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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

Saturday, September 30, 2006


-- How To Get An Ivory-bill Picture --


thankfully, in time for the upcoming search season, this just in from the desk of David Letterman....

TOP 10 Ways To Get a Photo of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker:

10. Sneak up on it from behind.

9. Use ‘Google Earth' to zoom in on the Florida panhandle and look for a foraging Ivory-bill; as soon as you spot it snap a screen shot.

8. Travel to the swamp; nail ads to bark-scaled trees saying you’re a photographer with Playbird Magazine seeking centerfold applicants for the April issue; see who shows up.

7. Use mental telepathy... or, if that fails, pray a lot... or, if that fails, use Photoshop.

6. Take a canoe ride with David Luneau.

5. Using a swinging pocketwatch hypnotize the bird, putting it to sleep; then snap all the pictures you want.

4. Strategically place signs in the bayou announcing, “big, juicy, scrumptious, wood-boring beetle larvae sold here!” When an Ivory-bill stops by to check out your prices take its picture.

3. While you’re in the swamp just ask Bigfoot where to find one.

2. Use an MRI machine to take a photo of one of cyberthrush’s nightly dreams.

1. Simple, Sherlock: find Ivory-bill poop; look up; snap a picture!!!


Friday, September 29, 2006


-- Reminders --

Rightfully so, the Florida news has captured everyone's attention lately, but no one should forget that this winter there will also be organized searches in Arkansas, Texas, and South Carolina at a minimum; and if you time it right you can participate in at least two different states. I would hope that some level of official, organized (academic or FWS-sponsored) searching would take place in Louisiana, Mississippi, southern Georgia, southern Alabama, and western Tennessee as well, but don't know what the chances are. Probably those birders both willing and able to commit to such exploits will already be spread thin enough with just those first four states.

This year's AOU meeting in Veracruz, Mexico, begins Oct 3. Thank goodness all the Florida stuff is out on the table ahead of time so that attendees can actually have some intelligent discussion of it. What may be just as interesting as any empirical discussion of the evidence will be the more human elements, reactions, emotions, chatter, controversy, exhibited. This whole topic is such a hot potato by now, I suspect we will witness the same hesitancy (even cowardice I would say) on the part of many ornithologists to stick their necks out or take the issue seriously as has been exhibited for 50 years -- fearing to voice the minority view that Ivory-bills survive. Rather than take a proactive stance for fear it might turn out to be wrong, they'll instead sit back in a do-nothing-say-nothing, cautious, wait-and-see posture. In the meantime the life of a species hangs in the balance. It is ashame that at a time when we should be encouraging all possible reports/claims from credible sources to be turned in cynics, with their derision, negativity, antagonism, general disparagement are once again discouraging/hindering such disclosures. In regard to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and the majority of birders/ornithologists who ought to be on its side, that old adage seems to hold forth: "with friends like these who needs enemies."

Thursday, September 28, 2006


-- ...And Another Commentary --

Thanks to Laura Erickson for clueing me in to this IBWO commentary, in the Miami Herald, from a 'developers' point-of-view:



-- Are We Having Fun Yet!? --

Here we go again... the bashing of the Florida Ivory-bill sightings and sighters is under full-swing from the Ivory-bills-are-extinct-because-we-say-so crowd. It is clear that until photographic evidence is obtained other forms of evidence for the existence of Ivory-bills are virtually a moot point in many quarters at this point. This is a horrible state-of-affairs (given again that it is based on an unsupported presumption of the bird's extinction), but it forces the hand of all those doing searches --- effort that might better be expended in other ways and study, must now be concentrated on attaining the demanded photographic evidence, before other progress can follow. With that in mind, just a few suggestions regarding the forthcoming Florida winter search:

1. whenever possible searchers should operate in pairs (one of whom carries a videocamera), and should proceed from opposite ends of search areas -- i.e., if a main search area is a 3 mi. stretch along the Choctawhatchee, half the search teams start at the north end (both sides of river and in the river itself) moving slowly south and half at the south end moving north.

2. at least one person (maybe more) on the project should have significant, if not professional-level, photography skills, operating a quality zoom camera (not just a videocam) under the given habitat conditions. This person need not even be a knowledgeable birder, but rather have the requisite wildlife photography skills and experience.

3. until photographic evidence is obtained, concentrate time looking for and monitoring FRESHLY-made scrapings and cavities, and less time on cataloguing all cavities and foraging signs, and thoroughly search such areas for feathers-of-interest as well. In areas of fresh appearing scrapings slather a molasses-type product on nearby tree trunks/stumps to try and further attract the birds (or attract insects that will attract the birds). Frankly, spend less time in general on sound recordings (but of course monitor areas from which sounds emanate), field notes, routine data collection, going to the bathroom(!), etc. until the necessary video/photo is obtained --- in short, initially forego a lot of normal and potentially valuable study data, in favor of simply documenting the species photographically. Once obtained then the study can proceed in the comprehensive manner that is most important. It is a sad state of affairs when one feels compelled to tell a team of scientists, "DON'T do research for the time being, do PHOTOGRAPHY," but that is where we've arrived at in the current Bizarro world of ornithology. One wonders what scientists a century henceforth will think when they look back at the foolishness of those who would let a species die by sheer neglect for lack of a pretty picture.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


-- Summary of Links --

Just a quick summary of some of the most relevant links from the last 24 hrs. (on Fla. Ivory-bills):

Dr. Geoff Hill's Auburn webpage on the Florida discovery:

Dr. Dan Mennill's (collaborator with Dr. Hill) website on the discovery and evidence:

current issue of online journal Avian Conservation and Ecology including Dr. Hill et.al.'s research:

To apply for a position with the Auburn team as a field tech this winter:

