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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

Thursday, June 29, 2006


-- GISS --

I've noticed, with some interest, that 2 of the newest and more highly acclaimed birding volumes hitting the bookstores recently both focus on the so-called "GISS" approach to bird identification: "general impression of size and shape," also known popularly as the 'jizz of a bird' (color, movement, behavior, also come into play). Both books, Crossley et.al's The Shorebird Guide, and Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion, have been favorably reviewed, and in a sense downplay the traditional emphasis on Peterson-like field marks to hone in on (although certainly still important)
for ID'ing birds.
I bring all this up because it once again plays to my contention that the vast majority of visual bird-identification, is consciously or otherwise, done in a GISS-type manner, and that the solid 'impression' of seeing an Ivory-bill by a number of competent/credible Arkansas sighters (experienced with Pileateds) carries with it as much or more weight than the specific field mark details over which so much unresolvable debate has been expended.


-- Comments/Happy Independence Day --

I'm back from a vacation now and not expecting much of consequence to happen in IBWO-land for the summer (unless those folks at BirdForum begin strangling each other off one-by-one!), so may re-open the comments section of blog, around or following July 4th, for all the pent-up thoughts/ideas/emotions/well-reasoned cogitations of the believers and short-sighted, misbegotten-contentions of the skeptics out there ; - ))). I'll be moderating the comments (maybe extensively!) to maintain some civility and flow, so be forewarned that points I perceive as overly weak, redundant, poorly-stated, or simply unnecessary will be edited. (This also means a delay in their being posted.) We'll just see how it goes... Meanwhile, a happy holiday weekend to all.

Friday, June 23, 2006


-- Wanted: On Tape and Alive --

The official Nature Conservancy announcement of a $10,000 reward for information leading to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker can be seen here (pdf. file) :


Mason Spencer need not apply....


Thursday, June 22, 2006


-- 'Ghost Bird' Movie --

A reader has sent along this link to a small-scale documentary about the Ivory-bill under production for film festival release; includes some interesting tidbits, but not a whole lot of info yet:


There is likely also another more cinematic production underway as well, but for which I don't have confirmed details.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006


-- What Skeptics Have Brought Us To --

There had been much internet chatter recently about the possibility of offering a major monetary reward for definitive evidence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker; I never took any of it seriously, but lo and behold, according to this apparently legit report official agencies are indeed planning to offer $10,000 "to anyone who provides information that leads biologists to an ivory-billed woodpecker's nest, roost cavity or feeding site." This is what skeptics have brought us to. I'm very leery of such an approach and can only hope that good might indeed come of it. It's almost certain to bring crackpots, hoaxers, and other ne'er-do-wells out of the woodwork and unnecessarily into the woods. Any legitimate birder/conservationist or other individual genuinely concerned for this species already knows there's fame and possible fortune awaiting the person who brings forth such evidence; this offer conjures up potential ill scenarios that skeptics can take credit for should they come to pass, but I'll withhold final judgment and hope for the best... but even if achieved, it sets a risky precedent.



Monday, June 19, 2006


-- 'Blazing Paddles...' ??? --

hmmmm.... starring Harrison Ford, Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, Gene Hackman and... Al Pacino, as Cyberthrush : - ))) :

Supposedly (vaguely referenced on the Web) there is a movie in the works about the search for the Ivory-bill. Not clear to me if this would be a 'Hollywood-release' or 'made-for-TV'-type endeavor; also not clear if this is strictly documentary in style or more of a docu-drama. If someone out there is
directly involved in the effort and can fill in additional specifics/details, I suspect readers would be interested to hear more (email me at cyberthrush@wildmail.com).

Saturday, June 17, 2006


-- IBWO Souvenir --

They don't quite fit my taste, but some readers might be interested in Ivory-billed Woodpecker replicas
(plastic, 2+ inch) offered for sale over the Web. At just $3 each ya can't hardly go wrong:


They have other birds and animals (including stuffed animals and jewelry) for sale as well in case there's something in particular you're looking for.

(...I have no financial interest or connection to the above.)


