=> 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."
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.
----------------------------------------------------------------------- In case it's the best we ever get, may as well post this ;) : http://tinyurl.com/yakrjj3h -----------------------------------------------------------------------
---------------------------------------------- Some will remember almost 10 years ago a young Jackson Roe and his father searching for IBWOs in the Big Woods area. Jackson recently notified me that he is back at it in Wattensaw and has renewed blogposting here:
He was particularly interested in getting opinions on some trailcam photos of 2 distant birds in his 5/29 entry. As usual not good enough for conclusive identification, though I don't think they're Ivory-bills; but feel free to send Jackson your own thoughts, questions, ideas. By the way, I'd be interested to hear who else is still doing any regular searching (and how often) in the Big Woods area (perhaps Mike Brown???), since I no longer hear much from that area at all, though I'm sure some individuals do at least sporadically venture there.
----------------------------------------------------------------------- Mike Collins has a new piece out on the use of drones to search Ivory-bill habitat: http://www.mdpi.com/2504-446X/2/1/11/htm (...haven't yet thoroughly read it myself or perhaps I'd say more) Mike has uploaded various drone flight examples over different areas to YouTube, including this example from the Choctawhatchee region:
Wow, there are so many episodes (for lack of a better term!) going back over the whole IBWO saga in just the last dozen years! I see over on Facebookthey have brought up the “tmguy” or “Bill Smith” story from very early on. I don’t participate on Facebook (for all the reasons despisers of FB normally give), but I’ll try to offer a little off-the-cuff back-story here — I say “off-the-cuff” because I used to have quite a few notes on “tmguy” which I’m now too lazy to try to find, so will simply go on memory, which I hope is mostly right (but no guarantees):
Here’s the photo (he actually had a couple of photos, but this was the main one) that bought him his 15 minutes of fame over 12 years ago (OK, actually the controversy went on for quite awhile, though most everyone concluded this was a painted decoy or model of some sort, in an orange tree no less?):
“tmguy” stood for “that magic guy” because, as a hobby he was a stage magician; his full name was “William Frank Smith” and he emerged out-of-the-blue to claim many encounters with IBWOs in Florida. I think he was from the Lady Lake area of Florida, and at least some his claims/sightings (NEVER-ever verified) may have come from the Green Swamp area — though I may be confusing him with another claimant in that regard.
I communicated with him a few times, never getting very detailed or satisfactory answers; always a noticeable bit of evasiveness, though he’d stick to his basic storyline. He did seem to have some sincere interest and knowledge of wildlife in general, and while I could give him little credibility on his IBWO tales I was willing to look at the book he promised and promised and promised for 2+ years that would detail his Ivorybill exploits (including more pics) — the book of course never appeared; for a long time he had limp excuses for its delay, but eventually he just faded away after the beating he took online.
Even then I continued to follow his online behavior on aquarium forum sites that he frequented — he actually owned/ran an aquarium shop for awhile (in Tampa perhaps?, before it went out-of-business) — his fish comments were almost always reasonable, intelligent, helpful, upfront… but of course one can be an honest, upfront person I s’pose in one area of their life, and a total prankster/doofus in some other area. 8-/
To my utter amazement I just checked and much of his original site is still up! (though most of the pictures are long gone):
...note too, his URL was "bill is mad dot com" -- which I dare say many of us began taking literally!
That's about all I recall at the moment; if I think of more of pertinence or run across my old notes I might add more here later.
....on a side-note: I don't know how many folks have had difficulty bringing up the Ivory-bill Researchers Forum site recently (I've had major difficulty with it for over 3 weeks), but I contacted one of the proprietors this week, so they're at least looking into it (I'm not sure how aware of a problem they even were?).
In fact if any reader here has been successfully loading the site, with no problems, the last 3 weeks I'd be curious to hear what browser you are using, what time of day, and are you using mobile or desktop...
Herb Stoddard's claims for Ivory-bills in Georgia in the 1950's are among the last ones that some people take seriously. ICYMI, hat tip to Mark Michaels for pointing out a new account of Stoddard in an ejournal freely available here (the Stoddard piece beginning on pg. 38):
[...on a sidenote, some folks have emailed me asking about the Ivory-bill Researchers' Forum being down -- I don't know anymore than you do, except this has happened before, and it's usually a temporary glitch, so just keep checking back on it.]
