Saturday, July 13, 2024

-- Head Cams --


John W. presents an updated recommendation for a head-cam (Akaso Brave 4) for IBWO searchers here (mentioning several others as well):

By now, I’m not very optimistic about the probability of ANY ground-based, (shaky) human-operated camera capturing an adequate photo of a flying IBWO… for trying to persuade skeptics or serious birders, the results of the last 20+ years have been mostly abysmal, and I suspect only a skillfully-operated drone or an automatic remote cam focused on a cavity or foraging site may ever likely suffice (also despite 20 years of failure)... though IF an active cavity or foraging site is ever identified, well, then a 1950’s Brownie camera will be quite sufficient ;)

If one does have the desire/dollars to invest in a headcam be sure to factor in all the pertinent variables, besides quality, that may affect your choice (price, weight, ease-of-use, battery-duration, sturdiness, waterproofness, warranty), and there are plenty of other reviews of headcams online (look for truly independent reviews, not just manufacturer-promoted sites), and John suggests several features or specifications to keep in mind.

Meanwhile, the sighting claims for Ivorybills keep popping up across the internet, over and over and over again, and even those from folks who claim adamantly that they KNOW the difference between IBWOs and PIWOs (because of course they’ve seen dozens of PIWOs before), invariably, if they provide a clear enough photo, turn out to be easily ID’d as Pileated. :(  Go figure… (on a sidenote, I keep seeing the speculation made, and believed, that perhaps some IBWOs and PIWOs have cross-bred... NOOOO, these two separate species/genuses do not hybridize).


Monday, July 08, 2024

-- Book Miscellany --


(only Ivory-bill-related mention in this post is at very end)

Since abandoning Elon Musk’s demolition of Twitter I have nowhere to mention books anymore… so, will kill some time citing a few here... mentioned 2 Amanda Montell books a bit ago and will now note a range of others I’ve enjoyed in the last 9 months (though few here will share my tastes). All nonfiction:

1)   Went back to read a bunch of Malcolm Gladwell’s compendiums, always delightful (hard to pick out a favorite; perhaps "Outliers"); don’t exactly remember why I had quit reading him long ago.

2)  However my all-time favorite essayist and columnist (the one I agree with, and relish, the most) is passionate Hal Crowther who unfortunately never had a wide national following, possibly because much (but by no means all) of his writing is focused on the South… those are the works I’ve been reading, but still my favorite, and the one to start with if you are unfamiliar with him (and can even find it) is the broader “Unarmed But Dangerous,” from 30 years ago:

3)   A few months back a friend noted how often in conversation I’d say “I'm pretty stoic about that…” and then informed me that “stoicism” is quite a hot topic these days!  Little did I know… sometimes treated as a philosophy or a religion or just an approach to life, and in any event several good books/intros to it in bookstores these days (won’t pick a favorite, but we need more stoicism these days!).

4)  One of the celebrities now into stoicism is none-other than Jerry Seinfeld, and I be a Seinfeld-groupie… his volume “Is This Anything?” is just a compendium of his stand-up jokes, which without the visuals, the nuances, the voice inflections, I didn’t think could be funny, but surprisingly loved (and laughed at) almost all of it, though weakened toward end. Probably only for Seinfeld fans, though.

5)  In pursuit of psycholinguistic interests, David Shariatmadari’s “Don’t Believe A Word” is a great read for lay readers, even while hitting upon a lot of academic issues in linguistics study.

6)  David Bessis' "Mathematica" -- fantastic new book about mathematics, from an (intuitive) angle I'd never seen before (and including almost no actual number-crunching); but only for definite math-fans.

7)  Eric Barker’s “Barking Up the Wrong Tree” fun read/advice about life and success (somewhat in the style of Malcolm Gladwell).

8)  Steven Pinker's 2021 "Rationality"; pretty basic, straightforward, well-done take from the popular academic writer.

9)  For more comedy relief (if Seinfeld isn’t your thing), oh my gosh, every birder should have Matt Kracht’s “The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of the Whole Stupid World” on hand.

