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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, July 31, 2007


-- Frustration Builds --


A birder clearly frustrated with the status quo wrote this herein-edited post pertaining to the IBWO-search on the Carolinabirds listserv recently:
"...The fundamental problem is that people are pussyfooting around the problem.
The "professionals" need to set up nets at the sites where the birds are, and watch them as you watch the Kirtland Warbler nets, or better. BE there to extract the bird. All we need is probably one feather.
I do wonder why people are not vacuuming the supposed (larger diameter) IBWO nest cavities.
But, the "ornithologists" are not getting the job done. Maybe it was a Mission Impossible....
Either: do what it takes and find or not find evidence. Or: stop looking for IBWO and do something at which you are competent. Again, this is getting to be like the Yeti or some conspiracy theory. The dog ate my homework. Then the cat. Then some other excuse.

If the IBWO has survived 70 years unseen and today is in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Florida, then the population can take the chance of losing one bird as a net casualty. I have a feeling the chance of catching an IBWO is less than zero.
If one did net it and actually were present within 100 feet of the nets all the time the nets were on the poles, I think the chance of killing or injuring the bird is nil. The real problem will be getting injured by that bird, if one caught it. The nets need to be open at dawn and dusk. Maybe the professionals cannot be bothered to get up before dawn. Who knows?
I guess I am just frustrated by people giving us plausible descriptions of them seeing the bird, and no proof....

The so-called professionals aren't even listening to common sense. They are just playing games, building careers, empires, whatever. I am sure there are some people trying honestly.
But, I almost fell over in shock, a few months ago, when I was told that "That stuff there, about which you are inquiring when we will do it, was just written for Congress. We have no intention of doing what we wrote down as our intention." And that, my dears, is our Fish and Wildlife Service. I am still disappointed. Disillusioned.
At least I was told honestly what the attempted deception was. But that is too complex for me to accept as standard operating procedure. What I am saying is that there is something wrong with a society in which we institutionalize "whistle-blowing" because honesty is not ordinary."

Sunday, July 29, 2007


-- S. Carolinian Requests Assistance --


South Carolinian Rip Lyttle is requesting assistance in his search for Ivory-bills in both South and North Carolina in this verbatim post from IBWO Researcher's Forum (see original post for contact information or go here):

"i have heard and recorded multiple double knocks and one clear kent call this summer in south carolina ( two locations ) and north carolina, lake waccamaw drainage.
my knocks have been evaluated by auburn/ windsor and cornell teams. geoff hill, dan mennill and brian rolek all like my double knocks recorded in sparkleberry swamp, and waccamaw drainage this may, july as likely ibwo. brian rolek has heard my kent call from 3rd location and writes its the same as their kent calls recorded in the panhandle.

i need to spend most of august, half of september, all of october in these 3 swamps trying to get video footage of the double knockers. i ask interested field researchers, kayakers to come to sc and help in this search with me if they wish. i have room in my trailer for short stays and have much extra camping gear, tents, etc. i have an extra kayak and inflatable canoe/ trolling mtr. i have a 15' jon boat with 20 hp motor. i have extra cameras, vid & audio recorders. i need competent stalkers, kayakers and birders to press the search more efficiently in deeper swamps in these key areas to catch the bird with cameras.

i propose 3-4 day camping trips with recovery days at trailer in conway, sc, and back out again camping ( kayaking and boating too) doing multi-day searches. any times you can visit, help search would be helpful, appreciated.

lets get that clear video, folks!
rip lyttle in conway, sc."


Saturday, July 28, 2007


-- Another Film --


Apparently there's yet another Ivorybill-inspired film in-the-making, this one from independent film-maker Alex Karpovsky. Unlike other offerings on the subject which are more strictly documentary in nature this one is fictionalized and described as, "Exploring the twilight of uncertainty between narrative and documentary styles, all truth becomes subjective in this existential comedy about a troubled man desperately searching for an elusive bird, that may, or may not, be real." Ahh yes, more existentialism entering the IBWO debate; Camus would be proud!
I do like the title of the film though, "General Impression of Size and Shape," which pulls the emphasis back to where it should be, on whether or not experienced birders can accurately ID Ivory-bills based on GISS, rather than an emphasis on pixelated field marks.
Homepage for the film is here, but so far not too heavily filled in.



Thursday, July 26, 2007


-- Harrison Speaking --

IBWO searcher Bobby Harrison speaks tomorrow (Friday) at noon at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. on the Ivory-bill saga. Smithsonian notice is here (July 27 entry):


... and come evening, you can go see The Simpsons Movie!