Good newspaper coverage of the Florida find:

Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission report on "historical distribution and habitat" for Ivory-bills in the state:

Radio program ("Wildside News") including an interview with Dr. Hill:

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


-- Florida Cliff Notes --

Here's a brief summary and commentary of the news from Florida -- and I want to stress people should still read as much of the online material on their own as they can in order to get a sense of the detail I am leaving out:

In May of 2005 experienced birder Tyler Hicks (while with 2 other people from Auburn University) spotted an Ivory-bill in flight along the Choctawhatchee river in the Florida panhandle. Since then at least 13 credible sightings have been recorded by the Auburn team consisting of lead investigator Dr. Geoff Hill, Dr. Dan Mennill of U. of Windsor (in Canada), and grad students Brian Rolek, Tyler Hicks, and Kyle Swinston. Hicks' 2 sightings are regarded as 2 of the most detailed (including sighting a female), but Rolek has actually had 10 of the total sightings. Also worth noting, 2 of the sightings were of a pair of the birds. Dr. Hill is quoted as saying, "I am 100% positive I saw an Ivory-bill," and additionally as commenting in regards to the amassed evidence, "I can't imagine how we could be wrong."
7 observers to the area heard either "kent" calls or double-knocks as associated with IBWOs, and these occurred over 41 separate occasions. As many as 50 kent calls and 45 double-knocks occurred during the single greatest instance. 7 automatic recording units that were put in place recorded 210 instances of possible kent calls, and 99 possible double-knocks.
Numerous large cavities were found in the area including 131 that were measured and catalogued. Significant instances of bark scaling were also documented, including the tightness of the bark-adherence, which in some cases only an Ivory-bill could likely accomplish.
The Choctawhatchee has ~60 km of bottomland habitat likely suitable for IBWOs, only a small patch of which was actively explored. Dr. Hill DOES NOT want the specific location of their study given out, for obvious reasons, and would like the birds and his team to be left undisturbed when on premises. However, he does list several other areas on his webpage along the Chocawhatchee that are worthy of study (also, they found no evidence for IBWO north of the Choctawhatchee in Alabama). And I'll just add that there are areas in every single southern state, and also Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky that need some attention, so, please, don't everyone think of rushing to the Florida panhandle. Again I would surmise that IBWOs exist in a minimum of 5 states and possibly as many as 9.
Though the team involved in this find is thoroughly convinced of the presence of Ivory-bills, they concede that in today's atmosphere their evidence falls short of 'definitive, due to the lack of adequate video/photo documentation (they have some very poor video/photo, which they have chosen, I think wisely, not to release -- in today's atmosphere, as they have acknowledged, having no video/photo is better than having fuzzy video/photo, which simply distracts from the rest of the evidence).

Now, for some commentary -- just initial reaction from my first go-over of the data/evidence:

1. any such bottomland backwater area is likely to include many large woodpecker cavities; I don't find anything very convincing in the specific cavities that are exhibited on the website, despite the measurements, which in some cases might be indicative of IBWO (but could've been enlarged by other means or animals, as well). Many of the photoed holes seem clearly not to be IBWO and I'm not clear what the purpose of even including them on the site is (unless it is strictly for comparative purposes).

2. auditory evidence is always difficult to assess due to many variables; the sheer volume of it here however is rather impressive; the fact that 'kents' and double-knocks are often found in conjunction with one-another, and also in conjunction with major bark-scaling is certainly enticing, as well as the fact that so much was picked up on ARUs in addition to what humans heard; intriguing evidence to be sure, but not conclusive.

3. the scaling of tightly-adhering bark (assuming the measurements are accurate) is a very suggestive sign, although in general, we are not at a point yet where scalings can be diagnostic yet for either PIWO or IBWO.

4. finally, yet once again, what is most powerful in this evidence (in my view) are the human sightings/descriptions by credible, experienced birders who know Pileateds from IBWO -- at least 13 total -- including again, different days, different angles, different observers, and sightings of female birds (and yes, there happen to be field notes as well).

From my standpoint we are dealing here with Ivory-bills until shown otherwise, because those on-site who should know, believe so --- this is opposite of how skeptics choose to see it ('they saw Pileateds until proven otherwise'), because of their underlying, ill-supported, but unwavering belief in Ivory-bill extinction which skews their perception of any gathered evidence.
In fairness to skeptics though, let me concede that this still could all be an elaborate hoax involving cleverly-made, remote-controlled mechanical decoys (at least I know of NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER ruling this out) --- until someone catches and cuts open one of these Florida specimens to see if perchance they are filled with mere electromechanical circuits and hardware, in place of muscle and internal organs, we must be open to all alternative explanations... or so at least may run the next line of argument from some cynic out there!! It won't surprise me. Seriously, I fear the eventual result of all this controversy, in an area that simply cannot be policed, will at some point be delivery of a dead carcass. And THEN, maybe, perhaps, we'll ALL be convinced.


-- Florida IBWO Webpage/ Addendum --

Dr. Geoff Hill's IBWO webpage appears to be back up at same URL used yesterday (can't tell at a quick glance what changes/updates there may be), but assume this is the updated version. It includes a link to their online journal article.

Having a lot of problems this morning uploading posts on Blogger --- great timing Blogger ! : - (((
I know some others around the country are having same difficulty, so not sure how often I'll be on today, but at some point today or tomorrow will try to summarize the Florida findings. In the meantime read and digest... For others having same difficulty I did have some luck switching from Firefox to a different browser just for uploading purposes, FWIW.

