"....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."
-- Arthur Schopenhauer
Tuesday, April 26, 2022
-- Heading Toward Summer --
Generally, I hope to post this summer (maybe remainder of year) primarily only when there is something truly significant regarding ongoing searches or new evidence (and not anticipating that will be very often)… but, will occasionally touch base on a other matters:
1) The National Aviary pre-print has received very widespread coverage in the popular press, and am surprised it has not had more extensive, detailed attention in places like BirdForum.net, BirdChat, ID Frontiers, or other listservs; there’s been some attention and criticism, just not as much of a deep-dive as one might expect (indeed, probably as much mockery/sarcasm on social media as serious discussion). Similarly, there must be at least a half-dozen significant birders/ornithologists, who have not weighed in on the paper. Again, don’t know if all this relative silence is because they are mulling over the research (perhaps even busy writing a counter-response to it, though not likely unless it makes it into a journal), or because they find the whole subject so preposterous at this point as to be unworthy of a response??? I’ll reiterate missing Bill Pulliam’s voice (deceased), as he would’ve undoubtedly had his own analysis of it.
There has been some quickie responses and back-and-forth at the main Facebook Ivory-bill site, where things are rarely resolved. Now with over 2900 followers that site is taking on the flavor of former BirdForum threads from years ago, which often devolved into food fights. On the good side, it’s nice to see greatly increased interest in the IBWO, and good also to see skeptics come on board the site (which at one time was largely believers preaching to the choir, but now gets at least some varied views and pushback to a lot of shallow ideas); on the downside, the crappy FB platform makes the discussions very disjointed and difficult to follow in a logical manner. And with so many new people coming on board the redundancy/repetition can be tiresome; same issues, questions, thoughts, ideas, debates, etc. etc. continually being re-addressed; sometimes leaving a feeling of walking endlessly in circles and getting nowhere. But for all the chaff and rehashed material one must follow the site for the occasional nuggets that do pop up.
2) Re-iterating again that the flurry of recent IBWO publicity is generating lots of new claims and old reports (almost every week in social media!) from inexperienced observers, with little credibility, (while granting, anything is possible). As I emphasized before, the downside of all this fresh fervor (usually going nowhere), is to convert more and more agnostic folks into skeptics; so just be judicious in what you take seriously out there. It can be a minefield!
Thursday, April 14, 2022
— A Li'l Follow-up to the Project Principalis Pre-print — +Addenda
I need to just go ahead and post this before it becomes unwieldy (have already whacked a third of it away, opting for more general and less detailed analysis):
Reaction to the Project Principalis paper has fallen largely along pretty predictably-entrenched lines. I guess no surprise, though honestly I was a bit taken aback by the speed and divergency of opinions. Auburn’s Geoff Hill was quick out of the gate to call the research virtually conclusive of IBWO presence… for which he received a lot of pushback… and as someone highly-invested in seeing the species documented Dr. Hill’s view and objectivity will naturally be questioned. Other long-time believers similarly spoke well of the work. A couple of somewhat more centrist takes came from evolutionary (and sometimes controversial) biologist Jerry Coyne in his blogpiece:
…and also from British press The Guardian:
There have been many other moderately pro and con takes that I won’t bother to cite (and will no doubt be many more) -- one reason I whacked a third of what I had written is because I was trying to cover all the commentaries and opinions coming along, but there were just toooo many, so moved to a more general overview.
Swiftly there were a slew of critiques of the work, from those dedicated to the denier camp — while I agree there are potential problems with the presentation, I was still surprised by the quickness and certainty of some of the attacks. But there you go… that’s where we’re at. The only positive thing I can say in that regard is that there are also several major IBWO critics who I've not yet seen come forward with an opinion… does that mean they are mulling it over or that they find some value in the work… or do they just not care any longer and wish the topic would fade away? Time will tell.
A lot of the criticism/debate, quite naturally, is focused on the videos and stills in the paper, with remarkably different interpretations of what is being seen (what is a clear 'saddle' to some is an artifact or space to others, and on and on). Several of the criticisms of the seeming ‘saddle’ on the bird(s) are simply giving alternative explanations of how such an artifact could appear in a photo, but the problem with that is that the saddle appears to move right along with the bird as it moves in the video, just as one would expect if it was a real part of the bird. Like the Luneau video, these photos/video turn out to be little more than Rorschach tests for whatever your opening predisposition or entrenched position is, and both sides of the debate end up utterly aggravated.
