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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

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.

A Pileated with backlight secondaries is actually what came to mind when I saw the sketch. Even if the Ivorybill were just an *ordinary* rare bird, apparent white secondaries as viewed from below without any other supporting characteristics, from an observer who has not seen the species before (i.e. any and all of us), would not be adequate even for a Christmas Count. How many Redtails have we ALL seen that appeared to have white tails briefly when they flew overhead? That does not make them Ferruginous Hawks. There is also the problem that we don't know much about this observer. A bird painter is not necessarily an experienced birder.
Thought you might find this interesting:
I agree, Bill, there's a lot we DON'T know; my only point is that, starting with no assumptions, the sketch by itself, looks more like an IBWO than anything else by far; I don't believe a backlit PIWO is even close, given how white he says the secondaries were. Once one makes assumptions about the sketch and the sighter you can turn the bird into whatever want, including a blue jay. Initial assumptions are the Achilles heel of science.
I'm just approaching it like a rare bird report (imagine that!), nothing more. The fact that the sketch doesn't actually match either a Pileated or an Ivorybill very well means it is either a poor sketch or a poor sighting. Either way, it's not much use and the Hill team should have just filed it away in the "odd reports" file. If I report a Willet, and I sketch it with a bold white wing stripe but also a long decurved bill and bright yellow legs, you should just dismiss my report entirely. You shouldn't start debating whether it was a Willet, a Whimbrel, or a Yellowlegs. It's just a bird that was not observed well enough to be identified. Period. This is not personal about the observer, it's just an assessment of the documentation provided.

-- Things that are at odds with Pileated in the report: Bright white secondaries, giss with no direct comparison.

-- Things that are at odds with Ivorybill: Dark primaries, dark underwings, white bill not noted.

That's not a match with either. You can't just pick and chose the bits you like.
I don't think it makes sense to be a backlit Pileated anyway since the bird was flying eastward in the direction of the sun rising at 8:20 in the morning. Plus a Pileated has A LOT more white on the neck and chin and then you have the tranluscent secondaries and an observer very familier with Pileateds (also another person independently saw the same bird and IDed it as an Ivory bill).

Cyber and Bill what do you think??
There is not enough detail to identify it.

Don't string it, file it. As 'interesting' if you like. As Bill said, people picking the bits they like and turning it into what they wish it to be, is the entire story of the whole IBWO episode of late.
"There is not enough detail to identify it."

no there isn't, but oddly there is enough detail to eliminate more than 99.5% of all N. American birds, and it just happens to include one of the MOST salient features of an overhead IBWO; not that any of that bears importance if one has already made one's mind up.
I presume that the more than 99.5% elimated just leaves Pileated and one or two others then? Someone on another post stated the chap wasn't using binoculars either Cyber. Can you comment on this and shed some light please?
I only have access to the same written report that everyone else has access to. According to that statement John was in the middle of raising a camera to the bird as it perched (and so I assume did not have binos in hand) when the bird flew off tree and directly over his head 15 ft. above! At 15 ft. he wouldn't have needed binos to pick up various details, in fact depending on what model he owns, binos may have even hindered a focused look at the bird at that point. He says he could "clearly see the field marks of the Ivory-bill." This is just one more report out of many, with its strengths and weaknesses, to add to the full range of evidence.
That's mighty close for a super elusive bird?
that's mighty close for a super elusive bird?
Why do people assume that the IBWO is super elusive? Why would it suddenly change it's behavior, when it didn't do so while it was hunted?

in answer to your question Owlman, the supposition is that any birds that survived hunting/collecting would be the most wary/elusive birds of the population; their offspring would carry that trait on for generations; natural selection at work.And I don't care for the phrase "super elusive;" they are just routinely elusive like turkeys, quail, grouse, some ducks, and any no. of other species that come under hunting pressure... but they are waaaaaaaay fewer in number and THAT yields the illusion of 'super elusiveness.'
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