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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

Monday, March 31, 2008


-- March Ends --


A drrrrrumroll continues for Florida's Bill Smith who claims his self-published Ivory-bill book is sooooooon to appear, and now says it will have an "
accompanying disc with unaltered color pictures" to prove the authenticity of his wares to detractors (although I'm not quite clear how images on disc are any less susceptible to altering than those on the printed page?). There are possibly several things coming down the pike that I'm anxious to hear more about... uhhhh, but this isn't exactly one of 'em!

Speaking of images, Mike Collins publishes probably his last couple pics from the Pearl (La.) for this season
here, showing a bird flying beneath him while he was positioned high in a tree canopy. 2nd photo appears to show a possible trailing white dorsal wing edge (too few pixels to tell for sure what's goin' on), while 1st photo shows only the shadow of same bird upon water below as it flies through (actual bird hidden by vegetation) [Mike corrects me to note it is the bird's reflection upon water, not shadow, that is seen]. His explanation is here under March 30th entry. To my eye there are several possibilities, and not clear to me why he originally assumed this bird was a Wood Duck? [also, slightly further expanded by Mike in comment below]

Elsewhere on the Web:

For your sheer viewing pleasure some reeeally nice nature/bird images here:
http://wildnaturephoto.com/ --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Saturday, March 29, 2008


-- Upbeat --


There's been enough baaaaad news from around the world, as well as nationally and locally for this month, so just a few miscellaneous upbeat, non-IBWO items from the Web Grab Bag today:

I'm not generally a big 'joiner' of blog participation exercises, but Mike over at '10000birds' blog has come up with one I am comfortable taking part in, due to my fondness for Jonathan Rosen's new book, "The Life of the Skies" (my previous review of it here, but also plenty of other reviews on the Web if you google the title). Mike is giving away a few copies of the volume over the next several weeks; see contest details here:


And from Toyota, good news here.

Finally, from last week, a family portrait of the California Great Horned Owl family (ok, Dad was off galavanting around with some bimbo(wl) when this pic of insanely proud Mom and kids was snapped)... say, 'cheeeese' :

The little buggers have already grown considerably on pigeon-and-squirrel sushi since this pic was snapped. Keep up with them here:


Friday, March 28, 2008


-- Ta Daaaa --


Ask and you shall receive.... newest update from Cornell's Mobile Team now posted here. A few nice pics from South Florida, and some habitat they view favorably, but nothing more substantial to report of IBWO presence. Also, no indication if they are still in S. Florida (last posting, Mar. 6) or have by now moved north.

Also, New York birder Rich Guthrie, who last year reported an Ivory-bill sighting as part of Cornell's volunteer Arkansas team, reports no such luck this season after a recent two-week stint in the Big Woods, reported here:



-- The Weekend Awaits --


Cornell's latest "brownies and ice cream" update from Arkansas ;-) here. Still awaiting to hear from their Mobile Search Team's current efforts. Meantime, Mike Collins reports having only a few days left in the Pearl River for this season before heading back home to Virginia.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


-- A Few Comments on "Comments" --


Lest it be useful to others, just passing along some things regarding blog comments that has surfaced in email exchanges with some readers:

1. First, there is a glitch with some blogger accounts, such that 'comments' don't always get successfully sent when you hit the "send" button --- IF the comment was sent, then it disappears from view on your screen and you get a message at top confirming that it was sent and is awaiting moderation. IF, after striking the 'send' button, your comment still appears on the page and there is no such message at top, then it was NOT sent, and you need to try sending it again. If in doubt, it is always better to re-send a comment since I can cancel out any duplications at my end.

2. My personal view is that comments, especially on a controversial topic, should somehow move the discussion along, not just be idle conversation or simple "yays" or "nays." At one stretch of time I had a general rule-of-thumb that comments of one sentence or less got rejected 'cuz there was little of substance that could be said in a single sentence (-- I've dropped that requirement). And despite common myth, over the history of this blog I've rejected far more "believer" comments than "skeptic" comments, because they merely re-stated what I'd already said, or simply voiced agreement with a point I was making.
At a different period of time I realized that by publishing "snarky" one-sentence comments from skeptics, it would actually show them in a bad, shallow light!!, so I resumed posting those comments until they got too ridiculous or repetitive, and I truly did them a favor by again rejecting such terse babble (...but I've never rejected skeptics' comments that took the time to seriously address an issue, or thoughtfully put forth an argument ).

