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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, November 30, 2007


-- Feynman On Science --


As we head into the weekend, just a lengthy quote from physicist Richard Feynman (from a speech to the National Science Teachers Association, 1966) starting off with a memory from his boyhood days....

"....The next day, Monday, we were playing in the fields and this boy said to me, "See that bird standing on the stump there? What's the name of it?"

I said, "I haven't got the slightest idea."

He said, "It’s a brown-throated thrush. Your father doesn't teach you much about science."

I smiled to myself, because my father had already taught me that the name doesn't tell me anything about the bird. He taught me "See that bird? It's a brown-throated thrush, but in Germany it's called a halsenflugel, and in Chinese they call it a chung ling and even if you know all those names for it, you still know nothing about the bird--you only know something about people; what they call that bird. Now that thrush sings, and teaches its young to fly, and flies so many miles away during the summer across the country, and nobody knows how it finds its way," and so forth. There is a difference between the name of the thing and what goes on.

The result of this is that I cannot remember anybody's name, and when people discuss physics with me they often are exasperated when they say "the Fitz-Cronin effect," and I ask "What is the effect?" and I can't remember the name.

I would like to say a word or two--may I interrupt my little tale--about words and definitions, because it is necessary to learn the words.

It is not science. That doesn't mean, just because it is not science, that we don't have to teach the words. We are not talking about what to teach; we are talking about what science is. It is not science to know how to change Centigrade to Fahrenheit. It's necessary, but it is not exactly science. In the same sense, if you were discussing what art is, you wouldn't say art is the knowledge of the fact that a 3-B pencil is softer than a 2-H pencil. It's a distinct difference. That doesn't mean an art teacher shouldn't teach that, or that an artist gets along very well if he doesn't know that. (Actually, you can find out in a minute by trying it; but that's a scientific way that art teachers may not think of explaining.)

In order to talk to each other, we have to have words, and that's all right. It's a good idea to try to see the difference, and it's a good idea to know when we are teaching the tools of science, such as words, and when we are teaching science itself.

To make my point still clearer, I shall pick out a certain science book to criticize unfavorably, which is unfair, because I am sure that with little ingenuity, I can find equally unfavorable things to say about others. There is a first grade science book which, in the first lesson of the first grade, begins in an unfortunate manner to teach science, because it starts off an the wrong idea of what science is. There is a picture of a dog--a windable toy dog--and a hand comes to the winder, and then the dog is able to move. Under the last picture, it says "What makes it move?" Later on, there is a picture of a real dog and the question, "What makes it move?" Then there is a picture of a motorbike and the question, "What makes it move?" and so on.

I thought at first they were getting ready to tell what science was going to be about--physics, biology, chemistry--but that wasn't it. The answer was in the teacher's edition of the book: the answer I was trying to learn is that "energy makes it move."

Now, energy is a very subtle concept. It is very, very difficult to get right. What I mean is that it is not easy to understand energy well enough to use it right, so that you can deduce something correctly using the energy idea--it is beyond the first grade. It would be equally well to say that "God makes it move," or "spirit makes it move," or "movability makes it move." (In fact, one could equally well say "energy makes it stop.")

Look at it this way: that’s only the definition of energy; it should be reversed. We might say when something can move that it has energy in it, but not what makes it move is energy. This is a very subtle difference. It's the same with this inertia proposition.

Perhaps I can make the difference a little clearer this way: If you ask a child what makes the toy dog move, you should think about what an ordinary human being would answer. The answer is that you wound up the spring; it tries to unwind and pushes the gear around.

What a good way to begin a science course! Take apart the toy; see how it works. See the cleverness of the gears; see the ratchets. Learn something about the toy, the way the toy is put together, the ingenuity of people devising the ratchets and other things. That's good. The question is fine. The answer is a little unfortunate, because what they were trying to do is teach a definition of what is energy. But nothing whatever is learned.

Suppose a student would say, "I don't think energy makes it move." Where does the discussion go from there?

I finally figured out a way to test whether you have taught an idea or you have only taught a definition.