It is unfortunate that some are simply ignoring all the other evidence recorded here and seeing the research as an entire collection of data instead of simply a couple of new videos (despite the title stressing "multiple lines of evidence"). The authors only briefly mention sightings and auditory recordings, but those who have followed their work for the last 10 years know they have previously reported several of both (but knowing the unconvincing nature of sightings and audio chose not to focus on them here, but yes, they exist). Indeed, we've reached a point where almost all evidence is automatically de-valued except for clear and credible photographic imagery. Further many make the argument that 20 pieces of weak evidence for a claim is no better than 1 piece of weak evidence... although you might think of it like a criminal trial where 1 piece of circumstantial evidence would never convict, but 20 bits of circumstantial evidence might do it.
Since the arguments are once again likely irresolvable I won’t even get into the endless back-and-forth of specific points, but only reiterate that I believe the current work is the best overall evidence I've seen in over 10 years. Unfortunately, I suspect no (respected) journal will take this paper because of their sheer fear of anything IBWO-related, the topic being radioactive! I do wonder what additional and even better data Project P. might have by the time any acceptance would come along many months from now.
Honestly, this whole saga is beginning to feel like an instance of the old Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown thinks he’s going to at last kick the football that Lucy is holding, only to have it always snatched away at the last moment. ;)
Before signing off I can’t help but mention it brought a small grin to my face to see these birds cavorting near the top of a large hardwood tree. My contention for some time has been, that in areas trafficked by humans, IBWOs have likely become high-arboreal birds, nesting, roosting, feeding, and hangin-out their entire lives in the upper third of the forest canopy, rarely (if ever) coming to the ground or even the midway point of trees. That is the easiest explanation I have for why the species is so difficult to locate, see, or photograph, and the vast majority of sightings are of birds in flight, not perched birds. Photo ops will require a telephoto lens or an automatic camera placed (and serviced) by a climber high in the canopy… or finally, alternatively, a drone overhead (as the La. team is already employing). An old birding adage says “Look up!” — it certainly applies to IBWO searchers. The Project P. birds were frolicking just as I envision IBWOs doing, oblivious to the mundane human world beneath them.
Lastly, I'll note that for any who wish to follow further commentary on this paper there is a handy place on the bioRxiv page where you simply give your email and they will automatically send you “alerts” of future changes/comments/links related to the preprint.
In the short term, I'm not sure how much more I'll address this work, as once again I see a lot of sturm und drang coming down the pike, but no likelihood of resolution. [with that said, there are about a half-dozen ornithological figures who I'm still waiting to see weigh in on the work, and, if they should that might motivate another post.]
[ NOTE: After hearing from a couple of emailers, I've done some slight editing above, and added back in some lines I had previously cut from the original version.]
I'll add this new article which covers matters a bit more broadly than most of the pieces I'm seeing lately:
Just feel a need to say this: Back when the USFWS recommendation/controversy was all over the news I warned that the next several months would likely see a new flurry of IBWO sighting claims — with publicity always comes more bogus reports.
And now with the new research published getting widely reported I’ll state that warning yet again — am already seeing the uptick in unfounded claims to my inbox and around social media. Pleeease, if you’re not an experienced birder, do NOT bother sending me a claim unless you know how to write up a very detailed observational account, or it is accompanied by a photo or video. [I think I've already counted over a dozen claims in the last 2+ weeks that were accompanied by photos, and were clearly Pileateds.]
What we really need now is the return of "Ivorybill Septic" to add a little levity to things! (for those of you with a good memory, who have followed this saga since say 2006) ;) …while I’m mulling over what aspect to look at next. Are you out there I.S., perhaps in Colorado or Washington? I need your input; the array of opinions I’m getting in email are all over the map.
Am tempted to re-address this whole crazy confusion between IBWOs and Pileated Woodpeckers, two species that really are NOT similar in detail at all (different head patterns, different backs, different ventral and dorsal wings, different bills), and yet in cursory looks come off with an odd gestalt similarity (as the same colors are present); also tempted to refer readers back to my post (and examples) some months ago focused on visual illusions:
....and yet, paradoxically, nothing gives me more confidence of the species' continued persistence then the sheer number of identifications leftover from experienced, knowledgeable observers in multiple locales over the years, even when the plenitude of weak and superficial claims are tossed out.
Tuesday, April 12, 2022
— Que Sera Sera :( —
I won’t go into loads of detail nor get into back-and-forth arguments (which I consider a time-waste) about this, but last night’s presentation of newly-hyped possible IBWO video was wholly unconvincing… and worse.
To my shock, it came from South Carolina (Feb. of this year), the Southeastern state I would have least expected an IBWO video to come from right now (even though there is some good habitat there), but I won’t get into that discussion either.
Last December I predicted here on the blog that there might likely be an IBWO hoax this year, and… folks don’t want to hear this… but I won’t mince words in saying that my default position until I know more about the videographers and other context and specifics here, is that this could well be a hoax or prank; it has several earmarks, and so many aspects that make no sense.