The history is of course interesting, though I’m not sure it will help find IBWOs today, but his main point that IBWOs likely succeeded in a greater range of habitat than Tanner would later imply, still holds (especially if you go back far enough). Mark also adds this original mapping of historical claims or specimens from uncharacteristic habitat:
In this regard I’ve previously mentioned that I thought Bill Pulliam’s writings on western Tennessee (and other claims for there) of some interest, but there are many other such odd or outlying areas as well (over the years I’ve had reports sent to me, that I couldn’t always completely discount, from southern Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, and parts of Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina outside the traditional IBWO range). One of my hopes for the widepread USFWS/Cornell search was that it would at least narrow any possible IBWO persistence down to a very few (perhaps 2-3) localized areas; instead the failed endeavor left open the possibility of 2 dozen or more (sometimes little-birded) areas that scarce IBWOs might conceivably utilize. The lack of a single Ivory-billed Woodpecker appearing on remote, automatic cameras by now at more traditional and well-searched areas remains a pretty devastating obstacle to hope for the species… unless indeed it has found a home in the canopies of less-obvious, lightly human-trafficked woodlands.
I don’t want to hold out too much false(?) hope for this species, but on the other hand I believe most southeast woodland habitat is rarely birded in any regular or significant fashion and the vast majority of individual woodland birds are never systematically recorded — moreover, the ornithological literature is rife with weak, unscientific conclusions/generalizations/assumptions about bird behavior, and perhaps even bird biology. There's just a lot we don't know, while pretending we do.
One of the more intrepid participants in the Ivory-bill debate (and more generally, a very active-and-respected Tennessee birder) has passed on at the too-youngish age of 56. For those who followed the IBWO debate closely early-on, Bill is probably well-known, though in recent years he was more quiet about the subject. I never met Bill, but in those earlier years some of my most interesting (and enjoyable) backchannel encounters were with him… we didn’t agree on everything, but we agreed on a lot and I hope he respected my opinions as much as I respected his.
More recently, he had tweeted about suffering through a tic-borne illness, but apparently that turned out to be an aggressive, undiagnosed form of lung cancer that he succumbed to a few days ago. A tremendous loss of an intelligent, independent, entertaining cuss, if I dare say so!
I always wished that he had pursued more searches of the Ivory-bill in western Tennessee, following up on some claims, but if he did he never reported it back to me. At one point he indicated IF the bird was there it ought just be left alone.
When Bill's father died a few years back I sent him this well-known poem I've always enjoyed and sent to many over the years upon such occasions. I feel odd using it again, so soon, but in his honor, and for his loved ones, I will:
Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there. I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain. I am the gentle autumn rain. When you awaken in the morning's hush I am the swift uplifting rush Of quiet birds in circled flight. I am the soft stars that shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry; I am not there. I did not die.
-- Mary Elizabeth Frye
eBird, where Bill was very active as a regional editor and more, has posted this memorial:
Mike Collins persists with his efforts to document the Ivory-bill, now heading to Arkansas with plans to utilize a drone for above-canopy forest surveillance (he’s done this before in Louisiana). His notice to the Arkansas listserve group is here (not sure what sort of reception he’ll get from them, but if anything significant, I may add it to this post later):
...and he'll no doubt add his Arkansas video, once completed, to the same YouTube site. ADDENDUM: oy, trip off; Mike now reports the following to the listserv:
"Thanks to all who replied, but my plan to visit Arkansas has hit a snag. I had a small window of opportunity, but there isn't enough time to obtain permits for using a drone in the area. This is unfortunate because a drone is a small battery powered aircraft that has no effect on habitat or wildlife."
65+yr-old primate, science buff, wannabe mathematician, & long-time bird-enthusiast, who recognized 50+ years ago that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker likely still existed, and hasn't seen compelling evidence since...to convince me otherwise. === Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
[...picture courtesy of Julie Zickefoose ]
This website hereby dedicated to the
memory of John V. Dennis and George H. Lowery Jr., whose optimism,
in the face of doubt and skepticism, was never in vain. **************************
"Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision, for the limits of the world."