===> Addendum: those interested in APPLYING FOR POSITIONS with the search team can go directly to this page for application info:


Also, just realized that the first issue of the online journal in which Dr. Hill's paper appears contains an additional Ivory-bill article (essay) on saving the the species' habitat:




-- More Reading --

Given that we have yet to see a summary report of last season's Arkansas search come out of Cornell yet, good article here on the past and upcoming more-streamlined Cornell efforts:


If you like being able to say "I read it in The New York Times" you can peruse their initial (somewhat weak) coverage of the Florida find here (requires free registration), but hardly worth bothering with since the Anniston article below is MUCH better.

Also, for anyone interested in a one-year position in South Carolina take a look at this post over on Birdchick's blog requesting applicants for an Ivory-bill search leader in prime S.C. locales:


no doubt there will be many more coverages of the Florida news in next day or two, but once Dr. Hill's webpage is posted (soon) I probably won't cite very many other references unless they truly add additional news or perspective to the story.


-- News Article --

While awaiting the re-posting of Dr. Hill's Florida IBWO-sightings website it is worth reading this nice, extensive coverage of the announcement in the Anniston Star newspaper (if you need a registration to open the article you can get a free 24-hour trial under the "services" section). Some good quotes and additional info:




Monday, September 25, 2006


-- The Florida Announcement + Addendum--

The announcement of Ivory-bills found in Florida was, by mistake, briefly posted on the internet today 24 hours earlier than intended. It has since been removed and I assume will be re-posted on Tues. as originally intended. Even though many saw the site and have begun reporting on it, following the original plan I will leave out most details and simpy relay in a general way what will be found there:

multiple sightings of Ivory-bills by multiple individuals, including 10 sightings by one individual alone, have been recorded within a small area on the Florida panhandle over about a 15-month period; these include a clear sighting of a female in flight by Tyler Hicks (as most know, FEMALE sightings are particularly significant in IBWO reports). There have also been a significant number of detections of Ivory-bills by sound, both by humans on site and by automatic recorders. Scrapings and large cavities also recorded.

However, due to the current lack of adequate video/photographic evidence or direct DNA evidence the authors are unable to call their find absolutely definitive at this point in time, although they themselves are confident of the presence of Ivory-bills and obviously searching will proceed this winter. Many skeptics who now have a very vested interest in Ivory-bills never being found or confirmed will no doubt latch onto this lack of videotape to continue their cause. The team involved will be releasing all of their evidence for public perusal (except for the precise location of the sightings, for obvious reasons), and will be further presenting the evidence both in publication form and at the AOU meeting next week. Assuming their IBWO website is re-posted tomorrow I will link to it at that time, possibly with further comment (or I may have no further comment 'til after the AOU presentation).

Addendum: I've been informed the website mistakenly posted today is also an OUTDATED version with some old information; so tomorrow morning please be sure and link to the updated version (I assume this means possibly a new URL).


-- The N.C. Chainsaw Massacre --

This article isn't about Ivory-bills, but it does give some indication of why any discovery of Ivory-bills can't just be announced willy-nilly to the public in the manner a lot of cynics might like to have done. A lot of preparation and planning (months if not well over a year) must precede any such announcement... why?... because homo sapiens are boobs... read away.


Sunday, September 24, 2006


-- Fitzpatrick Talk --

This article tells a little about the talk Ivory-bill sighter Jim Fitzpatrick gave at the Meadowlands a week ago. One passage caught my eye:
"How the bird survived is the $64,000 question," he said. "The speculation is that while all of the bird's habitat was being removed, parts of the ivory billed woodpecker population were driven into the heart of the big thickets in Texas. There, away from people, it could have been breeding for decades"
I've never heard this "theory" put forth before and don't know where it stems from. Personally, I have some doubts that any Ivory-bills remain in the Big Thicket, but wish this winter's searchers there the best of luck. What seems likely to me is that Ivory-bills have been breeding in Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi all the while, and surviving along the bottomland river corridor system that links these states (and in many minds, of course, S. Carolina remains highly viable as well). The more intriguing question, by far though, is just how far north (in locales possibly rarely ever searched) might they have established themselves? In that regard folks may want to be on the lookout for an Ohio publication cited in this internet posting which apparently will discuss some of the historical evidence for the Ivory-bill in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky.

Friday, September 22, 2006


-- Final Note on Field Techs --

To those of you who sent me your names/qualifications for the winter (NON-Cornell) IBWO study and have not heard anything back yet here is an update: as presumed, the P.I. is currently "swamped," not actively hiring at this moment, but will be soon. When the official announcement-of-the-finding is made there will be simultaneously a call for field techs; I would guess they'll be asking for a full resume and letter(s) of recommendation at that time. Watch for that notice (it should be easy to spot, and I'll no doubt link to it as well); when you see it respond with whatever is requested directly to the signified individual (some of you sent me fairly extensive 'blurbs' that were passed on, but an official resume will likely still be wanted). To the extent that there are qualified individuals who can free up enough time to take part in this project I'd expect the competition for slots to be significant. I'm already very excited for 2 people (including 1 personal acquaintance) who are joining the project team, and would love to see others of my readers get picked for this historic endeavor (...except uhhh, Tom Nelson probably need not apply, even though he reads me absolutely religiously).
Have a splendid weekend all; leaves are falling, it's a marvelous time of year... and, it's a marvelous time to be a birder in America.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