The video and resolution is poor with 2 birds in the background that I don’t believe are large woodpeckers, but smaller birds. The primary focus of interest is a moving object in a tree cavity, which is being passed off as a bird bill, but could be another creature or object. And IF a beak I presume a pileated (which can even be heard to call at one point on the tape). The resolution throughout is too weak to draw firm conclusions, and there is a suspicious lack of transparency with the individuals submitting the video, who seem only willing to answer certain questions put to them or take limited actions that might be suggested (they were not part of the presentation, and I believe the person presenting has never met the South Carolinians but solely interacted with them through email/phone -- no idea if he's done any sort of basic background check on them that might raise red flags; not that hard to do).
The cavity, tree, habitat, don’t look right for an Ivory-bill claim, coming from a "rural" but not deep woods locale (though by itself that does not rule out any possibility) and the videographers sound incredibly amateurish on tape (and not knowledgeable of birds or IBWOs), even claiming that the bird has returned to this location for 3 years in a row… and yet this is the best video (and under 2 mins.) they have attained in all that time, with the birds using a nest or roosthole mind you. They seem to have zero comprehension of the significance surrounding this bird. We are told there is an “interesting backstory” (which I would love to hear) to their highly secretive claim… but, that too could easily be totally concocted. There’s nothing here that gives me any confidence, but plenty of further disconcerting tidbits I won't even mention. IBWO believers always resent the analogies to Bigfoot claims, but this video is very much on a par with poor Bigfoot videos. In short, whether a prank or honest mistake, I give no credence to the claim, unless further analysis and context causes me to change my view, and I don’t expect to discuss it further; discussion will just lend more red meat to skeptics (and, sad to say, given its origins, this could even be a skeptic-produced video and backstory solely intended to embarrass 'believers').
Lastly, it was disappointing to see John Fitzpatrick (retired from Cornell) who was present, almost bend himself into a pretzel trying not to speak too harshly of the video. I don’t think he helped his credibility here, but he will have to speak for himself. Had this video been sent directly to Cornell with so little backstory or context, I doubt they would have taken it seriously for more than 15 minutes. Others present, who likewise have some needed critical thinking skills and scientific rigor, also refrained from much serious comment.
I want to be clear, by the way, that Matt Courtman’s group (who presented the video) are not in any way participants of such a hoax, if such it be, only victims of it. With EVERY IBWO claim the first thing that must be ruled out (if the subject is not immediately identifiable as a pileated or other bird) is hoax, and I don't see it having been ruled out here. Of course, after the excitement of the Project Principalis release this is discouraging. I would be happy to learn that the South Carolinians involved are at least sincere even if mistaken in their claims, if that is the case, rather than being deceitful. After all these years though I can't just ignore my radar, nor the smell test, unless forthcoming better analysis and answers point another way.
I was actually hoping to say slightly more (in a positive vein) about the Project Principalis evidence today, but will leave that for another time.
Monday, April 11, 2022
— "IBWO Truthers" —
Tonight, Matt Courtman’s group will be reviewing another purported recent IBWO video (I believe from a state adjacent to La., and different from the latest Project Principalis release, but I may be incorrect) on his interactive Zoom podcast (Apr. 11) at 8pm EDT. You can link to it from his page:
I’m still not expecting a particularly interesting summer… but, an interesting week, yes it has been!
Have already seen a fair amount of misreporting and knee-jerk reaction (as well as mockery) to the newest evidence, but that could be expected in our world of entrenched views... sigh. And increasingly, I see the term “ibwo truthers” employed to label we believers… normally a term used dismissively, referring to certain (often conspiracy-minded) advocates on a variety of subjects, but oddly I actually kinda like the label applied to those of us who think this species is extant… because, afterall, truth is indeed what we ultimately want established, and find lacking.
So, "IBWO Truthers" we be! Wear it proudly. ;))
Saturday, April 09, 2022
— Finally… new evidence — +Addenda
New from Mark Michaels/Steve Latta’s Project Principalis group (Louisiana) finally some evidentiary work I find intriguing enough to pass along (for perhaps the first time in 10+ years!). The non peer-reviewed pre-print is here (including photos):
I especially like the focus on automatic camera (and drone) photos, which I’ve long felt were, short of human monitoring of a nest or roost hole, the evidence needed (sighting and audio evidence is also mentioned in the paper but not dwelled upon). There are other various elements of the paper I especially like (and some other elements I’d be pretty cautious about), but won’t detail that here, so readers can adjudge for themselves (besides I need to read parts of the paper over another one or two more times for certain details), and I don't know when or if full publication will come.