Wednesday, July 25, 2007


-- Not Much Happenin' --


Cornell's John Fitzpatrick will speak at a New Hampshire Science Center this coming Saturday on the ongoing search for Ivory-bills:


Fitzpatrick will be introduced by filmmaker George Butler whose 90-minute documentary "The Lord God Bird" is due for release in mid-September, having already been shown in pre-finished form at some independent film festivals. One suspects, even this, may not be the final final version.

On a sidenote, here's an online map of birding 'hotspots' for South Carolina (quite handy):



Monday, July 23, 2007


-- BP Weighing In... Again --


Regular readers know that I'm just ever-so-slightly itsy-bitsy weary of commentary/analysis of the Luneau video, which thus far has proven nothing, except to demonstrate the ambiguity and subjective nature of 4 fuzzy video seconds (much like the ambiguity and subjective nature of so many "facts" in this debate). While we await whatever Cornell may have to say about Bevier's and Collinson's efforts to make the filmed bird into a Pileated, Bill Pulliam has yet-again posted more counter-thoughts on the subject at his blog:


....and 'round-and-'round it goes.



Sunday, July 22, 2007


-- 3-year Anniversary --


This blog enters its third year of posting believing in the Ivory-bill's survival, despite declining confidence that it may be documented to everyone's satisfaction; especially if the numbers remaining are truly small and thinly spread out --- on the positive side, Whooping Cranes were brought back from barely more than a dozen birds, though it's doubtful any similar recovery program for IBWOs could ultimately succeed. Still, the goal must be to prove the bird's current existence, not necessarily to save it as a species, but to prove it's existence through the 50's, 60's, and 70's, when appropriate actions might indeed have been fruitful. The Ivory-bill needs to be documented, not to show the success of science, but rather to demonstrate science's utter failure in this instance, in the hope that maybe such failures can be avoided in the future. If photo/video documentation finally now arrives, much hoopla will follow, given how matters have unfolded --- but that joy should be tempered with equally matching dismay and regret at the 60 years of delay and benign neglect, that any such documentation will represent.

By the way, three Ivory-billed related talks are listed for next month's AOU meeting in Wyoming, as follows:

1) "Further evidence suggesting that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers exist in Florida" GEOFFREY
E. HILL, Dept. Biol. Sci., Auburn Univ., Auburn, AL, DANIEL J. MENNILL, Dept. Biol.,
Auburn Univ., KYLE A. SWISTON, KARAN ODOM, Univ. Windsor, and TYLER L.
HICKS, Western State Coll., Gunnison, CO.

2) "A comparison of large woodpecker cavity morphology in the Choctawhatchee River
bottomlands and other southern forests" BRIAN W ROLEK, RUSSELL LIGON,
GEOFFREY HILL, Dept. Biol., Auburn Univ., Auburn, AL, and DANIEL J. MENNILL,
Dept. Biol. Univ. Windsor, Windsor, ON.

3) "Design and implementation of a region-wide search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker with
the objective of estimating occupancy and related parameters" ROBERT J. COOPER,
PETERSON, USGS Georgia Coop. Fish & Wildl. Res. Unit and Univ. Georgia, CLINTON
T. MOORE, Patuxent Wildl. Res. Center, Univ. Georgia, and BRADY J. MATTSSON,
Univ. Georgia.

Meanwhile, Mike Collins has announced his return to Virginia after a long season in the Pearl (La.), with no IBWO photos to show for it, but testing out a new tree climbing/stationing technique for observing the forest from above; to be continued later in year.

Elsewhere from the Web:

If you're not already familiar with it learn more about the "Swift Night Out" program for studying the migration of fascinating Chimney Swifts to and from the U.S. each year:


Better yet, find a chimney in your area that is used by swifts and take part in the annual survey by monitoring it on one of the assigned evenings.

Friday, July 20, 2007


-- Mobile Team Note --


Another brief summary of efforts of Cornell's Mobile IBWO Search Team here:


Martjan Lammertink remains "cautiously optimistic" but won't be part of the field team next season, opting instead to spend his time re-assessing all the data collected so far. There will be a team however, and it will resume exploring in December; no hint here where, besides the Congaree, efforts will be concentrated (it likely hasn't even been determined yet). In spite of cynics' efforts to derail it, the scientific process marches forward.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


-- Long Hot Summer --

Nothing too newsy Ivorybill-wise, so to hold you over, this report on another secretive forest bird with an ivory beak :


...and here's a dash of info on the Green Swamp area of North Carolina, where some independent searchers are looking for IBWOs (and near where Alexander Wilson had his famous Ivory-billed encounter 200 years ago).

