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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.

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"....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

Thursday, September 08, 2005


-- NATURE Article --

The latest issue of Nature magazine (Sept. 8, 2005) has a somewhat even-handed account of the controversy in AR.:


Apologies: sorry, this link NO LONGER seems to work except for paying customers; I used it successfully twice yesterday (for free), but either that was a fluke or heavy demand has caused the site-masters to limit access .
I downloaded the Nature article before it was made available only for a fee. I have prepared a summary, actual quoted text is in italics. Original article written by Rex Dalton for Nature.

Most interesting items to me:
* Account of cutbacks in other federal efforts on endangered species
* Comparison with film of Imperial Woodpecker
* Some experts believe audio, others much more cautious

Headline: Ornithology: A wing and a prayer

The first two lead paragraphs talk about the discovery and the Science paper, then go on to talk about the efforts of the recovery team to create standing dead wood.

The controversy
* "The bird is here" Martjan Lammertink--graduate student at the University of Amsterdam
* Other ornithologists are skeptical--they do not believe the Lunneau video shows and IBWO, nor do they believe the sound recordings released at the AOU meeting are of an IBWO.
* Jerome Jackson of Florida Gulf Coast University says IBWO searchers are "shooting in the dark".

Political overtones
* Bush administration is sensitive to criticism of its environmental policies.
* Cornell team leader, John Fitzpatrick, had hoped that his occasional birding companion, First Lady Laura Bush, would make the announcement. (Yes, that's a direct quote.)

IBWO Recovery team efforts underway
* Development of life-table models estimate how many IBWO could have survived--with a best guess of 15 pairs
* Trying to be able to distinguish IBWO feeding sign from that of other woodpeckers
* Increase appropriate habitat--they report birds can roam 20 km per day (no specifics for this figure given)

Concern over other programs for endangered species
* At the same time that biologists at the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) saw their budgets slashed, the ivory-billed project got a cash infusion. Meanwhile, successful programmes to recover other endangered species were scaled back.
* Kirtland's Warbler recovery effort is the only example given: cowbird trapping in Michigan is reported to have been cut back, to 1,100 this year versus 4,000 in 2004.
* Again, that is the only example given in the article.

Background of recent sightings
* No definite sightings reported in US since 1944, Cuban population persisted perhaps into the 1980's.
* Cornell team named the Cache River Bird "Elvis", after Elvis Presley, whose fans reported seeing him after his death.
* Briefly describes Mary Scott's report from 2003 in White River NWR, Arkansas
* They did not mention 1999 Pearl River sighting.

The 2004-2005 sightings at Cache River, etc.
* Team watched Cache and White River NWR's throughout winter of 2004-05.
* Comparison with Allen's finding of pair in Florida 1924. [subsequently collected by a taxidermist--PC]
* Current searchers have high-tech methods available.
* Result: seven woodpecker sightings it considered believable, 18,000 hours of sound recordings, and one grainy video of Elvis
* Lunneau video provoked skepticism, mentions manuscript prepared, but not published, by Jackson, Prum, and Robbins.
* Audio evidence from autonomous recording units(ARU), kent calls and double-knocks, caused them to withdraw their manuscript.

Skepticism again
* Gary Graves, Curator of Birds, Smithsonian Institution, thinks the Lunneau video may show a Pileated.
* Lammertink has a copy of a 1953 film of an Imperial Woodpecker, Campephilus imperialis, in flight.
* Michael Patten, research director at the University of Oklahoma's Sutton Avian Research Center, saw that film at Cornell, quoting:
"As soon as I watched the film," he says, "I was absolutely certain they didn't have an ivory-billed woodpecker. The bird in the film flies utterly differently to the one in the Cornell video."
* Fitzpatrick disagrees with this interpretation, saying the two films are not comparable, given different camera angles and stages of the bird's flight.

More opinions on audio evidence
* Prum and Robbins are convinced by it.
* Jackson, Graves and Patten are more cautious.
* "The sound recordings don't validate the flimsy sightings records," says Patten.
* Patten mentions Blue Jay sounds, possibility of birders playing old Cornell recording of IBWO
* Rosenberg of Cornell counters that they are sure ARU recordings are not from the old Cornell recordings of IBWO. He says they can't rule out Blue Jays.

In Conclusion
* For Fitzpatrick, all the evidence creates a critical mass that indicates at least one bird is out there.
* Cornell team will be afield again in November with more equipement and $200,000 in federal funds
* Nature Conservancy has raised $5 million for habitat conservation.
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