=> 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."
-- Arthur Schopenhauer
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
-- No…. --
I keep getting a trickle of inquiries (increasing of late) essentially asking if I’ve seen any compelling IBWO evidence lately or know of any encouraging Ivorybill news forthcoming. So rather than keep answering folks individually let me just say in general “No” have NOT seen any new evidence/claims, either on the Web nor arriving privately via email, that I find convincing of IBWO presence, or at least not indicative of ‘proof’ of such existence. In fact, I’ve lost track of how many years it’s now been since I’ve had a really strongly interesting claim come to my attention (despite several coming in every year).
With that said, efforts remain ongoing in several quarters to search for the species at least on occasion, and of course it will only take one truly good video or photo to alter the landscape. I continue to believe the likelihood of its existence is better than 50/50, but each winter and breeding season that ends with no definitive record for the IBWO is despairing to say the least.
Wish I had more positive or encouraging thoughts/news to share, but the level of evidence needed for this species, and long, long, longtime absence of such, will continue to make most claims inadequate for the bulk of the birding and scientific community.
Thanks to various Facebookers and others for linking to a story I’d missed… the Black-browed Babbler discovered in Borneo after having gone missing for over 170 years… yeah, you read that right, over 170 friggin’ years!:
Again, unless or until I find something really promising, Ivory-bill matters have been on a backburner for me for quite awhile, but feel I ought do a li'l update for those who keep sending in questions/comments, or who may have missed these bits of news. So….
1) Mark Michaels sent out a note some time ago basically saying what a difficult year 2020 had been for their research (they are still analyzing some of their data), and hoping 2021 would be better. Between weather extremities, ongoing covid concerns, and just the usual difficulties of IBWO searches, I’m not really too encouraged that 2021 will prove much better, but who knows.
2) Matt Courtman, who previously worked with Michaels’ group, and who believes he’s had IBWO encounters, has his own active project up-and-running under the heading “Louisiana Wilds.” In addition to doing fieldwork, he is actively engaging on Facebook with IBWO buffs here:
3) For those asking, no I don’t know what is up with the IBWO Researchers Forum, as their “Forum” section seems to be down (other parts of their site operating OK). They recently paid for another year of Web presence, and the Forum had been a very active section in prior years, though much more subdued in recent years. If anyone knows what the problem is, or if it’s being worked on, feel free to inform us.
4) Someone on Facebook recently commented that Birdforum.net (probably the largest, oldest birding discussion site on the Web) was not allowing for discussion of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I’m doubtful that that’s the case, though it’s possible they’re limiting or editing such discussions, as the same points, arguments, ideas, etc. keep coming up redundantly over and over again. Here are some of the more recent postings they’ve had on the Ivory-bill, though in a quick check I could not locate the many looooong threads they had in earlier years (have they indeed been edited out or archived somewhere???):
Their original thread, following the Cornell announcement, I believe was the longest thread (by far) in the entire history of the site; so it’s not as if they haven’t covered this topic fully in 1000s of postings done there previously, and I’m sure are open to any new real documentation that arises; but for many long-time members there the constant round-and-round rehash of old, old, old debates becomes well, old....
5) Mike Collins, who was very active in those early BirdForum IBWO back-and-forths (and burned some bridges there), again offered his YouTube take on matters a month ago:
6) Anyway, while I’m not optimistic about any solid new evidence for IBWO appearing anytime soon, good luck to all carrying on searches, in what may well be another heavily covid-affected year — unlike the pandemic optimism I keep hearing from many others, I actually have far more concern about covid now, with its multiplying variants, than I've had for the entire last year where, with basic precautions taken, vulnerability, I think, was much lower for most individuals. So be careful out there.
The article doesn’t really stress how much of the area has been cut over at one time or another, nor how fragmented parts of it are. With that said, over the years I have several times cited Alabama as an overlooked region for IBWO investigation. And Bill Pulliam in his old blog did as well here:
…as I once wrote about part of the area:
“The area falls nicely between the Florida Panhandle and the Pascagoula region of Mississippi if one cares to think in terms of a Gulf corridor for the species (which can stretch on to Louisiana's Pearl, and of course eastward to Florida's Apalachicola/Chipola).”
