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IVORY-BILLS  LiVE???!  ...

=> THE blog devoted to news and commentary on the most iconic bird in American ornithology, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWO)... and... sometimes other schtuff.

Web ivorybills.blogspot.com

"....The truth is out there."

-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

-- Hamlet

"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

-- Arthur Schopenhauer

Sunday, December 30, 2007


-- John Arvin on the Search --


John Arvin speaks about the IBWO search in Texas here.



Saturday, December 29, 2007


-- hmmmm... --


Just noticed that the ACONE (remote computerized camera system) folks in Arkansas have posted an additional pic from back in March 2007 up at their site, here:


Before you get too excited be sure to read the accompanying comments below photo.


Saturday, December 22, 2007


-- A Holiday Reading --


In this season of miracles, in a time of conflict between science and religion, and debate over the state of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, just a reading today from astronomer/physicist Chet Raymo, one of my favorite science/nature writers, focused on the Red Knot (a well known western hemisphere shorebird) --- appropriately enough from his 1998 volume entitled "Skeptics and True Believers," another book I recommend to all (passage
highly edited for brevity's sake):
"...Now here is the astonishing thing... The young red knots, by the thousands and without adult guides or prior experience, find their way along the ancient migration route. From northern Canada to New England's Atlantic shore, across the Atlantic Ocean to Guyana and Suriname, then down along the eastern coast of South America, arriving precisely at those feeding grounds along the way where they are sure to find food. At last they join their parents and others of their species on the beaches of Tierra del Fuego for the southern summer.
"How do they do it? How do the young birds make their way along a route they have never traveled to, a destination they have never seen? How do they unerringly navigate the long stretch of their journey over featureless sea? We know exactly what the red knots accomplish --- where they go, when they arrive... But how the uninstructed young birds accomplish their epic feat of navigation remains mysterious...

"This much is certain: A map for the journey and the instrumental knowledge to follow it are part of the red knot's genetic inheritance. Each bird begins life as a single fertilized cell. Already, that microscopic cell contains the biological equivalent of a set of charts, a compass, a sextant, and maybe even something akin to a satellite navigation system...
"How can a map of the globe and the skill to follow it be contained within a cell too small to be seen with the naked eye? Medieval theologians are said to have debated how many angels can dance on the head of a pin; in the flight of the red knot we are engaged with a mystery more immediately present but no less marvelous...

"In the case of animal navigation, the answer to our question turns out to be quite incredible. The urge to make the red knot's planet-spanning flight, the map of the journey, and the skills to follow it, are written into a DNA molecule in a language of stunning simplicity... The red knot's map and navigational manual are written in a chemical language of only four letters!

"In each cell of the red knot's body, there are identical strands of DNA, about an arm's length in all, a blueprint for making a small russet bird with an urge to fly and the skills to make a 9,000-mile unpracticed journey. Can it be possible?... Believe it or not, several sets of the Encyclopedia Brittanica could be transcribed into the red knot's genes!...

"For some years I have been on the Board of Overseers of Boston's Museum of Science. On my visits to the museum, I always make my way to the ten-foot-high model of a segment of DNA. To my mind it is the most extraordinary exhibit in the museum... I stand in front of this partial strand, gape-jawed at the beauty, at the simplicity --- a simplicity out of which emerges the astonishing diversity and awesome complexity of life. What I feel as I stand before the model cannot be adequately put into words. Call it reverence, awe, praise --- in short, the full range of religious feeling.
"Nothing I learned during my religious training is more wondrous to me than the flight of the juvenile red knot... Such real-world mysteries inspire my awe far more than the so-called miracle on display in the cathedral of Turin. In the red knot's story we catch a glimpse of a God who never lifts his hand from his work, and who leads everything to the purpose for which it was ordained. As the British writer and cartographer Tim Robinson observed: Miracles are explainable; it is the explanations that are miraculous."

