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IVORY-BILLS  LiVE???!  ...

=> THE blog devoted to news and commentary on the most iconic bird in American ornithology, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWO)... and... sometimes other schtuff.

Web ivorybills.blogspot.com

"....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.”

-- Hamlet

"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

-- Arthur Schopenhauer

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


- How To Do a Good IBWO Search -

One of the most frequent questions posed by skeptics is, "How could such a large bird have escaped detection for 60 years?"

First off, they are simply WRONG: the bird has been credibly reported (just never confirmed) dozens of times through the years; and undoubtedly there are dozens more sightings never officially turned in. But I'll put all that aside for the moment.
Let's instead start with a few assumptions:

1) this bird resides in remote, dense, difficult-to-access areas
2) this bird knows every crook-and-cranny of its forest habitat (and has a decided advantage over the typical human entering such habitat)
3) this bird is wary of people and upon seeing/sensing their presence from 100-400 yards away will either:
a. duck inside a tree-hole, becoming INVISIBLE to all who pass, or
b. simply fly off in an opposite direction from the human activity.

(not everyone will accept these assumptions, but I think them safe, or at least reasonable)

So how do you conduct an adequate search for such a creature? SIMPLE:
You totally encircle the area in question with trained observers, with synchronized watches, who at an agreed time, begin tracking inward (of course some habitat parts will be impassable...) so that whichever direction a shy IBWO flies off in, to escape one set of searchers, it comes into view of a different group (if it simply dives into a roost-hole, of course, you're still out--of-luck!). Simple, but of course IMPOSSIBLE! -- how many observers would be required to encircle even an area of 25,000 acres let alone regions like the Atchafalaya in LA., Appalachicola in FL., or Big Woods of AR. (100,000s of acres)? In short, the searches done to this point are inherently inadequate to the task-at-hand. What IS remarkable is not the lack of sightings over 60 years, but truly the number of repeated reports over those years by sheer chance and incredible luck of single observers!! -- And equally remarkable, the lack of seriousness applied to those sightings by so many birders/writers.
Nobody ever said that finding/confirming Ivory-bills would be easy -- and yet "easy" is exactly what so many skeptics seem to imply it ought be. Go figure???

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


-- The Ivory-bill In Song --

On a more light and lilting note... this is somewhat old news, but in case you missed it back in July, singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens put out a ballad entitled simply "The Lord God Bird." If your thing is 'heavy metal' or 'rap,' uh-h-hh, you can probably pass on this, but otherwise give his haunting piece a listen. Downloadable at:


(likely available at many other sites as well)


Monday, August 29, 2005


-- AOU Summation --

One of "Birder's World Magazine's" web forums today has a concise summary of Cornell's Ron Rohrbaugh's answers to some of the AR. IBWO skepticism at:


...I would add one further thought as follows: Do the skeptics truly realize what they're asking people to believe? -- according to them, an oddball leucistic Pileated inhabits the Big Woods forest; yet in 20,000+ man-hours of searching over a 14-month period, NOT a single birder (many very experienced) EVER, EVER reported seeing such an oversized, symmetrically-plumaged bird; but we are told to believe that it WAS in fact spotted 15 or more times (from different angles, heights, distances, times-of-day) and in EVERY single instance mistaken for an Ivory-bill. What are the chances...?


Sunday, August 28, 2005


- A Technical Note, of sorts -

Much of the modern IBWO literature describes the Ivory-bill 'kent' call as a loud version of a White-breasted Nuthatch -- I've often used this comparison myself. Yet in re-reading parts of Tanner recently I realized he actually compared the call most favorably to the RED-BREASTED Nuthatch, not it's cousin! Upon playing tapes of both calls I concur the quality of the IBWO 'kent' is closer to the 'toot' of the latter bird than the 'yank' of the former. Thus far, Cornell has only mentioned sonographically comparing their AR. recordings to the WB; another comparison may be in order.

Saturday, August 27, 2005


-- Revelation --

There are many reasons to believe in the Ivory-bill's existence, but I've said for several years, that if I had to pick out just one reason it would be the VERY SAME one most birders use to argue for the bird's demise: HABITAT! Most folks claim there is no suitable habitat remaining for this species. To the contrary, the number of remote, little-accessed, dense Southern forest patches available that could sustain 1-2 pairs of IBWOs (not to mention non-breeding juveniles) has long been SIGNIFICANT and growing. In the current Smithsonian magazine (Aug. 2005), top-notch birder Scott Weidensaul says this:

"And there is another, far more potent reason for hope. I've birded all over the country, but the Big Woods area was a revelation to me -- a vast, beautiful chunk of wild land." (italics added).