The evidence is once again NOT definitive or conclusive, but intriguing, which one almost hates to say given the history of all the controversial "intriguing" evidence that has come before. At least on a first reading this is better than that, but easy to imagine some of the objections that may be forthcoming. I hate that we continue to move along in the IBWO debate at an incremental snail's pace awaiting a truly conclusive photo/video/encounter, but this work is encouraging.
I assume this also is the new evidence that will be up for discussion at Matt Courtman’s coming Monday night IBWO podcast. [see note #1 below]
[It's possible(?) I'll add addenda to this post at a later point.]
[sorry, just realized that the PDF I linked to above does not contain links for the "supplementary" videos; for those, find the links on the original bioRxiv page:
After re-reading several times, a few miscellaneous things to note (…there are also several things I WON’T address just to avoid the argumentation and vitriol that might follow!):
1) I originally assumed that Matt Courtman’s coming Monday night IBWO discussion would involve a claim by a different individual in a different state (not Louisiana), but upon the timing of this Project Principalis release just automatically (above) switched to assuming this would be the evidence coming under review. However, various dates and other matters don’t line up, so am back to thinking the Monday night discussion may well be about yet a different claim (which would be interesting to have 2 such back-to-back claims arising so close together; the alternative possibility is that the Monday talk centers around evidence still from the Louisiana group but too recent to have made its way into this paper).
2) Just want to note, for any unaware of it, that “bioRxiv” while an open access, non-peer-reviewed, non-edited journal, is NOT on the level of the many (not all) open access journals that have in recent years besmirched scientific publication. It is simply a free preprint-server for biology, very similar to respected arxives that serve many other scientific disciplines. And Project Principalis was wise to file the paper here, and not wait for the interminable months that acceptance in an appropriate publication would have taken — even at that, the evidence being reported here is mostly months to years old. [They are attempting to have the piece published, but IBWO papers can be difficult to find a taker.]
3) There is a fair amount of speculation in this paper, as is always the case, of necessity, with any Ivory-bill commentary because we truly know so little about the species with certainty, so much information being drawn from such tiny sample sizes — and there is a strong tendency on ‘believers’ parts to accept past assumptions when it suits our purposes, and argue against them when it doesn’t. So I don’t doubt that critics will find much here to yawn at and shrug as weak claims. But some of the photos, from trail cameras and videos are powerful, in seeming to show a large woodpecker with a white saddleback; in fact better than that, and unlike almost any prior evidence, showing multiple woodpeckers with diagnostic clues (…even with that said, I realize alternative explanations may yet be offered, and further film analysis will be needed). As someone who has been discouraged with the trajectory of the debate ever since the closing down of the Cornell and Auburn searches (even while still believing the species persisted), this is as bright a light as I’ve seen.
I'll note that I am viewing the paper’s pics on a 7-year-old 13” laptop screen (AND even then am intrigued), and I imagine those with larger desktop screens will have a better view (there are some things the authors claim to see, which I can’t make out on my screen, and certainly don't recommend viewing these pics on a mobile device).
4) Lastly, I wish Bill Pulliam was around to see this work, and swap ideas about it; I think, overall, it would’ve brought a grin to his grizzly face….
Friday, April 08, 2022
— Short Notice (Haney podcast) —
There are now plenty of Dr. Chris Haney podcasts/presentations available on YouTube, but if you’ve entirely missed him or want to see him live there will be an interactive Zoom podcast tonight 8pm EDT (h/t to Matt Courtman):
I love Chris’s book which I reviewed HERE…. with that said, I do think he can be a bit heavy-handed with the cognitive blunders of ‘denialists’ while going a little soft on the cognitive weaknesses of ‘believers,’ but always enjoyable to hear speak, and I agree with the vast majority of his points (and his book ought be read as well for the sheer scope of IBWO history and information it affords). A good way to end the week.
Monday, April 04, 2022
— Just Sayin’ (for now) —
To some of you who have sent along somewhat similar questions (just in different orders) and who I haven't gotten directly back to, the answers, for now, are, “no, no, and no (BUT maybe), and MS. 396??”
...ohhh, and BTW, GO Tar Heels!
Wednesday, March 30, 2022
-- No News --
Headed into April and no news to report from here, except that breeding season is largely over, leaf-out is fully underway, and chances of documenting Ivory-bills probably goes rapidly downhill from here until next winter arrives. Pretty distracted by other world events these days, and not expecting much IBWO news for May either, though one never knows, and always have a few other things jotted down possibly worth touching upon.