--- Every waking moment, of every day, I would argue, we all witness things (which we blissfully take for granted) that are far more miraculous than the continued existence of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers could ever be argued to be. Such is life... In this season of joy and wonder may we all come to recognize some of those daily miracles continually before us, which dwarf the debate over the Ivory-bill, the outcome of which is yet to be known, no matter who or how many, prematurely consider it settled.

A Merry Christmas to all, and best wishes for a 2008 full of surprises... and awe.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


-- Chit-chat --


Some IBWO chatter over on BirdChat this week here, as well as a brief thread on Rich Guthrie's earlier (April) Ivorybill sighting in Arkansas this year can be found here, (little over half-way down).


Elsewhere on the Web:

A list of year-end science book recommendations from John Brockman here:


ADDENDUM: Museum specimens of Ivorybills here:



-- Mobile Team Travel Log --


Cornell's new Mobile Search Team's travel log has been posted on the Cornell site, actually going back to their start in November:


A bit surprised to see they headed over to the Tyler, Texas area to start things off before heading to Louisiana's Atchafalaya region where, in another slight surprise, they say they will spend a month's worth of time.
I'll change my Mobile Team blog link in left-hand margin to the current travel log (from last year's log).


Tuesday, December 18, 2007


-- Cornell Team --


Cornell's team for the 2007-8 IBWO search effort, including their new Mobile Search Team, listed here:




Monday, December 17, 2007


-- "Dear Virginia" --


S'pose it's time to repeat another post from a previous December (hmmm... could it become a Christmas tradition):

In the spirit of the season just quoting a few lines from the famous letter written by a newspaper editor in 1897 to a young girl who's 'little friends' informed her there was no Santa Claus:

"Dear Virginia:

Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge..."

To all the searchers out there, don't let 'little minds' get ya down...

Elsewhere on the Web:

If you missed Bob Simon's wonderful "60 Minutes" feature (last Sunday) on conservation biologist's Bruce Beehler's work in the remote Foja Mountains of Indonesia (...or just want to watch it again), it's available via a video link from this page:


(click on Dec. 16 "Garden of Eden" story)

Another Foja video, somewhat prefatory to the "60 Minutes" piece, is here:



Sunday, December 16, 2007


-- Yaaaaawn --


Not expecting much in the way of Ivorybill news through the holidays, so just another rerun piece from one year ago in which J. Jackson focuses on the Suwanee River region of north Florida (rated by the World Wildlife Fund as one of the "top 10 coolest places in North America") as potential Ivorybill habitat:


Elsewhere on the Web:

some "cyberbirding" resources listed here:


a birdwatcher's guide to global warming here:


Speaking of which, not sure where the statistics came from, but Martin Collinson, mentioned previously on his blog, that in Nov. 2006 Tom Nelson had 37 posts on IBWOs, generating 450 comments, but in Nov. 2007 the very same blog posted 247 entries, mostly on global warming, and generating only 12 comments. Would seem that the choir Tom once preached to has largely abandoned the pew!

yeah, I'm a sucker for Snowy Owls, so another nice shot of one here, as this irruptive season for them continues (although this particular shot is actually from 2 years ago):


Since I've been noting some books lately, might as well mention Jonathan Rosen's "The Life of the Skies," due out in February --- I've been mentioning it elsewhere around the Web, sight unseen. Just based on Rosen's past writings would expect it to be a wonderful read and tribute to American birding.

Finally, if you're looking for some great birding and traveling in the new year you can't do much better than Ventures Inc., headed by superb bird guide Simon Thompson (Tyler Hicks of IBWO fame is also on staff), based in western North Carolina, but leading tours all over the southeast and world. There is a south Florida outing at end of January and a Congaree Swamp trip in May, and more varied offerings in-between. Check them out here:



Saturday, December 15, 2007


-- Jackson On the Pearl 5 Years Ago --


This is the first sentence of this particular post. And this is the second sentence. The fourth sentence will read as follows: "An old (2002) Jerry Jackson article on the Pearl River area here". An old (2002) Jerry Jackson article on the Pearl River area here.
The sentence you're reading now precedes the next sentence. This sentence contains thirty-six letters. The prior sentence is true. The previous sentence has twenty-five letters. The previous sentence is true. That last sentence is false. All of which makes the previous sentence true. And the sentence following the last sentence is this sentence. All for today (I'm exhausted). That could've been the final sentence for this post, but it wasn't. Neither is this. This is.


