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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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Sunday, March 04, 2007

 

-- 'Millions of Birders' --

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Probably the single most repeated argument I've heard over the last 40 years as to why Ivory-billed Woodpeckers must be extinct is simply that, 'with so many millions of birders active through America a bird this large couldn't have escaped detection.' To which I politely respond, 'BULLLL-DOOOOKEY!' I see estimates ranging from 24 million to 40+million birders presently in this country, but of course, MOST of those 'birders' will never in their entire lives set forth even momentarily in habitat that might harbor an Ivory-bill. Some will never go beyond their local park or greenway (I'm not critiqueing them for that -- I encourage ALL levels of birding, but just saying...). Only a tiny fraction of birders will spend any significant amount of time in IBWO-like habitat (although certainly more now, than in the decades previous to 2000), so it is hugely disingenuous to imply that huge numbers of knowledgeable people have spent countless hours roaming woodland tempting an encounter with the Lord God bird.
Yes, lots of birders have spent some time looking for IBWOs in some places (what I call mostly 'spotchecks') over the decades, but the "millions" of hobbyists around these days is a meaningless figure.
In fact, one could presume that 200 years ago (even though there were far FEWER 'birders'), MORE people who knew what Ivory-bills were (even if they didn't know them by that name), routinely spent far more time in IBWO habitat than do so today even with millions more 'birders' present to do so.
And in a tangential vein one might want to read this recent post by 'Fangsheath' over on IBWO Researchers' Forum which has some relevance here:

http://www.ibwo.net/forum/showpost.php?p=1294&postcount=7

If you haven't been following matters at that Forum 'Fang' is back from an exploratory trip in Louisiana, and you may wish to backtrack for some of his informational posts since returning (mostly in the "Louisiana" thread).
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Comments:
As Max Smart might have said, "Would you believe thousands of birders?"

I just can't understand the point of searching in areas like Congaree, SC, birded all the time. (Trip reports from the Carolina Birds list, for instance. Christmas bird counts are done there too. Pretty much the same considerations apply for White River NWR in Arkansas--plenty of observers, serious birders even, over the years.) If the birds move around, as many hypothesize, and there were enough for a viable population all these years (10-20?), how could they avoid flying over a nature trail with a bunch of birders? It just boggles my imagination that it never could have happened all these years.
 
quite honestly, my prior-expressed skepticism over IBWOs being found today in either Texas or S.C. does indeed stem in part from the degree to which THESE areas have been scoured over the yrs -- But there HAVE been reports of the birds there (just not confirmed reports) and a HUGE amount of habitat is involved -- the fact that bits 'n pieces of it get covered on any single weekend or Xmas count does not mean it is covered well or thoroughly, even after an IBWO report. Further I believe the Florida-to-La. corridor has much more habitat that simply hasn't received such thorough attention by birders who stay on given trails rather than bushwhacking their way into interior regions. The searches following credible IBWO reports are too often what I call "spotchecks", flooding people into the local area of a report but not more broadly into the region (i.e. after Kulivan a swarm of folks entered Pearl River, but there was no great rush into the Atchafalaya, hours away, where those 2 birds could've been headed for all we know; and basically the manpower is not there to do it).
And one last thought: how many of those 1000s of birders over the yrs. have momentarily glimpsed big black-and-white woodpeckers in such areas and jotted down 'Pileated' in their notes? -- if we are told we can't believe a brief glance of a large woodpecker can be ID'd as an IBWO, than how can we assume a brief glance can be accurately ID'd as a PIWO... when it just might have been something else???
 
And one last thought: how many of those 1000s of birders over the yrs. have momentarily glimpsed big black-and-white woodpeckers in such areas and jotted down 'Pileated' in their notes?

I've been alert to the possibility of an IBWO all of my life, and I'll bet you have, too. I scrutinize every Pileated I've seen in the South with great interest, always looking for a different wing pattern, a white bill, etc. For 42 years I have done so.
 
I just returned from a month in the field in the Pearl River followed by a 5 day recon of the Chocktawhachee in preparation for next season. One other birder (besides Mike Collins and Susan Epps) was in the Pearl at the same time. I did run into one Cornell searcher as well. This area covers hundreds of square miles of territory that is difficult to get around in because of Katrina (downed trees and thick underbrush). For such a few to be looking in such a large area makes the odds pretty long on finding the bird. Most birders I know would not even consider a few days in that type environment, let alone a month. And a month wasn't even long enough. The same went for Florida. I ran into three other searchers, two of which were doing the Tilly Landing Road for a few hours, and not going into the swamp. The other kayaker told me he saw one other person looking as well. Again, a huge area with fast currents is not where your average birder is going to go.
 
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