If this area was a "revelation" to someone as knowledgeable and experienced as Scott, than how much other habitat has been ignored by the country's birders? Jerry Jackson argued for years that revised forestry practices have allowed possible adequate IBWO habitat to INCREASE substantially over the decades, NOT decrease, as people blindly presume.

A lot of headlines in ensuing months will go understandably to the Cornell guys (and gals), but truly MUCH recognition ought to also be directed to David Luneau, Bob Russell, Mary Scott, and others unsung who, in the presence of deaf ears, have been telling us for years that the habitat IS OUT THERE, and who specifically honed-in on the Arkansas region. THANKS guys, for leading the way when others, with their words... or their silence, failed to do so....

Friday, August 26, 2005


- For What It's Worth... -

As reported in the current "North American Birds" (Winter season, west of Mississippi), Tim Spahr, a Harvard astrophysicist and IBWO searcher, who specializes in "the calculation of rare events," has developed an algorithm based largely on Tanner's old Singer Tract data, which concludes that a single Ivory-bill occupying the Cache River bayou area could avoid detection by 20 observers indefinitely!! -- Luckily, for us, I have no doubt there is far more than one bird in the area...


- Erickson's Review -

Once again I'll just refer readers to Laura Erickson's update on the AOU meeting proceedings (haven't run across any other writer/birder on the web doing regular postings from the convention scene???). Essentially, nothing much seems to have changed -- the doubters continue to doubt; the believers continue to believe the intransigent doubters are off their ever-lovin' perversely-stubborn, obstructionist, termite-infested rockers (just kidding,... I think?).
For the record, I personally still believe the newly-released audio data is actually the weakest evidence in Cornell's arsenal (strong acoustic evidence in a large forest expanse will always be difficult to come by, unless by sheer chance the bird is positioned right above or near the automatic recording device). There are some hints that still more sighting or video evidence may be in current preparation for release as well... or else we will just have to wait and hope that winter brings forth the debate-quashing, jaw-dropping pics everyone yearns for.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005


- Acoustic Evidence???... NYET!! -

Cornell released some of their acoustic evidence earlier today -- possible IBWO 'double knocks' and 'kent' calls recorded by automatic recording devices in the AR. Big Woods. You can go to their site and work through 'latest updates' to download the samples -- I would give a more direct link to it EXCEPT frankly I'm not sure it's worth it! Despite reading several favorable, positive comments about the recordings on internet chat groups (and possibly there's some problem with my machine or sound system or the way it downloaded), from what I glean off the tapes I DON'T believe these are recordings of IBWO double raps (the rhythm/timbre/sharpness is NOT right -- it was not right from the get-go for the recording made at Pearl River 3 years ago either, and I was always surprised Cornell spent so much effort before concluding that). The 'kent' sounds are more ambiguous, but for the moment I'm doubtful that they originate from Ivory-bills either (...are these the SAME recordings that Prum/Robbins heard prompting their sudden retraction!??)
Of course, I hope I'm wrong and that a better, different download will convince me otherwise, but for now I fear these released recordings only serve to muddy the waters yet further, and stand no chance of bringing resolution between differing viewpoints. It will be interesting to learn what folks actually attending the AOU meeting thought of the recordings (and accompanying talk) vs. those of us hearing only an internet version.


-- More Speculation --

Probabilistically, the most likely places to find Ivory-bills besides Arkansas (according to many accounts), may be Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and South Carolina. While paltry few areas in these states have ever been subject to thorough, large-scale, adequately-organized searches over the years, many individuals on their own have spent time perusing some of the best habitat in these states. However, as intimated in a previous post, given the more northerly location of the Arkansas sightings, nearby areas that have been largely ignored over the decades suddenly become much more intriguing to consider -- in particular, bottomland areas around the Mississippi River in southeastern Missouri, western Tennessee, and northwestern Mississippi are within comfortable range of the Cache River activity, even if less historically-pertinent.
I would be interested to hear from anyone seriously-involved in current or upcoming efforts to explore such areas (cyberthrush@wildmail.com). Which direction the AR. birds originally came from (many folks assume, unnecessarily, that they are remnants of the old Singer Tract population), and in which direction they might have dispersed young birds, if any, remain open questions. We are dealing here with a species that has demonstrated over time a habit of defying common assumptions.


