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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, August 31, 2007


-- 'nuther Big Bird in the News --


Sesame Street, NOT! :

As many know, a putative ;-) Jabiru materialized out of thin air in Mississippi recently (huge, striking, almost comical-looking bird... not unlike some others occasionally mentioned on this blog...) Rarely seen in the U.S., it created a stir in birding circles, especially for those close enough by car, train, plane, or Nimbus 2000 to go look for it. Anyway, can't help but wonder how much excitement there would be over this rogue bird had there not been an accompanying diagnostic photograph supporting it's arrival. Without the supposed photos, would it's improbable presence be questioned and immediately dismissed as "not credible," "moonshine-induced," or simply, "no way"?
IBWO skeptics would say this is exactly the point --- there are photos of the bird! --- people claimed seeing one AND have photos to verify!! Of course Jabiru don't reside high in dense forest canopies and inside tree cavities, but hang out conveniently in fields... which can make a difference (moreover, all of this assumes the purported photos are authentic --- haven't seen what the evidence for that is yet, other than trust --- afterall we're surrounded by stringers and hoaxers these days --- and oddly, the huge stork hasn't been relocated since its initial cyberspace splash).

[none of this means I doubt the report's validity; it's merely a recognition that I possess no direct evidence either the report, the photos, or the bird are real, beyond my blind trust in some of those doing the reporting --- what some might call 'faith-based ornithology'...]


Thursday, August 30, 2007


-- Just A Ramble --


Sightings, sounds, searches, and yes, science, continue... as does spreading skepticism. The skeptics' echo chamber reverberates with the claim that Ivory-bills are extinct, and thus any claimed evidence is automatically viewed through the prism of that premise, and then dismissed in favor of alternative conjectures. Skeptics'
faith in the ability of humans to find and photograph rare creatures is paramount, despite the number that have previously gone missing for decades.

The downside of having the fuzzy Auburn video released publicly is that it gives skeptics yet another instance to say, "see, that's inconclusive." Through some sort of twisted logic, cynics view anything that is not conclusive of Ivory-bills existing as somehow supportive of them not existing. It's as if someone took pieces of evidence that tied someone to a crime, but, because the pieces weren't definitive, instead used them to argue the accused must be innocent. Non-definitive evidence is simply non-definitive evidence, it does not support one side more than another (and certainly not the naysaying side).

Certain subjects (abortion, animal rights, creationism vs. evolution, come to mind) can hardly be debated anymore because protagonists start from such different underlying assumptions, that agreement cannot be reached. So too it has come to pass in the Ivory-billed debate. Underlying assumptions about extinction, about the ecology/behavior of Ivory-bills, about evidence, and about human capabilities, cannot be reconciled.

Time may tell in the next couple years if the Ivory-billed Woodpecker lives; unfortunately for skeptics, none of their arguments, nor time nor logic alone, can possibly tell in the short term if the species is extinct... but do give 'em credit for trying!

Saturday, August 25, 2007


-- The Votes Are In --


The guesses for the 3 Choctawhatchee birds' quiz in Birding Magazine have now been published in the latest issue here:


Not unexpectedly, there's no agreement on what the birds are, and indeed I was somewhat surprised by the sheer variety and range of responses. No one has a real clincher argument for their case, and many seemed to base their guesses on "first impression" sorts of arguments, although some put forth a few more technical reasons (I had thought someone with more precision photo-analysis techniques might actually try to measure wing-to-body, wing-to-tail, or similar type ratios, but this didn't happen --- the photo is probably just too vague). Finally, a bit surprised that most of the biggest names in American birding are missing from even taking a stab at it --- maybe an indication of just how inadequate the photo is for identification purposes.

Overall, 16 guesses centered on one or another waterbird, while 11 guesses went to woodpeckers, either PIWO or IBWO. Several folks did in fact think Ivory-billed Woodpeckers had been captured on film. Besides Pileated Woodpeckers, other guesses included a psitticine of some sort, Wood Ducks, Mallards, Anhingas, Cormorants, Bitterns, Cattle Egrets, Green or Night Herons. At least one individual noted, as I have previously, that it is not certain that the 3 birds are even the same, the top bird possibly being different from the other two.
My own loose first impression, way back, was Night Herons, and since I am almost always wrong on these type photo quizzes that can probably be ruled out ;-)
Anyway, a fun exercise... (now if we can just find the tree cavity these birds came out of ;-))


Friday, August 24, 2007


-- Heeere We Go Again... --


Attention M. Collinson, L. Bevier, Sibley, Kaufman, Elmer Fudd, et.al.:

The old Auburn video from the Choctawhatchee has now been posted on the Web here:


Have at it!