....As long as I’m posting will mention a couple of other things by way of catch-up for anyone who may have missed them:
1) Matt Courtman, active Louisiana birder and IBWO searcher, was written up in this piece not long ago:
So again we approach the winter months, when any Ivory-bills ought be courting, calling out, and seeking nest sites, carrying on amidst bare trees, easier to spot than at any other time of the year (and before they actually go to nest)... but, will anything come of it. Or just deja vu all over again....
Having grown up in central Illinois I’ve long thought that both southern Illinois and southeast Missouri were actual possibilities for the IBWO, despite low attention paid to such locales (...and Bill Pulliam made us aware of western Tennessee as well).
Louisiana searcher Matt Courtman reports on one of the Facebook IBWO group pages that he will be searching in the S. Illinois area (which is part of the Cache River watershed) on Friday, November 6 (if he’s literally devoting just one day, not sure how extensive a look he'll get, but no doubt a fun area to explore and spend a day, with or without the prize).
He links to this 2010 'technical' paper from Jeff Hoover on the region/habitat:
In some other side news, someone else at the same FB group has mentioned the 2018 discovery of the Wondiwoi tree-kangaroo (previously assumed long-extinct). Almost every year it seems some believed-extinct creature is re-discovered, and I don’t usually bother mentioning such news, except that in this case it is a relatively large, strictly tree-dwelling animal, confined to small remote areas… hmmmm… sound familiar? I’ve hypothesized in the past that the difficulty of IBWO documentation may be that, over time, the species has become a largely arboreal bird (in remote areas) rarely coming down low or to the ground, and essentially remaining out-of-human-sight most of the time.
Sorry, nothing new IBWO-wise, but Dean Hurliman has contacted me with new carvings! Regular readers here will recall that Dean is the Iowa woodcarver who made many incredible life-size replicas of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker… and gave them away for FREE to interested parties some time back.
Well, he has some new offerings…
He writes me in part:
“The story of the great auk is an agonizing one important especially now in this era of impending extinction of sundry species. As you know I've made many an IBW, but also Carolina parakeets and passenger pigeons and now two great auks. I would like to get maximum exposure for these carvings, perhaps in some small maritime museum. Perhaps your followers would find some interest in this.”
As you can see Dean is hoping to find a very special and appropriate home for these ‘specimens’. If you can help out contact him at: deankarenhurliman2 AT a Gmail account.
Thanks for all you do Dean!
Dean’s message reminded me of a wonderful, touching volume (a novel actually) that I loved in my youth, called “The Great Auk” by Allan W. Eckert. If you can find a copy give it a read!
And as he has previously done, Dean penned his own tribute to this bird in the following poem he sent along:
-- The Ivory-billed Woodpecker.... and Eschatology --
------------------------------------------------------------------- Is the existence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker "increasingly left to the realm of myth"?... a recent essay via Emergence Magazine: https://emergencemagazine.org/story/the-lord-god-bird/ -------------------------------------------------------------------
ADDENDUM: In a comment below “John” references a graph of Hz levels for IBWO kents that didn’t make it into his comment. Here is the graph (and I assume this is based on the IBWO calls recorded by Cornell originally at the Singer Tract, but I'm not clear since it specifically references Mennill/Proj.Coyote data):
I’m pretty distracted with everything else going on in the world these days, so only happened to check the blog a few days back to discover 60+ comments (still continuing) on the last post — probably only a few individuals involved, but still will start a fresh “open thread” here if anyone wishes to begin anew with some IBWO-related discussion (or you can continue at previous post if preferred, but I think hard to follow).
I will ask 2 things (just for lack of time though, will try to stay out of things):
1) please don’t engage in personal attacks on other interested parties, and
2) I’d prefer if those using the “Anonymous” tag would still give themselves a "label," at beginning or end of comment, to make it easier to read who is saying what to whom about what. Label could be “Abe Lincoln” or “R-9348172-MWX4” for all I care so long as you use it consistently, so your comments (and who you're responding to) can be more easily tracked.
While biding time, figure it might be worth mentioning again a topic discussed here long ago and recently brought up over at the “Ivory-billed Woodpecker — Re-discovered” Group on Facebook, which is Noel Snyder’s ‘alternative hypothesis’ for the decline of the IBWO (focusing on human predation, instead of habitat loss). Respected ornithologist Snyder wrote of his hypothesis over a dozen years ago in a lengthy monograph, which I don’t believe is available on the internet (other than through a paywall)? He did make the same arguments later in book-form in “The Travails of Two Woodpeckers: Ivory-bills and Imperials.”