Probably another dozen+ volumes I've started in last 9 months, but if a book doesn't 'grab' me in first 25 pages I don't finish it :(

Will end with just an old link to a bit I posted over a dozen years ago about Tanner's volume "The Ivory-billed Woodpecker":


Wednesday, July 03, 2024

-- Special Day --


Tomorrow is our big July 4th holiday. Everyone have a fun, safe one!

I’m not really a huge country music fan, but nonetheless a couple of selections for the special day:

…may our grand 250-year experiment not be squandered away this November.


Saturday, June 29, 2024

— Late Night Musings —


Could certainly be wrong, but don’t foresee much interesting Ivorybill stuff likely happening through summertime, so may be posting miscellany (as a sort of time-and-space filler) until winter comes. 

Here a cult, there a cult, everywhere….

A friend recommended that I read Amanda Montell’s latest book “The Age of Magical Overthinking!.” I did and mostly enjoyed it, but more importantly it led me to her prior work “Cultish” (which I enjoyed even more) since, by coincidence I’d been thinking a bit about cults lately (seems timely) — thinking, and concluding, that cults aren’t just fringe and extreme as we prefer to imagine them in typical simplistic-binary, black-and-white or us-versus-them mentality, but rather they are commonplace, falling all along a spectrum from benign to dangerous/evil — basically, ALL large active groups are cults or at least cultish in gradations, me-thinketh now. Yup, the American Medical Assoc., the American Birding Assoc., NRA, ACLU, Catholic Church, the National Basketball Assoc., Microsoft Corporation, obviously Scientologists and the Republican Party, the American Association of Trombone Players (if there be such a thing), and on and on and on… all cultish to a greater degree than we acknowledge, with their emphasis on certain rules, behavior, beliefs, leaders, standards, viewpoints, etc. taking precedence over the individual. Cults in a sense are more the norm than the exception, of what largely keep society out of anarchy and disarray, holding people in line. The cultishness of any group coincides with the degree to which members forego critical-thinking and ongoing questioning, in favor of accepting things as they want/wish them to be or are told they are… basically letting entrenched biases, desires, predilections (instead of independent analysis), shape one’s thinking, conclusions, decisions... It’s fine to point out how benign many groups are, but there is potential for harm and blind obedience almost any time people gather in groups, crowds, associations, etc. expressing or claiming unison. The so-called "madness of crowds" has often been written about.

Skeptics call we IBWO-backers a cult as well (Jack Hitt, in his best-selling volume, “Bunch of Amateurs”  somewhat painted us that way). I’d dare say, fine, but skeptics too are a cult. And I no longer have a problem seeing us as such…. there are far worse cults one might mingle in! ...Just maybe keep away from the Kool-Aid.


Tuesday, June 25, 2024

— Cicada Flagging… quick question —


Quick question (someone asked me about recently and maybe one of you entymologically-inclined folks know the answer to):

They were explaining to me about cicada “flagging” (HERE, HERE) — the pic above, where momma cicada lays her eggs (100s) at tip of branches, eventually turning them brown and dead before nymphs fall to ground to re-emerge 17 years later. Just for "fun” my friend was calculating how many cicadas would emerge on his property 17 years from now just based on counting the number of flags (and average no. of eggs per flag… hahh, he's more anal-compulsive than I am!).

Anyway, it’s well known that birds feasted on the cicadas this spring (...even the large number of interesting moths and butterflies I saw in last month was indicative of them being ignored by birds in favor of the newly-rich protein source). I assume(?) IBWOs would also gobble up cicadas (one of my friend's questions), but more specifically, he wondered if these flagging areas where the nymphs break out would be a dining target for IBWOs — Ivorybills are exceedingly difficult to search for in spring once foliage emerges, but would scanning these outer easily-accessible tree spots be of any use? I don’t know, though in my sparse/limited viewing, I’ve not noticed other species gravitating to these brown twiggy areas??? But anyone else have a thought….

Followup 6/27:  Surprised no one answered this; either no one knows the answer, or, it’s a dumb question…. or, no one wants to be seen answering a question on an Ivory-bill blog, hahhh!

