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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

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


-- April Ends --


Artist, writer, speaker, Indy film aficionado, and sometime birder, David Sibley, was recently spotted at a film festival showing of Alex Karpovsky's docu-drama about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, perhaps satiating his discreet infatuation with the elusive nemesis species ;-))) :


The film's next showing, BTW,
will be this coming weekend, May 4, during the Maryland Film Festival in Baltimore, for any others similarly obsessed...

Meanwhile, Cornell's Mobile Team has updated their travel log. Annoyingly, they continue to chatter much about non-IBWO related matters, while revealing little as to their judgment of various habitat and locales. I assume places visited are being scored or ranked in some manner as to their suitability for Ivory-bills and the advisability of more intensive future searches, but from the log posts one can hardly tell if this is the case... or is it possible they are not finding any areas worthy of further time and effort??? A lot remains to be sorted out for next year's scaled-back efforts.

Monday, April 28, 2008


-- Tanner On the Imperial --


Found this 1964 paper by James Tanner on his 1962 search for the Imperial Woodpecker in Mexico an interesting read:


or same piece here in html format: http://tinyurl.com/3qa8xy

Especially interesting that he concludes that hunting, and not habitat loss, is the principal reason for decline of this particular species.

... on a sidenote, a poster at IBWO Researchers Forum notes that the automatic ACONE cameras at Bayou de View (ARK.) have been removed due to incredibly high water levels there. I would think this would mean that many, maybe even all, the Reconyx cameras in the area also had to be removed by now. After a prolonged period of drought throughout much of the southeast many IBWO search areas have been heavily flooded over off-and-on this season.


-- Of Some Note --


I've always been pleasantly surprised by the fascination people have with Albert Einstein, not just his science (which most of us can't deeply-understand), but the rest of his life as well --- indeed Time Magazine named him, among quite a panoply, as 'Man of the Century,' and repeated biographies of him become best-sellers.

In American birding we have our own 'Einstein' of sorts: This is the 100th anniversary year of Roger Tory Peterson's birth. I dare say no matter which side of the Ivory-bill debate a person stands Roger, with his many talents, is likely one of one's heroes. Last year, "Roger Tory Peterson: A Biography," by Douglas Carlson, came out to very favorable reviews. During a stop at the bookstore this weekend I was 'pleasantly surprised' again to already find another new biography of the man who started it all for so many of us: "Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson," by Elizabeth Rosenthal. May the treatises on his wonderful life and accomplishments, which made being an oddball kid with a fancy for birds, not so oddball for later generations, keep coming. Attention that is well-deserved, and might one day rival John James Audubon for whom there also exist a surprisingly long list of popular bios.

[ Roger Tory Peterson Institute here: http://www.rtpi.org/?page_id=20 ]
"Reluctant at first to accept the straightjacket of a world I did not comprehend, I finally, with the help of my hobby, made some sort of peace with society." -- Roger Tory Peterson

Over a year ago on this blog I suggested a bumper sticker that I thought had some merit: "WWRTPD" (What would Roger Tory Peterson do?) Yeah, its audience would be limited to be sure, but I'll offer it up again, free for the taking, should anyone wish to run with it in this year of honor for a man who instructed and inspired us all (...and BTW, who, unlike most others, kept the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in his field guides to his very end ;-)))

Sunday, April 27, 2008


-- Sunday Meditation --


Just some passages from astronomer Chet Raymo today taken from his 2003 book, "The Path: a One-Mile Walk Through the Universe" :
"...however one chooses to romanticize what in retrospect seems a fetching life, it is impossible to reclaim it... Technology -- with its awesome potential and perils -- is here to stay.
The inventory of Earth's living species currently stands somewhere near 2 million. There are almost certainly at least ten times as many species that have not yet been described and named --- the true number of species may be more than 100 million. Many of these are inevitably doomed by human population growth....

All life --- the whole glorious parade along the path --- depends upon the photosynthesizers... With the invention of photosynthesis, life plugged into a star, and the battle against entropy was won. The universe continues to run down, as it must, but on the surface of the earth there spreads out a film of highly ordered matter of marvelous complexity and resourcefulness. The one-celled organisms that ruled the Earth 3 billion years ago were no more advanced than the scum that lives on our shower curtains, but that scum had evolved the ability to make carbohydrates with sunlight... Animals developed along a different branch of the evolutionary tree, and it seems unlikely that you and I had photosynthesizers among our ancestors. But the tree of life is a web of interdependence. Green leaves are our necessary link to our yellow star.