Test it this way: you say, "Without using the new word which you have just learned, try to rephrase what you have just learned in your own language." Without using the word "energy," tell me what you know now about the dog's motion." You cannot. So you learned nothing about science. That may be all right. You may not want to learn something about science right away. You have to learn definitions. But for the very first lesson, is that not possibly destructive?

I think for lesson number one, to learn a mystic formula for answering questions is very bad. The book has some others: "gravity makes it fall;" "the soles of your shoes wear out because of friction." Shoe leather wears out because it rubs against the sidewalk and the little notches and bumps on the sidewalk grab pieces and pull them off. To simply say it is because of friction, is sad, because it's not science....

We have many studies in teaching, for example, in which people make observations, make lists, do statistics, and so on, but these do not thereby become established science, established knowledge. They are merely an imitative form of science analogous to the South Sea Islanders' airfields--radio towers, etc., made out of wood. The islanders expect a great airplane to arrive. They even build wooden airplanes of the same shape as they see in the foreigners' airfields around them, but strangely enough, their wood planes do not fly. The result of this pseudoscientific imitation is to produce experts, which many of you are. [But] you teachers, who are really teaching children at the bottom of the heap, can maybe doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

When someone says, "Science teaches such and such," he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn't teach anything; experience teaches it. If they say to you, "Science has shown such and such," you might ask, "How does science show it? How did the scientists find out? How? What? Where?"

It should not be "science has shown" but "this experiment, this effect, has shown." And you have as much right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments--but be patient and listen to all the evidence--to judge whether a sensible conclusion has been arrived at.

In a field which is so complicated [as education] that true science is not yet able to get anywhere, we have to rely on a kind of old-fashioned wisdom, a kind of definite straightforwardness. I am trying to inspire the teacher at the bottom to have some hope and some self-confidence in common sense and natural intelligence. The experts who are leading you may be wrong.

I have probably ruined the system, and the students that are coming into Caltech no longer will be any good. I think we live in an unscientific age in which almost all the buffeting of communications and television--words, books, and so on--are unscientific. As a result, there is a considerable amount of intellectual tyranny in the name of science..."

~ amen


Thursday, November 29, 2007


-- Extinction... --


Probably no other bird species in the history of America has had as many sighting claims over the years (as well as other possible "encounters") as the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and yet been construed by so many to be extinct, based upon shaky evidence and conjecture; nor has any bird species likely been presumed extinct on so many repeated occasions, only to be rediscovered.

There is a huge difference between a bird being rare (or even being very, very, very rare), and being extinct --- "extinction" leaves no room for ambiguity; but the distinction seems lost on skeptics who yet again prefer writing off a species entirely, rather than simply surmising that it might be rare and wary (a perfectly reasonable conclusion with so many sightings in play), and supporting an arduous effort to confirm it.

Too many skeptics are operating on an approach to science that implies, 'a proposition (IBWOs exist) must be assumed false if it has not been proven true and there are alternative explanations/conjectures for each piece of evidence supporting it.' It's the same basic (flawed) approach to science the intelligent-design folks take toward evolution --- human evolution isn't proven true, and the evidence for it has other explanations just as probable or moreso than random mutation and natural selection over time (...maybe Tom Nelson will next take up the cause of intelligent design, since no one seems to take his global warming posts seriously, and he keeps returning to the Ivorybill well to maintain blog traffic).

Once the many Southern areas/habitats of interest have been more systematically searched we may have some real evidence for Ivorybill extinction to discuss --- until then (I'll just keep saying it over and over and over again), we have ongoing sightings claims, and little good evidence for extinction, just conjecture. Much of this has to do with the inherent weakness in the way most biologists (mis)understand underlying scientific method... but that's a subject for a whole 'nother post some day (the life sciences and the physical sciences are quite different critters, though practiitioners of the former often wish to pretend they are on an equal footing).

Speaking of threatened birds, Audubon has recently issued a warning that one-quarter of U.S. bird species face possible extinction (surprise, surprise), in large part due to habitat destruction and global warming. A couple of pieces on their report here:



hmmmm.... maybe also of note:



Wednesday, November 28, 2007


-- Cornell Final 2006-7 Summary --


Cornell's final summary for the previous search season has now been posted (pdf) at their site here. Unfortunately, thus far I've not been able to get the pdf to open beyond the first few pages on my Mac; have tried both Firefox and Safari browsers (don't know if this is a general problem or specific to my computer?).


