=> 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
Monday, July 06, 2020
-- 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):
Not Ivory-bill news, but feel I should pass along the sad news that Bill Thompson III, husband of Julie Zickefoose (painter of and writer about IBWOs), father of Phoebe (22) and Liam (19), long-time publisher/editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, podcaster, author, and music-lover, passed away from pancreatic cancer on Monday at the age of 57.
His last update (March 23/24) on his “CaringBridge” site is here:
Mark Michaels has a new post up for their Louisiana search, including more details on methods/criteria being employed, and a further mention of the attempt to attain analyzable DNA from scaled bark.
They have swapped out their first set of audio recording devices… he mentions, but doesn’t go into detail, obtaining “preliminary results” from the deployments, so I’m not sure if that means all audio has been reviewed already or more likely is still underway? I imagine another post for specific putative audio findings will come later.
Models have been used before. Other than Bobby Harrison thinking he had lured an IBWO on at least one occasion with one, I can’t recall any claimed successes with them, but always worth a try. Below a couple of the robotic models that have been created or used in the past:
Nothing much to report (in the way of sightings or signs) from a second team of searchers exploring parts of north Louisiana.
...A side-note: for any who don't know, Bill Thompson III, long-time birder, writer, podcaster, group leader, editor of "Bird Watcher's Digest," was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this past December and has been undergoing treatment since. For any who wish to follow his progress, or send a donation or well-wishes check here:
Actually, the one, almost casual line, in the post that most interests me is that they have collected some sweet gum bark scrapings that may be tested for DNA. The chance of detecting IBWO DNA of course is slim indeed, and despite working in genetics ~15 years, I’m not even sure what the viability of detecting woodpecker DNA from bark scaling is? If they even could detect Pileated DNA that would be quite fascinating and add another tool to the search arsenal. My guess is that such testing will come up empty. More obviously, bird feathers and bird droppings can reveal identifiable DNA. If there is an expert out there who can fill us in more though about the feasibility of DNA testing on bark scrapings I’d be interested to hear about it…
ADDENDUM: someone involved writes in to clarify/confirm that the DNA analysis, if done, involves new advances in genetic testing that may or may not be successful in this instance. (BTW, I'll probably do some sort of short post at end of coming week; if anyone has specific updates they want included with it let me know.)
Just a quick note to say that the IBWO Researchers’ Forum seems to have fixed whatever the issue was with their site and I’ve had no problem bringing it up the last 48 hrs. (after a year of difficulties). So if you had given up on it, you can now try again:
And by the time you read this, Mark Michaels is reporting that his team may have "all the recording devicesdeployed" at their La. search site (not sure if that means 200 devices(?) or a smaller number). Mark expects to report on this trip in a week-or-so at the Project Coyote site.
Mark Michaels has announced the newest phase of the search endeavor in central Louisiana which involves deploying 200 remote acoustic recording units made available from the National Aviary in collaboration with the Kitzes Lab of University of Pittsburgh, as well as additional technical support, with a hope of pinpointing any IBWO activity in the area:
Deployment begins by the end of this week, and will cover some areas not part of their main search focus, listening for both 'kents' and double-knocks. Of course acoustic data gathering has been carried out before, never leading to definitive photography or video (despite putative sounds), but Mark notes:
"The technology has advanced considerably since the organized ivorybill searches in the early 2000s."
If by any chance such an approach led to finding Ivory-bills one can only begin imagining how many other locales would need to be similarly monitored. :)
Sorry for long news-less spell but just not catching drift of any new significant information that isn’t readily available on the Web (and the occasional non-credible tweet of an Ivorybill sighting on Twitter doesn’t cut it ;).
Anyway, a long-time IBWO seeker retired from USFWS, informs me he'll be leading a small group to several key areas of La. over upcoming weeks, and is also giving the Big Cypress and Myakka River areas in Florida another look.