- L. Erickson's Report -

Writer/birder Laura Erickson's first report from Santa Barbara (AOU meeting) is now available at her site:

Nothing specific yet from the meeting itself, just her detailed overview of controversy surrounding the AR. findings and why she's a believer.


Tuesday, August 23, 2005


- Did Man Ever Walk On the Moon? -

Am beginning to wonder if IBWO skeptics believe that American moon landings were mere Hollywood smoke-and-mirror stunts!? Talk about an extraordinary event! -- Every aspect of the astronaut moon landings can be given an alternative explanation if one is bound-and-determined to do so and deny they ever happened. We believe in such events ONLY out of blind trust in the reports of people who in large part we don't even know.
IBWO skepticism stems from a flawed notion that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof," as if such a thing as indisputable "proof" even exists. Most birders would be hard-pressed to truly "prove" ANY OF THE SIGHTINGS on their life-list, especially in a day when even photographic and video evidence can be readily faked. Yet 'extraordinary' standards have been set for this one species (...in some instances possibly by individuals whose reputation/credibility have a stake in the bird NOT being found). Like everyone, I too would love to see the definitive photograph or video happen, but we ought to err on the side of protecting this bird, not denying it. Declaring (or assuming) a species extinct (and that assumption is behind most of the skepticism) is itself an extraordinary (and dangerous) claim!... which should ONLY be taken when evidence indicates it BEYOND a reasonable doubt -- in the case of the Ivory-bill, and it's many potential sightings across decades, that threshold has NEVER even been close to met. Jerry Jackson made the rational case for the bird's existence back in the '80s, and the decades since have only improved the potential for IBWO survival. In short, better that we assume a species exists and act accordingly, only to find out 50 years later that it was extinct all along, than to assume it extinct and find out 50 years later that it's been hanging on by a thread with no help from us.
The numbers of animal species that go decades without ever being seen only to be "rediscovered" continues to grow (not to mention totally NEW species discovered each year); only Man's entrenched arrogance allows some scientists to believe that 'dumb' creatures can't possibly elude our superior capabilities for years on end.
Just maybe Cornell will be releasing the evidence needed, at this week's AOU meeting, to bring everyone into fuller accord and focus, so that the absolutely crucial work ahead, may proceed in earnest and with some unanimity. Or so one can hope....

Monday, August 22, 2005


-- Homage --

Lord God Bird

I shan't forget that fateful day
In April of '05
When word emerged from Arkansas
'The Grail' was still alive!

Visage, ghost, forest phantom
Skulking through the dank and deep
Milieu of moss-laden swampland
Of that Arkansas retreat.

Grown men wept, o'ercome by joy
As cheers spread 'cross the land
The bird knew not, the bliss it brought
From that bottomland.

Regal, bold, majestic, saintly
Prehistoric silhouette
Shy, elusive, ever-wary
Thus surviving Man's neglect.

Can we save thee, so our children
Might in days still to come
Gaze upon thee, and behold thee
Perched above, against the sun?

And revel in that lordly presence
So long absent, so long gone
Now returned, as Phoenix rising
Carry on... CARRY ON!!

© 2005 Cyberthrush, ivorybills.blogspot.com


Saturday, August 20, 2005


-- AOU Meeting Upcoming --

The American Ornithologists' Union's annual meeting begins Aug 23rd (through 27th) in Santa Barbara, CA. Scattered among the multitude of presentations, surprise(!), surprise(!), will be several on the Ivory-bill : - ))) I shan't be there, but readers attending are welcome to send along any bits of interest they deem newsworthy to me (
cyberthrush@wildmail.com) for possible inclusion in the blog.

thanks... and happy schmooozing!