...The Arcadian ideal of humans living in harmony with tamed nature did not begin with Frederick Law Olmsted, Capability Brown, or even the supposed Peloponnesian paradise itself (witness the more ancient myth of the Garden of Eden), nor was it discredited by the obscenities of the twentieth century's wars, the Great Depression, or the grimmer excesses of technology. It is a sturdy old myth, and in it we might still hope to combine the Enlightenment, with its confidence in the power of the human mind to make sense of the world, and romanticism, with its belief that all of life is a miracle. Along the one-mile walk of the path, I have found these ostensibly competing tendencies happily fused: order and surprise, artificial and natural, civilized and wild, human self-interest and organic wholeness.
....About half of the earth's land surface is presently exploited by humans, and all of the land and water surface is touched in some way by the waste products of human cunning...
The technological products of human ingenuity represent an inevitable stage in planetary evolution, yet our Arcadian yearnings are dictated by millions of years of pretechnological human evolution. It is a conundrum of human life that our intellects have outraced our instincts; cultural evolution has overtaken organic evolution. Biologically, we are hunter-gatherers who suddenly find ourselves in command of almost unimaginable powers for planetary transformation."
....and lastly this thought from E.O. Wilson:
"If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos. "

Friday, April 25, 2008


-- YouTube Piece --


Just an old YouTube offering to tide things over during the current IBWO news lull:

Meanwhile, independent searcher Richard Lyttle is asking for additional help from any volunteers for his efforts along the Santee area in S. Carolina. His website here: http://www.ibwsearches.com/
The official IBWO search in the Congaree is probably winding down about now for this season; don't know if any veterans of that effort care to assist Richard.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


-- Quick Correction --


Just a quick correction to post of couple days ago: a reader informs me the Cornell Mobile Team is still in Fla., currently North Florida, before their return to Ark.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


-- Killing Time --


For what it's worth....

Some pics of Louisiana's Atchafalaya region here:


...and another story of potential problems with an endangered species plan here:


Again, this gets at the problem I was trying to expose in the "Parable" post, that many such plans are potentially flawed; their short-term success questionable, and their long term success usually doomed (given a long enough term). I certainly don't oppose such efforts, but the chances of full success are more limited than often implied. Moreover, there are sometimes pork-barrel-like politics involved when individuals vigorously want certain pet projects, that are NOT guaranteed of success, funded at the expense of other projects also not guaranteed of success. The way to save species is to save habitat, and unlike many other endangered species, the IBWO search focuses attention on 100s of 1000s of acres of habitat across a wide expanse of land --- yes, it could all come to naught, but the evidence and verdict is far from in, despite what some choose to contend.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


-- Mobile Team --


Cornell's Mobile Team's latest update is now up covering their travels in the Mangrove forests, Everglades, and Fakahatchee Strand of South Florida, with no breaking IBWO news. Update only goes through March 26th, almost 4 weeks ago. I suspect by now they're well on their way back to Arkansas or even there already.


Monday, April 21, 2008


-- ??????? --


In possibly more discouraging news, just noticed this brief note from LSU's James Van Remsen on the Louisiana birding listserv today in regard to the La. IBWO search:
"LA DWF sponsored a 4-person, 30-day search of the best habitats in Pearl River WMA in Jan/Feb, and they did not detect any evidence for presence of IBWO."
Can I assume this is in fact a reference to THIS year (if so, did they have any contact with Mike Collins)??? I had not heard of the LSU folks spending any significant time in the Pearl of late (...if anything, one might expect them to be spending time in the Atchafalaya this season?). (Their 2002 effort was a similar 6-person, 30-day Jan/Feb search of the Pearl.)

In other news, in early March I briefly mentioned here the surprise finding (by remote camera) in California of a wolverine long thought to be extirpated from the area. Here an interesting follow-up report to that story demonstrating that controversy isn't unique to the Ivory-bill situation.


-- A Parable --


An old parable tells of a young boy who spies an old man early one morning walking along the shoreline, picking up starfish in the sand and tossing them into the sea. The boy runs up and asks, "What are you doing old man?" To which the man explains, "These starfish were stranded in the sand overnight by the tide, and if they don't get back in the water before the sun rises they will bake and die here." The boy looks far down the shoreline and says, "but old man there are thousands of starfish along this beach, what possible difference do you think your efforts can make?" The old man picks up another, tossing it into the waves, and responds, "it made a difference to THAT one."