Lastly, on a side-note (because I see so many claims for brief IBWO sightings each year coming from untrained eyes all across social media) I'll just say that I believe the instance of partially leucistic or piebald birds (pileateds, crows, ravens, vultures, ducks, anhingas, etc.) is a more serious problem in this arena than is acknowledged.
Monday, February 28, 2022
-- Off Topic --
"LET FREEDOM R-R-R-RING, let the white dove sing
Let the whole world know that today is a day of reckoning
Let the weak be strong, let the right be wrong
Roll the stone away, let the guilty pay
Friday, February 25, 2022
— Odds and Ends (Of Elephants In Rooms) —
Not much new or exciting, but maybe once-a-month I’ll do an ‘odds-and-ends’ post just to pass a few things along (IF I can even find stuff significant enough for passing along)….
1) Matt Courtman has embarked on what he calls a “5-year” Mission Ivorybill search for the IBWO; you can follow along here, if you’re not already:
…not clear on how he settled on 5 years as a suitable time-frame, or exactly what the search plan is (but starting in La.); and hard to imagine this topic will still even hold interest if nothing produced in say within 3 years, or that resources for such an effort will be sustainable that long. But with all that said, wish him well, as one of the few who is reporting his efforts on the Web.
BTW, he posts some of his Monday night Zoom discussions (often ~2 hrs.) here:
2) John Williams has been researching camera systems (for capturing the IBWO in flight) and reports his conclusions here:
3) USFWS originally listed Sept. as the time they would make a final decision on de-listing the Ivory-bill (and other species)… not sure if the additional public meeting and comment extension altered that date (pushing it later) though if the IBWO is now 'de-coupled' from the other species it very well could. Again, if they strictly go by available science (as they perceive it) I think they will de-list (unless the next 6 months produce new evidence), but if public pressure/clamor plays a role, as well it may, then perhaps they'll refrain for this year. Another thing unclear to me is how many of the officials making this decision were even present for the original Cornell/USFWS search -- there may have been a lot of staff turnover, especially during the 4 Trump years.
4) Will reiterate my own redundant take on things that a nesthole, roosthole, or foraging site need be found, and that is only likely to happen with a fairly large-scale, organized, transect-type search (not solo or small-team searches)… thus pessimistic for the months ahead, with a desire to temper enthusiasm; there will be a lot of noise and chatter ahead, but substance or results, well, much less confident… we’ve been down the road of overblown optimism so many times before, and all it accomplishes is to convert more neutral folks into skeptics :((
5) Here's another podcast with Dr. Chris Haney (whose recent IBWO book I overviewed HERE):
6) I've tried unsuccessfully to find out what happened to the long-running IBWO Researchers Forum (that had paid for another year of operation, not long before they disappeared), but if anyone knows and can say, fill us in.
7) Awhile back a couple of folks wrote to ask about ‘the elephant in the room’ I had previously referenced, and misinterpreted what I may have meant, so I'll clarify:
Needless to say, we are in a state of heated polarization on this topic. "Evidence” presented by “believers” will NOT be believed, because they have already committed themselves (and biased themselves) to a viewpoint; i.e. "evidence" from "believers" is presumed wrong, imprecise, and non-objective by skeptics for reasons stated repeatedly over the years... even photo/video evidence, because of the ease of manipulation, will be assumed, as the default, to be fraudulent/concocted until shown otherwise at this point -- the full background/history/provenance of any such photo evidence needing to be demonstrated and scrutinized closely. In short, we’re in the ironic position where the only people who could produce acceptable/objective evidence of IBWO persistence are skeptics, who of course are not looking for the species… a somewhat surreal, unfortunate state of affairs...
So again, I worry about where this catch-22 situation is headed (believers are the only ones looking, and pre-committed believers are too biased/gullible to be taken seriously)… Ivory-bills seen and photographed by multiple observers, at close range and for a significant time period, of course can still win the day… but will that ever happen?
For now, the elephant in the room is simply that, from the get-go, “believers” are not viewed as credible by the wider birding community, and their arguments/analyses will continue to be dismissed.
8) An old joke talks of searching for keys near a lamp post where the light is, not where the keys were lost... one wonders if we are looking for IBWOs too much where we expect them to be (and maybe they continue to disperse through), and not in out-of-the-way unexpected places where perhaps they now reside; Mark Michaels recently mentioned Oklahoma as being part of the IBWO former range, and I'm interested not only in their real former range, but in where this strong-flying species could have dispersed to in the last 80 years that go largely ignored (over time I've had reports from southeast Missouri, southern Illinois/Indiana, western Tennessee, parts of Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, not generally viewed as likely nor taken very seriously). The size/magnitude/density of the well-known search areas are difficult enough, but once you let loose of the conclusions/requirements imposed by Tanner, and the passage of decades, the possibilities outside those boundaries are daunting indeed.
