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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

Friday, March 31, 2006


-- Upcoming... --

Most of us are probably tiring of the back-and-forth sword-fighting at this point (over points that can likely never be resolved in print), but worth noting that Van Remsen of LSU (who headed the 2002 Pearl River search) says the next Auk edition will include a piece in rejoinder to Jackson's Jan. article -- it's almost ashame that so much time/energy has had to go into such rebuttal activity, but yes, that is how 'science' works. Moreover, the contentious quality of the arguments at this point may leave scars in the ornithological community for years to come, assuming resolution is eventually reached. Hmmmmm... maybe a TV or Hollywood movie in the making here (...Harrison Ford as Dr. Fitzpatrick, perhaps : - )



Thursday, March 30, 2006


-- Worth Reading --

A very interesting, sober post on the La. bird listserv today:


(I don't concur with everything stated, but interesting input from someone not heard from before, and points well-taken.)


-- B. Russell's List Update --

Mary Scott has posted an updated version of Bob Russell's "Top Ten" potential Ivory-bill sites with appended notes to his original list, the most interesting of which may be the following, related to the White River NWR area:
" Volunteer searchers in this area went plunging towards a likely call in the woods. They converged on the triangulated tree, and two Pileated Woodpeckers flushed from the crown. They turned off their video cameras and recording equipment. An Ivorybill then flew out from the center of the tree. No longer the Grail Bird, the ivorybill is turning into the nemesis bird!"


Addendum: as noted by a commenter below, the above paragraph has now been removed from Mary's webpage -- I'll assume it was not a valid or credible report (...or even an early April Fool's joke gone awry????), unless someone has another explanation. . . .



Wednesday, March 29, 2006


-- Looking Ahead, a Tad --

With little more than a month left in the official Big Woods search season it must be acknowledged that the season could end without evidence confirming earlier claims for the Ivory-bill there. Cornell has consistently said that they would only give their full report in May after searching ended, and despite various rumors, official indications are that only further un-definitive sightings and acoustic evidence have thus far been attained (even the number of these might be somewhat disappointing). On-the-other-hand, it has always been the case that the only great likelihood of attaining glossy incontrovertible IBWO footage would come upon finding an active nesthole, and the next 30 days remain prime time for that. Many believe that, given the heat they are facing, if Cornell had such evidence already they would find a way to report it before May; then-again, existence of an active nest is the very sort of info they might clamp down tight on (for the birds' protection) and definitely not divulge until nesting season passes. In short, a lot could happen in the next 30 days, but we ought also be prepared for the possibility of disappointment.
Finally, keep in mind as well, there remain several other southern locales still to hear from or in need of thorough searching, and the Big Woods itself was not fully covered in this initial season (which focussed on some so-called "hot zones") -- that said, it must be recognized that for many of the fence-post sitters out there, much of the impetus and drive for searching will evaporate if this season passes without greater success.


Monday, March 27, 2006


-- Another Searcher Weighs In --

Another Cornell volunteer has chimed in with their take on the search following a 2-week stint in the Big Woods:



Sunday, March 26, 2006


-- Another "Frontiers" Post --


The following Sun. (3/26) post, "IBWO vs. PIWO Wing" by Floyd Hayes on "Frontiers of Identification" is one of many I think worth a read, if you're not already following them all on that site:


Several good, and balanced points are made I think, and toward the end this reasonable conclusion is included:
"In my opinion the current IBWO controversy is by far the greatest--and most entertaining--bird controversy
in my lifetime. Whether or not it is ever resolved to the satisfaction of all, just think of how much we have learned thus far and
yet have to learn about: the appearance, biology, and historical occurrence of the IBWO; the mechanics of bird flight, including
variation in the wingbeat frequencies of woodpeckers; variation in the vocalizations of woodpeckers and other birds including
Blue Jays; variation in the drumming displays of woodpeckers and other sources of similar sounds; the limitations of video
and sound analysis; etc. Of course we also benefit by the new acquisitions of land and funding for conservation, and
the education of the general public."



