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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

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


-- Cornell Report Near Completion --

Cornell's summary report of last year's Big Woods' search season is virtually complete and apparently close to 50 pgs. long (don't know when they'll have it linked to on the Web or if they will only put a condensed version online). Other than the massive amount of audio data they've had to analyze, not sure why the long delay in bringing to completion. But as I've said for decades the name of the game in Ivory-bill circles is 'patience, patience' and that continues to hold, especially as there are almost always things going on in the background which aren't well publicized (...and rightly so, as they may lead nowhere).

Sunday, October 29, 2006


-- Another Article --

October article from a Toronto newspaper (pdf format) on the Florida find:


(also, note list of
rediscovered "extinct" species along right-hand margin)


Friday, October 27, 2006


-- Friday Miscellany --

The latest issue of "Birder's World" Magazine has a Top 20 listing of the most sought-after N. American birds. Not surprisingly the Ivory-billed Woodpecker tops the list. Picks 2 thru 20 however, are a little more debatable:

1. Ivory-billed Woodpecker
2. Painted Bunting
3. Snowy Owl
4. California Condor
5. Whooping Crane
6. Great Gray Owl
7. Atlantic Puffin
8. Elf Owl
9. Violet-crowned Hummingbird
10. Magnificent Hummingbird
11. Elegant Trogon
12. Gyrfalcon
13. Bohemian Waxwing
14. Arctic Loon
15. Horned Puffin
16. Red-cockaded Woodpecker
17. Kirtland's Warbler
18. Harlequin Duck
19. Northern Hawk Owl
20. Blue-throated Hummingbird

If you haven't already seen it, this page highlights the various research interests of Auburn's Dr. Geoff Hill, now of course highlighted by the search for the Ivory-bill:


... and finally on a different note, "Ivory Bill Jones" continues his misadventures in search of IBWO here:



Tuesday, October 24, 2006


-- Auburn Group's Blog --

The "volunteer" group (who are operating out of the Nokuse Plantation) of Geoff Hill's 3 Choctawhatchee Ivory-bill search teams now have a blog up-and-running. Looks very promising, though there will no doubt be certain matters they can't say too much about:


A welcome addition to the blog and IBWO communities!...


Monday, October 23, 2006


-- Bobby Harrison Foundation --

Bobby Harrison has apparently begun the fledgling stages of a non-profit foundation for the pursuit of the Ivory-bill:


Also, another related story here:




Sunday, October 22, 2006


-- Reviewing the Assumptions... again --

To believe that Ivory-bills survive today one must make one underlying assumption; namely that SOME of the 100's of people to report IBWOs in the last 60 years were right. Conversely, a belief that IBWOs went extinct in the 40's requires an assumption that ALL of those 100's of claimants (eliminating the few outright hoaxes) have been mistaken, no matter how credible or knowledgeable the observer; i.e. none of the claimants are to be believed, but the judgments of all who followed these folks into the woods and failed to confirm the species ARE automatically adjudged meaningful. What are the chances?

Further, to argue for extinction one must presume that all pertinent areas of habitat have been adequately searched over time by enough competent observers, to rule out any likelihood of existence. Talk about "faith-based ornithology" --- the extinctionist stance rests completely on an unwarranted faith in the ability of scientists to have adequately searched all appropriate areas of the southeast US over the last 60 years... with cameras in hand no less, despite extensive searches being few and far between.

The Ivory-bill is not a mythical creature as some others may be (Loch Ness, Bigfoot, Martians?); everyone accepts that it existed in the 1940s (indeed, Tanner thought it existed in three dispersed locales, La., Fl., and S.C., even though he was unable to find the majority of them). For it to be alive today it needed only what all creatures need, a will to live, an impulse to breed, and a place to do both safely (as every other southeastern woodpecker succeeded in doing). Extinctionists have brought forth a pittance of evidence that it lacked any of this and yet on the basis of that pittance all-knowingly presume the species gone forever (largely for lack of a photograph).