....but enough for now.
Monday, February 07, 2022
— USFWS Meeting Posted Now —
Another quick note: for any who missed the 90-min. USFWS January public meeting on IBWO de-listing (which I wrote about HERE) it is now posted on YouTube here:
[Again, you have a couple of days until Feb. 10 to write them with any last thoughts on the matter, and I believe they will be making a final decision in about 8 months... of course potentially subject to any new evidence attained in that period. The IBWO story may be a bit of a minefield over that time... wishing Bill Pulliam was around to talk about it with and compare notes, but, like so many that this story has outlived, he's not.]
Friday, February 04, 2022
-- Cargo Cultism? --
In Dec./Jan. I considered but refrained from a couple of possible posts, one of which was to be about ‘an elephant in the room,' which I still may address... but in meantime think I’ll just drop this old Richard Feynman piece here without comment (it’s actually quite a famous old commencement address he gave at Caltech, and the source for the Feynman heading quote I used several posts ago):
IBWO believers have been accused at times of engaging in “cargo cult science” and it is best to know where that concept stems from.
[With that said, don’t jump to conclusions about specifically how or where I think this is actually pertinent to the IBWO debate… except that I do think it has some relevance.]
Tuesday, February 01, 2022
-- This and That --
For those who missed the USFWS Zoom meeting, they have posted the Introduction to the meeting here:
Within 2 weeks the actual audio of the meeting is also expected to be posted.
Reminder that you have until Feb.10 to enter comments on the USFWS’s de-listing proposal; AND they are desiring comments referencing actual data or evidence supporting your viewpoint, NOT just simple opinions, yea or nay. You may comment here:
Again, I believe it is the USFWS intention to render a final decision in about 9 months time. And I'll simply re-iterate, that in a day when Government agencies of all sorts are being so widely disparaged, they risk far greater harm to their credibility by declaring the species extinct at this point-in-time, than by maintaining its endangered status.
Also, a reminder that Matt Courtman is doing weekly Monday Zoom meetings (open to anyone) to discuss topics related to the IBWO, all in preparation for an earnest search for the species he plans embarking on soon. I believe there are essentially 2 meetings left; you can follow along at his FB site “Mission Ivorybill” here:
(some past meetings have already been recorded on YouTube as well, but not all)
Perhaps even more importantly, if you wish to assist Matt in this search endeavor (or donate $$ in support, or simply ask questions) contact him here:
[I don't know if Matt intends to search outside of Louisiana.]
For the next several months my intention is to primarily focus only on any significant, new, persuasive, or at least interesting, evidence that comes along (and there may well be NONE), and to NOT be routinely reporting on all the tangential discussions/debates/data/speculation/historical-info/hype that will likely be generated. Some evidence has not yet been made public, but what little bit of it I’ve seen, and just from the whole history and pattern of such “evidence,” I again expect NO gamechangers in the near term (if anything, just more irresolvable arguments, perhaps even generating greater skepticism, especially should another hoax spring forth).
[I do, on-the-other-hand, occasionally link to various other IBWO matters, not covered on the blog, on my Twitter feed]:
Thursday, January 27, 2022
— USFWS Meeting… pros and cons —
Luckily was able to clear off my evening schedule and listen to the entire 90-minute USFWS de-listing meeting for IBWO last night, so here’s some take-aways and generalizations of the good and the bad:
At the peak there were close to 170 people attending. Only about 15 people though spoke on the de-listing proposal, and all but 2 opposed it — I was surprised there weren’t more speakers, including more skeptics; surprised also that not a single prominent, well-known, “name” birder spoke at the meeting (…or, do they just presume the debate is already over?). Disappointed too that more professional ornithologists, either pro or con, didn't take time to participate. And there were about 10 “no-shows” — people who registered ahead of time to speak but then weren’t present (a couple of others who registered to speak, changed their minds, saying they would instead offer further written comments, but not speak). [ Further comments can be submitted here, until Feb. 10: https://www.regulations.gov/commenton/FWS-R4-ES-2020-0109-0107 ]
The 2-minute limit per presentation was of course verrrrrry limiting in what one could address or how much data or evidence could be referenced — again that will be remedied in submitted written comments or private presentations (which probably explains why a lot of fairly prominent "believers" neglected speaking at the meeting, as well).
Time constraints gave the meeting, in my view, more the look of “window-dressing” than real substance, but with that said, and despite a few fairly pithy, not-very-consequential comments, thought the overall range and content of comments was quite good and varied given those significant limitations.
As typical for Zoom meetings there were a number of procedural and glitchy issues which frankly wasted a lot of time that could’ve been employed for more presentation; I’d say at least 20% of the time was squandered, but ohh well, not unexpected.