-- More on the Plan --


The USF&W Draft Recovery Plan is getting wide news publicity, with the focus unfortunately on the projected costs, which may never come to pass. The Plan's summary of past information, assessment of significant state-by-state locales, and forest/timber analysis are probably more important centers of focus.

By the way, I neglected to mention in the 2 previous posts that USF&W is seeking public comment on the Plan. Various skeptics, one might guess, are already making a concerted, coordinated effort to register their views.
Comments can be sent to the US F&W Field Office at 646 Cajundome Boulevard, Suite 400, Lafayette, Louisiana, 70506, or faxed 337-291-3139, or delivered via email to ibwplan@fws.gov. (However, some may need to be forewarned that comments like "this sucks" or "give it up, stringers" or "AAARRRRGGHHHHHHH!" might not be taken altogether seriously...)

As the saying goes, "those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them" --- 70 years ago the professional ornithology and birding community failed the Ivory-billed Woodpecker miserably; it took non-birders Mason Spencer and J.J. Kuhn to prove the species' existence, and tap the professionals' interest. Once again, too many in the birding community have given up early on the Ivory-bill based on limited data. At some point the Ivory-billed Woodpecker will indeed 'be history,' but there remains too much evidence that we ain't there yet, and finally a plan has been put forth to study the matter, not piecemeal, but in a comprehensive way. A lot of people contributed to this document, and I suspect there was a lot of disagreement/debate behind the scenes as to its final version, but now that it's before us we ought move forward instead of rehashing the same tiresome arguments over and over and over and....

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


-- Thanks! --


I've had time to give the Recovery Plan draft at least a cursory once-over by now. First, a big THANK YOU! to the many involved in putting this document together --- clearly they took their subject very seriously (much moreso than several commentators on the Web treat it). The authors have stayed on topic and forged ahead despite all the sound and fury surrounding them; what results is a wonderful addition to the Ivory-bill literature. I'll caution in advance though that skeptics should only read the section on projected costs through the year 2010
for this endeavor, IF they have their double-dose blood pressure medicine immediately nearby... ;-)

For anyone familiar with the Ivory-billed literature large chunks of the report are repetitive of material already out there (and that's as it should be, since part of the goal was to pull together and summarize just such information). Thusly, large amounts of the 180 pages can be skimmed through quite rapidly. Moreover, many of the goals, objectives, priorities, protocols, plans, etc. listed are little more than stating the obvious, but again this is obligatory in such a report. It is worth reading closely the various state-by-state accounts of past claims and current habitat, for new tidbits. I was especially happy to see that some states of low historical importance were nonetheless given consideration in the report, even if downplayed (Tennessee probably being the most interesting of this group). However,
there is no consideration given to Missouri or southern Illinois, which I think may be one shortcoming of the report, but there was only so much time to research.

The states seemingly most touted for future searching (so far as I can tell) are the expected ones: Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina, Texas. Additionally, happily, parts of Alabama appear to be given serious consideration. And the report notes that in looking at all reports of IBWOs since 1944 virtually all of their previous historical range is represented, not just a few isolated locales.
Included (toward the end) also are significant sections of state timber analyses which will be of interest to many.

Further encouraging is that a great many of the tasks listed as needing to be done are given time-tables of 2-5 years for completion. Much of this will be dependent on funding, but at least the long-term nature of the commitment needed is herein recognized (as opposed to the rush-to-judgment, alternative-explanations-are-always-to-be-preferred-because-I-say-so crowd who think that TWO WHOLE YEARS of searching a couple places, without a clearcut photograph to show for it is somehow definitive). Also the report stresses at several points how little we know with certainty about the species' behavior and ecology --- this is in contrast to so much written by others implying certainty of some generalizations based on very limited data.