The Ivory-bill was known to reside variously in bottomland mixed hardwoods, upland pine forest, and cypress swamps, and yet been pigeon-holed as a 'specialist' species requiring old growth habitat for survival (the fact that the last few individuals studied were in old growth forest, and that such habitat may have been favored when present is in no way an indication that it was a requirement for survival... anymore than observing college students eat pizza three days a week is an indication that pizza is a requirement for student survival). Indeed, few other birds of the American Southeast showed such specialist tendencies. (The very notion of 'specialist' versus 'generalist' is a somewhat arbitrary concoction of the human mind since all creatures have certain specialist tendencies.)

The Ivory-bill once existed; it is no longer hunted; it's potential habitat has only grown over the last several decades and is searched on but rare occasions; and other southeastern woodpecker populations have grown over that time. What is really more likely then, that there are zero left and (extraordinarily) every single reported sighting over that time is a mistake, or that some percentage of those reports are true? Given the typical creature's 'will to live' and adaptability, the typical scientists' 'rush to judgment' and overgeneralization, and the misunderstood short span of ecological time involved (60 years), and this creature's specific use of remote dense canopies, tree cavities, and rapid flight, you already know my answer to that question.

Friday, October 20, 2006


-- John Dennis Book --

A book that may be of interest to up-and-coming Ivory-bill searchers (recently recommended by a Birdforum poster) is John Dennis's old, but still informative, volume "The Great Cypress Swamps," available through Amazon here:




Thursday, October 19, 2006


-- On Display --

If you're not able to make it to the Choctawhatchee River to look for IBWOs this winter, a surer bet is to go to the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainsville and see two Ivory-billed specimens that will be on display through mid Jan. 2007:


These may be the two nesting birds that Arthur Allen famously had under observation in 1924 until the State issued a permit for them to be collected basically for historical purposes because of the species' incredible rarity... seemed like a good idea (to some officials) at the time!!!??? Go figure...



Wednesday, October 18, 2006


-- Big Birds --

Somewhat interesting speculative post and fun read from another blog today:




Tuesday, October 17, 2006


-- Alabama Birding Festival --

The Alabama Coastal BirdFest opens this Thursday for 4 days in Fairhope, with a featured speaker being Alabama resident Bobby Harrison on his Ivory-bill experiences. He will be showing the (very) brief film footage he has which never gained any media traction, but which some claim shows an Ivory-bill in flight.




Monday, October 16, 2006


-- Conflict Brewing ??? --

In Arkansas it was a major irrigation project put into question; in Florida there may be an airport at stake. Before Auburn's announcement of Ivory-bills along the Choctawhatchee River a new airport was planned near Panama City near the south end of the very same river. It was already controversial before the Ivory-bill claim; it will likely become even moreso now. Here's a couple of articles on the proposed airport from a month ago (and prior to the Ivory-bill news, which comes from farther north on the river):




Saturday, October 14, 2006


-- Of Photos, Sagan, and Sincerity --

Photos, photos, bring on the photos... skeptics keep imploring that a good photo will persuade them --- that's all that's needed. Good photos however can be faked (actually faked fairly easily, and with more effort and skill even a video can be faked)... it STIIIIIIILL ultimately comes down to a matter of trust... if you don't trust the individual submitting the photo(s), then the photos are of little value. Cynics don't believe the sightings that have been reported because they don't trust those doing the reporting --- they trust their own strained mental gymnastics but not multiple peoples' on-site observations.

Astronomer Carl Sagan believed in the existence of extraterrestrials, not because there was any hard evidence to support it (there is virtually none), but rather because there was virtually no evidence against it (except for decades of flimsy efforts to make radio contact in a few locales of the Universe), and therefore probabilistically it becomes likely. The same holds true in Ivory-bill land, except that there ARE ongoing reports decade after decade. Fa-a-a-ar more evidence exists for IBWOs than for extraterrestrials.

