"....The truth is out there."
-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."
-- Arthur Schopenhauer
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
-- Chicago Talk --
Tonight (Nov. 30) at Chicago's venerable Field Museum, John Fitzpatrick and others involved with the Arkansas search will give another interactive talk on rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Maybe he will explain how not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, but 7 to 16 people, at different times, on different days, from different positions, at different angles may have all mistaken a Pileated Woodpecker for an Ivory-bill... or, maybe not.
These talks are still travelling around the country so be on the lookout for one in your area sometime. A presentation is scheduled for Jefferson City, MO. Dec. 8, in Raleigh, NC. sometime in Feb., and Bobby Harrison speaks in Lakeland, FL. on Dec. 3, among other talks.
I'm not trying to be mean here, just realistic. I want to believe this is all real, but a whole lot depends on just a few field marks.
...This problem can result in a sort of "group hysteria" when large numbers of birders look at the same bird. The suggestion by one person that the bird is a certain species forms an expectation for everyone else, who then looks only for field marks to confirm the "expected" identification. In one very well documented case in California, the first state record of the Sky Lark (a Eurasian species) was misidentified for days, and by hundreds of people, as the state's first Smith's Longspur. The two species have a superficial similarity but are not even in the same family and can be distinguished by dozens of features. The initial observers expected a Smith's Longspur to show up in the state and never considered the Sky Lark as a possibility. Most of the people who went to see this bird over the next few days had the same expectation, augmented by the knowledge that they were looking for a "confirmed" Smith's Longspur.
Why has Harrison's video of an Ivory-bill flying by a decoy not been commented on? It was supposedly shown in public in Boston on November 4, but there has been absolutely no news or commentary on it. I have searched all over the web and there is a deafening silence. I have Googled and searched the Mass-birds archive, where the video was announced. Presumably some of the members would have attended the meeting in Boston. This video was described in great detail by Harrison in this article Phantom of the Bayou, published in the September, 2005 issue of Natural History.
I'd also like to hear why the details are Harrison's June 9, 2004 sighting are described rather differently in the Science paper and the Natural History article--see this thread I posted in a Birder's World forum. I'd also like to know, in that sighting, why Harrison was able to see the dark crest of the bird, suggesting it was a female, but somehow missed the white stripes on the back--mentioned as a key field mark in the Science paper, of which Harrison was a co-author. Harrison described the back of his June 9, 2004 bird as black.
Incidentally, I came up with these observations completely independently of the Nelsons. I have no stake in this, one way or another, except I want the Arkansas Ivory-bills to be real.
Just some idle questions that I feel need to be asked.
1) the Harrison video -- I don't know the answer to that either, but I've stated since the start it couldn't add much to the discussion, since Cornell has had access to it for a long time and would've used it if they could; as I recall Harrison himself says the clip is LESS THAN a second long -- it's either useless or if enhanced so as to show something, the enhancement technique itself becomes questionable.
2) the dorsal stripes are yet another red herring -- virtually none of the IBWO literature directs people to look for dorsal stripes or any other field marks except for the trailing white wing edge and a large bill (only rarely do they even mention the female's black crest), so naturally people tend not to focus on such things. Most folks probably couldn't even give you many fieldmarks of a House Sparrow immediately after seeing it, but they know they saw a House Sparrow. Reminds me of a comparison once made between old field guides going into copious descriptions a Goldfinch, and then RT Peterson coming along and saying something like 'the only yellow N. American bird with black wings' -- 'nuf said -- if you didn't see the cap, the tail, the flight pattern, didn't matter; if it was yellow with black wings it was a Goldfinch -- a couple of key marks and the 'jizz' of the bird are almost always what people use in field IDs; if they needed more than that hardly anything turned in on upcoming Christmas counts would be acceptable (uhhh, what exactly were the field marks on that 134th Yellow-rumped Warbler you're reporting?). Of course we'd all like as much detail as possible on an IBWO claim, but the lack of certain specific items is not absolutely critical. (And hey, how do you like the cover of Sibley's original field guide with a Red-tailed Hawk with BLUE underwings -- ohhh, that's real accurate, huhhh -- I'm not criticizing Sibley, although I always thought that was a crummy cover illustration, but just saying experienced birders routinely look past a lot of specifics when getting the "feel" or ID of a bird).