Friday, June 16, 2006


-- The (Inconvenient) Truth Is Out There --

Once again I'll stray off topic momentarily, to put forth a plug for Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth" -- not quite as powerful a film as I had hoped it would be, but good enough to recommend that all, and especially young people, see it... ASAP. Be forewarned though that if you're already manically-depressed over the current Administration, this movie ain't gonna cheer you up, and I suspect that George, Dick, Condi, and Karl (some of the few who don't fall into that latter category), will likely view the film
from their world-view, not as a documentary, but as a comedy, on par with the satirical script they once handed Colin Powell to read to the U.N. Oyyyy veyyyyy....

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


-- Just A Thought --

I had expected, almost hoped, that Ivory-bill chatter would settle down for the summer months, but those folks at BirdForum just keep it going at a fine clip! -- The following reply (regarding newly re-discovered creatures)
from "Andigena" to skeptic "Piltdownwoman," appeared there this evening :
"Robust Redhorse, a two-foot long fish found, of all places...in southern bottomland swamps...specifically the Oconee/Altamaha area of Georgia, rediscovered in 1990s, first time seen in the 20th century.
How could a large, slow-moving, edible vertebrate species just hide out for over 100 years in North America with:

a) all our ecologists doing studies of aquatic life?
b) thousands of Georgia fishermen dangling hooks in their habitat?
c) destruction of its habitat so nearly complete?
d) limited ability (due to dams) to migrate to new habitat?

For that matter, how could 8 or 10 new species of birds be discovered in Peru in the last 20 years? And how many of them were photographed before they were collected? How could a new species of monkey be discovered in Bolivia a couple years ago (by asking local hunters)? And a large new species of primate in Tanzania last year? And a new family of rodent (Laonastes sp.) in Laos this year (collected by hunters)?
You boys and girls keep looking for IBWO, and don't forget to keep asking hunters...and, remember, Tanner said he thought IBWO moved long distances. Who said the bird seen in Arkansas in 2004-05 isn't in Tennessee today, or Mississippi, or ????
These folks busting their butts out looking for IBWO aren't wasting their time are they Piltdownwoman? After all, what fool would look for a big ole fish that hadn't been seen in over 100 years?"
In short, one might be tempted to say that the whole notion that a large woodland bird COULDN'T possibly evade detection by humans for 60 years is little more than short-sighted, egocentric, myopic, gnarled thinking on the part of shallow scientific minds.... but, I shan't say it.


-- One Leg To Stand On --

Giving the skeptics their due:

It is possible for someone, even someone competent, to see a Pileated Woodpecker briefly and mistake it for an Ivory-bill. A second individual might repeat the mistake, possibly even a third. But as you get to the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th person the likelihood of the same error being committed by different people on different days from different places/angles becomes increasingly small (and there are many more sightings claims for the Big Woods than the original 7 used for publication). Even taking excitement, human foibles, and so-called 'groupthink' into account, vanishingly small. Thus, my persistent emphasis on the 'sightings' evidence over the video and audio evidence. I would love to see better video evidence, but the lack of such remains fully understandable given the size of habitat, possible scarcity of individuals, and difficulty of videotaping in such environs. I would also love to see more examples of suspicious bark scrapings and sound recordings, but again the scarcity of such can be readily explained away. But to give the skeptics their due, there is one lone matter that continues to trouble me...
Early mentions of abnormal Pileateds in the Big Woods with some additional white patching on their wings were not problematic because again I believe such individuals would not be repeatedly mistaken for IBWOs in the field; they could easily be spotted as, lo and behold, Pileateds with some added white in a wing or two. However, Cornell's finding of a more largely albinistic Pileated earlier in the season, was more troubling -- that bird itself couldn't be mistaken for an IBWO, but as I said at the time we simply don't know about that bird's parents, siblings, or offspring. Was there somewhere in the mix a single individual that by sheer chance did have additional symmetric white patterning that might mimic an Ivory-bill's? In flight would such a bird not only flash the pattern of an Ivory-bill, but give off a sense of greater size and bulk with its missing black borders?? As a mutant or abnormal would such a bird have a shortened lifespan and now be long gone from the Big Woods, and thus not re-located ???
Again we are dealing in probabilities here, and make no mistake about it, I think the above scenario highly
improbable. But does it give skeptics their one sole thin flimsy rickety persistent and convenient leg to stand on (for the Arkansas claims), unfortunately it does...