In any event FWIW I’ve spent some time now observing dozens of these ‘flags’ in my area and haven’t yet seen a single bird of any species feeding thereupon, so there’s that.


Saturday, June 22, 2024

-- C. Hunter Weighs In -- +Addenda


Didn’t really want to dive into the weeds of this too much right away, but since Chuck Hunter has now responded to the Webster video, feel in fairness (and of course my respect for Chuck) I should include his judgement, which is more generous and nuanced than I expected (though he certainly doesn’t proclaim these birds to be IBWO). Here are his initial 3 responses trying to analyze matters (possible he will have written more by the time you read these):

For me, the problems with the squared-off tail, the seeming reddish-brown(?) cast on the breast, the questionable sizes of the birds, the questionable length/shape of the outstretched wing, the s’posed crest that I don’t feel I can make out at all confidently, and especially the flashing white that I think is indecipherable(!) are too great to overcome and make a good ID of these birds possible — I don’t believe people in general comprehend the problems of interpreting white (and even dark!) in blurry, grainy, rapid video — light plays LOTS of tricks on perception — I honestly don’t know if there is ANY actual white on this bird, or if there is, then where it is!! Top-notch field birders have never even agreed whether the white in various frames of the Luneau video (much sharper than this video), is ventral or dorsal — if we can’t even agree on that, I can’t take seriously anyone stating where and how much white is on this moving bird. (Chuck tries to cover several of the possibilities, but that’s sorta the point, we can only talk multiple possibilities with no certainty or resolution.) With all that said, I don't want to discourage folks from offering any sincere evidence they feel they have of Ivorybills, I just want people to quit trying to overstate the firmness or definitiveness of such evidence (as Rachel was careful to do), until such evidence truly arises.

We do of course have Rachel’s verbal description of what she saw, but that is all we are left to hang our hats on, and when one has a hope, a desire, or an expectancy, to see something then skeptics are not going to take that at face value by itself (and from a cognitive standpoint they shouldn't). As Feynman always said, 'The easiest person to fool is yourself.'

ADDENDUM:  Hahhh! as I suspected would happen, Chuck already has at least one additional posting up since I posted the above (and there will likely be more, though I can't promise I'll keep adding them on):



Looks like the FB discussions may go on for quite awhile, so not sure how much more I'll cover… s’pose it’s natural and can’t be avoided, but won't likely resolve much...

So, just want to remind people (especially any newbies) of what I believe to be the single best piece of evidence (though there exist many intriguing pieces) to arise since Cornell’s Big Woods work; i.e., the drone footage of these 2 birds from the Project Principalis site, here shown in zoom:

Paul Fischer did an annotated version of the extended version of this clip where he also points out a smaller bird early on — which, if indeed a Red-Headed Woodpecker, pretty clearly eliminates that possibility for the two larger birds:

The amount and placement of white on these birds is far more clear (though still not 100% certain) than on the bird in the Webster video. And the presence of TWO similar birds downplays any chance of a bird simply being a leucistic Pileated (...and I continue to believe that oddly patterned leucistic PIWOs, or even crows, et. al., likely account for some percentage of IBWO claims).

On a brighter note, will just reiterate that Rachel’s search site is relatively near to that of Proj. Principalis.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

-- Just A-Ramblin' --


Ever since the Cornell and Auburn Ivorybill searches closed down the number of sighting claims showing up in my email dropped to a trickle (maybe 2-3 per year). Oddly, this last week several such claims arrived to my email one after another, from disparate sources. Unfortunately none were particularly credible, convincing, or significant, and per usual, a couple were pretty clearly PIWOs. With that said, other than some FB sites, I barely follow any social media anymore so do feel free to keep sending along claims that you find at such pages, which I may miss, if they have any ring of authenticity — I appreciate being apprised of them, even if I don't post about them here…. and the thing I’m always on the lookout for is a series of reports/claims suddenly appearing at different media, maybe same week or month, from the same locale (such as a specific county of a given state) — that could be interesting, were it ever to happen — i.e., completely independent reports showing up contemporaneously from different individuals on Reddit, Twitter, and Instagram or the like, but in same area.