Finally managed to fully open the summary report --- for those who are having the same problem I had, the suggestion of a reader (thanks!) worked: instead of directly opening the pdf from Cornell's site in a browser, download it to your desktop and then open the file with Adobe.

Of course much of the basic information in the summary has been previously available in some form, although a lot more detail given here; and also of course, nothing newly definitive to report regarding Ivory-bill presence in the Arkansas Big Woods. A total of 24 "encounters" of some significance reported for the search season, 13 of these purely acoustic and 11 visual (2 of the visual encounters were considered rather more significant than others, but still nothing conclusive). 18 of the encounters involved individuals associated with Cornell while 6 came from the general public, and most were in the vicinity of the White River WMA, with only a few from Bayou de View (the area of initial interest); the brevity of the majority of encounters once again making conclusions difficult. The White River and Wattensaw areas are among those that will continue to be focussed on in the upcoming search season.

Another section of the report summarizes the findings of Cornell's 4-man Mobile Search Team that surveyed several areas throughout the Southeast. The Congaree (S.C.), Pascagoula (MS.), and Escambia (FL.) areas were among those rated to have the best potential habitat for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, but several other areas will get a second-look as well (the team had no sightings, by the way).

The report ends with a section on much of the specialized equipment used in (and sometimes specifically developed for) the search.

There are always things one can quibble about with such reports, but overall a nice summary of efforts to date --- nothing contained therein will much impress skeptics, but enough there to maintain the convictions of others that such efforts are worth continuing. Indeed, what is really needed are similarly expansive reports from a half-dozen or more other key locales through the South to have something much more meaningful than these lone summaries from Big Woods and at some point Choctawhatchee.

And a new search season is almost upon us.



Tuesday, November 27, 2007


-- Choctawhatchee Redux --


Nothing new, but it's been almost one year since Fred Virrazzi spent a week searching solo for Ivorybills along the Choctawhatchee and wrote up a lengthy report here. Lots of pics (just NOT of a certain woodpecker). Anyone contemplating a trip to the area may want to read Fred's thoughts/impressions ahead of time.


Elsewhere on the Web:

Seems like every decade or so there's a whole 'nother theory on the mystery of how birds migrate successfully, sometimes 1000s of miles, twice a year.
A current and interesting story on the subject here.

....a-a-a-and for your laugh-of-the-day, check out this from "cuteoverload" -- be sure to read the comments, LOL. What a coot!!!



Monday, November 26, 2007


-- Searching --


For years I've felt that, a search for Ivory-bills (once seen) ought not start with direct entry into the specific locale of interest, despite the temptation to do so, but rather by 'encircling' such an area. A bird wishing to escape human presence can always fly out ahead of searchers and elude detection. The object then ought be to insure that in any direction a bird may fly in 'escape mode' it is flying toward yet more sighters. Therefore, given a locale believed to harbor IBWOs draw a circle (~5+ mile radius) around said area and, in so much as manpower and topography allow, post sighters on the north, south, east, and west sides of that circle --- at an appointed time have searchers move slowly forward through the area toward the center (again, as best as topography allows). Each day the circle can be adjusted in lieu of information gathered. I'm not sure that in 3 years such an approach has been attempted (and it does have some practical problems associated with it).
I've also long believed it would require a coordinated group effort to document Ivory-bills. A lone, stealthy individual might through sheer luck or persistence be the first to attain clear photographic evidence of the species (and I'd be thrilled to have it happen that way), but I suspect IBWOs reside in multiple (and huge) areas where systematic group searches may be the only efficient way to find them, but not necessarily by placing clusters of humans directly within such presumed sites. Many search techniques have already, and will continue to be tried; time may tell what's most effective.

And speaking of searching 'nother article on Bobby Harrison here.