Saturday, March 25, 2006


-- One Searcher's Report --

While awaiting more news you may want to read this longish (3-part) report one Cornell searcher has posted on the Web; includes thumbnail sketches of some of the principals in the search, as well as a brief daily diary of his 2-week stint in the field. It opens with these potentially cryptic, ...or potentially unmeaningful, comments:
"The CONFIDENTIALITY agreement we all signed prohibits us from revealing any
positive (or negative) information on whether or not we saw or heard the
IBWO. Cornell will make an appropriate announcement after the present
search effort ends this April.
I have just heard from the Cornell Ivory-bill Project Communications &
Marketing staff who have requested that I not include 3 paragraphs of my
original report and to not include small sections of 2 other paragraphs. I
hope that I have otherwise adhered below to what they would like."




Wednesday, March 22, 2006


-- Frontiers of I.D. forum, again --

Just a reminder that the "Frontiers of (bird) Identification" forum below continues to have an ongoing discussion of the Ivory-bill debate (and it has now broadened out somewhat from solely a discussion of the Luneau video) for those who care to keep following it:


This is the best overall discussion I have seen on the Web -- though there are many points put forth that I don't happen to agree with, at least they manage to maintain a very intelligent, analytical, AND civil, discussion of the topic throughout. Recommended.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006


-- Ponder Condors --

John Nielsen's wonderful book, "Condor" recently appeared in bookstores detailing the efforts to bring that bird back from the brink, and it affords me a sort of follow-up to the previous post: Those who remember the tremendous controversy surrounding the California Condor recovery program when it was first proposed know that it largely split both the conservation and birding communities down the middle between those who supported the project and those who felt the Condors' fate was hopeless and they should be allowed to die out naturally flying free out in the wild, rather than dying ignominiously behind wire bars in some Calif. research facility. I was in that latter camp (and in some mighty fine company I might add). But with hindsight I was wrong. Even if the project eventually fails (ultimate long-term success is still uncertain), what has been learned in the process will no doubt be invaluable in some future circumstance, and the success to this point has been quite remarkable. It is good that the project went forth, and personally I don't ever again want to give up prematurely on a species due only to scarcity of hope (I don't mean for this to imply, however, that I think a captive breeding program for IBWOs could succeed). Species extinction is a terribly serious matter, not to be taken lightly. So again I'll reiterate, it is not simply a desire to be right on this subject (Ivory-bill existence) that so drives the passion many of us feel in the debate... but rather, deep down, it is our profound fear and unwillingness to chance being wrong (if we were to adopt the opposite stance). And thank goodness I was wrong about the California Condor.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


-- Truth or Consequences --

Warning, warning : boring post ahead....

With some trepidation I'll try another analogy to make the point I attempted a couple of posts back, which I believe to be a crucial, but little acknowledged point, in this whole debate (for those who already understand it forgive me for beating a dead horse; for those who don't comprehend it, here goes):
Skeptics often say they are simply seeking "the truth," the implication being that either Ivory-bills exist or they do not, and they are just seeking the one right answer (technically I s'pose, it could end up that IBWOs exist, but NOT in AR. and both sides will claim partial victory!). This all sounds reasonable and forthright, but it actually oversimplifies the situation considerably. Different wrong answers are rarely equal in their consequences, and it is frequently MORE IMPORTANT to focus not on truth (when that is difficult to establish), but on the varying outcomes of falseness. Statisticians talk of 'type 1' and 'type 2' errors and medical folks look at 'false positives' vs. 'false negatives' -- these are not equally serious flaws -- one is usually more serious/consequential than the other and thus more to be avoided.
Example: There is today a growing consensus that global warming is real -- but let's suppose it isn't even a consensus and that only 30% of credible scientists think it serious with major consequences and 70% think it unreal or just inconclusive. The argument can be made that even then we ought still proceed on the assumption it is real because the consequences of failing to act, in the event the 70% are wrong, are too great compared to the consequences if the 30% are wrong (yes, there are many other subtle, complicating factors, but you get the gist). But this isn't even the analogy I want to use.
Rather I'll look at our justice system where we presume people innocent until 'proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt' -- we make the supposition that it is preferable to permit say 10 guilty persons to go free than wrongly punish 1 innocent person (or in the extreme case, let 10 guilty live rather than execute 1 innocent person). Most of us probably concur with this approach. In the case of the Ivory-bill we have the choice of proceeding as if the species is extinct or as if the species still exists. I happen to sincerely believe the Ivory-bill exists, but even if I DIDN'T personally believe it I would argue we ought proceed as if it does until further, better evidence indicates otherwise, because the consequences of failing to do so and then discovering we were wrong are too great.
Open-mindedness is a key to progress (and truth) in science. In a similar vein, if a credible individual with an accurate description was to report a Passenger Pigeon tomorrow in some locale rarely visited by birders, I would lay all my presuppositions of that species' likely extinction aside, and want the report followed up, not dismissed out-of-hand. (While there are many other complexities involved to muddy the argument, the basic notion of focussing on the consequences of being wrong, not the likelihood of being right, holds -- although parties may then have to disagree on what those consequences are!)
And one final note: as has often been previously noted, you can't prove a negative -- i.e., skeptics can never prove there are no Ivory-bills living on the planet, all they can do is amass more evidence. Believers, on-the-other-hand, need only one confirmed bird to show not only that IBWOs exist, but that they've been around for 60 years. In short, no skeptic can go to his/her grave having won this argument; I will be able to leave this earth one day knowing that the believer side either won or still thinking that it will one day (to me, it requires 75-100 years of no or few credible reports to even begin speculating about extinction of an entire species; not even close in the IBWO case). And frankly, I guess I sorta like those odds ; - )

