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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

Friday, December 29, 2006


-- Birder's World --

Decent article, by Geoffrey Hill, in the latest Birder's World Magazine on the Auburn Ivory-bill find is available online here:


Dr. Hill sounds confident his folks will document the Ivory-bill photographically this season with the "biggest and best-funded Ivory-bill search" of 2007 (Cornell having scaled back in Arkansas) --- in which case he will no doubt soon be writing a revision of his upcoming book, "Ivory-bill Hunters: The Search for Proof in a Flooded Wilderness" (due out around Feb. from Oxford University Press).

--- you may need to register (free) for access to the article.


Thursday, December 28, 2006


-- Truth Or Fiction --

Update on the J. Stevenson matter/article :

Responses I've received, often from folks more familiar with Stevenson than am I, run the full gamut of opinion --- half or more lean toward believing Jim's account (but this may only reflect the bias of my readership; the remainder split between those believing the story bogus and those who just aren't sure). There is much in Jim's phrasing and writing style that I too find odd, but can explain away if I focus on the more plausible elements of the account. HOWEVER, there remain several significant aspects (I won't detail here) I've not been able to resolve to my satisfaction, and despite his birding credentials there are major concerns over Jim's credibility in various circles, stemming from prior experiences both in Fla. and TX. Enough doubts linger that I can't presume the authenticity of the claims Jim makes, without corroboration from a 2nd individual.
The very difficulty in substantiating the story is in itself suspicious. This doesn't mean I think it is pure fabrication; it means I don't know what to think, or what could be the purpose in authoring pure fiction on such a divisive topic. I DON'T believe (as some have suggested) that it is intended as satire or humor in any form (though it's possible Jim could claim this in a future confession); nor do I happen to think it is a simple effort at self-aggrandizement as others surmise. And that leaves me with but a very few options for the possible motive, which I also won't detail here. I will however remind folks that Jim is currently embroiled in a legal battle over his shooting of a feral cat, thus making the timing of this story even odder... (why is it released NOW, not after the Kulivan sighting, not after the Cornell announcement, nor even immediately following the Auburn news release, but NOW?).

Jim's father, Henry, was a highly-respected past ornithologist who covered the Ivory-bill in Florida (and saw one in 1950). It is unfortunate that his son has published a piece (and even dragged his father's name into it) which carries such a cloud over it, and now is reluctant to discuss the topic further, despite knowing what a can of worms he is spilling. One would hope for Jim's sake the matter resolves itself in his favor, but I'm not at all confident it will (and if not, being indicted for cat-killing, will be among the least of Jim's infamy). It could take awhile for the truth to emerge, although words from "Phyllis Sandburg" (Sandberg?), or the "top ornithologist" who received Jim's purported feathers, or the museum currently housing said feathers, could pretty quickly resolve the matter (if these principals are still alive) --- I'm not holding my breath...

Luckily, Jim's column, pertaining to IBWOs in the 70's/80's, makes little difference in terms of the Ivory-bill's possible presence in the southeast in 2006-7, but on-the-other-hand, if an outright hoax, it unnecessarily plays into the hands of those who need not be given any further ammo. If more evidence arrives that pushes my opinion in one direction or the other I'll update at that time, if warranted.
...And now, who will be the next contestant on "Truth Or Fiction," ...or ought we just call it "Jeopardy."


-- Thur. Morning --

Sometime late this afternoon or early evening I will likely post an update on the Jim Stevenson article. Sincere THANKS to all who have taken the time to send in specific info or views on this matter. MUCH appeciated (and a wide range of opinion has been expressed). I'm still waiting to potentially hear from a couple of people (or anyone else with pertinent last minute thoughts can send them along, as well).
In the meantime to tide you over, here's an unrelated and non-IBWO bird meditation posted by Mike McDowell a couple days ago:


Addendum: Mike seems to have now deleted this particular post from his blog...