From the Web Grab Bag: As often happens when humans attempt to do the right thing there are unforeseen ill consequences (environmentally-friendly building at Emory turns out to be a bird-killer):



Sunday, November 25, 2007


-- Cornell... and Christmas --


Any birders of a certain age grew up revering the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, as America's bastion of excellence in birding and ornithology. One of the more unfortunate consequences of 2 years of Ivorybill debate has been attacks in some quarters on CLO's stature and reputation. Hindsight is 20/20, and clearly Cornell (or associates) have handled some matters poorly, not delivering on certain promises, nor responding quickly or thoroughly to various criticisms lobbed their way. They walk a tightrope in both wanting to hold their cards close, maintaining confidentiality regarding the IBWO search, yet also wishing to retain public support. Over time, questions I've posed to Jerry Jackson, Geoff Hill, and lesser figures, have been answered well and promptly; but fairly simple, straightforward questions I've posed to Cornell, have taken months to answer, or simply gone unanswered... while their mail solicitations to my mailbox for contributions continue to arrive in an uncannily timely manner! ;-)
It was of course Cornell who, in the 1930's, originally brought the Ivory-billed Woodpecker back to the attention of scientists and birders, only to then abandon it when, in a time of war, there seemed no possibility of accomplishing anything for the bird. It is somehow ironic that yet once again Cornell is potentially in a position to fail the species.
This amazing bird that brought so much sudden fame to James Tanner has done little since, but bring ridicule and ruin to others crossing paths with it... I still expect Cornell to be vindicated in the end, but the tarnish done to their lustre may take longer to buff up... and that is unfortunate, given all the unqualified good they accomplish for birding and birders.

...On a different note, a reader has requested that I post "gift recommendations" (books or other items) for "Ivory-bill fanatics" for the upcoming holidays. Many readers will already be familiar with these, but for any who aren't I'll just cite some of the more obvious choices:

First though I'll mention that, for those who are into the auction scene, eBay usually has quite an array of Ivory-billed Woodpecker-related items for sale (books, t-shirts, mugs, artwork, etc.) so can be worth checking out here:


As far as books, my personal favorite remains Jerome Jackson's "In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker." Second, though old (originally published in 1942) and somewhat dry reading as a scientific monograph, I still find James Tanner's short "The Ivory-billed Woodpecker" a fascinating read for anyone both into this bird and into science. Phillip Hoose's "The Race to Save the Lord God Bird" remains a beautifully done and photo-laden volume which came out before all the current hubbub (oddly, it is often promoted as a young person's book, though excellent reading for adults as well). Another favorite from the past is Christopher Cokinos's "Hope Is the Thing With Feathers" with a long, well-written chapter on the Ivory-bill, but also great chapters on four other assumed-extinct bird species. And then of course there are the two most 'current' volumes to emerge, Tim Gallagher's "The Grail Bird" on the Arkansas search, and Geoff Hill's "Ivorybill Hunters" on the Florida search, both exciting but more limited reads. And I suppose I may as well once again mention (for the scientifically-inclined) Noel Snyder's new monograph on the Ivory-bill available online at: http://www.wfvz.org/html/pub_prog.html

Deciding among all these volumes is really a matter of personal preference and interest (and do buy the latest editions of any of them, since new material may have been added over older used copies), since all have positive elements in their favor depending what one is looking for.
Wild bird stores may have other Ivory-bill related gifts/trinkets/crafts for sale. Some of the sites I link to in the blog margin also have IBWO items for sale, and there are other sites around the internet as well with IBWO stuff.

....or, you may just wish to ask for a brand-spanking new videocam recorder, kayak, GPS device, and camo gear, to go look for the bird yourself!


Saturday, November 24, 2007


-- Who Cyberthrush Is... NOT --


Though several readers know me personally and many others at least know my name and locale, many others still do not; so am regularly amused by guesses, invariably wrong, of my identity.
Just to set the record straight (lest some other folks be besmirched by false association), let me say that I am NOT in any way related to Laura Erickson, Julie Zickefoose, Noel Snyder, or anyone else prominent in birding circles (and not related to Paris Hilton ** or Brad Pitt ** either). Nor am I a retired biology or ornithology professor, nor professionally connected to Cornell's Lab of Ornithology, or any other ornithology or conservation group for that matter (indeed, as Groucho Marx opined, I'm not too sure I'd even want to belong to any group that would have me as a member ;-)).