-- Annie Dillard/ Mike Collins --

From the ridiculous yesterday ("Ivory Bill Jones") to the sublime today --- a passage, just for the heck of it, by Annie Dillard from Pilgrim At Tinker Creek,
Chapter 2, entitled "Seeing" ) :
"Unfortunately, nature is very much a now-you-see-it, now-you-don't affair. A fish flashes, then dissolves in the water before your eyes like so much salt. Deer apparently ascend bodily into heaven; the brightest oriole fades into leaves. These disappearances stun me into stillness and concentration; they say of nature that it conceals with a grand nonchalance, and they say of vision that it is a deliberate gift, the revelation of a dancer who for my eyes only flings away her seven veils. For nature does reveal as well as conceal: now-you-don't-see-it, now-you-do. For a week last September migrating red-winged blackbirds were feeding heavily down by the creek at the back of the house. One day I went out to investigate the racket; I walked up to a tree, an Osage orange, and a hundred birds flew away. They simply materialized out of the tree. I saw a tree, then a whisk of color, then a tree again. I walked closer and another hundred blackbirds took flight. Not a branch, not a twig budged: the birds were apparently weightless as well as invisible. Or it was as if the leaves of the Osage orange had been freed from a spell in the form of red-winged blackbirds; they flew from the tree, caught my eye in the sky, and vanished. When I looked again at the tree the leaves had reassembled as if nothing had happened. Finally, I walked directly to the trunk of the tree and a final hundred, the real diehards, appeared, spread, and vanished. How could so many hide in the tree without my seeing them? The Osage orange, unruffled, looked just as it had looked from the house, when three hundred red-winged blackbirds cried from its crown.
"....Peeping through my keyhole I see within the range of only about thirty percent of the light that comes from the sun; the rest is infrared and some little ultraviolet, perfectly apparent to many animals, but invisible to me. A nightmare network of ganglia, charged and firing without my knowledge, cuts and splices what I do see, editing it for my brain. Donald E. Carr points out that the sense impressions of one-celled animals are not edited for the brain: 'This is philosophically interesting in a rather mournful way, since it means that only the simplest animals perceive the universe as it is.' "
===> AND, on a separate note, Mike Collins arrived back in the Stennis/Pearl River area (La.) yesterday for a new winter search season and reported back to BirdForum a tad cryptically as follows:
"This morning, I saw some very, very exciting data. As I mentioned several months ago, studying the ivorybill is going to be like studying a new species. Some of the data that I saw this morning is unlike anything I have ever seen in the field or in the literature. It's downright fascinating."
I assume, but don't know for certain, that this has to do with data to be presented soon at AOU, for which there may be a news release or publication in the week prior to the Veracruz meeting (unsure). Given how few Ivory-bills have been studied in the past, and how long ago the last ones were recorded one might well expect MUCH new (even surprising) information/data to arise. As previously stated here, two of the bigger problems in IBWO discussions are simply 1) how much we don't know with certainty, and 2) how much we think we do know, that is wrong or incomplete. James Tanner's study, as good as it was, simply handed us for decades afterwards an illusion of knowledge that never was that solid
. Good luck in the season ahead Mike.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


-- Will the Fun Never End --

If you're looking for a respite from the occasional IBWO rancor in some quarters you can check out "Ivory Bill Jones'" saga of his search for an Ivory-bill for a quickie chuckle. I previously linked to part 1 of his effort a little while back and since then he's out with parts 2 & 3:

part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78AFGvhLiIE&mode=related&search=

part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjHYkV7m-q4

part 3: http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmdetail/2772775

and his homepage is here: http://www.ivorybillwatcher.com/

....keep 'em comin' Bill

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


-- Fun Tricks --

In some corners of the Web, I'm seeing some opportunistically-timed, strategic backpedalling by card-carrying members of the negative, scoffing, cynical, shallow, contentious, obstructionist, CYA, all-knowing, circular-reasoning, logic-challenged, video-obsessed, Ivory-bill extinctionist-and-abandonment crowd lately. Backpedalling when you're plummeting off a cliff is a neat trick... But, hey, seriously, this debate is actually far, far from over; just headed for a new turn.

Monday, September 18, 2006


-- Ivory-bill Shoppers --

Here's the current eBay page for Ivory-billed Woodpecker wares, just on the off-chance you want to stock up on any items ahead of any possible future news or pronouncements.

And totally separately, here is an item I've picked out specially just for the resolute cynics out there to bid on and use ; - ) In fact if they're in a shopping mood they may as well pick up a few of these (from another site) for friends and family as well.


Sunday, September 17, 2006


-- Tanner Again --

The locale where Ivory-bills will be announced at the Oct. AOU meeting was never visited by James Tanner, and one has to wonder how many other such sites his 'definitive' study completely missed, especially since he didn't have the benefit of aerial photography. Tanner's monograph on Ivory-bills is often referred to as a 3-year study, but by his own admission he only spent 21 months in the South, and a lot of that time was travelling on the road and engaging locals in conversation for information-gathering. Over 10 months alone were spent solely at the Singer Tract where all of his personal observations were made, leaving less than 11 months for a single individual to cover the entire remainder of the south -- essentially an impossibility for anyone to do today adequately, with good roads, better/lighter equipment, and far fewer key areas to explore, and truly an impossibility in Tanner's day (
indeed, he likely spent more hours in the front seat of a car on dusty, bumpy rural roads of the 1930's South than he did trampling through any actual Ivory-bill habitat outside of La.).
Tanner claimed he visited 45 locales in that time (actually, some of them were adjacent to one another, so it's debatable if they could justly be called separate locales), but only spent a week or more in about 5 of them; the rest usually got only a 1-to-4 day visit, hardly enough time for adequate exploration of large forest tracts. In the end he only observed birds at the Singer Tract (thanks to a guide who led him to them) -- statistically, not only was it a wholly inadequate sample size, it was not a random sample of IBWOs either, and of course it was never replicated -- these are rather minimal scientific requirements. While Tanner gathered some other anecdotal and occasionally more empirically-based information along the way to throw into his mix, still there was little solid basis for the generalizations and conclusions that would follow his work. As I've often said, his is a wonderful, fascinating, and astute study of a handful of birds, but a largely inadequate and incomplete study of an entire species.
It is somewhat revealing that people will try so hard to tear down the work of Cornell University in the Big Woods of Arkansas with wholly-unproven and debatable arguments, yet blithely accept the narrow findings of a single lowly grad student from 60+ years ago, and moreover assume those findings still hold today if they ever did. If searchers ever thoroughly explore all of the appropriate habitat out there no telling what they may find, while cynics busy themselves with their pre-formulated armchair analysis. In their typical manner many of them are already deriding (pre-deriding?) the evidence to be announced in Veracruz without having seen it (more good empirical technique -- this applies to some, of course not all, the skeptics). It has reached a point that some of them must quietly hope and wish that the Ivory-bill is extinct in order to save face (their claims to the contrary are disingenuous and whenever IBWOs are confirmed, it will be fun to watch their faux excitement). It is a point, needless to say, we ought never have reached.