Friday, August 19, 2005


-- Question, Put To Rest --

Several folks responded quickly to the previous post-query (if you haven't already seen it you may want to jump down to read that post first), and artist/birder Julie Zickefoose's explanation was as good and thorough as any of them:

"Here's what's happening in that photo, and in life:
The famous (and only good) Arthur Allen photo of the flying ivory-bill was taken from beneath, with bright overhead lighting. As such, the white secondaries and inner primaries are illuminated and clearly read as white. The white lining of the underwing, which includes the underwing coverts and feathering along the ventral surface of the patagium, does not appear white in this photo because it is in shadow, and the light is not shining through it. If you look at any photo of a flying bird, taken from below and brightly lit from above, light is able to pass only through the flight feathers along the trailing edge of the wing, since there's only one layer of feathers there. Light really can't pass through a patagium, since it's heavily feathered, and there's skin and bone to further block that light. So, confusingly, this "wing lining" appears dark in the photo. But rest assured that Roger Peterson and other careful bird painters did get it right. And field guide plates emphasize local color rather than artifacts of light, because their mission is to show what color the bird actually is, rather than the color it may appear to be.
I invite everyone to look at my comparison plates of pileated and ivory-billed woodpeckers in the latest issue of Bird Watcher's Digest, just hitting the mailboxes and newsstands."
Thanks for the quick response Julie (and all others as well).


-- Interesting Question! --

The following question was posed today by a trained ornithologist on the Carolina bird listserv. The photo referred to is the same one used to in-line Phil Hoose's book, thus has had wide distribution, yet I've never heard this obvious question raised. Maybe it simply involves a trick of lighting, or does someone have other explanations...
"Greetings all, I just received my copy of North American Birds with the IBWO coverage and Dave Sibley's paintings. Very consistent with all the other artistic renditions of IBWO in flight, it raises a most interesting question. In AC Bent's Life Histories of NA Woodpeckers, is a nice series of IBWO photos by AA Allen in April 1935. One of the photos shows a bird in flight almost directly overhead. All the paintings of the underwing illustrate two bars of white; one on the leading edge and one on the trailing edge with a narrow strip of black in the middle. However, in the photo, the underwing pattern appears to be very different and more like the upperwing pattern (unless the photographed bird is flying upside down) as follows: Leading edge of the wing and about 40% of the underwing from the leading edge are black. The 60% of the wing including the trailing edge to the outermost primaries are pure white. Again, based on what I can discern in the photo, the underwing appears to be two-toned, not three-toned as is painted. Best I can tell, there are one of two possibilities: 1) the photo is somehow not showing the underwing pattern correctly. 2) RT Peterson (first to paint it) got it wrong and every artist since has copied him. I'd love some input on this (but please look at the photo before commenting)."



-- What If... --

In his seminal Ivory-bill study, James Tanner concluded that the two most significant factors in the species' demise were habitat loss and hunting... and the latter ran a distant second. However, in actuality, habitat loss does not itself kill birds, it simply leads to other factors that cause birds to die over time (increased predation, starvation, competition, exposure, failure to thrive or reproduce). Hunting on-the-other-hand kills birds immediately (even the wounded are generally doomed, as well as any progeny that would have arisen therefrom). Put another, more stark way, creatures have some opportunity to adapt to habitat loss (as MOST all species sharing the Ivory-bill's habitat DID!); they don't however generally adapt to bullet wounds!
Through the 19th and early 20th centuries hunting, for food, recreation, and commerce, was a routine part of every male's life (especially throughout the south). We probably forget today just HOW ROUTINE! I believe the impact of hunting on this species' population could be vastly underestimated (not to diminish the importance of habitat loss, but to say it was not so singular in its role, and that its impact was quite different from hunting).
When sharing any area traversed by Man, the Ivory-bill was likely one of the most large, conspicuous, and TEMPTING avian targets in the woodland. It would have been extremely vulnerable (as well as its eggs, in a day of widespread "oology" or egg-collecting),
returning predictably again and again to the same feeding, roosting, and nesting trees. In fact, one could imagine that virtually EVERY single Ivory-bill EVER crossing paths with an armed human in earlier days may have been shot at for food or recreation, so alluring a target it would've been. The impact of such victimization on the entire species is impossible to measure, but given the birds' relative scarcity, conceivably may have been devastating (the Pileated, having a much greater population and range to begin with, could have suffered even higher losses, with little impact on that species as a whole).
Some may wonder what difference it makes today, how the bird became so rare; all that matters is that it is rare. But it matters greatly. If hunting's impact has been hugely underestimated then the removal of hunting pressure (illegalization) on the species around Tanner's time, could have afforded any remaining population an immediate opportunity for stabilization. Tanner estimated there were less than 30 Ivory-bills left in the entire South at the time of his study, but others believed the number was closer to 200, or even more. For Ivory-bills to persist at all today, the latter estimates were likely closer to the truth. With increases in 2nd/3rd growth forest across the decades (and new forest management practices), potential IBWO habitat has slowly grown over time lending any survivors a chance to hang on. But to whatever degree hunting's impact was major, its abolishment 60+ years ago will have boosted that chance MULTI-FOLD.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