Given the extent of habitat rarely set foot upon by birders, and a bird that can be invisible inside tree cavities or high, dense canopies, there will be NOTHING remarkable in a confirmed discovery of Ivory-bills after 60 years. And some skeptics, having arduously painted themselves into a tight corner will sound disingenuous if they exclaim with born-again enthusiasm how great it is that the birds, yada, yada, yada, have finally been found and documented... at that point some of us will be justly skeptical of their truthfulness --- more likely certain cynics (they know who they are) would be chagrined and galled at the confirmation of this species and the skewering/spoiling of their personal credibility --- their judgments (on endangered species at least) being reduced to naivete. In a face-saving measure any such finding will be deemed 'miraculous' rather than admit that there never was any compelling evidence for the species' extinction.
The prospect of living, breathing Ivory-billed Woodpeckers is likely now threatening to many (no, not all) who will be sorry to see even a single member of this species posing for a camera... but don't expect any cynics to admit this, nor to take any responsibility for the 50-year delay in finding the birds.

Friday, October 13, 2006


--- Some Rank-Orderings ---

A state roll-call of the top dozen places to look for Ivory-bills:

1. Florida
2. Louisiana
3. Mississippi
4. Arkansas
5. (southern) Georgia
6.(southern) Alabama
7. South Carolina
8. (east) Texas
9. (west) Tennessee
10. (southern) Illinois
11. North Carolina
12. (southern) Missouri

....and a top dozen of where not to look for IBWOs:

1. Minnesota (especially Minneapolis)
2. (north, south, east, or west) Alaska
3. Hawaii (and most any other Pacific islands)
4. Maine (good for Puffins, poor for IBWOs)
5. Oregon (too rainy)
6. Wyoming (cattle yes, IBWOs not-so-much)
7. Rhode Island (a tad too few bottomland swamps)
8. New Hampshire, or is it Vermont (I always get these two mixed up)
9. New Mexico (although strange things do happen in Roswell)
10. North Dakota (or South D. for that matter)
11. Kansas (too flat)
12. Michigan (especially the Upper Peninsula)

...always tryin' to be helpful... and it's a slow news day.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


-- This 'n That --

In an odd quirk of timing yesterday, after I'd posted a link to some previous John Arvin IBWO articles (in Texas), John posted a new update to his "chronicles" on the TX. birding listserv, here:


Also, I've been informed the contact person I listed yesterday for S.Carolina (Craig Watson) is no longer in that position, although any IBWO-related communication sent to him will get forwarded to the correct individual.

On a different matter, some weeks ago a Cornell email admitted that their final summary report for last season's search was "well overdue," and saying that it was a "joint effort with federal, state, and private agencies," and had to meet all agencies' satisfaction. before release. It will be posted on their site as soon as ready (...hopefully, before the next season begins ; - ) --- maybe, in an odd quirk of timing it will show up tomorrow!



Wednesday, October 11, 2006


-- The Ivory-bill and Texas --

A couple of Ivory-bill articles by Fred Collins and John Arvin related to the search in Texas, which will continue this winter :



If you're interested in participating in this season's Texas search John Arvin is probably the individual to contact:

John Arvin

Gulf Coast Observatory
Lake Jackson, TX. 77566
fax 979-480-0777

While at it, I may as well also mention that if you're interested in the S. Carolina search a contact person is:

Craig Watson

South Atlantic Coordinator
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Charleston, SC 29407
fax: 843-727-4092