Friday, September 15, 2006


-- Ivory-bill Update Next Week --

For anyone in the LSU area next week,
Jon Andrew, chair of the Steering Committee of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Recovery Team, will be giving a talk entitled simply, "Ivory-billed Woodpecker Update" on Wed., Sept. 20, for the Baton Rouge Audubon Society at LSU's Hilltop Arboretum. General public welcome.
I presume this will be an "update" specifically on Cornell's efforts (previous and upcoming), and not include much if any of the information that will be announced at the October AOU meeting, which is spearheaded by a different academic team altogether (although Cornell knows of it). If any reader in attendance thinks something new or interesting is discussed, though, feel free to send it along to me for blog inclusion.

Quite a bit farther off, Cornell's Ken Rosenberg will be the keynote speaker on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker for North Carolina's "Wings Over Water" Festival at Nags Head, NC. on Nov. 10, 2006.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


-- Extant Rhino! --

Following up from where I left off yesterday, one of my alert readers (...as Dave Barry would say) passed along a week-old article on the recent discovery of the Sumatran Rhino, which includes this passage:
"This sighting and rare photos and video documenting the Sumatran rhino in its natural habitat is indeed very exciting. We have been tracking these animals here in Sabah for almost ten years now, and although we have seen tracks and signs of these rhinos, this is the first actual sighting of the endangered animal," said Dr M.S Thayaparan, the Program Officer for SOS Rhino Borneo, in a press conference here Wednesday. [italics added]
10 years to find a rhino on the island of Sumatra... and heck, the varmints can't even fly!!!

Several years ago (shortly after the Kulivan sighting) I asked a renowned birder and field guide author at a booksigning what he thought of the chances of Ivory-bills existing. He responded that he didn't think it was possible, and gave the old mantra (or should I say crock-of- ....) that he didn't believe a bird that big could escape detection for so long. At that point I realized that folks who write field guides may know how to paint, or recognize field marks, but they don't necessarily fathom the habits, behavior, or cognition of wild animals. Too often they are relating to creatures as mere 'objects,' not as thinking, reacting, motivated, purposeful, living beings. And so it goes....


Wednesday, September 13, 2006


-- New Bird Species --

Interesting story here about a striking new bird species discovered recently in northeast India. Who'd have thought that after almost 60 YEARS!!!! since the last new species was found in India there could still be more unseen ones to uncover!!!!! Oh myyyy! ; - ) The editor of the journal 'Indian Birds' said "it's nothing short of miraculous"
--- when will humans learn they not only don't know everything there is to know about the natural world, they know precious little about it. The more vigilantly one looks, the more 'miracles' one will see.


-- Attn: Field Tech Wannabes --

Do you like mucking around in dank water? Think mud is invigorating, and camo is your favorite fashion? R
ugged surroundings at little pay doesn't phase you? And your idea of fun includes bugs, cold nights, and days without deodorant, nail polish, or catching "Desperate Housewives" on TV?
--- Have I gotta deal for you!!

Seriously, Cornell is soliciting for Ivory-bill searchers in Arkansas and South Carolina for the coming winter search season; if interested take a gander at their site (application is online); --- and I can still take a few more names to pass along to a different, non-Cornell, group for their forthcoming study in another southern state, as well, if anymore takers. Some local academic and/or FWS folks will be exploring certain areas of other southern states this winter as well. So, if you have the abillity, equipment, desire, and time to look seriously for Ivory-bills this is probably the winter to do it, in terms of opportunities to link up with others.

Some key highlights of the Cornell solicitation (for the AR. locale) are as follows:

These are "volunteer" positions, assisting full-time staff, and a Cornell "Volunteer Agreement Form" must be signed

Arkansas search period January 3 - April 21, 2007

minimum 2-week stints, with 7 possible start dates

strong birding and boating skills required, and ability to work in adverse field conditions (possibly spending 10-12 hrs/day in a canoe or blind with little movement); ability to use or quickly learn necessary digital and computer technology

lodging and major field equipment provided (including canoe, life jackets, GPS, videocam, cell phone); more basic field equipment, food, and travel expenses responsibility of each volunteer

...also helpful if you have a particularly thick skin against critter-bites... and cynics ; - )

see the Cornell site for further details and the Agreement Form.