Monday, December 25, 2006


-- U.S. Fish & Wildlife --

U.S. Fish & Wildlife has issued a brief summary report of the status of Ivory-bill searching to this point:


One of the more heartening statements reads as follows:
"Q: What if the 2006/2007 search season still yields no conclusive evidence?

A: The Service still deems it imperative to continue with searches until conclusive evidence is gathered. Enough credible information has surfaced that leads our agency to believe that isolated populations of the species may still exist. It is our responsibility to ensure that we are making the appropriate decisions with regard to habitat management."
So many of the short-sighted skeptical or even fence-sitting sorts are grousing that if no definitive documentation is found this season then the searching ought to end. The real searching has barely begun --- it should end when it is completed, however many years it takes to cover the widely disparate territory from which credible reports emanate... and not a moment beforehand. Glad to see the USF&W may actually stick to it's guns on this one.

Hope to have more to say about the Jim Stevenson article within a few days, but for now (assuming Jim hasn't snapped under the threat of a jail sentence for killing a feral cat) the feedback I'm getting is leaning toward the authenticity of his account ---
subject to change though as I continue trying to clear up several things troubling to me. Yet one more bizarre episode in the ever bizarre saga of the Ivory-bill!

Have a Ho, Ho, Ho day...

Saturday, December 23, 2006


-- Sorry For the Confusion --

In response to inquiries:

Friday afternoon birdingisnotacrime blog posted a link to an article by master-birder Jim Stevenson written for the latest Galveston Ornithological Society newsletter in which Jim claims an encounter with a pair of Ivory-bills in the late 1970's and finding feathers "proving" their existence in 1986:

http://web.mac.com/rmcpeak/iWeb/Site/Gulls%20n%20Herons.html (download the "winter 06" edition)

I was in the process of trying to verify the account when I chose to quickly post the link based on Stevenson's superb reputation/credentials and the fear that many people leaving for the holidays might not get back to the internet before Tue. Usually these sorts of stories can be validated as real or bogus in short order. After 45 mins. though I was unable to validate the story and because elements of it didn't ring true (while other elements sounded quite credible) I replaced my original post with a retraction/disclaimer until I could investigate further. A day later I still cannot corroborate the authenticity of the tale Jim weaves --- nothing I've heard thus far fully convinces me the story is real, but more importantly nothing so far convinces me it is bogus (and in response to inquiries have again posted the link above, so you may take it as you wish for now). I'm still checking out some things. When/if I know more, you'll know more...

I will say that for some of us the article is a bit of a moot point anyway since it only pinpoints IBWOs as existing in the '70s and possibly into the '80s --- pretty much a given if you read the literature fully, objectively, open-mindedly, scientifically. The only lingering question for some is whether the species was yet around in the 90's and still today, and on that score the Stevenson account has little direct bearing.

Friday, December 22, 2006


-- Stevenson Piece --

Since too many elements of the Jim Stevenson article seem non-credible I'm deleting it unless or until there is further validation for it. If you didn't read it don't worry about it; if you did consider it entertainment for now.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


-- Christmas List --

(I know it's a bit much Santa, but do what you can)

10. Loud Ivory-bill double-knocks heard and taped at points along the Neches River in Texas

9. Credible Ivory-bill sightings turned in off Mississippi River near Western Tennessee border and Lower Hatchie NWR

8. Five or more Ivory-bill pictures from junction area of Wambaw Creek and Santee River in South Carolina

7. Two minutes of Ivory-bill audio recorded at the Okefenokee Swamp/Suwannee convergence in Georgia

6. Multiple glossy Ivory-bill snapshots taken on the Mississippi-side of the Pearl River, southeast of Bogue Chitto NWR

5. Irrefutable film of Ivory-bills foraging along the Apalachicola River east of Dead Lake in north Florida

4. Indisputable photographs of perched Ivory-bills in Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin

3. Twenty-two seconds of high resolution Ivory-bill video from the White River in Arkansas

2. Three active Ivory-bill roostholes located along the Choctawhatchee in Florida Panhandle

1. hair

....tranquil, happy holidays ahead to all (...and most especially to believers ; - )))

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


-- May The Sightings Begin --

Report from the Pearl (La.): Mike Collins, back in the Pearl for Ivory-bill documentation, reported the sighting of a male IBWO today by his colleague, birder Susan Epps, in the same area where he claimed a male two months ago.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006


-- Some Timeless Wisdom ; - ) --

In the spirit of the season thought I might just quote a few lines from the famous letter written by a newspaper editor in 1897 to a young girl who's 'little friends' informed her there was no Santa Claus:

"Dear Virginia:

Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little.
In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge..."