Cyberthrush is simply one of millions of average weekend birders around America, who happens to have a long abiding interest in math, science, birds, and... the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (pretty much in that order). I've never seen an Ivory-bill, nor expect to --- once they are documented, I'd prefer that only trained ecologists, naturalists, and forestry personnel, be permitted in the area, and most birders, like myself (and even the vast majority of ornithologists), be kept out, well OUT --- I don't expect that to happen, but one can wish. I'm not convinced that the birding community in general, with entrenched competitiveness and professional jealousies, can be of great help to this species now, except by preserving more habitat and minimizing human presence. But studies will no doubt be done (and at least some false conclusions likely be drawn and argued over).

My own Ivory-bill stance is itself a tad ironic given an undue skepticism on my part of biological matters in general (where variables are far too complex and interactive for certainty)
--- I have minimal scientific faith in bird data, bird counts, bird lists, species' taxonomy, journal articles, field biology in general, or even avian molecular work. But I do have faith in repeated bird observations by reputable, credible individuals, and ultimately first-hand observation is the underlying basis of birding --- indeed, if we discount it too much there can be little good science at all left to birding.

So I'll continue to doubt whether Central American hummingbirds ever make their way to Wisconsin under their own power, or whether anyone has truly seen over 8000 species of birds in their lifetime, or whether birds really evolved from dinosaurs (there are counter theories), or whether the AOU ever employs common sense in the re-naming and re-re-naming of North American birds, or whether it was humanly possible for a lone grad student in the 1930's to have conducted a thorough research study of a rare bird species across the entire American Southeast, BUT.... I don't much doubt that several people in my lifetime have observed Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, and others will continue to do so, and moreover, that living creatures routinely surpass the limitations we humans, in our myopia, erroneously place on them. ...May it be so, and more importantly, may it, in time, be documented to everyone's satisfaction.

[ ** just dropped these in to increase 'hits' during Google searches ;-) ]

Elsewhere on the Web:

see the International Bird Rescue Research Center blog for updates on the oil spill in San Francisco Bay and ongoing bird rescue efforts there, or to donate money to help.

Friday, November 23, 2007


-- Go, Look --


New York birder Rich Guthrie, who announced his Arkansas Ivory-billed Woodpecker sighting earlier this year
(while volunteering for Cornell), makes a plea on BirdChat for others to go look... and take a camera:



Thursday, November 22, 2007


-- Another Thing To Be Thankful For --

Not IBWO-related, but...

One of my favorite, more quirky, bird sites John Trapp's "Birds Etcetera" blog had gone NON-updated for a long while, but just noticed it has a new post. Nothing earthshaking, but good to see John back (...even though he's wrong about some things ;-)). No explanation for the 3-month lapse between posts, but hope all is well out his way, and if you'd fallen out of the habit of stopping by John's spot in cyberspace, begin checking it out again.
Now, pass the cranberry sauce...


Tuesday, November 20, 2007


-- New Conservation Book --


With Christmas around the corner there are a lot of good bird and nature book offerings available this season. One nicely-done, new volume worth a look for your birding friends is "Birder's Conservation Handbook," by Jeffrey Wells, covering 100 endangered birds of North America (yes, the Ivory-bill is included). Scott Weidensaul calls the book a "gold mine." Amazon link here.


Monday, November 19, 2007


-- Thanks-Giving --


Once again time for a yearly list of some things I be feelin' grateful for:

10. Green tea
9. Hybrid cars
8. Prime numbers
7. Apple Inc.
6. Ivory-billed Researchers' Forum
5. Noel F.R. Snyder
4. Velcro
3. Ben Stiller, Steve Carell, and Stephen Colbert
2. U.S. Fish and Wildlife IBWO Draft Recovery Plan and ALL those searching
1. Childhood intuition...