-- Skilled IBWO Searchers Sought --

For anyone interested (...and who's got vacation time saved up!), the following message from James Van Remsen, who headed up the Pearl River search in 2002, was posted on the Louisiana Bird listserv on Wed. :

--> FYI - We have announced 15 job openings for 4 positions to staff the Cornell Lab of Ornith.
search for IBWO from 31 Oct 2005 - 31 April 2006 in AR.
Please encourage anyone with excellent field skills (especially birding) to apply!

These are posted on:

Will be on (today or tomorrow):

(...shine up those resumes!!)


Wednesday, August 17, 2005


-- Past IBWO Sightings --

Planning your next IBWO search?: here's a link to a nice range map from Birder's World Magazine listing 21 of the most notable Ivorybill sightings since 1944 (out of 100's of reports that have been made over that time -- there have, for example, been many more rumors of IBWOs in Texas, South Carolina, and Louisiana than herein indicated). Map does illustrate how IBWO sightings have been distributed across a large chunk of the species' old range, and certainly not confined to any one state or area.


-- Symposium Planned --

There will be a symposium on the "Ecology of Large Woodpeckers" (focusing on guess-who) at the Convention Center in Brinkley, AR., Oct. 31 - Nov. 3. ($100 registration fee includes lunches, banquet, and field trip). If interested, download brochure from:

or, call the Brinkley Chamber of Commerce for further info, ph. 870-734-2262.



Tuesday, August 16, 2005


-- Wha-a-at Are Blue Jays Thinkin' ? --

One of the intriguing mystery tidbits of the IBWO literature is the fact that Blue Jays on rare occasions do a spot-on imitation of the Ivory-bill 'kent' or 'henk' call. Blue Jays of course are known as excellent MIMICS, so the obvious question is, "what THE HEY are they mimicking!?" Some believe it is a matter of pure coincidence -- Blue Jays make a great variety of sounds and by sheer chance one of those sounds ends up being the same as the IBWO call (...how realistic is that?). Another explanation is that Blue Jays did indeed learn to make the call centuries ago in the presence of IBWOs and simply continue to pass it along across the generations (although with less frequency), despite no longer hearing it or being reinforced for making it (again, how realistic is THAAAT??). The fact that even Blue Jays residing in regions where IBWOs NEVER EVER existed, have been heard to make the call on occasion indicates to many that this behavior is pure coincidence or otherwise meaningless. Yet the very rarity with which the sound is made (...I've only heard it once in my life) is itself an intriguing piece of data, especially given that so much of their repertoire is repeated frequently.

Just one more thing to think... or wonder, about. . . . .

Monday, August 15, 2005


-- IBWO Conservation Stamp --

If you wish to donate money toward the Ivory-bill research effort, AND... get something in return, Ivory-bill conservation stamps (artwork by Larry Chandler) are on sale at:
Other items, t-shirts, ballcaps, prints, books, are also available there.


Sunday, August 14, 2005


- Location, Location... another 'outside-the-box' thought --

'Deep swamp, bottomland hardwood forest' -- this is the description most folks, including experts, voice for ideal Ivory-bill habitat; the sort of place we've long been told to search for the species.
Yet, in the late 80's after locating the species in Cuba in UPLAND PINE FOREST, Les Short (a premier Ivory-bill expert), concluded that the NATURAL HABITAT for Ivory-bills was indeed PINES (as the bird had ALWAYS inhabited in Cuba and so too it's close cousin, the Imperial Woodpecker, inhabited in Mexico). Short hypothesized that centuries ago in N. America the Ivory-bill would have been found routinely in pine forest, and only after early white settlers decimated the pines did the species move to the bottomland swamp hardwoods with which it is now associated (and where it competes more directly with Pileateds), but this was never it's ideal.
One can't help but wonder if by now there might be some 2nd or 3rd growth pine expanses adequate to attract a few IBWO individuals if Short was right about their innate preference. Yet any birder who wandered out of pines in the last 5 decades and informed local 'experts' that he/she had just seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker would've been summarily dismissed as crazed and un-credible.
In short, searching out only bottomland hardwood forest for remnants of this species may prove overly-limiting. That this bird needs large tree tracts and remoteness from humans seems clear, but beyond that I'm not convinced it is nearly as 'specialized' as the standard literature would have one believe. Ju-u-u-ust possibly, there is much MORE habitat out there in need of searching than even most wide-eyed optimists imagine!... The only thing certain about the Ivory-bill, is that we are still largely ignorant of its ways, and especially of exactly what the heck it's been up to for lo the last 60 years!! (Tim Barksdale, a search team member, makes some of these same points and more in an interesting, old, May post at another blog.)