Sunday, June 11, 2006


-- Short Notice, and a Sidenote --

Cornell's Ron Rohrbaugh speaks TODAY (Sun. 11th at 2 pm.) at the Ossea Masonic Lodge in Wellsboro, PA. on the IBWO search:


(BTW I jumped the gun a bit on S. Weidensaul's talk a few posts back listing it thinking it was a week off, when in fact it is a month away, so I'll likely mention it again closer to it's actual date.)

Sidenote: much discussion continues to argue that the "null" hypothesis for the Luneau video is "Pileated;" yet those making this argument believe the initial frames show a bird already in flight, NOT a perched bird -- the ONLY real reason for believing this bird is a woodpecker is the presumption it is perched on a tree trunk at the start (impossible to say definitively); if one doesn't see it that way, than quite simply there ARE other possibilities besides Pileated (depending again on initial assumptions) and there is no longer a single or simple null hypothesis. IF that bird is a woodpecker I continue to believe it is an IBWO, but as I've said from the start I don't find the evidence compelling that it must even be a woodpecker, nor can any further analysis determine such except as a probability -- I'll just assume henceforth that it's a muscovy duck ; - ))) and it changes NOTHING whatsoever about the continued existence of the Ivory-bill. This will hopefully be my final comment in reference to the video.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


-- Of Sightings, Sounds, and Videotape --

rant, rant, rant, rant.....

I'd prefer not to even reference the Luneau video anymore (what's left to say that hasn't already been said somewhere), but with others linking to its further discussion on "Frontiers of Bird Identification" I can't ignore it completely; again, this is only for the compulsively obsessed:


My genuine relunctance to draw attention to this discussion is because such focus on David's clip simply furthers an inference that the existence of Ivory-bills in AR. hinges on the ID of a bird in a blurry 4-second clip, which is COMPLETELY FALSE and misleading. The clip cannot be definitively resolved by techniques currently available (argue about it for fun and mental gymnastics if you wish, but it will not progress the IBWO debate at this point). In the long run sound recordings may prove more valuable, although for now I remain dubious of them as well due to the innumerable variables involved in their analysis and the very tiny sample of old IBWO recordings for comparison. No, for now, the important 'data' I'll continue to maintain (as in the vast majority of birding instances, where other evidence is unavailable) are the 7 eyewitness accounts used for original publication, and the judgment of those who interrogated/interviewed the claimants assessing their competency/credibility -- THAT is the central evidence (in conjunction with all the other credible historical claims) that must be shaken by 'second-thoughts,' self-doubts, retractions, or the like on the part of the sighters which hasn't happened; all the rest is mere window-dressing required for publication, but actually rather inconsequential (keep in mind David L. never originally claimed to have filmed an IBWO -- he didn't know what had just flown in front of him at the time -- only when Cornell failed to capture an IBWO on tape heading closer toward publication did they RE-visit David's clip, and upon finer analysis, conclude they'd gotten 'Elvis' on tape afterall).
The vast majority of birding is based quite solely on eyewitness report by competent/credible observers, and in a case where realistically there are only 2 likely possibilities even spotters simply noting that it was NOT "A" (...Pileated), leaves "B" (...IBWO) as the only probability. The sightings may be relatively brief (like MOST bird sightings) and of course can be questioned (it's easy as pie to invent skeptical scenarios for any event or claim), but they come from multiple, apparently steadfast, able, and knowledgeable observers; in the past little more would be asked for. The skeptics' case continues to rest entirely on the rubric of "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," which in turn rests on an assumption of extinction based upon 60 skimpy years of data (really a few years-worth of skimpy data and 50+ yrs. of non-data) and a typical rush to judgment. Conclusions reached in science depend as much on initial assumptions as on collected data. 60 years might represent a big chunk in the life of a human, but it's a moment in the life of a species. While our grandchildren may be able to intelligently discuss the extinction of Campephilus principalis; for us to do so remains but presumptuous and unfounded speculation....