3) Finally, as far as 'groupthink,' what about a grad student turning in a study that never gets replicated, never gets critically challenged in print, and is regurgitated over and over for 50 yrs. with blind acceptance, though based on very few direct observations -- THAT is 'groupthink.' You couldn't study a handful of humans and get away with such sloopiness but it is routinely permitted with non-human subjects. I believe Tanner did a great job, but what he had before him was an impossible task -- you simply can't do a good study of an entire species when your sample size is so miniscule.
'nuf said for now...
1-Harrison claimed in the Natural History article that the 1-second video definitely showed an Ivory-bill. He even claimed to get a wing-beat frequency from it. Fine, let's see it, what's the harm? (For all of these things, I say validity of the evidence does matter because public money is being expended, so the public deserves to see the evidence.) I think Harrison's interpretation of his video bears on his skill as an observer.
Harrison has made, in print, seemingly contradctory statements about the exact circumstances of the June 2004 sighting in Arkansas. Seems like these statements need to be clarified.
Let me make this clear, too. I admire Harrison for getting out there and looking for the IBWO. Same thing for Mary Scott. That doesn't mean, however, that I'm going to take everything they say uncritically. Reason: this is all a big deal. Public money is being spent, and public policy is being changed.
2-It is not just the white dorsal stripes that have been missed in the observations, but the white bill, the bright eye, the all-dark head (one exception, perhaps), and, most of all, the "kent" calls. These have not been heard in association with the sightings at the Cache NWR--that is stated in the Science paper. The possible kent call recordings have been made at White River NWR, some distance away. The lack of details in the Science paper hit me the first time I read it. I remember saying "huh?" to myself.
I think there have been some statements made about the Lunea video that the overall proportions of the bird do not look correct for IBWO--wings and tail too short compared to body. That's not just one field mark, but a whole bunch of them, the "jizz" if you will.
And yes, I think the standards for reporting a rarity should be higher than those for reporting a common bird. Reporting a sighting of an IBWO should be subject to more scrutiny than reporting that 394th Yellow-rumped Warbler. Again, we are talking really large implications for public policy here.
3-Groupthink can occur in all sorts of circumstances, and I think people are quite right to question some of Tanner's conclusions. However, he had the advantage of studying a population of several birds for quite some time at close range. Right now, I'm seeing a LOT of speculation about things like how to differentiate Ivory-bill foraging grooves (only 0.3 mm in difference, look at that on a metric rule--barely visible), with no "ground truth"--that is, no direct observations of IBWO's making these foraging marks. The comparisons with museum specimens of known roost holes are interesting, but you know, all sorts of birds and mammals will re-use a cavity. Seems hard to believe this can all be sorted out with certainty in the absence of direct observations.
I believe Jerome Jackson was quoted as saying the Cornell researchers were "shooting in the dark". Yup, seems like it.
I keep hoping for a clear photo or video--but it's been about 18 months now and my hope is fading. Sometimes life is surprising, and I keep hoping for such a surprise from Arkansas, or Louisiana, or Florida. I've been hoping for 40 years, since I fell in love with the Ivory-bill as a kid.
I was stunned by the lack of conclusive evidence after so
much hoopla last spring. I thought for sure they must have had conclusive proof of the ivory bill's existence. They don't. There is some evidence...but it falls short of conclusive at least scientifically. I am hopeful...but
that is all I will be until they come up with some conclusive 100 percent evidence...the home run photo or video.
I am fearful this will never come....some are seemly grasping for anything now to prove their point. I fear the ship is sinking and they are holding on and will go down with it if they don't find any conclusive evidence...
But I remain hopeful...I too like Patrick Coin have been enthralled by this bird since a very young age. I feel very disappointed after reviewing the "evidence" myself. I thought for sure if Cornell proclaimed its existence they would have the strong evidence to back it up. So far they don't.
It's a bird that likes to sit on fences.
It's mug on one side and his wump on the other.
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