And may everyone find many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


-- USF&W Summary --


The US Fish & Wildlife Service has released a short summary of their 2007 Ivory-billed Woodpecker search season:


The state searches briefly summarized therein are Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and South Carolina. Possible auditory encounters and IBWO foraging or cavity sign continue to be mentioned, but of course no definitive sightings or film/video reported.

USF&W biologist Chuck Hunter, one of the leaders of the effort, concludes, “It is imperative we continue with searches for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Enough credible evidence continues to come to our attention that leads us to believe several isolated pairs or very small populations still exist.”

According to the summary, the 2008 search may make greater use of helicopters for searching from the air, while employing "smaller professional groups," but increasing citizen involvement in the effort.

Personally, I continue to doubt that IBWO will be found in Texas, though am happy for searches to continue there. The WesternTennessee-Kentucky-Illinois-Missouri corridor actually intrigues me more than Texas; possibly more even than the current sharp focus on South Carolina, which I've only slowly come to take far more seriously. And finally, the NorthFlorida-Georgia-Alabama-Mississippi-Louisiana corridor, remains, to my mind the very best chance for Ivory-bill persistence... but, nothing really more than gut hunches. And the Arkansas search of course continues as well.

Cornell should be out within a month with a more detailed account of their specific search efforts from the past year. But I suspect now that the Auburn summary of their Choctawhatchee effort may not be publicly available before the new 2008 search season is already underway.

The bottom-line message from the USF&W report is that, despite what one might think from perusing opinions in certain corners of cyberspace, many of the professionals most familiar with the data and evidence for the presence of Ivory-bills, continue to believe that the effort is worth the time, money, and manpower expended.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007


-- More Snyder --


I've been pushing Noel Snyder's most recent Ivory-bill monograph lately, but might be worth noting that Snyder also has authored several book-length volumes as well, possibly of interest to folks, including extensive writing on the California Condor (the recovery program for which he helped plan), and one of the few academic volumes devoted wholly to the Carolina Parakeet. Amazon link here.
[p.s. - I have no financial interest/connection to any of Noel's works, or anyone else's for that matter.]


Sunday, November 11, 2007


-- Birds and Photos --


It never ceases to amaze me how much of the skepticism over Ivory-billed Woodpeckers revolves around the simple lack of a clearcut, definitive photograph. The prevalence of cameras (let alone video recorders) amongst outdoorsmen and birders is a relatively new phenomena; it's not as if people have swarmed into the woods for 60 continuous years, cameras in hand, trying to capture this bird on film, as sometimes seems implied.
In a recent estimate of bird populations in North America based on various counts/censuses and statistical extrapolations, I noticed that the estimate for Pileated Woodpeckers was 930,000. How many of those have ever been photographed I wonder? A tiny, tiny, tiny fraction I suspect. Should we presume that 900,000 of them likely don't really exist for lack of a photo verifying them? Are they just figments of groupthink and statistics perhaps? And what if there were only 100 Pileateds left --- how many photos would there then be? Possibly none?
Simply put, most individual woodland birds are likely never seen by human eyes, let alone photographed. That a few scarce IBWOs may have eluded humans isn't incredible, it's the norm that most individual birds accomplish. Yes, eventually, concerted efforts to capture such on film ought be successful... but eventually can take awhile, and, as has been argued before, may be dependent on finding an active nesthole of a creature that has no interest in being found.

Elsewhere on the Web:

further update on the Wisconsin Green-breasted Mango

... here a bird with chutzpa.... ;-)

...and sad, sad story here (SanFrancisco Bay oil spill).


Saturday, November 10, 2007


-- 2nd Annual IBWO Gala in February --


The invitation/registration for Bobby Harrison's 2nd annual Ivory-billed Woodpecker Foundation Gala on Saturday, Feb, 23, 2008, in Huntsville, Alabama, is up on the Web through this link (pdf form). Schedule of events/speakers is included, with Jerry Jackson giving the keynote address. Tickets range from $35 to $250. [NOTE: I assume they'll get it corrected, but the date for the Gala is currently erroneously given as "Feb. 28" on the linked page.]