Saturday, March 18, 2006


-- 'Frontiers of Bird I.D.' Discussion --

The "Frontiers of Identification" birding listserv has been airing an ongoing discussion of the Luneau video of late spurred by Kenn Kaufman (...and thanks to "The Birdchaser" blog for bringing this to my attention). Mostly interesting, varied posts, for the obsessed among us, with occasional 'different' points being made -- my only concern is that once again it almost exclusively addresses the visual evidence of the Luneau clip, and not Cornell's size or wingbeat analysis:


(check the "Re: Woodpecker I.D. " posts; and you may need to 'refresh' the page for most recent posts as the discussion is ongoing)


-- One More Time...(yaaawn) --

I'll apologize in advance to those who are bored with this topic and line-of-argument; had hoped not to deal with it again, but with the widespread press/comment the Sibley piece is getting find the Luneau video must be addressed yet again: The 4-second clip has been ambiguous from the start -- as stated previously I'm not even certain that the bird in question must be a woodpecker (which stems only from the assumption that the bird is perched on the side of a tree trunk at the start -- likely so, but not absolutely demonstrated). BUT, probablistically, the bird IS a woodpecker, in which case there are, probablistically, only 2 choices, and I am swayed, not by the visual evidence, but by the size and wingbeat analysis that, probablistically, it is an IBWO -- but it is almost certainly UNresolvable and alternative interpretations are feasible. The point is that the bird on the video could be a muscovy duck for all I care! it is just one shred of the evidence and one must consider the totality of evidence both in Arkansas and across 5 decades.
The Arkansas claim was exciting to many of us because we specifically DIDN'T believe the Ivory-bill was in that state. We believed it is in Fla., Miss., La. and possibly Tx. or S.C. The Ar. find opened the door to all kinds of possibilities of a more northerly range and a larger population -- if the bird is never found in Ar. (I still think it will be in time) it does nothing to change the original history and likely range of the species (and thankfully other searches are ongoing).

Now... if your child is kidnapped and after a month the police come to you and say 'sorry we can't expend any more resources on this case, we have other matters to attend to; the fact is that if a child isn't found in the first 48 hrs. they are almost certainly dead,' do you then reply, 'Yeah, I guess I'll just get on with my life now and not waste any more time, thanks for trying.' OF COURSE NOT!, you keep searching, following every possible lead, until the child is found or you have a corpse -- we are in a similar situation, except our concern is not a lone individual but an entire species here. Some will say that 60 years in the life of a species is more than 30 days in the life of a child -- it ISN'T, especially given the habitat in question and repeated claims over time. For some of us the IBWO is a lost child that was prematurely abandoned, and just maybe we can yet rectify our prior inaction and resignation. THAT is the error we must NOT risk making again, and that is why the validitiy or invaliditiy of a single unresolvable 4-second video clip is simply not significant in the grand scheme of things.