Tuesday, October 10, 2006


-- Field Tech Reminder --

Just a reminder for anyone interested in joining the Auburn group on their winter Florida search (Jan. 2 - May 30, 2007) that they are giving highest consideration to those who apply by OCT. 15th!! Their invitation to applicants reads as follows:
"We are currently taking applications for full-time searchers for the 2006/2007 field season. The minimum time commitment is January 2 to May 30, 2007. Searchers willing to work through Christmas and New Year holidays are also especially needed. Stipend is $1200/mo with no benefits. Anyone willing to join the full-time search without receiving a stipend will get special consideration. Searchers will live in a remote camp in a tent or in a bunkhouse and must purchase their own food. Please send resume, contact info for two references, and a page summarizing why you want to be part of the search, your level of physical fitness, and your skills as a kayaker, canoeist, hiker, and birder to Brian Rolek at brianrolekATgmailDOTcom. Applications received before Oct 15, 2006 will get first consideration. "
And for those who aren't able to join the Auburn team but are interested in visiting the general area at some point they list several other locales along the Choctawhatchee worthy of searches here (toward bottom of pg.):



Monday, October 09, 2006


-- At Last, A Photo! ; - ) --

Finally, as passed along to me from one of my astute top-secret sources, a photo of the biggest woodpecker in N. America:

Here! .....[ for (im)mature?? audiences only ]

--- And below an article from yesterday's Times-Picayune newspaper on the search for the Ivory-bill in the Pearl River area with reference to Mike Collins and Susan Epps:




Sunday, October 08, 2006


-- Another Blast From the Past --

For today, again I'll just re-run a post from one year ago:

"People often don't realize how many sightings of Ivory-bills have been turned in over the decades. Some folks have the impression there are but a couple of unverified reports over the last 60 years and that's it (...no wonder they buy into a notion of IBWO extinction). Most IBWO literature mentions at most just a couple dozen Ivory-bill claims since the mid-40's that have some credibility, but the actual number of reports in that time (that could not be quickly dismissed as hoaxes or mis-identifications) are many times that number -- only the MOST credible ones make their way into the literature. On-the-other-hand, so far as I'm aware the Ivory-bill's contemporary, the Passenger Pigeon, has had virtually no credible reports since the 1930's (indeed few since it's supposed extinction in 1914), while reports of Ivory-bills are a regular occurrence during that time. If mistaken identifications are such a common occurrence one must wonder why have there not been dozens of reports of Passenger Pigeons over the decades, a species with a far wider-ranging habitat than the IBWO and one that could easily be confused with various other birds given a quick glance? Yet P. Pigeon sightings lie dormant while IBWOs show up again and again and again...

BUUUT... what has always intrigued this writer most is NOT the many IBWO sightings turned in over time, but the likely dozens more sightings NEVER turned in at all. They fall into the following categories:

1. Birders who believe they have seen Ivory-bills but never reported it for fear of the scoffing, jeering, or intimidation they would face.

2. Birders who believe they have seen Ivory-bills (might even have photographic proof), but who believe it UNethical to report such a finding, for fear of the potential havoc brought upon the birds.

3. Birders who have had fleeting 'low-qualiity' glances at big black-and-white woodpeckers in woods and automatically shrugged it off as Pileateds, when in fact they had observed IBWOs.

4. Hunters, fisherman, backwoodsmen, who have seen IBWOs, but didn't have a clue what they were seeing (nor care) and so never reported it.

5. Hunters, fishermen, etc. who have seen IBWOs, and knew EXACTLY what they were seeing, and deliberately chose NOT to report it for fear of Government intervention and tight regulation of the land involved.

My guess is we would be stunned if we knew the actual number of human-Ivorybill encounters in the last 60 years, and it would leave little doubt but that the species survives today in remote corners of the American Southeast.
Has any other bird species EVER generated so many reports over a 60-year period and still been written off as extinct by so many? I doubt it."
In a couple months birders will assiduously fan out to cover their (easily-accessible) local areas in the most methodical organized birding that regularly takes place, called Christmas counts. For all those efforts, the data generated will be some of the most weak, loose, imprecise, nonvalid, questionable, and unverified data that gets routinely published in the scientific world. As yearly data it is virtually meaningless and uninterpretable (only by looking over 10-20 year 'trends' can meaning sometimes be teased from it). And the search for the Ivory-bill has never even met that level of effort. When all the bottomland/swampland areas of the South have been thoroughly searched (as well as certain other forest tracts) then folks can pass some reasonable judgment on the survival of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Ahead of that time skeptics are just wildly speculating, without any good basis, that a bird that keeps getting reported is no longer with us. Ohhh, and please keep those Passenger Pigeon reports rolling in as well...

