the demise of the Ivory-bill than generally recognized (definitely
worth reading): http://www.bioone.org/doi/pdf/10.1525/cond.2008.8658
made the same essential argument here a decade ago (in a different post), and to
give people their due, Mike Collins made a similar argument as far back
as 1997. At the time I utilized this quote from T. Gilbert Pearson, one of
the foremost naturalists of his day:
"The reduction in
abundance of this species [IBWOs] is due most probably to persecution by man, as
the species has been shot relentlessly without particular cause except
curiosity and a desire for the feathers or beaks." (National Geographic
Magazine, April 1933)
The reason I bring it up
now is to again reiterate my belief that very little that is
concluded in the literature about the behavior or needs of Ivory-billed
Woodpeckers, based on Tanner's work, can be assumed true for
currently surviving IBWOs. I don't even believe Tanner's conclusions for
the Singer Tract birds automatically generalizes to any Ivory-bills that then
survived in Texas, Florida, South Carolina, or elsewhere -- we just don't know --
the sample size, studied largely by a lone individual, is simply too
small to be very meaningful (p.s., I DON'T blame Tanner for this; it is
common practice in field biology to draw over-reaching conclusions from
inadequate sample-sizes -- nor do I mean to imply that the historical studies lack any merit, but only that they must be viewed cautiously, instead of as gospel fact).
Anyway, here's what I wrote, more generally, back in 2005, in the post "Science and Sample Size":
of the fundamental tenets of science methodology concerns having
adequate sample sizes from which to draw conclusions/generalizations. In
the years since James Tanner's dissertation on the Ivory-bill (based on
but a handful of birds), notions that Tanner himself often recognized
as tentative became hardened into unchallenged dictums without a good
basis for doing so. There is in fact little
that can be stated with certainty about the Ivory-bill's diet,
behavior, habits, or requirements for survival, even though such
statements are rife in the literature. (If one were to intensely study a
dozen people and then write a report generalizing to the entire human
species the weakness would be readily apparent.) This is all especially
true given that any Ivory-bills still around today may in fact have
survived specifically BECAUSE they came from individuals with
significantly DIFFERENT characteristics/behavioral traits from their
brethren, which increased survivability for themselves and their
offspring. At least Tanner got it right at the end of his original
"The chief difficulty of the study has been that of drawing conclusions from relatively few
observations... My own observations of the birds have been entirely
confined to a few individuals in one part of Louisiana... the
conclusions drawn from them will not necessarily apply
to the species as it once was nor to individuals living in other areas.
The difficulty of finding the birds, even when their whereabouts was
known, also limited the number of observations. Especially was this true
in the non-breeding season. With these considerations in mind, one must
draw conclusions carefully and with reservations." (italics added)
problem with our knowledge of Ivory-bills is not simply how little we
know, but rather how much we think we know that might just be utterly
wrong for any birds remaining today... ----------------------------------------------------------------------
65+yr-old primate, science buff, wannabe mathematician, & long-time bird-enthusiast, who recognized 50+ years ago that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker likely still existed, and hasn't seen compelling evidence since...to convince me otherwise. === Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
[...picture courtesy of Julie Zickefoose ]
This website hereby dedicated to the
memory of John V. Dennis and George H. Lowery Jr., whose optimism,
in the face of doubt and skepticism, was never in vain. **************************
"Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision, for the limits of the world."