Traffic at the blog spiked up again currently, so not sure if that has anything to do with these various claims popping up, or if it is solely due to Rachel Webster’s claims and pics over at Matt Courtman’s ‘Mission Ivorybill’….

I’ve seen 2 of Rachel’s presentations, and while overall I’m agnostic on her claims, I haven't found her presented evidence persuasive (indeed have problems with much of it). Am doubtful her latest video shows an IBWO, but won't run through various possibilities, as quite an array of suggestions by others have already been made (Matt has sent the video/screen-grabs to Chuck Hunter and I'd likely opt for whatever viewpoint he favors... would be flabbergasted if he, or any other truly-skilled, objective, experienced North American field birder said, 'Oh wow, that looks like an Ivory-billed Woodpecker'.... what it looks like is yet more embarrassment!). On the positive side, her site of focus is also in central Louisiana, close to other active searchers. 

p.s.... I don't fault Rachel for stepping into the Ivorybill lion's den to present what she has, while admitting it is NOT definitive evidence of IBWOs... I do fault any who would view her stuff and leap joyfully to the conclusion that it is clear evidence for IBWOs.

Will add that when Rachel's talk was announced I was under the impression she would be discussing her coming PhD. dissertation work, but turns out her 'plan' has not yet been approved, so now am not confident this proposed work will even be approved or carried out as described (at University of North Texas). But she should know soon.

Much of this is where I miss Bill Pulliam so much, because he had the patience to methodically/objectively work through all sorts of evidence and point out the problems with it one-by-one; I don’t have that energy, nor even desire, after almost 20 years of blogging here and often debating in backchannels (but resolving nothing). I suspect Bill though would have had a heyday of tearing to shreds so much of what has been put forth as IBWO “evidence” in the last 5 years or so, while shaking his head -- as an eBird reviewer, trained scientist, and long-time serious compiler/birder with one foot in the conventional birding arena, Bill would fully understand the ridicule/mockery now often heaped upon the IBWO community (that we've brought upon ourselves)… so much of what has been advanced in recent times could be called pretend science or pseudoscience, amateur-hour science, imaginary science, junk science, cargo-cult science, take your pick. But, importantly, Bill would also note the many intriguing bits here and there that are less-explicable or dismissible — one glimmer of hope certainly is some of the drone video from the Latta group (including 2 birds I have difficulty perceiving as anything other than IBWOs), and it would’ve been great to get his frame-by-frame analysis of that.

Anyway, apparently Pileated photos and inadequate claims will continue to flow in despite summer being a slow time for IBWO searching. Honestly, with next summer being the ridiculous 20th anniversary of this blog, I gotta wonder if the 2024-5 winter season won’t be my last for covering this time-consuming, circular, frustrating, thumb-twiddling story, unless the necessary evidence is delivered. (Of course, by then, IF Donald is somehow elected Fuhrer in November I’ll probably be relegated to a cattle-car and concentration camp somewhere in Idaho anyway; while Donald gleefully sets about replacing whatever is left of southern forest and swamp with more of his cherished concrete, asphalt, and glass... or alternatively, mowing everything down for more golf courses).

And one last point, that really should hardly need to be said by now: folks, if you're headed into the woods to look for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, PRACTICE taking pics/video with your smartphone ahead of time!... practice, practice, PRACTICE, on flying crows, raptors, grackles, jays, woodpeckers, etc. over and over again (and then some more!), until grabbing your phone and snapping shots is second nature, almost a subconscious reflex. Frankly... you won't likely get an Ivory-billed Woodpecker photo -- they'll be too high up to capture well on a smartphone! -- but you'll get good enough pics of other birds that you 'think' are IBWOs, to ID what they really are!


Monday, June 17, 2024

— Odds and Ends — +Addendum


For tonight’s monthly Zoom meeting, one of Matt Courtman’s regulars, Rachel Adele Webster (of Texas), will be describing her plan for doctoral study of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker at the University of North Texas (I assume starting in the fall?):

(I don’t know, but doubt, that anyone since Tanner has done doctoral work focused exclusively on the IBWO?)