Friday, March 17, 2006


-- And the Harrison Video --

Quite awhile back Bobby Harrison announced having captured a very brief Ivory-bill video in the Big Woods that didn't sound very promising and quickly dropped from the radar screen. So I was intrigued today when in a post on her blog "Birdchick" wrote:
"I had dinner with Bobby Harrison tonight, he's doing well but is very tired from his time in the swamp as well as speaking schedule. We have some new audio of Bobby at Eagle Optics.com about some of the video he has taken. I watched it tonight, and quite frankly, it's more compelling to me as ivory-bill evidence than the Luneau video. I wonder why Cornell isn't promoting or using it more as part of the ivory-bill research?"

When I inquired of her if this was the same clip originally alluded to in the press, she responded it was and that when slowed down and viewed frame-by-frame reiterated finding it "compelling" (though certainly not the cover shot everyone craves).

Thursday, March 16, 2006


-- Another Sibley Piece --

Just to give him his due, I just discovered David has another new , more personal (less academic) and more impassioned essay on the Ivory-bill controversy available now at the Nature Conservancy website emphasizing conservation and continued searching for the IBWO:



-- And Stiiiill, More of the Same... --

In a kind of he-said-she-said squareoff in Science today David Sibley et.al. have advanced their critique of the Arkansas Ivory-bill claims, followed immediately by a rebuttal from Cornell:



Both are short and I suppose worth reading although this material has basically already been covered elsewhere by now and some folks will simply get bogged down in the minutia of the arguments at this point. As I suspected might be the case, the Sibley piece is entirely a critique of the Luneau video, and even at that, basically just focusses on the initial perched white wing pattern and the black-white pattern in flight -- with only slight mention of the wingbeat or size analysis. And as Cornell notes, Sibley misrepresents the amount of white in the Pileated underwing in his own field guide depiction. There is little critique of the acoustic data or the 7-16 sightings originally reported which are really the core of Cornell's evidence (the video is just an adjunct; almost an afterthought they worked with when they were unable to obtain better film). As I've said before someone must make the case that 7 credible knowledgeable individuals are either dishonest or incompetent to truly knock down Cornell's evidence; probablistically 1 or 2 or 3 people erring may happen but as you increase the number to 4, 5, 6, 7 - 16 independent sightings, the probability rapidly declines. (Similarly, no one ever successfully challenged the credibility of David Kulivan in 1999 and his closer, lengthier sighting. Lack of confirmation does not imply refutation.) And this doesn't even take into account the long history of other credible sightings that have never been disproved. (Maybe there is one, but I know of no other bird that has ever had such a history of claims but was nonetheless regarded by so many as extinct.)
Like so many of the skeptics Sibley et.al. try to give themselves an out toward the end by stating, "
Ivory-billed woodpeckers may persist in the southern United States, and we believe that conservation efforts on their behalf should continue..." -- if the bird is found this will allow them to wriggle and say that they never claimed the bird was extinct, only that they wanted to see better evidence. Maybe... but under the circumstances, it sounds a bit disingenuous, considering the harm their criticism may beget.Their time would have been better spent in the field looking for the species rather than analyzing a single video and creating a lot of sound and fury signifying little.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006


-- Keep The Faith --

New news is somewhat slow and I'm again hearing some grumbling among the ranks out there, so I'll pause a moment to persist in preaching the policy of patience with a capital P!! While solid definitive evidence remains elusive, there are continual rumors of either visual or auditory IBWO encounters out of Florida and S. Carolina, and M. Collins continues his endeavors in Louisiana as well. With Cornell's tight grip over news releases in Arkansas it is difficult to know exactly what if anything may be happening there until well after the fact. Searching also underway in Texas and Georgia. In short, IBWO buzz is on the increase (as would be expected this time of season) not the decrease, and come May we should have some better idea what all has been found this first search season. If some want to call it 'faith-based ornithology,' then hey, keep the faith folks! Amen...