Friday, June 09, 2006


-- S. Weidensaul Talk --

Scott Weidensaul will be talking about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker at 7 pm. on Sat. July 15 at the Bushkill Meeting Center in Bushkill, Pa. for the National Park Service if any readers are in that area (...I'm sure the top brains at the NSA are following me intensely since typing "Bushkill" into a search engine!). Assuming Scott speaks as well as he writes oughta be good! -- and I'd be curious to hear about his current take on the whole matter if someone attends and cares to send me a synopsis via email.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


-- Objectivity In Science --

...rarely exists. Objectivity is an ideal, that honest scientists usually admit doesn't exist in pure form in their endeavors. Contrary to the public view of science as a gathering of raw facts/data/information, which through the use of reason, is turned into theories and "laws," it actually is often the opposite: scientists start with unspoken theories, prejudices, 'hunches,' 'gut feelings,' and consciously or unconsciously attempt to fashion facts or experiments to support (usually) or refute same.
And so we have a dilemma in the Ivory-bill arena: some have questioned Jerry Jackson's objectivity of the Cornell data due to his lack of involvement (or even knowledge) of the initial search. David Sibley, Kenn Kaufman, and many others, were previously on record as believing the IBWO was extinct, and their objectivity or willingness to say they were wrong and shortsighted can also be questioned. And certainly skeptics will claim that the Cornell principals have so stubborny painted themselves into a corner that they are unable to honestly or fairly view any objections to their case. I'm not saying that ANY of this is necessarily true, only that it is the public perception we now face. In short, there is likely NO ONE left out there who's judgment or expertise is fully trusted by both sides (believers and skeptics), again leaving glossy indisputable photos or videotape as the sole means to resolve the debate (and it can only be resolved in one direction, since the LACK of such evidence resolves nothing). This is an unfortunate state of affairs to say the least; a sort of undercurrent lack of trust and yes, even faith, in the competency and objectivity of those involved that has developed. If the Ivory-bill is never documented it is difficult to see the rift ever repairing itself, but if/when those photos/video do arise EVERYone will suddenly rush together in unified support for this magnificent species and its habitat... it's just that the contributions of some of those supporters will be far far more deserving of recognition than that of others.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


-- New Article --

Fairly interesting new article in the Arkansas Times today with a few tidbits I'd not read before -- skewed toward the skeptical side, but somewhat even-handed:



-- PIWO Video --

Birdviewing.com has posted a link to Pileated flight videos from David Nolin that can be compared to the bird in the Luneau video for yet more fuel in the debate. Interesting, but of course not definitive
(and these of course are normal PIWOs; the issue of piebalds still hovers out there). Given its brevity and quality, and the scarcity of historical IBWO video for comparison, I'll reiterate my belief that the Luneau video simply can't be resolved (and needn't be), but for those who want to check every new chink of evidence....



Sunday, June 04, 2006


-- ...and All Pileateds All the Time --

Surfing around a bit today came across this nice little website devoted exclusively to Elvis's smaller counterpart for those of you who can't get enough of large, impressive, black-and-white, pointy-headed woodpeckers (has a nice 'information' page and some interesting 'links' as well):



Saturday, June 03, 2006


-- From Big Woods To Big Sur --

Again, departing from IBWOs for the moment to other birds back from the brink...
The below page has photos of released California Condors recently found feasting on a beached gray whale in Big Sur, California -- quite a banquet! (...and somewhat humorous seeing them parade around with their number-identifying tags on in full glory, but otherwise may not wish to view it while downing your morning coffee and bagel!):


And some further explanation of the photos is available at this listserv post:




Friday, June 02, 2006


-- Cornell Q & A --

Cornell has added a page to their website answering some of the more common questions concerning their search just ended; worth a gander:


...and since the summer will likely be slow for IBWO news I'll break my usual "ALL Ivory-bills ALL the time" rule to point to occasional other stories of interest, like the recent finding of 8 previously unknown species (crustaceans and invertebrates, just a few million years old!) in an Israeli cave (thought those caves had been pretty thoroughly surveyed since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls decades ago -- hard to imagine that species could persist undetected by Man in an environment hardly considered life-sustaining... and for over 60 years, no less!
skeptics better jump on this one ; - ) :


Commenting on the find, Smithsonian Research Fellow Allen G. Collins said it "underscores how little we know about life on our planet and how important it is to keep looking." ...Amen to that.


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