3. Last year I made the decision early-on to turn off comments during the summer months when there is little new going on, and turn them back on come January 1, with winter searches again underway. It's possible I'll do the same this coming summer, though that depends on several factors.

4. Finally, sometimes people send me emails that are essentially comments to blog posts --- I assume if you send an email it is because you DON'T want that input included in the "comments" section (or you would have sent it as a comment?). If you ever desire that something sent via email be included in the comments section, let me know that, and whether you want a name used or just an 'anonymous' label attached to it. (In fact, in general, it's always good to let me know in email if something you're passing along is intended for my eyes only or usable in a subsequent blog post if I so desire.)

Lastly, moderating comments (even as few as this blog gets) is a hassle, not only in deciding which ones to include, but in deciding whether or not to respond for the 21st time to a point being made for the 21st time, or just let it pass --- there is so little really new to be said in this debate. But it's not my intention to either encourage or discourage comments per se, though I do prefer fleshed-out, on-point, cogent comments whenever possible (civility and/or humor are ok too).

....just some housekeeping to get out-of-the-way.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


-- The Ideas of March --


Though it's tempting to say some more about the previous Pileated videos, I think I'll move along rather than further open the whole can of worms that is the Luneau video....
Once again, well over a month has passed since Cornell's last Arkansas update, nor anything new from their Mobile Team since arrival in the 'Sunshine State.' And silence on some other fronts as well. But searching continues in earnest, and if anybody's gonna locate a nesthole, this oughta be the time to do it.
Meanwhile Bill Pulliam almost waxes poetic here.

Which in turn reminds me of an old quote from Rebecca Solnit that I included here over two years ago:
"The reappearance of the [Ivory-billed] woodpecker seems like a second chance --- a chance to expand its habitat, to get it right this time. Maybe that's what links the big surprises of 2005, this sense that there can be another unexpected round, the tenth inning in which the outcome could be different; that failure and devastation are not always final...
The woodpecker was a spectacular thing unto itself, but also a message that we don't really know what's out there, even in the forests of the not-very-wild southeast, let alone the ocean depths from which previously uncatalogued creatures regularly emerge. Late last month, University of Alaska marine biologists reported seven new species found during an expedition under the arctic ice that uncovered a much richer habitat with far more fauna than anticipated...
The woodpecker is a small story; the big environmental story of our time is about extinctions and endangerments, about creatures and habitats moving toward the very brink this bird came back from; but this small story suggests that there are still grounds to hope --- to doubt that we truly know exactly what is out there and what is possible. Hope is not history's Barcalounger, as is often thought: it requires you get back out there and protect that habitat or stop that war. It is not the same as optimism, the belief that everything will probably turn out all right despite your inactivity, the same kind of inactivity that despair begets. Hope involves a sense of possibility, but with it comes responsibility."

Carry on folks, azaleas and redbuds are blooming, it's springtime in the Southeast.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


-- Not Ivory-bills, but.... --


YouTube clips of Pileated Woodpeckers, the first, at a distance, showing 2 birds in courting(?) mode, and involving a bit of ground level dance I've not seen before. The second, closer up, is also labeled "mating ritual," though I think it is actually 2 males(?) in a territorial wrangle (...or maybe they're just gay ;-)

Addendum (see comments below): here are direct links to M.Collinson's take on these videos: here and here.


Sunday, March 23, 2008


-- Of Jackrabbits and Ivorybills --


A 'cautionary tale' with at least a smidgen of pertinence (false extinctions, weak assumptions, bias, rush-to-judgment) here:


and a further take on it here.



Friday, March 21, 2008


-- What, Me Worry ;-) --


Treatise #178 ;-) :

The seeming shyness and scarcity of sound from the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is often a subject of discontent among skeptical participants in this debate. At his blog, Jim McCormac (like others) worries over differences between the Ivory-bill and its Central American cousin, the Pale-billed Woodpecker, here:


But comparing behaviors of one species in one locale with a remnant population of a different species in an entirely different locale is always fraught with uncertainty. Moreover, what I believe commentators continually underestimate is the combined effects of natural selection, rarity, and large spaces. Species that come under heavy hunting pressure, over time, will naturally select for those individuals most wary of humans, leading to future generations that purposely avoid humans, as the wariest individuals survive and pass on their genes. When those future progeny are very scarce, inhabiting immense areas, and able to cover wide spaces, the scarcity of sound (and sightings for that matter) is not hard to account for.

