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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

Sunday, January 21, 2007


-- RTP, R.I.P. --

The previous post was primarily light humor, but also reflects my curiosity wondering what Roger Tory Peterson, dean of modern birders, would have to say about this heated Ivory-bill debate were he alive today. Diplomat, as well as expert that he was, I've little doubt (though others will disagree) that he would be squarely planted... in the middle, with a hopeful though wait-and-see attitude. He innately understood, moreso than many today, that birds are not static objects, but dynamic individuals, giving rise to unforeseeable possibilities however improbable at first glance. One simply can't always operate off the usual assumptions, and he knew that. Here is the letter he wrote back to Steve Sheridan in the 80's regarding Steve's unorthodox report of seeing Ivory-bills in Indiana (copied from Steve's site) --- a far more improbable claim in those days than many of the current claims being made today:
" I have received your letter and am intrigued. I have received perhaps a dozen letters similar to yours. I think it would be wise to let one of the top birders in your area of (state omitted, mentioned in detail later) know about your sightings and alert them so that your record, if valid, may be confirmed. If the forest is being logged there is scarcely anything that can be done. However, ivory-bills have the potential of moving considerable distances. Because of their special needs ivory-bills seem to be great rovers and not as sedentary as the pileated woodpecker. I am forwarding your letter to the editors of American Birds who can put you in touch with their regional editors for the area."
Notice the even-handedness and open-mindedness of these words; essentials of a REAL scientific attitude, in place of the certitude posed by today's critics where no certitude exists (the Luneau video hasn't even been close to debunked despite what skeptics continue to infer --- I don't even know that anyone else has analyzed it with anything like the thousands of dollars worth of equipment that Cornell has at their disposal).

Moreover, people often seem to relish critiquing and bringing down the 'Establishment,' authorities, experts or 'topdogs.' What else accounts for the glee some have exhibited in their denigration of Cornell the institution, as well as any number of the individuals involved in current claims? Again, I don't think Roger would have any of it; he would want the evidence explored to the fullest extent possible. In diplomacy they say "trust, but verify," and Roger would relate to that. In this debate the issue started off as one of defining what constituted that sufficient verification, but now in some quarters has moved on to sheer distrust, of the competency, motives, and honesty of those involved. This isn't the birding community Roger played such a major role in building.
RTP, R.I.P... maybe it is for the best that you aren't witnessing the current sound and fury.

And on a slightly related note, the April ABA Convention in La. will include a talk by David Sibley entitled "The Psychology of Bird identification" described as follows:
"Bird identification is the central challenge of birding, and we all strive to improve our skills and to identify more birds, more quickly and more accurately. Countless references and tools suggest that the birder who wants to avoid misidentifications should learn more about the fine points of plumage, molt, variation and subspecies, etc. But the fact is that most mistakes involve glitches in perception. No amount of preparation can prevent us from blurting out “Snowy Owl!” when the time is right and we see a white milk jug on the salt-marsh. Our brains, and the very short-cuts that we use successfully (most of the time) to identify birds, are also the source of most misidentifications. This workshop will focus on the psychological aspects of bird identification --- how we subconsciously use pattern-recognition, expectations, suggestion, and other clues -- and how those methods can lead us to misidentify birds with complete confidence. "
Now whadd'ya s'pose brought that on?

(...I'm not saying it isn't a worthwhile topic or that David won't give a good presentation, but just that, depending on the state of the IBWO search at that point, it seems custom-made to fan the flames of debate; might've been nice to have it countered with a talk on the psychology of gestalt perception, and the uncanny ability, overall predominance, and remarkably high accuracy, among experienced birders, of "GISS,"
in bird identification.)

Roger Tory Peterson was a class act, showing nothing less than kindness and diplomacy in his response to Steve Sheridan. Of course, there's a new breed of "experts" today who ridicule and shame anyone claiming to see Ivory-billed Woodpecker. And they use "conservation" as their excuse to justify their shameful, unsolicited attacks.
I was also very impressed with Roger Tory Peterson¹s professionalism and
open minded reply to me.

R.T.P. is one of the first people not to immediately dismissed my sightings
out of hand. He is sorely missed in the birding word.

sincerely, Steve Sheridan
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