Tuesday, September 12, 2006


-- J. Zickefoose, A Plug & A Pitch --

A quick plug: If there's a better nature writer in America today than Julie Zickefoose I'm not sure who it is, and she has just produced her first full length book (actually a volume of essays/stories), "Letters From Eden: A Year at Home, In the Woods," due in bookstores in early October (or you can check her website about directly ordering from her).
I've always kinda hoped that Julie would put her word talents (I happen to think she's even a better painter with words than with brushes!) to work writing a full length volume on the Ivory-bill -- she has said that she didn't think she had a book-length manuscript on the topic in her (one of the most wonderful, compelling IBWO essays around is by her, and linked to below), but maybe this first manuscript success will give her the wherewithal to tackle such a project. No doubt Jerry Jackson will continue to put out updated versions of his volume, maybe Tim Gallagher also, or others from Cornell; possibly Phil Hoose or Christopher Cokinos will have future volumes... and the principal investigator of the news to be released in October will have his own volume out, and possibly still others as well. But these will all be mostly academic, historical, reference, even ecological sorts of works, certainly with some adventure and feelings included, but largely cerebral. I envision an effort by Julie though would tap into a whole different realm of our psyche and emotions on this subject, conveying the beauty, the ardor, the hope/despair, the magic, the mystery, and the mysticism associated with the Ivory-bill, as maybe only she can do. Well there's my pitch... do with it what you will, Julie, I know your plate is pretty full!!



Monday, September 11, 2006


-- Wherefore Art Thou, Ivory-bill --

Previously, I've repeatedly made the argument that EVEN IF I believed the Ivory-bill was extinct I would STILL operate on the assumption that it survives --- because the potentiial consequences of assuming it extinct only to find out later one is wrong, are far worse than the consequences of assuming it is alive, only to find out later it has been gone for decades. It is the same reason our legal system assumes people are innocent until proven guilty, lest innocents suffer undeserved punishment. Some biologists call this "the Romeo error" (after Shakespeare's Romeo poisoning himself upon believing, incorrectly, that Juliet has died), and it ought to be avoided whenever possible; this is why anyone serious about bird life should be encouraging (not discouraging or derisive of) IBWO searchers in their efforts. Indeed, why anyone serious about birds would do otherwise is beyond me... other than possibly trying to prop up the slender skeptical scaffold upon which they have sequestered themselves.

BTW, Jim Fitzpatrick (John's brother) spoke at the New Jersey Meadowlands yesterday on "the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker" --- if anyone heard the talk I'd be interested to know if he happened to indicate when Cornell's final summary report for last season would be out, or had anything new to say.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


-- Was Tanner's Study A Hoax? --

Suppose I were to tell you that recently discovered papers from James Tanner's attic detailed how he travelled to the south with funds from Cornell and spent his days hanging out in the backwoods drinking moonshine with some good ol' boys, while fabricating data and buying a few photos from Cuba to concoct his 3-year "study" of Ivory-bills --- in short, suppose I told you his entire study was an elaborate hoax! Could you prove me wrong?? Could you provide evidence that I couldn't offer an alternative 'faked' or 'conspiratorial' explanation for, forcing you back into the archives in search of counter-evidence???

Of course there are NO SUCH PAPERS, but the fact remains that I personally have no direct knowledge that James Tanner ever existed, let alone that he actually spent any time in La. doing what he claims he did --- what I have is a faith or belief in the truth and accuracy of books/writers that have transmitted that information to me. I don't even have direct evidence that the earth is round or revolves around the sun --- rather, I simply have faith in the scientists who say it is so and the integrity of the evidence they provide for such conclusions --- in short, MOST of what any of us believe 'scientifically' is based upon faith and trust in other people, and in measurements we've never taken, data we've never collected, observations we've never made, but nonetheless accept without question, unless a determined skeptic shakes our faith therein. This is what the average-Joe doesn't realize about their scientific beliefs --- they are usually based not on logic or reason, but faith and trust --- even the scientists doing the hands-on work base their conclusions upon a faith in their senses or the machines/instruments that substitute for their senses. (And a long history of practical successes utilizing such methods, gives us faith that such methods will work now and in the future, though we can never know it for sure.) The point is, that it is a very simple matter to cast doubt on a scientific claim, if one so chooses, by tossing out questions, concerns, 'what-ifs,' and alternative hypotheses as roadblocks along the way, as skeptics, and anti-evolutionists for that matter, do with ease. It is far more difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a given claim is true. And so it is in Ivory-bill land, where any claim is immediately met with doubts and alternative explanations, and cynicism sewn. At some point though faith or trust has to kick in, and thusly I am willing to believe that James Tanner did most of what he claimed to do, even though I can't prove it (and I believe the earth is round and revolves around the sun too!). At some point we will reach that threshold with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker; the scientific bickering, which technically can go on forever, will stop and, despite how easy (fun???) it is to create doubt, the trust will take hold... let's hope by then it's not too late.

P.S. --- I was pleasantly surprised that a handful of people, all with excellent resumes, did send in their names, as prospective candidates to spend several of the winter months in Southern swamp-muck
at fairly minimal pay, to participate in an upcoming IBWO project! --- your names/info have all been forwarded to the principal investigator --- GOOD LUCK!, at what literally may be an unparallelled once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

Friday, September 08, 2006


-- Crow Predation? and ... --

IBWO searcher Jesse Gilsdorf reports that according to George Lamb's monograph The Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Cuba, "crows are major predators of IBWO including egg robbing and nestling predation." This is interesting to hear since Tanner's small study concluded that the IBWO had no major predators, only mentioning that various hawks might have possible negative effects on IBWO behavior. The well-documented mobbing and predatory nature of crows, their ubiquitousness throughout the IBWO range, and the ease with which they could enter nest cavities, would thus offer yet another intriguing NON-habitat-loss factor in the decline of the species.