Elsewhere, “American Grail”, the short indy film on Mark Michaels’ quest for the IBWO, will be showing this coming Thursday, June 20 at the Palm Springs International filmfest:

....With world news being pretty depressing these days, will close out with some more re-run levity (first posted here about 16 years ago, as a reminder of how careful one must be with birds & assumptions)  ;)

Three guys died in an accident and went to heaven. When they got there, St. Peter said, "We only have one rule in heaven. Don't step on the ducks!"
So they enter heaven and sure enough, there are millions of ducks all over the place. It was almost impossible not to step on a duck and though they tried their best to avoid them, the first guy accidentally stepped on one.
Along came St. Peter with the ugliest woman the man had ever seen. St. Peter chained them together and said, "Your punishment for stepping on a duck is to spend eternity chained to this ugly woman".

The next day, the second guy stepped accidentally on a duck and along came St. Peter, with another extremely ugly woman. He chained them together with the same admonishment as the first.

The third guy observing all this and not wanting to be chained for all eternity to an ugly woman, was very careful where he stepped. He managed to go for months without stepping on any ducks. Then one day, St. Peter came up to him with the most gorgeous woman he'd ever laid eyes on and chained them together without saying a word.

Grinning, the guy remarked, "I wonder what I did to deserve being chained to you for all eternity?"

She replied, "I don't know about you, but I stepped on a duck!"



Not directly related to the IBWO, but David Martin (known in the past to some in IBWO circles as “Fangsheath”) has a long, new essay/warning at his blog on our not-too-distant future with artificial intelligence (AI), worth a read — even though most of us probably feel helpless about doing anything to affect the future of AI… and scarier still, those who may think they are in a position to influence or control the nature/form of AI… may… ultimately... be… wrong:

On side note: applying AI to the Ivorybill story, I’ve thought that if we can just establish the existence of one small, persistent IBWO population SOMEwhere, we may be able to catalogue enough information about that one locale into a program that could then predict precisely several more locations where we might expect them to exist.

Friday, June 14, 2024

-- Feynman on Science --


Another rerun today for weekend reading; just a lengthy excerpt on science from brilliant former Caltech physicist/professor Richard Feynman that I ran almost 17 years ago (from a speech to the National Science Teachers Association,1966)... because, well, it's just too good not to pass along:

"....The next day, Monday, we were playing in the fields and this boy said to me, "See that bird standing on the stump there? What's the name of it?"

I said, "I haven't got the slightest idea."

He said, "It’s a brown-throated thrush. Your father doesn't teach you much about science."

I smiled to myself, because my father had already taught me that the name doesn't tell me anything about the bird. He taught me "See that bird? It's a brown-throated thrush, but in Germany it's called a halsenflugel, and in Chinese they call it a chung ling and even if you know all those names for it, you still know nothing about the bird -- you only know something about people; what they call that bird. Now that thrush sings, and teaches its young to fly, and flies so many miles away during the summer across the country, and nobody knows how it finds its way," and so forth. There is a difference between the name of the thing and what goes on.

The result of this is that I cannot remember anybody's name, and when people discuss physics with me they often are exasperated when they say "the Fitz-Cronin effect," and I ask "What is the effect?" and I can't remember the name.

I would like to say a word or two -- may I interrupt my little tale -- about words and definitions, because it is necessary to learn the words.

It is not science. That doesn't mean, just because it is not science, that we don't have to teach the words. We are not talking about what to teach; we are talking about what science is. It is not science to know how to change Centigrade to Fahrenheit. It's necessary, but it is not exactly science. In the same sense, if you were discussing what art is, you wouldn't say art is the knowledge of the fact that a 3-B pencil is softer than a 2-H pencil. It's a distinct difference. That doesn't mean an art teacher shouldn't teach that, or that an artist gets along very well if he doesn't know that. (Actually, you can find out in a minute by trying it; but that's a scientific way that art teachers may not think of explaining.)

In order to talk to each other, we have to have words, and that's all right. It's a good idea to try to see the difference, and it's a good idea to know when we are teaching the tools of science, such as words, and when we are teaching science itself.