In the meanwhile you may wish to email John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee that you would very much like him to move forward promptly with Dennis Kucinich's resolution for the impeachment of Vice-President Dick Cheney. It's the least we can do for our exasperated allies around the globe who
increasingly recognize this particular Administration as perilously incompetent and a significant threat to world stability.



Friday, November 09, 2007


-- In Praise of.... --


....the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, perhaps...

The folks over at "10,000 Birds" blog have a contest running to win free copies of the handsome, new, well-reviewed volume, "Bird: The Definitive Visual Guide" from DK Publishing (retail value - $50). Contest entry involves writing an essay (250-750 words) about a single favorite North American bird species of your choice entitled, "In Praise of _________." Entries need to be submitted to 10,000 Birds blog by Nov. 30 and will be published there in December prior to selection of winners. See further details at their site.

Have at it....


Wednesday, November 07, 2007


-- More Harrison --


New book is out from The Explorer's Club entitled "They Lived to Tell the Tale," including, among its 41 entries, a chapter by Bobby Harrison on his Ivory-bill encounters.

....on a sidenote, almost any great scientist will tell you that intuition, and not logic or reason, is really what underlies most good science --- a topic I suspect worth a post of its own at a certain point in the future....
("It is through science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover." -- J. H. Poincare)

Elsewhere on the Web:

The Wisconsin Green-breasted Mango (hummingbird), mentioned here previously, has been captured and taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center for now, not due to any injury or health problem, but on the supposition that it could not survive oncoming cold temps, nor have time to reach a warmer clime. I'm not sure I agree with this action, which is stirring a lot of debate, but IF it is a correct decision it is probably because my original surmise that the bird arrived in WI. via false passage in the trailer of a freight truck and not under its own direction is correct. A truly vagrant hummingbird, following its instincts, would likely have left the area ahead of a cold front in enough time to reach warmer temps; whereas a confused and possibly weakened hummer (that may have spent 24 hrs. in a tractor trailer), might not do so and in fact be in need of assistance. But either way, this is a rather unusual and controversial development.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


-- Wattensaw Redux --


Reminder-time again: Noel Snyder's new monograph, "An Alternative Hypothesis for the Cause of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's Decline," ($25) is available here :


Over the years, living in several different states, and associated with different birding groups, I've regularly run into birders (long before the current IBWO interest) who related stories about seeing possible Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the 60's or 70's, or knowing other people they trusted who thought they may have seen one. These were all encounters that were never officially turned in to anyone, due to lack of documentation or simple fear of ridicule. It is difficult to know how many such possible claims went unreported prior to the Cornell announcement, but probably in the 100's across the entire Southeast over decades.

Anyway, in that vein, "MMinNY" over at IBWO Searchers Forum has found this simple, pertinent entry (which I'd never seen before) from a Jan. 2002 hunting forum thread
(discussing the 1999 Kulivan IBWO sighting), from one "ncboman" --- interesting because it makes reference to Wattensaw (Arkansas) 30+ years before Wattensaw became a sudden center of attention with several sightings claims:
"I still think I may have seen 3 ivory bills in 1973 at a place in Arkansas called Wattensaw? I was over 100 yds. away and could not make a positive ID. Being new to the area, I wasn't sure what was there but I had already seen good numbers of Pileated woodpeckers and I know these birds were different.
Being young and stupid, I didn't go to them, preferring to stay in my stand. I wish I had checked them out more closely now. "
(the actual thread is archived here, with the above post at bottom of page)

Monday, November 05, 2007


-- 'nother Claim Detailed --


News story on another IBWO claimant, biologist Richard Robert Anderson (auditory and sighting encounters), here.

And British birders may want to take note that Dr. Dan Mennill, associated with the Auburn Ivory-billed Woodpecker search in the Florida panhandle, as chief sound analyst, is speaking Nov. 16 at the McIlwraith Field Naturalists of London Conservation Awards Banquet. 'NOTHER CORRECTION: myyyyyyy bad; this is in London, ONTARIO (Canada), not Britain!! (...I'll try to get more sleep in the future).