Anyway, Geoffrey Hill wrote a review of the monograph back at the time here:
The point of all this being that IF habitat loss was not as major a force in this species' decline as Tanner led people to believe, than the species' chance of surviving through the bottleneck of the 1940s was that much greater. I'd like to say 'time will tell,' though it is always possible that time has run out.
2) I didn’t watch the recent “Extinct or Alive” episode searching for the IBWO in Louisiana — will view it if/when it shows up on the Web/YouTube, but haven’t seen any particularly positive reviews of it from those who did view.
3) With leaves off the trees, we’re into some prime search months now, but haven’t heard anything new from “Project Principalis” in Louisiana of late:
Miscellaneous folks sometimes cite sightings/encounters with IBWOs, occasionally recent but more often in the distant past. Most of the claims aren’t terribly detailed or convincing or followed up on, but here’s an example of one (from E. Texas) with at least a bit more specifics from the ‘early 2000s’:
Lastly, because of some recent discussion over there I just want to stress again (talked about a lot previously) that some research argues that the Ivory-bill in early North America was likely a species of rich upland (largely pine) forests, NOT of bottomland or swamp areas. Early and rapid decimation of upland forests by white settlers may have pushed the bird into bottomland areas where it had to re-adapt while facing more competition with Pileateds, and also succumbing to hunters. In short, the long-held presumption that the species requires first-growth hardwood forest to survive may have no real basis; even possible the species was never well-adapted to bottomland swamps -- it may only require dead-and-dying trees (for food) and large living ones (for habitat)... and safety from humans.
I don’t get cable or streaming so won’t see this myself, but there is apparently an episode of “Extinct or Alive” airing on December 11, centered on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (I believe in Louisiana). The show, led by scientist/outdoor-adventurer Forrest Galante is in its second season, but I really know little about it.
Galante was on the Joe Rogan podcast (2+ hrs.) earlier this year (though I don’t think the IBWO came up):
If anyone knows more about this specific IBWO episode, or wants to comment more generally about “Extinct or Alive” feel free to below. Otherwise, perhaps report on it after it airs, since I likely won't view it.
Trying not to be too speculative here these days, but with another lull in news, will go ahead and be a little what-iffy ;)
One would like to believe that some of the most promising places for Ivory-bills like the Congaree, the Apalachicola, the Atchafalaya, the Big Thicket, are simply so huge, dense, and difficult to traverse, that despite the many man-hours of unsuccessful searching devoted to them over decades, the species’ presence there can never be fully discounted. Especially so, if the species is wary, a fast flyer, and certainly few in number; it could evade detection even when in a searcher’s near-presence. Maybe. Still, odd that remote automatic cameras have failed to capture them, and that even fleeting glances or auditory encounters have been so few and hard to replicate, and not a single active roost or nest-hole found in all that time. Perhaps the species has truly disappeared from such places long ago (except for an occasional fly-through), and too much time has been wasted concentrating on such regions. Maybe.
Even if such locales are devoid of IBWOs there’s always the hope that over the decades individual birds may have moved on to historically less well-established (or seriously-considered) locations such as Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, et. al., where searching has been much less rigorously conducted.
I mention all this because of a recent posting over at the “Ivory-billed Woodpecker Rediscovered” Facebook group that linked to an old (well, 2017) piece on Michael Collins’ work — I hadn’t re-looked at it since it came out, so only recently discovered all the comments added to it, including several claimed sightings for the species. The sightings claims are more of what one typically finds across the Internet — not terribly credible, nor including the sort of detail one would like, and almost never with photos (or when there are pictures, clearly of a Pileated). Nonetheless, one FB responder picked out one Tennessee claim as interesting, which read verbatim as follows:
“In 1991 I was turkey hunting and had the sighting of a lifetime. For at least 20 minutes a hen ivorybill worked on a old tree and flew down to a rotten log and caught bugs no more than 25 yards from me. I am 100% certain of what she was and would take a polygraph or be hypnotized to prove it. I am very familiar with pileateds and she was not, black and white head and lots of white on the wings. The kicker is where she was. Clinch Mountain valley, near Cherokee lake in TN. Not supposed to be here, but knew several old folks who saw them.I have seen 2 or 3 since, but never that long and good of a sighting. Any biologist that wants to look for themselves I would help any way I could.”