The weight of emphasis in this report however, is on Arkansas, the state that spawned the impetus for a written plan to begin with, and given limited funding and manpower, it is still unclear how many of the noted Southeastern areas of interest will actually receive significant attention.
This report was a long-time coming (promised at varying earlier times), but is likely worth the wait. Again, thanks to all who contributed to it.

One last side-note, and a bit of a surprise to me: David Kulivan (of David Kulivan fame, who I thought had long sworn off any further interest in this bird) is listed as a member of the "Habitat Working Group of the Recovery Team"!


-- Draft Recovery Plan For the Ivorybill --


US Fish and Wildlife has finally posted its draft recovery plan (pdf) for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker here:


(hmmm... talk about throwing red meat to skeptics ;-)))
...haven't had a chance to read it entirely myself though yet (it's close to 200 pgs., longer than Tanner's original monograph).

My hope to talk about 'infinity' turned into a piece too long to post, so will either cut it down or drop entirely, and replace with another post to make the same point (having to do with scientific thinking).

In the "let's-continue-to-beat-the-Luneau-video-to-death" category Louis Bevier has added some further skeptical (and "under construction") analysis to his website here:


At the same time skeptics insist no more money should be spent on the Ivory-bill, they persist in spending their own energy in attempts to debunk the bird's existence.

Gotta go now to check on some possible misinformation elsewhere about Birds of Paradise.



Saturday, August 18, 2007


-- Stuff... --


The original, brief video from Auburn of a purported Ivory-bill along the Chocatwhatchee should be up on the Web soon giving folks something fresh and new to bicker over ; - )

And Dan Mennill of the Auburn team has posted a few of the better examples of double-knocks from this past season here:


....no doubt in actuality just a couple of those pesky Gadwalls giving some wing-clap high-fives to one another.

This week's (Aug. 17) edition of Science Magazine includes a 4+ page article by Erik Stokstad rehashing the Ivory-billed saga to this point. Doesn't add much new to the discussion, but with all the controversy involved
I suspect Science felt pressure to do an update. There is behind-the-scenes mention of tension between Cornell's John Fitzpatrick and Jerry Jackson, but in reality conflicts amongst various protagonists within the Ivory-bill story have been around a long time (preceding the original Cornell announcement), even if not widely discussed (BTW, somewhat interesting to see elsewhere that Jackson is listed as the keynote speaker for next February's 2nd annual GALA celebration of Bobby Harrison's Ivory-billed Woodpecker Foundation).

Oddly, Auburn's Geoff Hill is quoted at times in regards to the Cornell evidence, but barely mentioned for his own claims in Florida. Hill is said to believe Cornell became convinced of the Ivory-bill's presence because they placed too much weight on the Luneau video --- this, I believe, is mistaken, or at least misleading. Cornell's commentary makes it fairly clear that Fitz was convinced the Ivory-bill existed by the multiple sightings and details of several credible observers. The Luneau video was (like the acoustic data) simply an additional piece of evidence desperately needed for moving ahead toward publication (but without it, Fitz would've been personally no less convinced as I understand it).

Kinda ashame we have to wait 'til winter for searching to begin anew --- there will probably be a number of piecemeal Ivorybilled-related items coming along through the remainder of summer but nothing amounting to much.

Not sure yet, but my next post may be on the topic of "infinity," so keep in mind that there are as many points in a 6-inch long line as there are in a 6-mile long line, or as many odd numbers as there are total integers in the real number system (although you'll be pleased to know I won't be presenting the mathematical proofs here).


Thursday, August 16, 2007


-- Pseudoskeptics Unite!! --


Many many years ago I belonged to the skeptics' organization, "Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal" (CSICOP), but after several years dropped membership once it appeared to me that, rather than objectively, open-mindedly studying their selected subjects, they were often specifically entering investigations solely with a goal of "debunking" --- in short, they had already decided what their general findings would be before initiating a study.
As in the Ivory-bill debate, often the 'debunking' simply meant finding an alternative explanation for an observed phenomenon and then assuming the alternative explanation was correct based, not on any actual evidence, but solely on perceived probabilities. Moreover, I don't recall them ever going after the indiscretions or weak science of more "establishment" parts of the medical and science community (but I haven't kept up with them over the years, so maybe they have). Though I still like a lot of the work they do I've never rejoined them.