Sunday, July 15, 2007


-- You Too Can Be a Skeptic! --


After conducting a careful meta-linguistic, multi-syllabic, text-analysis of the extant skeptical literature available I've discovered that you too can be a purported skeptic IF you are able to employ the following 10 words in any particular order within a single paragraph:

1) artifactual, 2) putative, 3) secondaries, 4) Tanner, 5) deinterlaced, 6) groupthink, 7) dorsal, 8) Gadwall, 9) pixels, 10) faith-based

(ohhh, and fer shur don't fergit to mention that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence --- a dag-gone clincher)

Go for it, and Good Luck (...you too jes' might get published!!)

Friday, July 13, 2007


-- Sustainability --


When a species is in steep decline its numbers can fall from say 2000 to 1000 or 1000 to 500, much faster than from 40 to 20; the reason being 'sustainability' --- the fewer the number of individuals, the more likely the remaining habitat will be adequate for maintaining them; indeed a species may sustain or stabilize themselves at a low number for a significant amount of time, if hunting, predation, and other factors are held at bay --- the number of remaining individuals being lost each year, offset by the number being born/raised in what now becomes sufficient habitat for such low numbers.

Some skeptics would have it that ALL Ivory-bill habitat was at one point destroyed; of course if this had ever happened we would be facing many more extinct and endangered critters today from the 100's of species that shared that habitat. Critics contend that the Ivory-bill was a uniquely "specialized" creature, but all creatures are specialized, IBWOs, Pileateds, Northern Cardinals, Starlings, and cockroaches for that matter, only differing in degrees and forms. The specialist/generalist division is just another false and typically over-simplified black-and-white dichotomy set up after-the-fact to explain the IBWO's demise (no one called the IBWO a specialist prior to its decline). Except for Ivory-bills that were hunted, there's no indication that individual IBWOs died prematurely; rather they simply failed to reproduce adequately, and the factors impinging on that may or may not have related to specialization.

Tanner believed that less than 30 Ivory-bills remained at the time of his study, likely spread out across at least 3 locales. Many doubt his estimate, but even at that low-ball figure, 20 birds, if left undisturbed, could have maintained themselves at low numbers for many years until habitat began improving --- even in-breeding is often not as harmful to bird species as it is to mammals, and may not have been a hugely limiting factor; such low numbers could've been sustained with no necessary "bottleneck" at work. Again, despite what skeptics narrowly think, 60 years is not, not, NOT a long time for a couple dozen birds to hang on to existence in relatively remote areas, nor is it a long time for 100+ birds (if Tanner's estimate was waaaay off) to go unphotographed. What we have over those 60 years are possible IBWO cavities, possible sounds/recordings, possible foraging signs, and many purported sightings, and all we lack is an agreed-upon photograph --- and THIS is the evidence skeptics regard as a slam-dunk for proclaiming extinction --- quite remarkable!! (and potentially, quite shortsighted).

In other Web news... they're not just for hunters:


Duck Stamps can be purchased by anyone, and the proceeds go toward conserving/maintaining wetlands habitat including areas well-suited to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The Stamps get you free admission to many Wildlife Refuges and represent a good cause even if you don't actively bird or hunt. If not already familiar with them check out the above site for more info.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


-- 3 Birds --


I don't think I'll be stealing any thunder from Birding Magazine if I say that guesses are now appearing around the Internet (and my email) for their bird photo quiz of the month. Guesses cut across the full range one might expect: cormorants, loons, herons, egrets, other shorebirds, various ducks or seabirds.
Haven't seen anyone thus far try to make a case for either IBWOs or Pileateds. To paraphrase an old saying of Louis Rukeyser, 'at least one thing is absolutely for certain: some of these guesses will be wrong.' Responders to Birding will build their cases more fully than responses posted on the Web, and I suspect it will eventually boil down to but a few key choices that cannot be further resolved (...is there a pattern here???).