USFWS took no questions themselves during the meeting, but did say (if I understood correctly) that the meeting would be recorded and posted on their website -- not sure how soon that will happen [ they now report the meeting will be posted within 2 weeks here: https://www.fws.gov/southeast/
Again, can’t imagine that the meeting itself will change any minds, that would be up to the more detailed presentations that USFWS receives in writing or private contacts.
Lastly, worth commending Matt Courtman (and his passion) for just making this meeting happen.
[for any who don't already know, he hopes to embark on a 5-year effort to document the IBWO to everyone's satisfaction]
Finally, I'll reiterate what I’ve essentially said in the past: What is needed is really pretty simple. These birds (if around) MUST BE nesting and daily roosting and foraging. Find a nesthole, roosthole, or foraging site, stake it out with a human or automatic remote camera, and get the required photo/video (not easy, but shouldn't take decades). End... of... debate… Individual sighting claims, audio data, and blurry or distant flight videos, will NOT do it… though yes, we can easily spend another 25 years gathering/debating that level of evidence.
De-listing is the issue of the moment, but long-term we must get the birding/ornithological/conservation community behind this species, and last night’s meeting, as pleasant as it was, won’t accomplish that... and the low participation from skeptics implies to me that they still think the debate is already long over (or perhaps they watched simply to see what points would be stressed and will now submit more written comments to oppose those points?). Bottom line: the bar is high, very high, to document this species, but honestly, the bar is even higher to declare extinction.
....Seems like possibly a good time to close out with Sufjan Stevens' moving tribute to the Ivory-bill (which I used to post about once-a-year, but haven't done so in quite a while):
Monday, January 24, 2022
-- Upcoming --
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool."
-- Richard Feynman (bold added)
Gee, time flies, and the big day is almost upon us for the USFWS Zoom meeting Wednesday evening, following a pretty crazy few weeks over at the FB “Ivory-billed Woodpecker Re-discovered” group pages; probably hasn’t been that much active debate since early years over at BirdForum.net (and, on this very blog).
I still don't know what the format, ground rules, order of speakers, will be for the meeting, but shan't be long now.
Never been sure in my own mind whether FWS called for this meeting and comment extension because they genuinely wanted to review more scientific evidence for the species, or, more for public relations reasons, to mollify vocal believers by offering them a full hearing… but for now I’ll stick with my prediction that, barring truly new, significant evidence from the current winter search season, their decision to de-list will remain unchanged (though could be delayed).
I've employed the famous quote above from physicist Richard Feynman because I think that in essence will be the underlying message skeptics may employ at the Zoom meeting regarding "evidence" for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. And that will be the perception "believers" must overcome. No easy task. USFWS will be left to ponder whether there is greater risk of egg-on-their-face by declaring the species extinct, only to have it possibly documented in the future, or by maintaining it as endangered when most of the birding/ornithological/conservation community believes it extinct.
I presume that the bulk of regular readers here will already be familiar with what the 'pro'-IBWO speakers will have to say; what will be interesting to see is which skeptics speak (perhaps including some 'rock-star' birders), and which points they choose to emphasize in the limited time. One person I'd be particularly interested to hear from is Pete Dunne, but no idea if he's involved.
[actually not certain how much, if any, of the meeting I'll sit in on, though sure it will be well covered elsewhere if I don't manage to carve out the needed time]
P.S.... on a complete side-note, I awoke this morning to find this post in my Twitter feed:
Tuesday, January 11, 2022
-- Another Date Set -- +Addenda
In some encouraging news, according to a press report, the USFWS will hold (as requested by Matt Courtman) a final, virtual 90-minute “public hearing to air competing views” of Ivory-bill persistence on January 26. Encouraging on the one hand, but also hard to imagine officials will hear anything they haven’t already heard either through the written comment period or in private communications, and unlike that period which was dominated by “believers” this meeting may have a stronger showing of “deniers” countering with their case. Even if IBWO proponents got the bulk of time (say 60+ minutes to 30 or less for skeptics), it will be difficult to squeeze the most significant evidence into that time-frame, and perhaps the purpose of meeting is to give skeptics the opportunity in real time to counter such evidence. Very few details given as yet.
Also, I’m not sure if “public hearing” means it will be open to the public-at-large, but assume, in any event main speakers will be designated ahead of time (otherwise, it could be one raucous meeting!). When more info is available I will add it onto this post.
(Hey, in the meantime, read Chris Haney's book ;))
ADDENDUM: OK, some additional information:
The virtual (Zoom) meeting will take place from 6 to 7:30pm (Central Standard Time) on Wed., Jan. 26, and requires preregistration to attend. Register here:
(The form asks if you wish to make a public comment during the meeting… I have no idea if all who answer ‘yes’ to that will get a chance to?)