Friday, December 14, 2007


-- Collins Interview --


Interview with Pearl River searcher Mike Collins here.


Elsewhere on the Web:

For those dreaming of a white owl:


The Jim Stevenson saga continues:


A book I'd not heard of previously, but looks interesting, and possibly a good Xmas gift for young ones interested in birds (as well as older ones) here and here. Good reviews on Amazon (who says it is currently out of stock).


Wednesday, December 12, 2007


-- Secrecy... Not Likely --


Not sure if it's because of my prior post or because of some discussion going on over at IBWO Researchers Forum, but a few emailers are asking if IBWOs have already been documented and for their protection, basically, it is being kept secret for now. Little chance of that!

Search agencies recognize how widespread skepticism has become and any conclusive documentation arising will likely be made publicly available as quickly as proper channels allow --- funding, public interest/support, reputations, and any possible salvation of the species, pretty much requires rapid disclosure. That doesn't mean precise locations and all other information would be released, but certainly conclusive photos or film would --- even the prior fear of 100's of clamoring birders traipsing into an area, in retrospect, now seems misplaced (the vast majority of birders lack the backwoods skills, gear/equipment, or even funding and time-off from work, to make extended sojourns to such areas --- still, it only takes a few unthinking or ill-intentioned individuals to ruin a situation for everyone else). So, though skeptics have had a 'chilling effect' on the widespread dissemination of less-than-definitive information, conclusive documentation, if obtained, will likely be released relatively quickly, after review by all pertinent agencies (and for those who have been asking, the Auburn 2007 Choctawhatchee summary will be out in due time, delayed only by certain vagaries of publication, not 'top-secret' findings).

Personally, I'd still look to the Gulf corridor stretching from Florida to Louisiana for the first possible IBWO documentation, but certainly others pin high hopes for an earlier find in Arkansas or South Carolina. An official North Carolina search will likely commence in January in the southeast region of that state for the first time, as well. A lot remains to be done, even with funding and interest fading. Possibly yet, an independent searcher will surprise me and accomplish what those with academic and government resources have thus far failed at, and get the first incontrovertible photo.

Maybe I should end with the final stipulation that though I trust folks I hear from, there's always that remote possibility that I'm misled and indeed something more definitive is going on behind the scenes, undisclosed (especially to bloggers ;-), that I'm unaware of --- but I'd be amaaazed... Put your hopes on the forthcoming season, and not on any extraordinary new disclosure from previous searches.


From the Web Grab Bag a couple more stories on threatened birds:




Monday, December 10, 2007


-- The Season Ahead --


The 2008 search season for Ivorybills is underway in a couple of locales with others due to start up after Christmas. Needless to say, and no matter what the outcome of debate on the Draft Recovery Plan, this is probably the last season for large-scale, organized searching if conclusive photographic evidence fails to materialize; funding and interest will wither (although no doubt smaller scale efforts and independent searchers will continue regardless for some time).
Hopefully, the desired photographic evidence will appear, but in a worst case scenario there could be increased credible sightings reported, and better, but stiiiiiiiiiiiiiiill non-definitive, photographic evidence attained. One can only imagine the rancor of the debate should that scenario arise, between those whose patience has run out and those whose patience is unbounded so long as further and better evidence continues to trickle in (...but let's hope that scenario does not attain!).


With Christmas fast-approaching I'll mention a few science-related books from the last year I'd recommend for the science-minded out there (even though probably few share my particular interests):

"The Varieties of Scientific Experience" -- Carl Sagan
"The Trouble With Physics" -- Lee Smolin
"How Mathematicians Think" -- William Byers

I'd mention a biology-related volume from the last year, except... I really haven't seen one I'm comfortable recommending! The field of 'epigenetics' though, is increasingly significant, and will probably transform many of our current ideas about genetics over time (before some other level of knowledge then supplants our ideas about epigenetics!), so a volume on that subject for the layman might be in order.