Most readers have likely heard crows with some frequency in their area, but what if one could somehow distinguish the sounds of individual crows, and instead of simply listening for the presence of crows I asked you to listen for 'crow #12' and 'crow #38' ? --- that is more akin to the dilemma facing IBWO searchers listening for paltry few birds over wide distances. Some will argue that the Ivory-bill can't both be that scarce, yet also populous enough to be reproductively viable. But animals seeking mates do routinely find one another over huge distances, and a single IBWO pair could produce a couple dozen offspring in a lifetime, easily off-setting other losses and failures, and permitting a stable-state population to exist at low levels for decades across the southeast.

Purported Ivory-bill sounds and sightings will in fact likely continue to trickle in at a slow rate (whether any will be universally convincing or accompanied by a photograph/video, only time will tell) --- were they coming in at a far greater rate then, yes, one might more understandably expect definitive evidence of the species by now; but coming in at the rate they are, the difficulty of conclusive evidence is not so impossibly hard to fathom.

Somewhere in a comment below I wrote that "initial assumptions" are often the Achilles heel of science. It is indeed initial, ingrained, blind, and unproven assumptions that too many skeptics are married to (and don't even recognize having), that in large part this entire debate turns on. Having read a lot of the history and methods of the physical sciences, I'm not willing to be driven by initial assumptions; on-the-other-hand, I find that Ivory-bill skeptics, and frankly, biologists in general, are usually stubbornly unwilling to lay them aside.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


-- 'cuz, It's the Law --


Following up a bit on Arthur C. Clarke's 3 laws I came across these additional precepts that might eventually impinge upon the Ivory-bill saga ;-) :

Sturgeon's Revelation: "90% of everything is crap."

Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

Hofstadter's Law: "It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law."
[ you may need to be familiar with Douglas Hofstadter's writings to fully appreciate this one ]

and finally, Sosensky's 3rd Law of Birding: "Woodpeckers and creepers spend more time on the far side of the trunk."

which reminds me, if you've never perused them before, the "Universal Laws of Birding" can be found here:


Elsewhere on the Web:

Out California-way, all three of Momma Owl's eggs hatched and nestlings appear to be doing well, making more regular appearances from beneath Mom's underside. I believe their names are Fuzzy, Wuzzy, and Scuzzy (...uhh, but Scuzzy prefers to be addressed as Sir Bartholomew):

And if you're into cranes, as a lot of birders are, I hope you caught this post last week at the "pinesabovesnow" blog:


...all for now.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


-- Clarke's 3 Laws --


....Arthur C. Clarke 1917 - 2008.... R.I.P.

His 3 laws.


Saturday, March 15, 2008


-- Florida --


The state of Florida has had more Ivory-bill rumors in the last 60 years than any other state, and still today holds more suitable habitat than any other region. It was also one of the very last areas where James Tanner confidently believed the species to reside. Though the most recent focus has been on the panhandle area (Choctawhatchee), historically, several areas of north, central, and south Florida were probably of greater interest at different times, and despite development, continue to hold promise. The Apalachicola/Chipola river system received wide attention (and was the source of many claims) in the past, and still does, in part because of the sheer difficulty of ever conducting thorough searches of that huge region. In past times, the Big Cypress area and Everglades regions in the south held interest as well. And in more recent times Jerry Jackson has expressed especial interest in the Suwannee swamp area, and also the Fakahatchee Strand, while others have especially touted the Wacissa and Aucilla River systems as areas of promise, among yet other less-publicized, but interesting bottomland tracts. In terms of habitat, geography, history, and sheer volume of reports, Florida is the single most likely state for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers to reside in, though many other states maintain the possibility.