...Oh, and yes Virginia, there ARE Ivory-bills as well; don't let little minds tell you otherwise.

Monday, December 18, 2006


-- Curiouser and Curiouser --

Now even Cornell, on their website, is directly linking to the recent AR. sighting claim (previous post).
In their final report on last year's search they acknowledge 14 sightings (and there were almost certainly more than this) which they held a lid on during the search season, specifically not wanting to publicize encounters until the search season ended. For some reason this recent, seemingly routine encounter, gets nationwide publicity and a nod from Cornell. Is it just a morale-booster, or again, do they have details not released to the public that make it worthy of such emphasis? While the story is popular in the press, it has received no traction or follow-up on the Arkansas birding listserv. Curious...?
It is of course vital to get a handle on the Arkansas IBWO population, but again, it is likely minor relative to the species' numbers in several other states.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


-- AR. Story --

For some reason a recent Ivory-bill sighting by two government workers in Arkansas (in the Cache River area) is getting a lot of press/internet play. The details, as given, don't appear much better than any number of other sightings from the last year that didn't garner much publicity:


They are claiming a female bird (which is significant), and the sighting does include the specific tree the bird was working on prior to flight, which opens the remote possibility of a feather or droppings being found, or gouges/scrapings left behind for measurement, but otherwise it's unclear why this particular sighting is getting such coverage (is Cornell 'pushing' it?). Possibly there are other, thus far unreleased details, or more likely the press is simply running with it due to hunger in some circles for positive Ivory-bill news. But hey, there is plenty of time ahead for that...


Friday, December 15, 2006


-- Jackson Suggests Suwannee --

Jerry Jackson pushes the Suwannee River (north Florida), one of the many oft-mentioned Fl. rivers, as especially good habitat for Ivory-bills here:




Tuesday, December 12, 2006


--- Time-out ---


(grab some popcorn and a soda)... or, as Monty Python might say, 'now for something totally different' --- just a couple of sentences offered for the sheer entertainment of a few, and (....probably???) not at all IBWO-related :

In the next sentence, the number of occurrences of 0 is 1, of 1 is 7, of 2 is 4,
of 3 is 1, of 4 is 1, of 5 is 1, of 6 is 1, of 7 is 1, of 8 is 2, and of 9 is 1.

In the previous sentence, the number of occurrences of 0 is 1, of 1 is 8, of 2 is 2,
of 3 is 1, of 4 is 2, of 5 is 1, of 6 is 1, of 7 is 2, of 8 is 1, and of 9 is 1.

or alternatively, this one:
This sentence has three a's, one b, two c's, two d's, twenty nine e's, seven f's,
two g's, five h's, nine i's, one j, one k, one l, one m, twenty one n's, fourteen o's,
five r's, twenty five s's, seventeen t's, four u's, six v's, eight w's, two x's, and four y's.

Monday, December 11, 2006


-- The Mobile Search Team --

Cornell's 4-man "mobile search team" is giving regular updates on their current exploratory activity in South Carolina, where they are scheduled to search through the first week of January :


and info on these and other members of the "search/recovery" team is here:




Saturday, December 09, 2006


-- Big Woods Summary --

I don't find much encouraging in Cornell's overdue final summary of last season's Big Woods search. Indeed one is almost left to wonder if the report's very late public release has anything to do with fears that earlier publication would've discouraged applications from new volunteers for the coming search season (but maybe I'm being too negative)??? Remote, automatic camera setups at promising cavities and foraging sites (one of the best hopes for evidence-gathering) captured only an array of Pileateds, other birds, and mammals, and no hint of IBWO. I've always found recorded acoustic evidence problematic and less than convincing, and there are but glimmers of it here (of both 'kent' calls and 'double-knocks'), as well as the usual glimmers of possible sightings. One can find nuggets of optimism if one so chooses, but the overall general weakness of findings will fuel increasing doubts.