Friday, December 07, 2007


-- Response to USF&W /+Addendum--


"MMinNY" over at IBWO Researchers Forum brings to my attention (thanks!) these "Technical Comments" (pdf) from one "J. Christopher Haney" of the Defenders of Wildlife organization to the USF&W Ivorybill Draft Recovery Plan. Haney believes Ivorybilled Woodpeckers are extant, but has several misgivings/criticisms of the Draft Plan as outlined. Too many specifics and concerns to try to summarize here, except to say that he echoes, in a more detailed way, many notions that I've expressed here in the past about IBWO research and assumptions, and he offers several changes/revisions to the Plan. Worth a read (~16 pgs.).

Addendum: just found this additional somewhat prescient 1998 article with Dr. Haney as senior author, having to do with the endangered Kirtland's Warbler:



from the Web Grab Bag, 2 stories to bring a smile to your face:

1. a short barn owl story from India


2. thanks to Birdchick blog for bringing this YouTube offering of an unbelievable crow/cat friendship to my attention:




Wednesday, December 05, 2007


-- Passages --


Just some passages today quoted from Cornell's recent summary report:

"We have long hypothesized that the WRNWR was the likely “source” for the bird(s) documented in 2004 and early 2005, justifying continued searching in this large area."

"Throughout the 5-month field season, the official search team logged 24 possible IBWO encounters that included sufficient detail to warrant the completion of field observation forms and entry into our database. The search team followed up on all of these encounters by reviewing all reports and evidence and redirecting specific search efforts when appropriate. Thirteen encounters were acoustic and eleven were visual. Cornell volunteers reported 10 encounters, 8 were reported by search team staff, and 6 visual encounters were reported by the public."

"Most of the encounters reported by our staff and volunteers in 2006–07 consisted of short visual or audio detections. A few encounters, involving longer periods of observation, have been reported by members of the public, but in these cases the observer’s lack of bird-identification experience has clouded definitive identification of the bird. Nonetheless, each year a handful of detections stand out above the dozens that we review.
In 2006–07, there was a concentration of potential detections at the Wattensaw WMA. These included seven visual and eight acoustic encounters. Although none were definitive, two sightings by R. Everett (a hunter) and one by A. Mueller (AR TNC) were particularly notable. On 31 December Everett described watching a perched bird for 7–8 minutes. During his observation he reported seeing a white “saddle” on the bird’s back consistent with IBWO. Mueller’s sighting is notable because of his extensive bird-identification experience and familiarity with bottomland hardwood forest ecosystems."

"Although no single detection was definitive, the concentration of potential encounters during a short period of time in the relatively small Wattensaw WMA justifies follow-up search efforts. In 2007–08 we plan to conduct thorough searches of Wattensaw WMA and surrounding private lands, including cavity inventories and associated deployments of Reconyx cameras."

"In 2006–07 we searched 5,269 ha that had been previously unsearched, bringing the total search coverage to 36,732 ha or about 16.5% of the total forested area of the Big Woods. Much of the new area added was a result of searching Wattensaw WMA, which previously received very little search activity. With the exception of Jack’s Bay, Prairie Lakes, and the BDV/Dagmar complex, a high proportion of our search area (74%) received coverage in only one of three years. Furthermore, our spatial analyses of cumulative search effort and habitat suitability reveal that the North Unit of the WRNWR has the largest remaining area of unsearched and potentially suitable habitat for IBWOs."

"A primary goal for the 2007–08 field season will be to complete thorough searches of identified areas of suitable habitat in the North Unit of WRNWR and make repeat visits to prioritized patches previously receiving only one visit. Accomplishing this goal will require a change in strategy. As opposed to large teams of staff and volunteers working from permanent housing in St. Charles, we plan to establish a team of four to six field biologists who will use Cook’s Lake as a base camp. The team will camp in the forest near potential search areas in the North Unit to facilitate early morning and late day coverage."