In addition to the meeting, the comment period on the FWS recommendation to de-list the IBWO has been extended for another 30 days (through Feb. 10), so if you still wish to comment you may do so.
…It would be great to be a fly on the wall at the current FWS meetings where this is all being discussed/debated ;)
ahhhh, was getting snippets of info from various small news services before, but finally found official announcement with all the info here:
ADDENDUM 3 1/13/22 (just for fun)…:
First, just passing along a nice write-up on the amazing journey of the Steller Sea Eagle that has shown up, sort-of, ummm, against all probability, in the U.S. lower 48:
Now, just for fun, am trying to figure out how the FWS Zoom meeting will go on Jan. 26. The meeting is only 90 minutes and I assume at least 10 minutes will be taken up with some sort of official opening and closing statements, and perhaps interruptions or glitches along the way, leaving at most 80 mins. for signed-up public speakers. What’s hard to guess ahead of time is how many folks will wish (or be allowed) to speak at the event. But say speakers are limited to a 4 minute presentation, that would then permit a max of 20 speakers, some of whom will undoubtedly be skeptics and conservationists arguing for de-listing (and spending any dollars/resources that would be allocated toward the IBWO on other more savable species). Even if it’s one-sided (which I’m not at all sure it will be) and there were only 5 naysayers, that leaves time for 15 IBWO proponents — I again have no idea if a lot more, or a lot less than 15 will request speaking time (with a lot less, then perhaps speaking time could be expanded well over 4 minutes). I assume FWS are themselves trying to work out the format and ground rules as they go along. Alternatively, maybe Matt Courtman, since he requested this meeting, will get to organize who and for how long proponents speak, and someone else will be responsible for organizing the rebuttal response; just don’t know but fun to think about…. and hey, maybe ALL my numbers are screwed up from the get-go… in less than 2 weeks we’ll know better... once again though, I'd keep expectations low; such a meeting may delay a final decision 'til after the current winter season is over, but still difficult for me to see it altering the decision.
[If anyone knows for certain more details of the meeting format, feel free to describe in comments.]
[addenda to Addenda!: in comment below, "John" mentions he has signed up and been given 2 minutes to speak; I assume, unless I hear otherwise, that will be the limit for most or all speakers.]
ADDENDUM 4 1/14/22 (sorry for extending this out so much, but hard to stay silent):
For any who don’t already follow it, I’ll note that the main IBWO-search Facebook page has become very active with comments (one post has over 230 comments!) back-and-forth on several different postings:
(I don’t personally engage on FB, at least not on controversial topics, because of my disdain for Zuck and his creation, but am happy to see more skeptics once again entering the fray on that site which is heavily believers preaching to the choir, existing within a bubble that I don’t think recognizes the magnitude of the skepticism that must be overcome — with that said, I will say I admire the persistence and approach of Matt Courtman through all of this, even while finding him overly-optimistic. The success (for believers) of the USFWS Zoom meeting will likely be dependent not so much on the evidence presented by the pro-IBWO camp, but rather by the effectiveness of the counterarguments and points by skeptics.
After all this time I still believe the best evidence (unfortunately) for the IBWO was that compiled by Cornell in the Big Woods over 15 years ago (which could’ve been a single bird, long-since deceased — I don’t believe that's the case, but just sayin’ could be). Everything since then has been weaker evidence, though often intriguing, but I won’t get into all the unresolvable arguments over it, leaving that to others. And while there may be more, newer evidence not yet made public, am very doubtful any of it will be a game-changer (even possible it could serve to increase skepticism).
Luckily, whatever USFWS eventually decides, folks will continue to search for the IBWO, and it may even eventually be documented, not by a searcher, but by another Gene Sparling or David Kulivan type figure who simply stumbles upon it.
...In the meantime, a Steller's Eagle continues to hang out in Maine (as of 1/14) giving photo-ops to lucky chasers. ;)
[Another Addenda to Addenda!: I'll just point out this one comment from Professor Mark Bonta as one of the simple reasons I still hold significant hope for IBWO persistence:
…and m-m-m-more Addenda: Well, at the risk of overdoing it and entertaining you too much ;) I’ll pass along yet another thread of comments from FB with a lot of back-and-forth (including ABA’s Nate Swick drawn back into the fray among other skeptics):
The thread begins to illustrate what has to be overcome (and quite likely won't be, without truly fresh, game-changing evidence), at the USFWS Zoom de-listing meeting in a little over a week. The next 9 days over at FB could be wild.