The most encouraging factor to me is simply that only around 12% of the Big Woods was studied; yet even this is tempered somewhat, in looking at the Cornell maps, by seeing that the searched sites actually sample a wide range of areas throughout the Big Woods region (not just concentrated on a couple of southerly honed-in-on spots). Still, there is much groundwork left to be done.

I am glad that a systematic second search season is now underway in the Big Woods, but understand why many will be shifting their interest and focus to other areas (Fl., La., Ms., remain the Ivory-bill's most likely hangouts, or S.C./Tx. according to some) --- and Cornell's efforts have been instrumental in inspiring/planning many of the other searches.

At the very least it seems increasingly unlikely that any sort of significant population of the birds, as many originally hoped, will be found in the Big Woods; a few stragglers or isolated cases possibly being the best one can hope for at this point, and if they're not documented this search season most agnostics/fence-post sitters will no doubt fall to the skeptical side, at least for Arkansas.

Friday, December 08, 2006


-- Final Cornell 2005-6 Summary --

Cornell's final summary report of their 2005-6 search season in AR. is finally available (pdf) here:


Haven't finished reading it yet... may or may not have more to say about it in days ahead. For now I'll just say, better late than never...


Thursday, December 07, 2006


-- The "60 Year" Blip --

I still hear from folks who consider the 60-year lapse in confirmed Ivory-bill presence some sort of significant number, so I'll repeat:

1. There have been 100's of reports/claims of Ivory-bills over those years. If you choose not to believe any of them, that's YOUR choice, but don't pretend 60 years have passed with no reports of Ivory-bills.

2. EVEN if we had gone 60 years without a single IBWO claim, how many times need I say it --- 60 years is NOT necessarily a meaningful period of time in the natural history of a species; it ISN'T, it's NOT, it never has been... It is simply naive, shallow, and hubris-bound to believe that something can't exist just because it's gone unseen by human eyes for 60 years. THIS is science based on FAITH (in human capability; usually considered imperfect) and nothing more.

3. The efforts to find Ivory-bills the last 60 years have been puny --- mostly one or two-man searches for a weekend or a week in very limited areas prior to year 2000. The much-vaunted LSU/Pearl search (2002, almost 3 FULL YEARS after Kulivan's claim) was still but a small team effort for a month in one locale of one state of one area of the Southeast. Last year's Cornell search, another 5 mos. or so in one area. If you string all the serious searches of the last 60 years together end-to-end what do you have, 3, maybe 4 years worth of well-organized meaningful searching in a few parts of a vast amount of difficult habitat... and THIS is s'posed to be definitive? Thankfully, such laxity doesn't hold forth in the physical and engineering sciences; only in biology or medicine would such definitive statements arise from such limited data.

John Fitzpatrick of Cornell says, "Searching for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker has finally blossomed into a long-overdue, systematic national effort spanning all the big forests of the Southeast where the species could persist." And Ron Rohrbaugh adds, "We'll never know if ivory-bills persist outside of Arkansas unless we undertake systematic searches of key areas, a task that should have been done decades ago." Ahhh yes, looking for a bird where it might perchance hang out before guessing it to be extinct --- an insightful idea and scientific approach that many fail to grasp.

When all such areas have been fully explored, or when 100 years have passed with no credible sightings, I'll pay heed and take note of it; until then, I'll give as much attention to those who trumpet "60 years" as a loooong time as I give to those who believe the planet is less than 10,000 years old and all claims to the contrary are based on shoddy misreading of the geological record.