On a different note, I received a longish plea from Mike Hendrickson essentially asking me to say more about the upcoming new evidence/claims for Ivory-bills, which I'm simply not at liberty to do, and which would only generate more unproductive chatter on the Web ahead of the full case being laid out. The AOU meeting is less than 25 days away. Some of the evidence that will be announced is already over 16 mos. old, so another 25 days is not much to ask (if there is no news release prior), to let the principals announce their information in the form they choose (there will be a website where all can equally access the full evidence at that time). I suspect yet additional evidence will come in from other locales through the wintertime, but that's nothing more than a hunch.
If any of you with good birding and backwoods skills are in a position to devote 3+ months this winter to a rugged southern swamp area studying IBWOs, and genuinely interested in being considered for such a project
, you can send your name and email address along to me with some indication of your credentials and I can pass that info along to the principals who are seeking field workers.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


-- Mason Spencer Revisited --

... and today's rant: For those who don't already know it a brief recounting of Mason Spencer's story from the 1930's --- First, realize that around 1900 the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was already thought extinct by many, only to be found again. By 1920 it was again presumed extinct, and again by 1930. All the while individuals (non-ornithologists) who actually spent significant time in Ivory-bill habitat (oooh, clever idea) were seeing the bird on occasion and knew of its survival.
So in 1932 when Louisianian Mason Spencer told a State Wildlife Director, that he regularly saw IBWOs in Madison Parish, the all-knowing director, in frustration issued him a special permit to shoot one and bring it in, so he could prove Mason wrong. The director was stunned when Spencer did just that, delivering a freshly-killed male Ivory-bill to the office, and thus initiating Cornell University's belated interest in the Singer Tract.
The point is, that in 1932, skepticism is what brought us to the point of killing a bird to prove it existed!! 70+ years later the means have changed, but not entirely the close-minded mentality. We no longer have to shoot birds with guns, now that we can shoot them with film, but the insistence on this level of evidence, just as in 1932, still carries risks -- spurring people into the swamps with electronic and mechanical gadgetry that may have unforeseen collateral effects, and at the very least potentially delaying any action on behalf of the Ivory-bill while awaiting procurement of such overwhelming evidence. Do note, that in the historical instance above, Mason Spencer is NOT the villain -- the bad guy is the wildlife director, the skeptic (or scoffer), who nonchalantly issues the permit to kill. Today's skeptics, with their efforts to prove false any claims that come in, are essentially issuing permits to let the Ivory-bill die out --- they will vehemently deny it, but the consequence of their discouraging and often derisive chatter is exactly this.

As I've said before, THERE HAS BEEN NO SOLID EVIDENCE IN THE LAST 60 YEARS SUPPORTING THE NOTION OF THIS SPECIES' EXTINCTION -- NONE... WHATSOEVER!! (just mere speculation, amidst ongoing hints of its likely survival) -- anyone who thinks otherwise DOES NOT UNDERSTAND scientific empiricism, the nature of evidence, nor the complexity of the natural world. Period.
It is fine to be skeptical of individual IBWO reports --- I've been skeptical, initially, of every report I've seen in the last 40 years, but each new report must be adjudged independently and the totality of evidence (of 100s of reports, across decades) weighed, at which point the probability of IBWO existence is formidable --- even if but one Ivory-bill was left today, then the bird was not extinct in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, or 2005, and no evidence precludes such current existence, except for an apparent belief, on the part of many, that ALL habitat has been searched and that human searchers are infallible: 'waaahlll, since Tom, Dick, and Harry and Ezmarelda went out lookin' and couldn't find or film the durn thing then I reckon it must not exist, 'cuz them folks is gooo--oood, huhhhh' (--- that's the essential level of the so-called evidence!).

When this whole situation is finally resolved apologies or wonderment from skeptics/scoffers will be worthless and useless --- what one would like from them is an iron-clad promise that they will never again so ineptly write-off an entire species in such short order and upon such skimpy evidence --- yet that is a promise that won't be forthcoming, for it is inherent within some skeptics' mindset to continue making the same misjudgments over and over and over again.

And what some perceive as an obsession with a single species on some of our parts, is actually much broader than that --- it is a focussed concern for endangered species, and the loose criteria by which they are written off, thusly shortchanging conservation. The Ivory-bill represents a lesson to be learned once-and-for-all!... except that, when all the celebration upon its return is over, that lesson will no doubt be totally lost on those still-befuddled skeptics.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


-- Ivory-bill Atheists --

I'm putting off a planned rant at skeptics for a day to clarify just who these rants refer to: Many say that skepticism is in the highest tradition of science, and I agree: I AM a skeptic -- I am skeptical of Christmas counts, of journal articles, of the classification of species, of lifelists, of field guides, of PhDs, of published data, of NCAA basketball ratings, and yes of Ivory-bill reports -- of anything and everything where human certainty or 100% accuracy might be implied, but I still view and remain open to any and all possibilities, despite the skepticism. To draw a distinction therefore from the brand of skeptics I am criticizing, maybe a better, more precise term would be "scoffers." These individuals allow their skepticism to swell into scoffing at new and old evidence, forfeiting the objectivity and open-mindedness required of science. They scoff at Cornell while giving David Sibley's piece a free ride. They scoff at David Kulivan and Gallagher and Bobby Harrison, but never critique Tanner. They scoffed at Jerry Jackson when he argued for 20 years that Ivory-bills might yet survive, then embraced him when he was critical of the most recent evidence. They scoff at anything that doesn't conform to their preconceived notions, and blindly follow, without scientific analysis, anything that does conform. They are following not scientific methodology, but mere bias and pretend-science. They are upset that Cornell spoke with such certainty of finding the IBWO in AR., yet they now speak with their own unsupportable certainty that Cornell did not find it.
Those who are skeptical but open-minded, who are doubtful but aiding the searches, who are unconvinced but looking afresh at every new lead, I have few qualms with --- you are essentially agnostics and that is a perfectly respectable scientific position. But to the Ivory-bill atheists out there, who have made up their minds that the species no longer exists and that any evidence to the contrary must be
explained away by alternative hypotheses, and who thus let preconceptions immediately shape their response to any new claims, you are not engaging in science and truly you ought to stop kidding yourselves (...and others) that you are.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


-- Recess! --

Time to dabble in some humor and break all the pent-up tension out there!... At the risk (hope???) of encouraging even more of these amateurish offerings I've listed below a couple of links to "youtube" website attempts at Ivory-bill humor -- these are okay for first tries, but come on folks, I think some creative soul out there can do far better than this:



There's also a parody of Steve Irwin looking for the Ivory-bill on the 'youtube' site which, in deference to his sudden tragic death, I won't link to, but you may hunt for if you so choose (there are many parodies of the beloved Irwin on "youtube," obviously made in respect and gratitude for him well prior to the recent tragedy).