Anyway, I was reminded of all this by a Wikipedia article sent to me from a reader (thanks) that all the "pseudo-skeptics" out there, and others, can read:


....a number of interesting points made in the piece, including this list of "characteristics" of pseudoskeptics:


Wednesday, August 15, 2007


-- More AOU --


Another post here by an attendee of the recent AOU meeting with some brief commentary on the Auburn presentations.



Tuesday, August 14, 2007


-- Late Night Thoughts --


Given the aspersions skeptics have cast at those claiming to see Ivory-bills I'm wondering if all past Christmas/spring bird count reports turned in by the likes of Hicks, Guthrie, Hill, Gallagher, etc. etc. should be automatically tossed out, or at least closely reviewed? If they are mistaken about the Ivory-bill how many other of their 100's or 1000's of bird identifications have been wrong?
Of course a lot of other people who participate in counts are even less experienced than these IBWO sighters. Surely for the sake of accuracy their count reports must also be discarded as untrustworthy.
And I s'pose too the recent extensive Audubon study evaluating declining bird species, based upon 40 years-worth of anecdotal, unverified data coming from just such folks, clearly lacks validity, and ought be tossed aside as deeply flawed (just trying to be consistent here).
Now that I think of it the whole biological definition of "species" seems to always be in flux or debatable, and with ornithological "splitting" and "lumping" and name-changing occurring on a yearly basis, sheeeesh, maybe it's just time to give up on birding altogether. Anyone for Scrabble...?

Monday, August 13, 2007


-- Where's Heisenberg When We Need Him --

Geee, how 'bout we discuss the Luneau video for a change ; - ) ...

Mike Collins, re-analyzing the Luneau video, found himself critical of Cornell's interpretation of the first few frames (bird behind the tree trunk prior to take-off). A bit paradoxically he still believes the bird is an Ivory-bill based on the flight frames, but seems more in accord with the Sibley/Bevier et.al. interpretation of the initial few frames (if I understand him right). See his Aug. 9/10 entries here:


I believe his point about the geometry of the bird behind the trunk is interesting, but not conclusive, given that we simply can't know how the bird's body and feet are truly positioned for the split seconds captured. The Cornell interpretation would be difficult were the bird actually perched stationarily, but with it being in rapid motion, odd things can happen and the possibilities greatly widen. Still, it has always troubled me that the bird's head is never seen in that opening sequence as one might expect given the pose that Cornell argues for. In fact regardless of the bird's posture, it is odd that we don't see it's head peek around the tree trunk in typical woodpecker fashion just prior to fleeing approaching humans (or have we already missed the 'quick peek' by the time the video captures the tree?).

As I've contended before, without seeing that head or feet (
nor do we know the topography of the backside of that trunk) there is no definitive way of knowing that the bird is actually even perching on the trunk and thus a woodpecker. This may appear the highest probability but is simply not a certainty. And, if it is a woodpecker, there remains no definitive choice between IBWO, normal Pileated, or leucistic PIWO, just a stream of ultimately subjective analysis/judgments being made and passed off as "conclusive," which they are NOT. In the end, the best the PIWO-proponents can say is that a PIWO-interpetation is possible, and Pileateds have higher probability. There is NO MORE certainty here than with the sighters' claims of certainty that they saw an Ivory-bill, and the skeptic's ad hoc dismissal of such (full of conjecture but devoid of solid evidence of lying or mistaken ID). Unfortunately, we aren't dealing with rocket science here, just birding and field biology, both of which lack precision.

When all is said and done, it won't make a speck of difference what the Luneau bird is in regards to the Ivory-bill's potential existence in the Appalachicola, or Atchafalaya, or Pearl, or the Pascagoula, or Escambia, or Congaree, or Suwannee, or Altamaha, or Yazoo, or Big Cypress, or Green Swamp, or...or...or... Even if we knew for certain there were no IBWOs in the Big Woods or the Choctawhatchee that concludes nothing about other locales.
The vast majority of woodland birds go unseen and the vast majority of habitat goes unbirded most of the time. The way to argue that the Ivory-bill is extinct is not to spend hours debating 4 seconds of videotape, but to wait for humans to search 100's of thousands of acres of potential habitat and come up empty-handed; that will take time and money, and cynics have only themselves to blame that it wasn't done 40-50 years ago when it would've required far less of each. Meanwhile, as it is now being done, sightings continue to trickle in.