On a completely unrelated but entertaining, upbeat note, deep in the jungle of Manhattan both Pale Male and Lola, and Pale Male Jr. and mate Charlotte (NY city's FAMOUS Red-tailed Hawks) are currently actively nesting high up in their concrete townhouses -- NOT something, by the way, that any PhD. ornithologist would've believed or predicted awhile back. ; - )

Sunday, March 12, 2006


-- Think Of It This Way... --

This is a post for the skeptics out there... Suppose you come and tell me you saw a Summer Tanager in your backyard, and I say no you didn't, you saw a Cardinal. Next week you tell me you saw the Summer Tanager again, and I say you're mistaken it was more likely a Cardinal. Eventually you bring me a photograph, I say you doctored it, it was originally a photo of a Cardinal. You bring me a video, I say it was taken in another state, not in your backyard; when your 2 birding friends see it with you, I call it 'groupthink' -- nothing you say or show me can 'prove' you've ever had a Summer Tanager in your backyard -- on the 20th occasion of you're reporting a Tanager, I say, how in the hell can I believe you when you've given me 19 false, mistaken, unconfirmed, or doctored reports in the past. In simplistic terms this is essentially the scenario with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker over decades, earlier unconfirmed reports becoming a priori a basis for discounting future reports. It is nothing less than an unrecognized close-minded form of circular or self-fulfilling-prophesizing, or self-reinforcing groupthink, if you prefer. It's amazing that in popular press skeptics still get away with saying the Ivory-bill hasn't been seen for 60 years when all the evidence indicates otherwise. Again I'll reiterate that the potential damage already done by overblown skepticism (and the stigmatization that follows) far exceeds any potential damage from overblown optimism -- we're talking about the life or death of a species here!
In the meantime, many of those same skeptics will be running around in a few weeks doing "spring bird counts" and generating some of the most wholly imprecise and non-valid data to be published anywhere in biological science. But so be it. (I don't want to get into a debate here about the meaningfulness of notoriously poor-quality single-day count data, but simply find it interesting that skeptics will so persistently aim their scientific guns at Ivory-bill sightings, while giving other common birding activities a free pass.)

On a different note, a BirdForum poster has called attention to the following article on prospects for the Ivory-bill in Alabama:


Saturday, March 11, 2006


-- M. Collins Endorsement --

For what it might be worth to some, Rob Tymstra, a Canadian birder and cinematographer who recently ran into Mike Collins in the Pearl, just wrote the following endorsement of Mike's efforts in a BirdForum post:

" .... I wanted to throw in a vote of confidence for what Mike's doing in the Pearl. I had the good fortune and delight to actually meet and paddle around the Pearl with Mike. Having met with him on a number of occasions, I can vouch for the fact that he is a reliable and reputable level-headed observer in full command of all of his faculties! He’s persistent and dedicated to the cause of finding and preserving IBWO. Mike’s a competent birder, scientist, and student of nature. He’s also personable and has a good sense of humor and was very generous with sharing information. On top of that, I got to see his intriguing video with personal commentary. If anyone can find this bird, it’s Mike. Give him some support folks!"



-- More of Same...? --

Mary Scott is reporting another IBWO sighting along the "Mississippi flyway" but without much comment or info:

Unfortunately, skeptics have promoted their viewpoint so well at this point, that these reports of Ivory-bills without details or video are becoming meaningless to many at this point (and there are always more reports floating around than those that show up on the internet). Maybe Mike Collins will be able to get better video in La. or have other credible observers confirm his find before he departs the region. With about 45 days remaining in the prime search season time's a'movin in Ar., La, Ms., Fl., S.C., Tx., Ga.....


Wednesday, March 08, 2006


-- Ivory-bill Habitat --

Bill Pulliam has been diligently, patiently employing Terraserver to search out areas of Ivory-bill potential in the 9 primary southern search states. He has now summarized his results at his website below. Good reading (especially if you live in one of these states):


This is just one person's attempt operating from a computer screen -- as he indicates in his post Bill won't mind hearing ideas from other folks directly familiar with these areas; if you think he's left a prime locale out somewhere let him know, or included an area that actually is much poorer, inadequate habitat than might appear on Terraserver, let him know that. The importance of such surveys (besides suggesting areas of interest) I think is in conveying just how much potential little-explored habitat is out there which easily explains how this species could stay out of frequent sight for 60 years and still be with us.