Finally, and completely NON-IBWO-related, if you're already over at the "youtube" site anyway, and you've not yet seen this pepped-up version of Pachelbel's Canon on electric guitar, check it out (somewhat awesome, and I think highly fun/entertaining -- there are actually several renditions at 'youtube'):


....and enjoy this sidelight while you can, because tomorrow I may be ranting about skepticism once again.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


-- Tanner Redux --

James Tanner was the typical grad student working on a dissertation, appropriately humble and hesitant in his findings when he wrote his Ivory-billed Woodpecker monograph. Yet, once published, he was raised to an authoritative pedestal to which all who were interested in the species pretty much came and knelt before. As time proceeded his statements and views took on more dogmatic and less open-minded tones as an inevitable consequence of this commanding position that was thrust upon him. Still, I think some of the most important words he ever wrote, came at the end of the "Introduction" to his original study, before that dogmatism set in, and they deserve repeated citation:
"The chief difficulty of the study has been that of drawing conclusions from relatively few observations, necessary because of the extreme scarcity of the bird. My own observations of the birds have been entirely confined to a few individuals in one part of Louisiana... the conclusions drawn from them will not necessarily apply to the species as it once was nor to individuals living in other areas. The difficulty of finding the birds, even when their whereabouts was known, also limited the number of observations. Especially was this true in the non-breeding season. With these considerations in mind, one must draw conclusions carefully and with reservations." [all italics added]
On this, at least, I believe Tanner got it 100% right (I wish he and others since had adhered to it)...

Friday, September 01, 2006


-- Skepticism's Role --

Writer/birder/Audubon President John Terres saw two Ivory-bills in the 1950s but didn't report it for 30 years because he saw no good that could come of it, even in the unlikely event that people believed him. Ornithologist John Dennis (with a Master's Degree) went to his grave believing that PhDs. looked down on him in not accepting some of his Ivory-bill reports of the 60s. And famously, ornithologist George Lowery came to regret ever publicly disclosing the Fielding Lewis Ivory-bill photos of the 70s which he believed were authentic (but others thought not), due to the tarnishing that it brought his reputation. These were just 3 of the more prominent people who were affected by overbearing Ivory-bill skepticism.
A lot of folks today talk and act as if the IBWO controversy began in 2005 with Cornell's Big Woods' announcement, but this controversy was already 60 years old at that point. Even though Tanner himself believed Ivory-bills existed in S.C. and Florida, somehow in the 40s the Singer Tract population became largely regarded as the last specimens in the Southeast and nobody even knows in what direction they moved once that Tract was cut over. At that point a baseless assumption of extinction was allowed to set in, resulting in a stigma attached to those sighting reports that did come in -- and because most IBWO claims turned in were erroneous, a jaded birding community simply presumed all were.
In turn this stigma meant that:

1. fewer individuals seriously searched for the birds than would otherwise have been the case, let alone any large-scale, organized, meaningful searches being done

2. individuals who did report the bird, unless they had major credentials, were rarely taken seriously

3. many, if not most, who believed they saw the bird, chose not to officially report it at all, rather than face potential doubts and ridicule

4. the few individuals (hunters/trappers/fishermen, NOT birders) who routinely entered likely Ivory-bill environs were never given any incentive to report the species if encountered

In short, prevailing skepticism over Ivory-bills fashioned a cynical atmosphere entirely NON-conducive to finding or saving the species, and long after the loggers and hunters were gone, this pernicious atmosphere is what truly worked against remaining Ivory-bills of the 50s and 60s when they most needed a human assist. Whether enough remain now to yet bring their numbers back time will tell, but skeptics cannot just blithely escape their negative role in the last 50 years and the 'waste-of-time' feeling that they promoted. This sort of hasty, cavalier dismissal of an entire species based on misguided faith in the thoroughness of human logic or study ought never occur. Thus my contention that skeptics are more responsible than anyone else for the failure to find and save this species 20, 30, 40, or 50 years ago. Even the likes of Tanner and Les Short, who should've known better, worked against Jerry Jackson's pleading in the 80's for more searching and study. WHAAAT were they thinking? (...or utterly failing to think).

I'm not speaking here of all the Johnny-come-lately, leap-on-the-bandwagon skeptics who barely even know all the issues involved and were putty in the hands of others, but of the prominent ones who over time set the agenda, preached extinction, and prejudiced the birding majority. If IBWOs are confirmed, those skeptics, after years of obstructively smirking at the foolishness of IBWO believers, will suddenly glob on to say, 'ohhh this is wonderful, finally the evidence we sooo wished for; how great they are indeed still around, yada, yada, yada, yada...' It will be at this point that I hope most of you will fully understand and excuse me if I saunter off to be alone somewhere where I can less-than-merrily stand over a white porcelain commode with my extended index finger firmly planted oh-so-precisely down my ever-luvin' throat!! ....OR..., if IBWOs aren't confirmed, well, then, as Miss Emily Latila would've said, n-n-n-n-n-n-nevermind!

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