Friday, August 12, 2005


-- Book Reviews --

A few folks have inquired about book recommendations on the Ivory-bill. So here's 1-man's opinion:
There are at least 4 readily available volumes on the IBWO out right now: Jerome Jackson's "In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker," Tim Gallagher's "The Grail Bird...," Phillip Hoose's "The Race to Save the Lord God Bird," and Dover's re-publication of James Tanner's 1942 dissertation "The Ivory-billed Woodpecker." I LIKE them ALL!
If I could only own one volume though, it would be Jackson's. In spite of his recently-expressed skepticism toward the Arkansas evidence, no high level academic has more persistently and convincingly voiced the arguments for the Ivory-bill's continued presence over the decades than Dr. Jackson. Indeed, he alone is responsible for keeping the bird off the Government's official extinct-species list. His book is the most comprehensive and complete in many ways... BUT DOES NOT include the most recent Arkansas findings. And the writing style may be too dry and academic for many tastes.
Phillip Hoose's volume is a more engaging, fun read than Jackson's; not as complete but still with much wonderful information, sidebars, and pictures. Again, it came out prior to the latest Arkansas news. I suspect both Jackson's and Hoose's volumes will be re-issued at some point with an additional chapter to cover the most recent events.
If you want to hear about the Arkansas findings, than Tim Gallagher's book is your only choice; it is a quick, adventurous read, not as historically comprehensive as Jackson and Hoose, but decent, if less objective, in it's coverage, and probably somewhat rushed into print.
Finally, even 60 years after it's original writing, I think James Tanner's dissertation work is one of the best pieces of natural history research and writing ever!... BUT it is what it is... a study of a handful of Ivory-bills at a given place in a given time, not a truly comprehensive exploration of the species across time and place (though he did travel across the South trying to gather information as possible). I always enjoy the tentative, hesitant, qualified manner in which Tanner's thesis is composed, with true grad-student humility. It was only years later, as he became the focus of so much adulation and attention, that the statements of he and his fellow Singer Tract sighters took on a more absolutist ring, and an almost obstructionist tone toward other searchers.
In short, if you want to learn the most, and even contemplate searching for the Ivory-bill yourself, get Jackson's book. If you want a good, inspiring home-read, still with solid historical info, get Hoose's. If you're primarily just interested in the most recent events pick up Gallagher's. And if you don't mind dissertation-style writing and want to see where today's hubbub over the IBWO really originates from, read Tanner.
Christopher Cokinos also included a fine chapter on the IBWO in his book of some years ago, "Hope Is the Thing With Feathers." And almost certainly there will be additional excellent volumes out in the next year or two on this bird. Julie Zickefoose has written wonderful articles in the past on the Ivory-bill and were she by any chance to do a book-length volume (I have no inside information) on the bird I would recommend it sight-unseen.

Thursday, August 11, 2005


-- Lull In Search Activity --

In case you're wondering why there isn't more active IBWO searching going on right now in the Arkansas Big Woods area (...it will recommence in the winter) consider John James Audubon's picturesque description of Ivory-bill country during the hot, steamy months from almost two centuries past:

"I wish, kind reader, it were in my power to present to your mind’s eye the favourite resort of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Would I could describe the extent of those deep morasses, overshadowed by millions of gigantic dark cypresses, spreading their sturdy moss-covered branchses, as if to admonish intruding man to pause and reflect on the many difficulties which he must encounter, should he persist in venturing farther into their almost inaccessible recesses, extending for miles before him, where he should be interrupted by huge projecting branches, here and there the mossy trunk of a fallen and decaying tree, and thousands of creeping and twining plants of numberless species! Would that I could represent to you the dangerous nature of the ground, its oozing, spongy, and miry disposition, although covered with a beautiful but treacheous carpeting, composed of the richest mosses, flags, and water lilies, no sooner receiving the pressure of the foot than it yields and endangers the very life of the adventurer, whilst here and there, as he approaches an opening, that proves merely a lake of black muddy water, his ear is assailed by the dismal croaking of innumerable frogs, the hissing of serpents, or the bellowing of alligators! Would that I could give you an idea of the sultry pestiferous atmosphere that nearly suffocates the intruder during the meridian heat of our dogdays, in those gloomy and horrible swamps! But the attempt to picture these scenes would be in vain. Nothing short of ocular demonstration can impress any adequate idea of them."