"The central Pascagoula basin is excellent habitat and ranks second only to Congaree National Park as an area of high quality hardwood habitat for IBWOs."

"Several of the search areas explored by the Mobile Search Team stand out as high quality habitat with the potential to support IBWOs. Areas that best match Tanner’s description of habitats occupied by the species in the Singer Tract in the 1930s are Congaree National Park (SC) and the Big Swamp in the Pascagoula drainage (MS). Areas with old cypress-tupelo forest resembling the woodpeckerrich forests of Bayou de View are found at Duck Lake and Upper Flat Lake in the Atchafalaya basin (LA). In the Cutoff Island region of the Apalachicola drainage (FL) a mix occurs of maturing hardwoods and old cypress-tupelo stands. The Pascagoula (MS), Escambia (FL), and Big Thicket/ Steinhagen Lake (TX) areas have increased numbers of standing dead trees in the wake of recent hurricanes. With the exception of Congaree, all of these areas have now been searched or scouted for less than 30 person-days, and they include large or fairly large areas of potential habitat. More search effort is needed in these areas of high quality habitat. Areas that have not yet been explored and may have potential include the Mobil River (AL), the Savannah River on the GA-SC border, and several additional rivers in Florida."

....and we'll finish with the words of Roger Tory Peterson upon seeing Ivorybills in the Singer Tract in 1942 (from his "Birds Over America" volume):

"By noon, we were back at the spot, down the road, where we had seen so many diggings the day before. We would make another sortie before throwing in the sponge. Hardly had we gone a hundred yards when a startling new sound came from our right --- an indescribable tooting note, musical in a staccato sort of way. For a moment it did not click, but then I knew --- it was the Ivory-bill ! I had expected it to sound more like a nuthatch; it was much more like the 'toy tin trumpet' described by Alexander Wilson or the 'clarinet' of Audubon. Breathlessly we stalked the insistent toots, stepping carefully, stealthily, so that no twig would crack. With our hearts pounding we tried to keep cool, hardly daring to believe that this was it --- that this was what we had come fifteen hundred miles to see. We were dead certain this was no squirrel or lesser woodpecker, for an occasional blow would land -- whop! -- like the sound of an axe. Straining our eyes, we discovered the first bird, half hidden by the leafage, and in a moment it leaped upward into full sunlight. This was no puny pileated; this was a whacking big bird, with great white patches on its wings and a gleaming white bill. By its long recurved crest of blackish jet we knew it was a female. We were even close enough to see its pale yellow eyes. Tossing its hammer-like head to the right and left, it tested the diseased trunk with a whack or two as it jerked upward. Lurching out to the end of a broken-off branch, it pitched off on a straight line, like a duck, its wings making a wooden sound."

Good luck to all the 2007-8 searchers as a new season gets underway.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007


-- Not For Math Phobes --


In mathematics there are just as many odd numbers as there are total integers (odd and even numbers combined). There are just as many points in a 3-inch line as in a 6-inch line. And just as many points in each of those as in a 6-inch square... or for that matter a 50-mile square.
And yes, I think this actually has some pertinence to the Ivory-bill debate... but... this probably isn't the time or place to discuss it ;-))


From the Web Grab Bag, nothing at all to do with birds, but an important point (I think) made by science writer Chet Raymo here:


and here more on endangered species and politics.

Finally, lots of bloggers are linking to the NY Times article that reports the outcome of birder Jim Stevenson's Texas trial for shooting a feral cat to defend endangered birds:


The case was dismissed due to a hung jury (I'm both a cat and a bird lover, and don't understand how anyone could find Stevenson guilty of the specific charges given the wording of the Texas law as I understand it). But probably more interesting is the aftermath, less widely reported, of Stevenson receiving hate mail and hate calls, and then exiting town after claiming being shot at on his porch (though not confirmed). Controversy and questionable credibility seem to follow Jim Stevenson (earlier involved in an Ivory-bill claim) wherever he goes...

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