Saturday, November 03, 2007


-- Of Mangos and Dead Horses --


For those who don't already know, Green-breasted Mangos are large flashy hummingbirds of Central America, occasionally documented in the US. One was recently confirmed in Georgia, an interesting find to be sure. Most that have ventured into the US
over the years though, have been found in Texas (16 or more), not a far cry out of their range, and thusly not so difficult to account for. But in the past, one such bird was documented in western North Carolina and, 7 years later, another in Wisconsin. The probability of a Mango, by its own volition, making it as far north as WI., or even NC. (when they've not been seen anywhere north of Texas) I believe is vanishingly small, and so have always presumed these two individuals likely got trapped in the back of carrier trucks (possibly hauling tropical plants, as there are many trucks moving south to north doing such) and released when the sliding back door opened upon destination arrival. 'Little brown jobs' (sparrows and wrens) get trapped in the back of large trucks with some regularity and there's no particular reason it couldn't have happened twice (or more) to Mangos in 7 years --- in fact, I think it far more probabilistic than any other explanation. Thus, I find it interesting that David Sibley actually believes it more likely these two birds are true vagrants, which I would term "wishful thinking" ;-) pretty much unsupported by any evidence (such as intervening sightings between Texas and farther north). But of course neither of us can know for sure...

But it got me to thinking... what would it take to convince me there really were vagrant Mangos traveling so far north? --- It would take 'numbers;' i.e. not 1 or 2 isolated cases, but a half-dozen of them, in a more condensed time-frame, showing up in northerly locales --- that might begin to be persuasive that something really is going on here other than the randomness of the long haul freight industry.
AND AGAIN, (you knew I was headed somewhere with this ;-) THAT is what we have with Ivory-billed Woodpeckers --- numbers --- 1 or 3 or 5 or even a dozen sightings over the many years might easily be written off as mistakes, but not so likely for the dozens of claims piled up over that elapsed time (NOT all of which are brief, or undetailed, or from non-credible sources, or coming in the middle of IBWO frenzy, despite what some will say).

I'm beating a dead horse here with those who disagree, but I'll repeat it nonetheless: UNTIL there are adequately thorough searches of a majority of pertinent habitat areas, and while sightings continue to infrequently occur, there is NO SOLID EVIDENCE for the extinction of this species (just solid evidence of rarity). Invoking the fact that birders make mistakes
as a blanket explanation for so many varied claims across time, is almost insultingly simplistic; a catchall explanation that can be used for anything. And again, if skeptics truly believe that 'brief' identifications are so regularly UNreliable, than I challenge them to come out foursquare against the inclusion of brief sightings on any-and-all official bird counts --- such reports should have no place in databases if their unreliability is as commonplace as painted (funny thing, that brief sightings are accepted so routinely on count days; brief looks of Pileateds are apparently never subject to error, and brief looks of IBWO are 100% subject to error).

If several more years of significant searching result in no documentation for Ivory-bills I'll have no problem saying it looks as though the species may be extinct afterall (though I'll still have no idea in which decade the extinction occurred). And some of us can then say with a clear conscience that we gave it our all, and erred on the side of the bird. But if in that time the species is confirmed what will skeptics have to say...? "geee, sorry, my baaaad," or will some of them be sooo busy packing their bags for a swing by the swamp to get a look just so they can check it off their (unvalidated) lifelists, to bother saying anything at all --- and I'll just bet, by that point, in their estimation, a 2-second look will have magically become plenty sufficient time for putting it on that lifelist, and recounting their wonderful story 100 times over when they return home....

P.S.... in all of this, I don't mean to sound overly harsh with David S.; he's easily one of the most civil and well-spoken folks in these whole proceedings... but this doesn't mean, as I'm sure he'd admit, that he might not be 'mistaken' about both the Green-breasted Mango and the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Friday, November 02, 2007


-- A Little Bedtime Reading --


'Fangsheath' over at IBWO Researchers Forum has added a thread to that forum compiling in one spot much of the major published material relating to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker:


Several of the pieces are directly accessible on the Web by given links. I've added a link to this thread on the left of my blog, right above the 'IBWO Resources' link, which also comes from IBWO Researchers Forum (there is some content overlap between the two links).


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