....'nuf said!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


-- Sibley IBWO Page Available --

Not certain if David Sibley is yet fully convinced of the authenticity of the Arkansas sightings, but fans of his books/artwork, can download
an Ivory-bill field guide page from the web (pdf form) for insertion in their guides as desired.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005


- The Ivory-bill Range...how far north??? -

Discovering Ivory-bills in Arkansas, at the north end of it's one-time range is especially exciting because of implications for other search areas to consider. Most Ivory-bill optimists expected the species to be found, if at all, near the southern end of its former range, somewhere closer to the Gulf Coast; but of course there was no good way to predict which direction birds might head having 60 years to wander (and adapt) in pursuit of adequate habitat, food, and protection. Given an Arkansas population, southern Missouri, southern Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia, are no longer out of the question for searches. Even southern Ohio has had previous hints of possible IBWOs, and more recently Steve Sheridan recounted a story of 70's sightings in southern Indiana. (Indeed, looking in remote places NOT-previously searched, in states not seriously considered before, just may make sense in the end.)
The official IBWO recovery team is planning organized IBWO searches through the southern tier of states this winter, and certainly with limited manpower they should focus on the highest probability areas first. But hopefully, able folks in other, less probable yet still possible, states will take the initiative to explore their own hinterlands as well. Who knows... the next Gene Sparling just might emerge from a state or area few would've predicted!

Monday, August 08, 2005


- Science: Good, Bad, and Ivory-bill - an essay (...rant)

In the midst of a paper critical of the Arkansas Ivory-bill claims first being much ballyhooed and then suddenly withdrawn just prior to actual publication, there has been much discussion across the internet about good and poor science. The question I have is...: WHERE THE HECK was all THIS discussion for the last 50 years when academics and writers were blindly regurgitating limited info/data to prematurely proclaim the species extinct!? When James Tanner's very tentative conclusions and small sample-size-based generalizations were hardened into standard truths in the IBWO literature where then were the keenly-honed scientific minds who should've been questioning, not following lockstep, those conclusions???
Quite simply, there has never been a solid basis for assuming this species extinct (an extremely serious step), yet few academic ornithologists have been willing to say it out loud, cowed into silence by a naysaying, shortsighted majority. Field biology, by its nature, is a weak, imprecise science, but the rush to judgment on the Ivory-bill, and treatment of the likes of optimists John Dennis and George Lowery over the years (not to mention lesser figures), has been especially egregious and consequential.
Should whatever remaining IBWOs be found and well-studied, only to then die out forever, the blame for extinction will suddenly fall not just with the loggers and hunters/collectors of yesteryear, but with some of the most prominent names in modern ornithology, who 'fiddled while Rome burned' through prior decades, routinely scoffing when they could've/should've been pursuing thorough, open-minded scientific inquiry to find and save this species.
Oyyy veyyy!!!

Sunday, August 07, 2005


- Killing Trees at Big Woods??? -

Last week as part of the IBWO recovery effort team members began killing selected trees in Arkansas' Big Woods area by 'girdling', as well as with herbicide use, in hopes of creating more food (wood boring beetles that only utilize old dead trees) for any IBWOs present. Of course any remaining Ivory-bills have made it this far without any artificial human intervention, and one must wonder whether such intrusive (and no doubt noisy) human activity might be more deleterious (in 'spooking' the birds) than helpful. Hopefully, this is a venture that may help and won't harm but... I wonder???

Saturday, August 06, 2005


-- The Acoustic Evidence --

The latest acoustic evidence (not yet available to the public) of Ivory-bill presence in AR. is creating it's own discordance, since it convinced critics to withdraw a planned skeptical article from publication, and establish their own belief in the presence of at least two birds. This will all likely be sorted out by the time of the AOU meeting at month's end, but for now:
1) Some are saying the recorded sounds are NOT necessarily in fact IBWOs; 2) others contend they are IBWO sounds, but not necessarily multiple birds. 3) Others believe clearly two separate birds are involved, and finally 4) some emphasize that the calls in question were recorded at the White River Refuge, SOUTH of the Cache River Refuge where the initial individual was spotted, implying the presence of at least THREE separate IBWOs for now. I'll opt for the latter conclusion, with likely more to come in time!
....In the words of Jerome Jackson (...and the writers of "The X Files"), "the truth is out there."