Heyyy!! It's summertime, are we having fun yet...?

p.s. -- Just noticed that "Ivory-bill Septic" is apparently alive-and-well (even if his/her blog is not), and commenting over on Bill Pulliam's blog (...wherefore art thou Septic?):


Tuesday, July 10, 2007


-- And The Beat Goes On --


A couple of the skeptics out there enjoy blanketly stating that all who claim to see Ivory-bills are "stringers" --- of course, if John Terres, John Dennis, Herbert Stoddard, and Tim Gallagher are stringers than I s'pose 90% of the ABA membership are stringers as well, and possibly listers with undocumented and exaggerated lifelists. A more common and reasonable refrain from the skeptical side is simply that "birders make mistakes," as if that simple truism is adequate to explain away all Ivory-bill reports over the decades. Birders mistake one gull for another, one flycatcher for another, one fall or female warbler for another, but how often do experienced birders claim to see a supposedly extinct bird, realizing the magnitude of such a claim? How often do they report Bachman's Warblers, Passenger Pigeons, Carolina Parakeets, Eskimo Curlews, or even simply out-of-range birds (in fact a great many out-of-range birds are probably missed because of most birders' nervous reluctance to report such)? Everyone has their own story of some terrible bird mis-identification they know of or took part in --- but what makes it a story worth telling is precisely the fact that such mis-IDs are NOT the norm... except apparently among IBWO observers.

People do make mistakes, a common one being to prematurely dismiss that which conflicts with one's own preconceived notions. If an Ivory-bill flies through a forest canopy, but no one captures it on film, then apparently it didn't happen, because afterall IBWOs went extinct 60 years ago. (...and trees don't make sounds when they fall in the forest with no one there to hear.)
The most fervent preconceptions at work in the Ivory-bill saga are not those of believers and agnostics, but those of certain skeptics, self-assured that the story ended in the 1940s, unwilling or able to let patience and persistence run their full course searching out needles in haystacks. Any evidence that does arise immediately falls victim to those preconceptions, rather than the full range of possibilities. Anyone who thinks the search for Ivory-bills is a waste of time and money is free to spend THEIR time and money elsewhere. Why certain skeptics continue to debate the same points ad nauseum, I'm not sure --- let the searchers do their job (and your legwork) and they will bolster your case given enough time... if in fact you have a case to bolster.

In related matters, Bobby Harrison's Ivory-billed Woodpecker Foundation website is slowly taking on more form here:


And hey, to all the searchers out there I'll end with the simple words quoted by "Fangsheath" on another forum recently:
"Be the bird".... ; - )

Monday, July 09, 2007


-- As the Bumper Sticker Says --

"If you're NOT outraged, you're NOT paying attention!"

No... I'm not talking about the skeptics' view of this blog; I'm talking about the festering catastrophe that is the current Administration in Washington. More bumper stickers available here:


(sorry, skeptics, no 'Impeach Cyberthrush' stickers available yet --- but as for impeaching Dick Cheney, go here and here.)



Sunday, July 08, 2007


-- More This and That --


A recent post by Bill Pulliam inspires me to reiterate what I've said multiple times before. What is most important for Ivory-bill debaters to consider is NOT the likelihood of being right, but rather the consequences of being wrong. If one believes the Ivory-bill persists and you are wrong than a lot of time, energy, and money is being spent in one direction that maybe could've gone in some other more productive direction (although a lot of that energy and $$$ simply wouldn't have existed without the original Ivory-bill announcement). But if you believe the Ivory-bill is extinct and you are wrong than inaction will almost assuredly cost this species its life at long last... not something to be proud of, especially for anyone claiming concern for birds or conservation. I'm willing to take a chance of making that first error, but unwilling to take a chance of making the second without a lot more data... in fact, why anyone would deliberately chance making the second error when sightings continue and time may be of the essence, is a bit baffling, except they apparently have faith in a level of scientific certainty which is illusory. There seems to be blind faith that because mistaken identifications occur on occasion (and many IBWO claims are known to be just that), apparently all such instances across decades and locations and observers, can automatically be generalized as such without specific, solid evidence for doing so. I wish skeptics would at least be consistent and give 10's of 1000's of unverified, undocumented, unscientific bird count reports the same scrutiny, instead of a free pass, but that would involve having their own reports examined...

Fred Virrazzi posts this mini-summary of last search season on the New Jersey listserv:


At least a couple of purported sightings, which may or may not be included in final reports, go unmentioned here. The Florida video release Fred mentions will occur at the August AOU meeting in Wyoming, about a month from now. I doubt it will be released any earlier, and likely won't be on the Web, since that requires compression, which makes it fuzzier than it already is at full resolution.

A few emailers have asked what I think of the Birding Magazine photo quiz: I don't happen to believe the birds in question are Ivory-bills, but won't say what my own best guess would be, since it's no better (and actually worse) than other guesses will be (...and am surprised there haven't already been more online guesses voiced). I do hope some expertise may exist out there for making measurements of the wing/body ratios of these birds to aid in eliminating certain possibilities, but don't know if the resolution is good enough to do so with enough accuracy.