Saturday, October 07, 2006


-- Another New Species --

Yet another newly-discovered bird species has been found, this time a "brush-finch" in the Colombian mountains --- visit locales birders rarely traverse and (surprise, surprise) find birds rarely if ever seen before:


(...or pray tell, is it just a case of a leucistic pileated house sparrow and some overactive imaginations???)



-- Is This Whole Debate Giving You a Headache? --

If this whole Ivory-billed debate is giving you a headache you may want to read this article by Dr. Ivan R. Schwab of the University of California, Davis, on how Pileated Woodpeckers carry on their lives pounding daily on wood and not getting a headache. Schwab and the late Dr. Philip May (UCLA) just won an Ig Nobel prize for their work on why woodpeckers don't get headaches : - )


On the other hand, if this whole subject is giving you gas and flatulance, then I'm afraid I can't help you.


Friday, October 06, 2006


-- Another Searcher's Report --

One of my readers has sent in the following link to his search report from the Choctawhatchee:


Search took place in early Sept. and was unsuccessful, but nice reporting on the area and lots of photos to give a feel for the habitat. Best chance of a 'successful' search for the birds (with photos) will be during the winter months when leaves are off the trees.

By the way, Cornell is continuing their call for participants for the continued search of the Arkansas Big Woods this winter. Don't know if they will have a hard time filling slots, given the re-directed interest in Florida now, but I would urge those who are able to lend them a hand. They'll be concentrating on the White River Refuge this season and the vast majority of that habitat was NOT searched last year. I, for one, believe there are still Ivory-bills waiting to be found there.

Finally, in the "gotta-give-'em-a-plug" Dept. I noticed on the "Partners" section of Dan Mennill's Ivory-bill website several of the usual sorts of conservation participants, but then one a little more unusual, the Pelee Island Winery. If they support the search for the Ivory-bill then I'm all for... hic... supporting... hiccup... them... hic...
(seriously, they look to be a very environmentally-conscious business deserving our patronage). Check out some of their red wines here, complete with birds on the labels, and then browse the rest of their site:




Thursday, October 05, 2006


-- Those Nonchalant Florida Birders --

Laura Erickson, at the Veracruz conference, posted some thoughts/impressions on her blog following Dr. Hill's and Mennill's presentation at yesterday's proceedings: http://www.birderblog.com/post.php?id=1591

I think it worth pointing out that while
in front of such a professional gathering Dr. Hill must speak modestly and of the need for yet further (photographic) evidence to prove the Ivory-bill's existence, but there should be no doubt of his own personal certainty that he, Tyler Hicks, and Brian Rolek have all seen one or more Ivory-bills in the Florida Panhandle.

Maybe Floridians are just more accustomed than most folks to dealing with unusual and rare bird reports, or more particularly, maybe they're just more accustomed to hearing Ivory-bill rumors over the decades than other birders... It was somewhat interesting, during the months prior to the official Florida Ivory-bill announcement, when rumors were bubbling in many quarters, to see that nothing at all was showing up about it on Florida birding listserv postings. Now, even since the official announcement, relatively few Florida posters have concerned themselves with the woodpecker excitement in their own backyard. Since there have been many previous purported sightings in the Panhandle over time, I'm a bit surprised that the listserv has not seen a small rush of folks piping up to say that they too (or their friend, or brother, or mother-in-law) thought they saw an Ivory-bill in the Panhandle back in such-and-such a year but never reported it, or maybe such claims are being turned in through private channels
(or it may simply be explainable by the small % of Fla. birders who actively participate in the Fla. listserv). In any event the nonchalant, unruffled reaction from Floridians, is still much preferred to the cynical, derisive tone emitted from some other quarters (...where a lot of folks are so gosh-darn sure of themselves they post under the "anonymous" handle). And just maybe if we ever truly know the total number of Ivory-bills throughout the state of Florida, it will indeed be something to be nonchalant about.