Happy weekend all!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


-- Mississippi ? --

Cornell mentions Mississippi among the states with upcoming, organized IBWO searches that they are assisting. Mississippi is certainly one of the states most likely harboring Ivory-bills, yet this is the first I've heard of official organized searching there. I'm aware individuals are searching on their own in MS. but can anyone fill me in (preferably via email) on what more official or systematic endeavors are being made???


-- Of Ivory-bills and Vegans --

Over the years I've known several people who became vegetarians or even vegans after eating and enjoying meat for 30-40 years and even thinking meat was necessary for their health. In actuality, many things that we think of as necessary in life are in fact little more than ingrained preferences, that we can easily live without.

In biology much is made of the notion of specialist versus generalist species. But this is just a human construct and a false black-and-white dichotomy. ALL creatures are specialists in some sense, it is only a matter of degrees. Indeed, pigeons and starlings may in fact be "specialists" just as much as Ivory-bills, even if we humans haven't yet perceived or categorized their particular specializations.

Following Tanner, writers came to blindly repeat the notion that Ivory-bills REQUIRED certain foods, certain size trees, certain amount of space for survival, but without evidence to support such definitive claims. No amount of repetition by itself validates such statements. Tanner showed only that a pitifully small sampling of Ivory-bills preferred certain foods... when available, preferred certain trees... when available, and utilized a certain number of square miles... when available. That Ivory-bills could NOT survive without bark beetle larvae, without large first-growth trees, and on less than 6 square miles simply has never been shown, and is actually quite a leap of logic (Ivory-bills, being 15-20% larger than Pileateds, could likely make do with trees 20% larger than those used by Pileateds, and such trees are plentiful.) To truly know the needs/requirements of a creature one must know its physiology and cognition --- behavioral cues/observations by themselves are not enough to base such firm conclusions, and yet that is principally what we have for the Ivory-bill (there are possible physiological reasons why the IBWO species might be unable to survive without beetle larvae, but these are rarely discussed).

Maybe time will show that Tanner, or his interpreters, got it right from the start, but I'm still waiting for the evidence, not mere regurgitation, that would validate that. And in the meantime, 1000's of acres of land that do meet Tanner's requirements await searching.

Monday, December 04, 2006


-- The More The Merrier --

Yet another Ivory-bill search blog has begun, this one by photographer Kyle Gerstner, soon to join the Auburn team in the Choctawhatchee. He says the blog is for "family and friends," but I s'pose we can all peek in from time to time:


One of my acquaintances and his wife will be joining the Auburn team at about the same time as Kyle for a 3-month sojourn. A Merry Campephilus to all!

Addendum: Kyle appears to have now taken his site down.


Sunday, December 03, 2006


-- 'Believers' Forum --

Awhile back some of the Ivory-bill 'believers' and searchers disenchanted with the IBWO atmosphere over at "BirdForum" migrated to their own (mediated) discussion site at:


If you followed IBWO matters over at BirdForum then many of the names and thoughts here will be familiar --- if the BirdForum discussion intrigued you, or if you never followed that site, then their new venue is worth a gander (...if you were critical/skeptical of the old site, the new site won't likely alter your viewpoint). Thus far, there are about 70 members of the new forum (which was started, by the way, by Donald Kimball).



Friday, December 01, 2006


-- Habitat Review --

With the South Carolina and other official searches soon to get underway might be a good time (especially for newbies to the topic, or potential independent searchers) to review the conclusions of Bill Pulliam who earlier this year employed Terraserver to spot locales suitable for Ivory-bills throughout the southeast:


...and to review the thoughts of long-time IBWO searcher Bob Russell on good places to look:


So much habitat in need of searching (maybe 8000-14000 sq. miles)... and yet many are already saying they'll give up on the species if this limited search season goes unsuccessful. Luckily, real field science doesn't operate on arbitrary timetables nor armchair analysis, but depends on those hands-on few willing and able to do the toilsome, on-the-ground work necessary, however long it takes.

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