Friday, July 06, 2007


-- Prestidigitation --

Louis Bevier has finally posted a personal website dealing with the Luneau video beginning here (and including 4 separate sections):


Maybe the most comprehensive single source yet for the skeptical view of the Luneau bird (that it is a normal Pileated). The first section ("Overview") is rather non-substantive so be sure to look at the other 3 sections that are the 'meat' of the website.
Most of this information was already available elsewhere (and remains debatable), but it is pulled together well here, and some of the numbers and details may be new to folks; further there is new discussion of wingbeat data. Moreover, Bevier may add to the site as he sees fit for clarification, correction, or in response to comments. Of course he still says nothing that convinces me 100% that the bird in question is even a woodpecker ; - )))

But once again, here's the thing: In magic, the art of "distraction" is one of the most frequent tools the illusionist employs. 'Look over here, look at my right hand, pay no attention to what my left hand is doing'. Skeptics keep pulling the focus back to the Luneau video, acting as if
only they just debunk it, it puts the case for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker to rest. Don't look at 50 years worth of sightings; don't look at signs or sounds; just look at this single piece of evidence... ohhh, and by the way only look at it the way I do. They're like a rottweiler with a ragdoll, shaking it back-and-forth, unable to let go. As possibly the most quantifiable piece of evidence thus far, I s'pose nothing will deter folks from pouring over this one item of accidental evidence with a false sense of accomplishment or certainty. Again, the Ivory-bill debate stretches across 50+ years of which the Big Woods and Choctawhatchee stories are just current blips on the screen. In opting to analyze-to-death 4 seconds of blurry pixels people are missing the big picture, but so be it. In all likelihood, there will eventually be other videos and images.

In the meantime, the latest issue of Birding Magazine has as their monthly photo quiz (for readers to try ID'ing) an automatic Reconyx photo of 3 birds from the Choctawhatchee (taken last November):


(I'm pretty sure it's 3 Rufous Hummingbirds on steroids ;-), but Louis may disagree --- and depending on your computer screen, you may get a slightly sharper view from the magazine itself than from the above pdf.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


-- North Carolina --


If you don't follow the Ivory-bill Researchers Forum you may have missed the 2-page thread on IBWO searching in N. Carolina. A small group of independent folks is focusing on specific areas within the Green Swamp region (southeast NC.), where a claimed pair sighting occurred in 2004. The thread begins here (if you happen to be interested in being involved contact people are given here as well):


Although not historically a main area of focus, North Carolina becomes more intriguing with its adjacency to S. Carolina and the increased interest arising there (the notable lack of prior intense searching in N.C. may be a plus as well --- neither Tanner nor anyone since has given the state much serious consideration since Ivory-bills were thought extirpated therein by the mid-19th century). Just one more area to add to the dozen-or-so others that still need a good look-see.


Monday, July 02, 2007


-- Catching Up A Bit --


Dan Mennill is back in his home lab and posted this update regarding processing of Auburn's acoustic data:


FWIW, a reader sends me a note they received from the ACONE folks in the Big Woods (in charge of the automatic sky viewing camera) saying they are still sorting through a huge volume of data and will have a new update to their findings in the "next couple of months."

This article on the Texas search for Ivory-bills leads to a speculative piece (pdf) on the IBWO's persistence:


a reader sends in this depressing link to the destruction of cypress forest in Louisiana:


(...as if I weren't already depressed enough!!)

For the Ivory-billed Woodpecker aficionado who has (almost) everything, a toilet seat offered on eBay here :-)))

--- If anything like last summer, could be quite awhile (Oct./Nov.???) before we get a final report from Cornell on their latest AR. search efforts (hey kids, can you spell "S-L-O-W"?). And there seems to be some uncertainty as to whether the South Carolina folks will release their final search report to the public or not. Auburn may be the first out of the gate with some sort of summary if they don't wait for all acoustic data to be processed. Skeptics continue to run with whatever limited tidbits pop up on the Web, but really a lot of watching and waiting yet to do, prior to next season's search and the efforts of independents. The same old arguments keep getting rehashed, settling nothing. Search the pertinent areas, evaluate sighting reports, and collect/assess peripheral evidence --- plenty of all that left to do (science can be tedious).

...and from one of the great naturalists of 20th century America, T. Gilbert Pearson, this quote (April 1933, National Geographic Magazine):

"The supreme moment of my life as a bird student came in May, 1932, when in a great primeval forest in northern Louisiana, I saw, for the first time, a living ivory-billed woodpecker... The ivory-bill is decidedly larger than the pileated, and this difference in size is very apparent, as we had ample opportunity to observe, when by chance birds of both species fed at the same time on a tall decayed stump within 80 feet of our hiding place."


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