Monday, March 06, 2006


-- Congaree --

A nice article on the Ivory-bill search now underway in the Congaree National Park of S.C.:



Sunday, March 05, 2006


-- Jaded or What??? --

Over the years there have been 100's of Ivory-bill reports turned in, including outright hoaxes, innumerable mis-identifications, and many simply unconfirmable claims. With the advent of the internet any such report can now shoot around the birding community in lightening speed. But with all the current controversy have we now arrived at such a jaded "boy who cried wolf" state that sightings no longer command much attention unless accompanied by a close-up/clearcut photo or video???
I ask because I confess to being surprised at the paucity of interest shown across the Web in Mike Collins' Pearl River IBWO claims, especially the lack of coverage on the Louisiana and Mississippi Bird listserv groups (instead there have been a few harsh, caustic comments)? Because of previous historical IBWO claims for the Pearl and the Stennis region it makes sense for this area to be of interest, and one would think many involved with the unsuccessful 2002 Pearl search in particular would love to see that past effort vindicated. Are individuals who might otherwise show an interest simply too involved with the current Arkansas endeavor to divert attention to Louisiana right now? Or has the lack of minute detail in Mike's accounts hurt his credibility? The video is weak and ambiguous, but on close examination has enticing elements, or do doubters find it worthless??? Or, is there possibly more interest/activity being shown locally in the area than I am aware of?
I'd be interested to hear (either comment section or email) from folks, especially those closest to the scene in LA. and MS., as to the seeming shallow degree of follow-up to Mike's report, or correct me if there IS more happening -- (and I don't want simplistic verbal slamming of Mike, just civil, thoughtful opinions, please).

Here, BTW, is another one of Mike's ('cinclodes') posts from BirdForum this weekend:


Saturday, March 04, 2006


-- Georgia --

Georgia and Alabama don't get as much publicity for potential Ivory-bill habitat as other southern states, yet both are almost certainly possibilities. The following article reports on plans that have received Federal funding for an upcoming search of Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp, likely the bird's last known habitat in the state. Interestingly, it is also suggested that searchers will be on the lookout for Bachman's Warbler, another presumed extinct species -- it has often been suggested previously that ANYone searching for Ivory-bills should be on the listen and lookout for the Bachman's which formerly shared the IBWO's habitat.




Friday, March 03, 2006


-- Ultralight Use --

Interesting article here on the employment of ultralights in the Big Woods area to fly over and attempt to flush/photograph Ivory-bills from above (an idea initiated some time back by Bob Russell of U.S. Fish & Wildlife).


Thursday, March 02, 2006


-- Cornell Update --

Cornell has posted another update on their IBWO site, quoting AR. Deputy Sec. of the Interior Lynn Scarlett as thanking Cornell for helping "confirm the sighting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker," and mentioning the $2+ million of Federal funds that the recovery effort may get for the new fiscal year beginning next Oct. 1.


Another recent news article on the search is here:


In the meantime, Cornell's Ron Rohrbaugh is scheduled to speak tonight in Annapolis, Md. on Cornell's findings, and Jerry Jackson, who has recently searched in both Florida and Arkansas, will be speaking in Memphis, TN. on March 15.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006


-- Ivory-bill Art --

If you're into both Ivory-bills AND art, Mary Scott is now offering at her site the long-promised print by artist Wil Goebel commemorating Mary's 2003 sighting of an Arkansas IBWO
($175, approximate size 22" x 34):



-- Mike Collins Update --

Mike Collins has possibly another month or so to explore in the Pearl River area, while working at nearby Stennis Space Center -- he continues to post occasional updates at his own webpage, where he has also summarized all his February Ivory-bill encounters to this point (or, if you want to view his many world birding reports over the last 10+ years go here.) This recent entry (response) of his ("Cinclodes") on BirdForum, describing search techniques, is also worth reading.


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