On a sidenote, Mike Collins posted this photo of some rather unusual bark-scaling in the Pearl River area (La.) yesterday; an Ivory-bill on meth. perhaps, or an Ivory-bill on Matisse???

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


-- One Year Ago --

Nobel Prizes are currently being doled out, which reminded me of the blog post here from one year ago, and worth repeating:

" A couple days ago Larry Marshall and Robin Warren won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery almost 25 years ago that a bacterium helicobacter pylori was the cause of most stomach ulcers and gastritis. At the time (when it was widely believed ulcers were caused by over-acidity) peers called the contention "preposterous," since bacteria obviously couldn't survive in stomach acid. The findings and discoverers were shunned and denigrated, and it took many years for Marshall and Warren to prove themselves right and the skeptics wrong. Today researchers are looking at what role microbes may play in many other inflammatory ailments, no longer scoffing at this one-time un-establishment notion. Medicine is a field full of instances of entrenched 'accepted knowledge' being overturned in time. So too... field biology."
No matter how many people voice a given dogma (in our case Ivory-bill extinction), it doesn't make it so, especially when so little evidence exists to support it. However, in time, regardless of how many are voicing the dogma, they may all appear foolish if the evidence becomes clearcut in favor of a long-held minority view. And at that point the credibility and competency of the dogma-worshippers becomes open to question on additional matters...

Speaking of Ivory-bills, Laura Erickson reports that a talk on the Florida Ivorybill find will be given today over the lunch hour at the conference in Veracruz. Don't expect the talk to have anything new that hasn't already been released, but a chance to gauge some of the reaction to it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


-- Nokuse Plantation --

While biding time a bit, may want to read about how the beautiful and private, 50,000+ acre Nokuse Plantation, near the Chocatwhatchee WMA, is joining forces with the Auburn team in the search for the Ivory-bill in the Florida panhandle:


For folks thinking of heading down to the Florida panhandle for a look-see, keep in mind that the Chipola-Apalachicola bottomland areas east of the Choctawhatchee, and the Escambia River forest west of the Choctawhatchee are other areas of intense interest for the Ivory-bill. Throughout Florida, and the entire southeast for that matter, there are so many acres of difficult or limited accessibility, which have only had truly cursory attention by birders over the last half century.


Monday, October 02, 2006


-- Back To The Pearl, and Elsewhere --

Over the weekend Mike Collins reported that he and another individual saw an Ivory-bill in flight at the Pearl River area in Louisiana. According to Mike they were led to this specific locale by a report passed along from Geoff Hill (of the Fla. sightings) regarding yet another person's recent claim.

Birders are arriving in Veracruz for the conference that gets underway tomorrow. Don't know if I'll get any direct reports from the meeting itself but Laura Erickson, who is there, will no doubt be reporting updates on her blog, as time and internet access allows. Will be interesting to hear how Dr. Hill's and Mennill's work is received since it probably raises as many (or more) questions than it renders answers for. Especially interesting is their use of "bark adhesion" measurements as a potential indicator of Ivory-bill presence (I'm not aware of this sign ever being empirically used before). It involves a great many difficult-to-integrate variables, but if their data stand up under scrutiny it may hold much promise for the study of other forest tracts (ASSUMING similar foraging habits in IBWOs from different geographic locales -- likely, but not necessarily the case).

And in the "fancy-meeting-you-here" dept. a birder on the Fla. listserv noted running into Bobby Harrison (of Big Woods IBWO fame) along the Choctawhatchee River of all places this weekend... hmmm, what'ya bet he was packin' binocs, a camera, and some home-made decoys???

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