Wouldn’t get expectations too high, but at least good to know that some additional serious searching will take place early in the year, when leaves are off the trees and any remaining IBWOs ought be actively out-and-about seeking mates, courting, nesting, carrying on, and basically easier to spot (and photograph!) than at any other time of year.
I occasionally hear from folks who are spending a 3-day weekend somewhere looking for IBWO, but if anyone else is doing some more extensive independent searching over the winter months and wants to let me know, feel free to drop a line with whatever details you're willing to share (even if you're unsuccessful I'm interested to know what areas are even getting any attention these days).
ADDENDUM for proprietors of the IBWO Researchers’ Forum site & anyone having difficulty accessing that site:
Recently I discovered slightly more info on my year-long difficulty accessing the IBWO Forum site (probably 9 out of 10 attempts with either Safari or Firefox browsers fail for me; Chrome used to be equally bad, but recently succeeds slightly more often). Anyway, I recently dug a little further on Chrome after getting the message that there was “No page information” for the Forum site and got these further messages:
“It means that the website prevented Google from creating a page description, but didn't actually hide the page from Google.If you own this page you can improve this result either by letting Google read the page to create a good description, or hiding the page entirely from Google Search results. Read below to learn how. The page owner partially blocked this page from Google, so we couldn't create a good page description. Unfortunately there's nothing that we can do ourselves. If you know the site owners, tell them they are blocking Google with a robots.txt file, which prevents Google from creating a page snippet.”
So apparently some sort of robots.txt file is the root of the problem (though I don’t know how easy that is to locate?); have also recently realized that the Forum site is still under a http:// url listing rather than the https://. that is now commonplace (I don’t know if that is a source of any difficulty?). And still not clear to me why access might differ from one computer to another, or from one ISP provider to another???
Anyway, after reading the above, I brought up the Bing search engine (instead of Google), searched for “ibwo.net” on it and when it was brought up clicked on it, and that accessed the site for me! (I tried some other search engines, but they didn’t immediately work consistently, while Bing worked fairly well) — probably worth trying for anyone else having repeated difficulties with access to ibwo.net
Soon the leaves will be off the trees and we’ll be headed into prime winter IBWO search season. John Williams, “Motiheal” on the Ivory-bill Researchers’ Forum, asked me to direct folks to two of his previous long posts there that detail a couple of his past trip experiences and ideas for search methods, focusing on tape playbacks.
[Note: Due to some glitch I actually have a great deal of difficulty opening the Forum site these days; IF you too experience problems accessing the site or these two particular links I won’t be able to help you, other than to say keep trying at random times.]
Several of you already have received Iowan Dean Hurliman’s handsome, hand-made life-size craftings of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. He recently wrote me to explain that he would likely only complete 8 more of these beauties, and will be looking for homes for them.
He then sent along the following message that he requested I print verbatim, which I am happy to do:
“And then the man he steps right up to the microphone
And says at last just as the time bell rings
Goodnight, now it’s time to go home
And he makes it fast with one more thing”
“Sultans of Swing” — Mark Knopfler
Last Call For Free Flying Ersatz IBWs
Currently, I have 8 IBWs ready for assembly and paint. However, after August, I’ll no longer have internet access. So if you want a bird—scroll back to Sept. 2015 for particulars. If you’re tardy—call or write.
Thanks gracious ct for the use of your blog. Because of it, over 50 of my IBW carvings will be on display in private hands and public institutions where they may play a small part in a greater appreciation for our beleaguered natural world.
These final words from poet Dylan Thomas are directed to the undaunted believers and searchers. But most of all, to the “Lord God Bird”, itself:
Do not go gentle into that good night…
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dean S. Hurliman
Here is the Sept. 2015 post to which Dean refers (and which includes his email for contact purposes).
Dean sent me a list of the public sites/institutions that have already received these gorgeously-crafted pieces, and it’s thrilling to know that such life-like visages will be keeping the IBWO alive in peoples’ minds long after this saga is over.
I certainly hope his last 8 treasures find fitting homes as well…
And with only 8 available I recommend contacting him soon for all the specifics.
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."