Sometimes I think all field biologists (or really all scientists) should be forced to study some of the work of Cantor or Godel or Schrodinger or Heisenberg, to better understand how uncertainty underlies all science, logic, and reason. Detachment and open-mindedness are required to grasp much of that uncertainty. And we are well passed the point of detachment or open-mindedness in the Ivory-billed debate. The insistent certainty of some skeptics, upon matters they can't possibly be certain of, is astonishing, to the point that any small piece of evidence put forth is quickly savaged in some quarters before thorough review. This is to real science what the Taliban theocracy is to democracy. In the end, real and patient science will win out (for one side or the other), but how long that will take remains in question.

As to the frequent concern voiced over other conservation projects being hurt by money going to IBWO searches, a simple suggestion: by far the single greatest peril to conservation on this planet is human population and longevity. I suggest those so very deeply concerned with this matter pledge to never have more than two children and agree to be euthanized by the age of 55. If everyone would do such it would (literally) do more for long-term conservation than all the piecemeal projects funded by Congress (...any takers?). Or alternatively, we can simply slash the billions spent on medical research and treatment to prolong human lives and move those dollars to conservation purposes... but only if you're serious.

And to end on a cheerful(???), forward-looking note, at some point we'll have the Auburn video to debate tirelessly 8 - ((( ... and soon --- prepare to celebrate!!! --- Karl Rove will be out of the White House (and possibly on the road in key states rigging more voting machines... but hey, I'm not certain about that).

Sunday, August 12, 2007


-- AOU IBWO Summary --


Chuck Hagner from Birders' World Mag. summarizes the Auburn presentation at AOU (sightings, sounds, blurry video) on Saturday here:


It will no doubt lead to more of the identical repetitive redundant (did I say repetitive) internet discussion that has floated around for the last 2 years --- it's all been said/argued before. Skeptics have set the bar at a clearcut photo or video (or carcass), so that is what we must continue to wait for.
Apparently, the old Auburn video will finally be posted on the Web soon, but not expected to unmuddy the waters anymore than the Luneau version did. It is possible that even at this point we are still nearer the starting gate of the search for Ivory-bills than we are near the finish line.



Monday, August 06, 2007


-- AOU Meeting --


The American Ornithological Union's annual meeting opens in Laramie, Wyoming Wednesday, where Dr. Geoff Hill's group will present their latest evidence/analysis from Florida's Choctawhatchee area; at least a couple of possible sightings from the last season, further acoustic evidence, and the fuzzy video that was taken over a year ago (but never released) of a possible Ivory-bill will all be presented. Wouldn't expect any minds to change, and I'm not aware of Cornell even making any IBWO-related presentations this year. Nor likely that much significant Ivory-bill-related news will pop during the next couple months, of hot/humid summer (though automatic cameras continue to be monitored).
So again we're in a long wait for the winter search season to begin (and for the release of written summaries of the prior season). And again, we have possible sounds, cavities, foraging sign, and sightings that stretch across 50+ years, and lack only an agreed-upon photo, yet some wish to close the door on this story, just as it was closed in 1900, 1920, and the 1930's before Cornell documented the birds that non-birders had known were there all along. As for those who argue that money is being wasted I suspect someone could argue the same for a significant percentage of the presentations that will be given at the AOU, if so inclined (...former Sen.William Proxmire might have a field day if he saw the titles of some of those 'scientific' papers --- justifiable expenditures are often in the eye of the beholder).

Saturday, August 04, 2007


-- Quirky Blog --


A slightly quirky Ivory-bill post from a slightly quirky website called "The Speculist" I was previously unfamiliar with, here:


If you're into quirky things might want to check out some of his other posts (from a La. lawyer named Stephen Gordon and 2 others). And his right-hand blogroll here also looks strangely intriguing as well! --- although I haven't yet had a chance to check out many of the sites.



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