Friday, March 14, 2008


-- And More --


Here is what James Tanner wrote about overhead looks of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers distinguishing them from Pileateds:
"The important field character is that the white on the wing is on the rear half. By comparison a Pileated is stocky with shorter wings, the tail is slightly forked, and the white is on the front half of the wing.
To summarize, the position of the white on the wing is by far the most reliable field character at all times."
Is that clear enough for anybody? The leading edge is NOT a good indicator (stop depending on paintings in field guides by people who never saw the bird in the wild); moreover, the primaries are highly variable from bird to bird, and people do not notice bills in rapid overhead flights when they're trying to focus on body features, and even if they did, bill color depends on light and shadows and movement, not to mention you primarily only see the lower mandible from below (I can imagine how many different answers I'd get for the color of a Great Blue Heron's bill from observers viewing from below).

Again, I stand by what I've stated previously: IF John Agnew's sketch is reasonably accurate of what he saw (and by that I principally mean the depiction of the white secondaries) there is little realistic option but that it be an Ivory-billed Woodpecker; if the sketch is inaccurate than we cannot know what he saw without knowing the specific inaccuracies.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


-- And So It Goes --


John Agnew turns in a loose description, sketch, and report of an Ivorybill sighting and already gets savaged for its imperfections in some internet quarters. If a field sketch and/or notes are too textbook, mind you (as in the David Kullivan case), they're accused of being falsely concocted. If they are rough (from a fleeting sighting) with possible errors they are too poor and shouldn't even be reported, say some. Don't report good sightings, they're not believable; don't report weak sightings, they're not worth it... Deja vu, for 60 years. Some of the statements seen around the Web critiquing John's report border on nonsensical, while masquerading as "science."
Yet NOT a single critiquing individual suggests what the bird sketched by John would be if not an Ivory-bill.... because there is NO reasonable alternative. I have no idea how accurate John's sketch is of what he saw, but, IF accurate, there is no other North American bird candidate the drawing could likely represent except an Ivory-billed Woodpecker (...so of course skeptics presume, in their perverse reverse thinking, it simply can't be accurate).
While skeptics accuse searchers of acting on anticipation, expectation, and wishful thinking, amazingly it is many skeptics at this point who have handcuffed themselves to a single viewpoint, locked into rigid expectations and preconceptions, long ago abandoning any real objectivity... and calling the kettle black.

When Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler radically argued that the world was heliocentric (Earth going around the sun), Ptolemy and his followers simply produced increasingly complex models of epicycles upon epicycles and spheres upon spheres to show that any new data could be accounted for in a geocentric model (Earth as center of universe) --- there was always a possible counter-explanation to heliocentrism. Some modern-day skeptics' roots go back a long way.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


-- Wednesday Miscellany --


Dr. Greg Lewbart and wife, part of last season's Choctawhatchee search team, were interviewed on an NPR station today, available here:


Elsewhere on the Web:

Artist John Agnew, who had the Florida Ivory-bill sighting reported previously, has a website for his general artwork here (some nice stuff):


The California Great Horned Owl nest on webcam has hatched out at least one baby by now, though Mom is usually covering the helpless nestling from sight:


And here, some good news (maybe), and some bad news.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


-- Stuff --


Finally, an update (reporting to the end of Feb.) from Cornell's Mobile Team covering time spent in the Pearl River region (Louisiana) followed by week or more around the Pascagoula (Mississippi), one of the favored spots from last season. They are apparently now in southern Florida (unless they've already left to travel further north) and possibly areas that didn't get much coverage last season (no Ivorybill encounters reported thus far):


Feel the need to address one other issue lest it be confusing to others out there. The John Agnew sighting linked to yesterday includes a sketch of the underwing of the bird he saw, which some, elsewhere on the Web, are erroneously claiming is a WRONG sketch for an Ivory-bill. There may or may not be problems with John's report, but the sketch is reasonably dead-on! This matter has been discussed at length before; the underwing as perceived in the field will not necessarily (or even usually) match the depictions done in field guides which are based upon museum specimens in the hand; in short, the white along the leading underwing edge (prominently depicted in field guides) doesn't necessarily appear to a typical observer. Professional artist Julie Zickefoose (among several) explained it over two years ago on my blog as follows in reference to a famous Arthur Allen photo of the IBWO:

"Here's what's happening in that photo, and in life:
The famous (and only good) Arthur Allen photo of the flying ivory-bill was taken from beneath, with bright overhead lighting. As such, the white secondaries and inner primaries are illuminated and clearly read as white. The white lining of the underwing, which includes the underwing coverts and feathering along the ventral surface of the patagium, does not appear white in this photo because it is in shadow, and the light is not shining through it. If you look at any photo of a flying bird, taken from below and brightly lit from above, light is able to pass only through the flight feathers along the trailing edge of the wing, since there's only one layer of feathers there. Light really can't pass through a patagium, since it's heavily feathered, and there's skin and bone to further block that light. So, confusingly, this "wing lining" appears dark in the photo. But rest assured that Roger Peterson and other careful bird painters did get it right. And field guide plates emphasize local color rather than artifacts of light, because their mission is to show what color the bird actually is, rather than the color it may appear to be."
How many white primaries an observer might be expected to see in a flapping Ivorybill overhead is also difficult to know, given that, by far, most of the white is confined to secondaries in the underwing. And one thing is for sure, Agnew's sketch, as drawn, certainly couldn't have depicted a Pileated Woodpecker, but yes, it does fairly match an Ivory-bill.
As I've said before, with so many liars or fools apparently out there (in the skeptics' assessment), it's a wonder any data from Christmas or spring bird counts is ever taken seriously given its wholly unrigorous nature. Show me a report of 20 Starlings on a Christmas count and I'll give you a dozen different ways that report might be false or mistaken (yet with no verification whatsoever, most of us will accept the report no questions asked... because birding ain't rocket science and never will be).

To end on a lighter note, Martin Collinson, has produced one fine hat for birding (spiffy!!) at his site. If he can just have it done in green camo maybe it could become requisite attire for swamp searchers everywhere... or... maybe not.

Monday, March 10, 2008


-- New Choctawhatchee Update --


New update from Auburn's Dr. Hill here, reporting further possible auditory and brief sight encounters of Ivorybills in January (including possible double sighting on Jan. 12 --- observer's description of one of those 2 sightings is further linked to here). Nothing new that will excite cynics, nor any photos attained, but enough to maintain high interest in the Florida panhandle site.


Sunday, March 09, 2008


-- Speaking of Film --


Brief interview in the Washington Post with George Butler whose "The Lord God Bird" film premiered in Washington DC this weekend (is this really the final cut???): [ Correction: it premieres next Fri. ]


Coincidentally, Alex Karpovsky's fictionalized IBWO movie, "Woodpecker" premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in Texas this weekend:


However, have not seen any listings for showings of Scott Crocker's independent film, "Ghost Bird" ??? :


Finally, David Luneau has posted these stills of Pileated Woodpeckers in flight taken recently by an automatic camera setup in Arkansas:


....now if we can just get the film we really want. . . .

Friday, March 07, 2008


-- Captured On Film... --


...made ya look...

okay, this large, black-and-white critter captured on film is NOT avian, but rather a rare wolverine, photographed by remote research camera in California, where many thought the species was extirpated (last documented sighting going back to the 1920s). hmmmm.... has a familiar ring to it. The story here:


And, speaking of birds, here a story on "Beck's Petrel" being rediscovered after an 80-year absence:


Meanwhile, Bill Pulliam on his blog (which touches on Ivorybill subject matter on occasion), takes issue with one of Mike Collins' claims from last year here:


.... a happy birthday to Mike, by the way, who turned 50 today, or as I'm sure he'd rather not think of it, a half-century-old as of Friday.


Elsewhere on the Web:

I've never actually been a huge fan of John James Audubon's paintings (although I certainly recognize their historical value), but for the many who are, his complete bird paintings have now been posted online by the University of Pittsburg here:


Probably, my personal favorite from his work is his lively rendition of a certain fascinating extinct southern species (no, NOT the Ivorybill).


Wednesday, March 05, 2008


-- Cornell Update --


Latest Cornell Arkansas search team update is now posted here (though ends as of Feb 14, almost 3 weeks ago):


Reminiscent of some of the Mobile Team posts, it's a bit long on dietary information and a tad short of anything much Ivorybill-wise! Also, oddly neglects to summarize in any way the prior helicopter searches, which barely get a mention, though played up earlier on.

I suspect this means a Mobile Team update will follow shortly as well. The Mobile Team has apparently backtracked to the west from their last posted Alabama location, as one might've expected. They would appear to have a lot of ground to cover in the next couple months.


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