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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

Sunday, May 21, 2006


-- The Word From Cornell --

For anyone who hasn't seen it here is the statement sent out by Cornell to its subscribers summarizing the 2005-6 IBWO search. It makes several important points:
"The 2005-2006 search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker has now drawn to a close in Arkansas. Search team leaders from the Lab of Ornithology and Audubon Arkansas, plus Recovery Team leaders from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service held a news conference Thursday to talk about the field season and what happens next. These were the main points from the conference:

- During this field season, the search team did not collect any additional confirmation of ivory-bills in the Big Woods. They are now fairly sure that there is not a pair of ivory-bills residing in the Bayou de View area of the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, the area where there was a number of sightings in the 2004-2005 field season. They believe the bird spotted there in 2004 is no longer frequenting the area. Because of this, managed access restrictions have been lifted--a move supported by the Lab.

- Enough positive data have been gathered to warrant a continuation of the search for another field season in Arkansas. It's likely the effort will be scaled down somewhat, and rely heavily on volunteers to conduct the fieldwork. Remote time-lapse camera systems have been perfected and will also be used, along with autonomous recording units to capture sounds in the forest. Search efforts have already been expanded into other states, such as Texas, Louisiana, and South Carolina, overseen by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Lab staff will assist those searches with equipment and methodology. A small, mobile ivory-bill search team will also be formed to deploy to areas where promising encounters may occur.

- During the field season just ended, there were four brief possible sightings, one by a volunteer, and three by members of the public. In each case they saw one field mark: an expanse of white on the trailing edge of the bird's wing as it was flying. No pictures were obtained.

- On a number of occasions, searchers heard possible kent calls and double raps that are characteristic of the ivory-bill. Some of the double-raps were recorded on video camera sound tracks and are being analyzed now to confirm whether or not they match ivory-bill sounds. Although there were fewer visual encounters this season, there have been more occasions when people heard potential ivory-bill sounds.

- This season, search teams covered 33,000 acres of forest searching for roost holes, nest holes, or signs of ivory-bill foraging. Combined with last year's effort, 72,000 acres have been searched. That amounts to 13 percent of the total habitat available in the Big Woods. The team has found 10 cavities that are the right size and shape for the ivory-bill and much too large for the Pileated Woodpecker. That is the number that researchers say they would expect to find for a bird as rare as the ivory-bill which requires a large amount of territory.

- Both the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology stand behind the conclusion that the bird videotaped in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in February 2005 is indeed an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. It may take years of searching to find the bird or birds again. According to the leader of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Recovery Team from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency is a "long way" from declaring that the ivory-bill is extinct.

- The Recovery Team has drafted a recovery plan for the ivory-bill for internal review, and it will be released for public comment toward the end of September. The search team from the Lab of Ornithology will have a final report on the findings of this past season later in the summer.

Certainly our deepest thanks go out to all the wonderful volunteers and professional full-time staff who joined us in the 2005-2006 search season--more than 100 of some of the best field biologists and birders in the nation. They were unfailingly eager, enthusiastic, and dedicated. Much good conservation work has been done by The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Arkansas, and others since news of the rediscovery. Welcome attention has been focused on saving the unique ecosystem of the Big Woods and the many birds and animals that inhabit its green corridors. We're still in high gear and still going to keep searching, using the most rigorous scientific methods, keeping an open mind, but being very cautious about our conclusions, as we have been so far.

We're deeply grateful for all the interest in and support for this project that you have shown. Stay tuned!"

....and a further word from me: as could be expected, much press reportage since Cornell's announcement has once again stated or implied that the Ivory-bill is extinct, because of the search's failure to attain photographic evidence from this one locale of attention -- Cornell acknowledges they no longer believe it likely that IBWOs reside in the Bayou de View area of the 2-year-ago sightings. This says nothing about the remainder of the Big Woods or the other areas of the Southeast that remain to be studied. Scientifically there simply remains no solid basis, other than impatience, for assuming the Ivory-bill extinct. Indeed,
no bird has ever been declared extinct with an equivalent history of sightings/claims. The unfortunate consequence of Cornell's efforts and the subsequent controversy will now be even more skepticism/cynicism toward future sighting reports and a retrenchment of the interest in the species that had taken so long to establish. Possibly one of the automatic camera units will yet capture the evidence desired. Or else it may now fall on one of the original sighters to re-double their efforts to attain that evidence if only to rescue their own credibility (...and speaking engagements!!); or maybe it will be some other persistent searcher from Mike Collins to Jerry Jackson to Bob Russell or Mary Scott to get the needed photo; it is unfortunately the case that many others drawn into the search this season will now pack up their interest and energy and move on to other things, skepticism having won the day in many quarters. Hamlet famously pronounced, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy" -- with patience and persistence, possiby the truth of that sentiment will yet be demonstrated to those of a cynical bent...

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