-- David Luneau's DVD --

Early 'reviews' I've seen of David Luneau's DVD of his Arkansas IBWO video clip have been very positive; includes an enhanced version of the original film clip with slow motion and zoomed-in versions; emphasis on specific revealing frames as well as comparative re-enactments using IBWO and Pileated models. All done in a 9-minute loop format. $20.
At same site (www.ibwo.org), Terri Luneau's (David's wife) children's book, "Big Woods Bird" is also available ($9) if you have young ones in the house (...and hey, we're ALL young-at-heart!). Book is also available through Amazon.com.

...Hope this post doesn't seem overly-commercial -- I have no financial tie to the aforementioned items, just think they should be of interest to many of you out there (and I have no fear of David and Terri quickly retiring to live a Carribean life of luxury off their revenue! ...indeed, it probably won't even cover David's IBWO search expenses over the years!!)


Thursday, August 04, 2005


Interlude #1 ...a bedtime story : - )

Once upon a time, long ago, there was a 2-foot tall, colorful, flightless bird species called the Takahe that lived only on the island of New Zealand (smaller than the state of Texas). Sadly, their ground-dwelling habitat was destroyed and they were hunted and preyed upon. From 1800 to 1900 only 4 were ever seen, and soon they were no more. By the 1930's Takahes were clearly extinct (...or SO-O-O-O people THOUGHT). Then in 1948, a few individuals were discovered living out their lives in remote mountain valleys. And upon closer scrutiny about 250 Takahes were located in those mountains! Initially, the numbers dropped significantly until adequate conservation measures were finally put in place. Now the population is once again past 250 and growing.
....Sleep well.

(And for your next assignment, look up the story of the Coelecanthe...)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


....and still the plot thickens

Even as the recent skeptics are swinging to the 'believer' side, no less than David Luneau (Arkansas searcher who took the controversial brief IBWO video clip) posted the following cautionary note to the AR. bird listserv today:

-- "The sound recordings that have been referred to in recent news reports are still being analyzed. It is premature to assume that they are recordings of IBWOs as reported in the press, as that conclusion has not been reached by everyone involved.
There will be a presentation on the results (to date) of the acoustic data given by Russ Charif of Cornell at the AOU meeting in late August.
As of now, none of the recordings are available to the public." --

This does seem oddly at variance with both the reported statements of certain Cornell-associated individuals as well as the expressed certitude of former skeptics R. Prum and M. Collins... but David usually knows whereof he speaks!


-- More details on retraction --

Once again "bootstrap analysis" weblog has nice additional details on IBWO critics' change-of-view, if you are unable to get to NY Times story of same day (may require free registration?):




Monday, August 01, 2005


-- Critics Retract! --

Three prominent critics of the Arkansas IBWO evidence are now retracting the paper originally planned for internet publication at end of July. Further acoustic evidence (recordings of both the "kent" call and the distinctive 'double-rap') from the Cornell group of the bird's existence have convinced the skeptics not only of an Ivory-bill's presence, but of at least an active pair! ....duhhhhh!!
With this rather embarrassing episode behind us hopefully a thorough southern search can continue with the full effort and seriousness that will be needed, without distraction (...as SHOULD'VE been done in the 50's... or 60's... or 70's... or.....)


AOU Meeting This Month

The American Ornithological Union holds its annual meeting later this month in Santa Barbara, Ca. with various expected updates to the Arkansas IBWO sightings including further evidenciary material to be presented. Possibly, any remaining controversy will already be resolved by then (in the IBWO's favor!), or the skeptics/detractors and believers can thrash it out face-to-face there. So far still no sign of the critical paper at the Public Library of Science website where it is s'posed to appear.
IBWO searcher David Luneau now has a DVD version of his Ivory-bill film clip (in varying formats) from Cache River available for purchase at his www.ibwo.org website.
....Ohhhh, and if you want a cooo-oool Ivory-bill ballcap visit Mary Scott's website (www.birdingamerica.com) to order!

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