Again, I wouldn’t place too much weight on the claim, except that it did remind me of a story writer Sam Keen told in his book “Sightings” many years ago — a childhood story from 1942, of living in Pikeville, TN. (eastern TN.) and being present when an Ivory-billed Woodpecker was shot and killed (he couldn’t absolutely confirm that it was an IBWO, only that the adults he was with at the time claimed it was one). Clinch Mountain Valley is perhaps an hour or two further east (from Pikeville); neither locale with any significant history of IBWO claims or searches.
When USFWS/Cornell did their large Southeast search for the Ivory-bill they only suggested a few locales in the far western edge of Tennessee as being worth any time (because of a few claims and the habitat). Excellent Tennessee birder Bill Pulliam (now deceased) also left hints about the possibility of IBWO presence in far western TN. I was never able to get a straight answer from him as to whether he honestly believed IBWO were there, or merely thought it fell within the realm of outside possibility, though I think it was more the latter case (I always thought that perhaps after his death, if he truly believed in IBWO existence in his state, something in his papers or writing might have been found to back that up).
Anyway, the western edge of TN. borders on the southeast corner of Missouri, the southern tip of Illinois, and the northeast edge of Arkansas (near the 'Big Woods' area), all oddball locales for which I’ve heard occasional rumors of IBWOs over the decades. (Kentucky, southern Indiana, Oklahoma, and certainly parts of Alabama, Georgia, and perhaps N. Carolina, not usually associated with traditional range maps for IBWO, have also produced rumors/claims from time-to-time.) But of course no one is going to look much in these places without stronger evidence to lead them there. Is it like the old joke of the fellow looking for his keys under the lamp-post where the light is, instead of where he lost them a block away? The acreage of southern woodland that is not regularly monitored, nor even very accessible, is enormous...
Unfortunately, I’m going in circles here, in that I’ve discussed this possibility in the distant past — that perhaps we’ve spent most of our time, spinning our wheels, searching in all the wrong places (based upon false assumptions); places that have already been scoured many times over, and the birds have moved on to further locales, not part of (but adjacent to) their older, traditional range? IF the species is EVER found and documented it may be astounding to discover how much we've gotten wrong over the decades! That's a big IF, but
One of the Ivory-bill groups on Facebook recently mentioned that the current issue of the “Bluebird,” ornithological journal reports on a museum Ivory-bill skin with a history linking to a site in Michigan. I’m pretty open-minded about what the original IBWO range may have been, but verrry doubtful of them ever residing in Michigan. If anyone has read the article (I haven’t) and can tell us some of the specifics of what they argue I’d be curious to hear. Certainly Ivory-bill artifacts were traded by Native (and other) Americans and could have easily made their way to Michigan, but if they are claiming that a live IBWO was taken in Michigan at some point I can’t imagine what their evidence trail would be (other than verbal report, which would be iffy or mistaken).
Finally, news of a new Honeyeater species being discovered in Indonesia:
Add one more individual to the history bin of the grand Ivory-bill saga…
Mark Michaels and others send word that Bob (Robert, Rob) Russell Jr., retired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, died suddenly on Sunday June 30 at 73 years of age. Bob was a long-time, intrepid, optimistic Ivory-bill searcher. I only spent a few days with him close to 20 years ago in the aftermath of the David Kulivan Pearl River sighting, and then had occasional emails back-and-forth over the years. At that time I believe he was working on an Ivory-bill book, which may have been pre-empted by the later Cornell excitement in the Big Woods of Arkansas and the mini-flurry of books which followed that.
Bob always had a couple of intriguing Ivory-bill stories to tell, though never with quite as much detail or documentation as I was hoping for (he was a long-time birder and searched for other rarities as well). I often couldn’t tell which stories to take most seriously, but at least his optimism was a bit contagious. Writer/birder and fellow Minnesotan Laura Erickson described Bob as “one of the kindest, warmest people I've ever known, a great birder, a total optimist (he never lost hope that an Ivory-billed Woodpecker was lurking somewhere) and lots of fun, too.”
If/when I come across a more extensive obituary of his life I may add it on here.
ADDENDUM: here is one online obituary for Bob (if folks know of others feel free to pass them along):
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: email@example.com
[...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."