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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






Tuesday, September 26, 2006

 

-- Florida Cliff Notes --

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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.
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