To make my point still clearer, I shall pick out a certain science book to criticize unfavorably, which is unfair, because I am sure that with little ingenuity, I can find equally unfavorable things to say about others. There is a first grade science book which, in the first lesson of the first grade, begins in an unfortunate manner to teach science, because it starts off on the wrong idea of what science is. There is a picture of a dog -- a windable toy dog -- and a hand comes to the winder, and then the dog is able to move. Under the last picture, it says "What makes it move?" Later on, there is a picture of a real dog and the question, "What makes it move?" Then there is a picture of a motorbike and the question, "What makes it move?" and so on.

I thought at first they were getting ready to tell what science was going to be about -- physics, biology, chemistry -- but that wasn't it. The answer was in the teacher's edition of the book: the answer I was trying to learn is that "energy makes it move."

Now, energy is a very subtle concept. It is very, very difficult to get right. What I mean is that it is not easy to understand energy well enough to use it right, so that you can deduce something correctly using the energy idea -- it is beyond the first grade. It would be equally well to say that "God makes it move," or "spirit makes it move," or "movability makes it move." (In fact, one could equally well say "energy makes it stop.")

Look at it this way: that’s only the definition of energy; it should be reversed. We might say when something can move that it has energy in it, but not what makes it move is energy. This is a very subtle difference. It's the same with this inertia proposition.

Perhaps I can make the difference a little clearer this way: If you ask a child what makes the toy dog move, you should think about what an ordinary human being would answer. The answer is that you wound up the spring; it tries to unwind and pushes the gear around.

What a good way to begin a science course! Take apart the toy; see how it works. See the cleverness of the gears; see the ratchets. Learn something about the toy, the way the toy is put together, the ingenuity of people devising the ratchets and other things. That's good. The question is fine. The answer is a little unfortunate, because what they were trying to do is teach a definition of what is energy. But nothing whatever is learned.

Suppose a student would say, "I don't think energy makes it move." Where does the discussion go from there?

I finally figured out a way to test whether you have taught an idea or you have only taught a definition.

Test it this way: you say, "Without using the new word which you have just learned, try to rephrase what you have just learned in your own language." Without using the word "energy," tell me what you know now about the dog's motion." You cannot. So you learned nothing about science. That may be all right. You may not want to learn something about science right away. You have to learn definitions. But for the very first lesson, is that not possibly destructive?

I think for lesson number one, to learn a mystic formula for answering questions is very bad. The book has some others: "gravity makes it fall;" "the soles of your shoes wear out because of friction." Shoe leather wears out because it rubs against the sidewalk and the little notches and bumps on the sidewalk grab pieces and pull them off. To simply say it is because of friction, is sad, because it's not science....

We have many studies in teaching, for example, in which people make observations, make lists, do statistics, and so on, but these do not thereby become established science, established knowledge. They are merely an imitative form of science analogous to the South Sea Islanders' airfields -- radio towers, etc., made out of wood. The islanders expect a great airplane to arrive. They even build wooden airplanes of the same shape as they see in the foreigners' airfields around them, but strangely enough, their wood planes do not fly. The result of this pseudoscientific imitation is to produce experts, which many of you are. [But] you teachers, who are really teaching children at the bottom of the heap, can maybe doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

When someone says, "Science teaches such and such," he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn't teach anything; experience teaches it. If they say to you, "Science has shown such and such," you might ask, "How does science show it? How did the scientists find out? How? What? Where?" 

It should not be "science has shown" but "this experiment, this effect, has shown." And you have as much right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments -- but be patient and listen to all the evidence -- to judge whether a sensible conclusion has been arrived at.

In a field which is so complicated [as education] that true science is not yet able to get anywhere, we have to rely on a kind of old-fashioned wisdom, a kind of definite straightforwardness. I am trying to inspire the teacher at the bottom to have some hope and some self-confidence in common sense and natural intelligence. The experts who are leading you may be wrong.

I have probably ruined the system, and the students that are coming into Caltech no longer will be any good. I think we live in an unscientific age in which almost all the buffeting of communications and television -- words, books, and so on -- are unscientific. As a result, there is a considerable amount of intellectual tyranny in the name of science..."