Our efforts in conservation are frankly miniscule, and almost meaningless, in the grand scheme of things, yet it is still imperative we make such efforts on behalf of whatever remnant of moral authority we have as humans.
I'd almost rather not write this post but increasingly feel pushed to, since skeptics now give so much weight to the notion that dollars spent on the IBWO is wasted while other endangered species go begging. OPEN YOUR EYES! --- MOST current endangered species, as well as most wild vertebrate life, on this continent WILL be largely GONE within a few hundred years no matter how short-term money is spent; THAT is the unstoppable trajectory that human development is on; if someone can paint me a realistic scenario in which that is NOT the case I'd be curious to see it.

People are looking 25-50 years into the future and believing that blip of time means something. It doesn't. You can kiss the condors and whooping cranes and spotted owls and most wood warblers, etc. etc. etc. goodbye. Such is the dirty little secret of human "progress." Still, morally, those of us who care about such things have no choice but to make the effort to save them anyway, for however briefly we can. It is really no different than spending enormous sums of money on medical procedures for individuals with cancer, or heart disease, or stroke, or Alzheimers, etc. to extend their lives for 5 or 10 or even 25 years --- even though they/we are all going to die in the end. If we make such efforts for individuals we should certainly do so for whole species, even if doomed. We can save some of these species long enough that our grandchildren, maybe even our great grandchildren, can see them, but if you think your great grandchildren's great grandchildren will see them you are dreaming, with little sense of the speed of oncoming changes. Apologies for my pessimism....

Working to save the Ivory-bill, even if it turned out to be gone, just might entail preserving more land and habitat than work on behalf of almost any other species now under consideration. I'm not convinced the $27 million is a wise use of dollars... problem is, I'm not convinced it isn't, and I still find the naysayers' arguments just a tad too simplistic and pollyannish about how much good it would automatically do elsewhere. Like so much in this debate, that is one great big unsettled... MAYBE.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


-- Don't Ask, Don't Tell?--


Emailers keep asking about various things/rumors... if I knew of anything impending I couldn't report it anyway, so not a lot of point in asking! But, I don't. Ground searches will be largely wound down by end of month, though various cameras/ARUs will remain up and monitored. Still awaiting a final report from Cornell's Mobile Team as to any thoughts from time spent in Florida. Don't know for sure, but I don't expect any significant results from the Auburn group in the Panhandle, nor from the Arkansas effort, nor from Texas. Tennessee of course indicated a few glimmers lately, but likely nothing conclusive. Similarly for South Carolina, and not certain they will even publicly release their findings. Don't know about Louisiana, but doubt there will be anything significant to report out of Mississippi, Alabama, or Georgia. All just hunches, and not much point to emailing me for further info/answers that I don't have (though there are a few details I'm waiting to hear more about). Officials will report things on their own timetable as appropriate. Of course there are also some independent searchers out there who don't answer to the IBWO Working Group and can report more freely. And no, I don't know anything further about Bill Smith's supposed book either. Let's see, does that about cover it. Hope I'm wrong, and there's more to certain rumors than I've gotten wind of, but not holdin' my breath. Better to maintain low expectations and maybe be surprised, than the other way around.

Otherwise, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker just keeps getting around, showing up yesterday in the "The Huffington Post" of all places. Just a brief mention many paragraphs down in a rant from Harry Fuller, but since he seems to have gotten most of it right in his essay, perhaps he's right about our friend the IBWO.


This from "Icanhascheezburger" blog:

humorous pictures


Friday, April 18, 2008


-- Weekend --


Not much news, so will just head into the weekend with this quote drawn from Morris Kline's classic, "Mathematics: the Loss of Certainty" (it is in reference to the 20th century crumbling of the foundations of mathematics):
"The developments in this century bearing on the foundations of mathematics are best summarized in a story. On the banks of the Rhine, a beautiful castle had been standing for centuries. In the cellar of the castle, an intricate network of webbing had been constructed by industrious spiders, who lived there. One day a strong wind sprang up and destroyed the web. Frantically, the spiders worked to repair the damage. They thought it was their webbing that was holding up the castle."
I think "the foundations of mathematics" could be substituted with "the existence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker," and the only question remaining then is whether the spiders represent skeptics or believers...
As an emailer recently wrote, we're heading into the bottom of the ninth (for this season), and I wish I had more to say but that's all for now.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


-- Stalking The Ghost Bird --


Only recently acquired Professor Michael Steinberg's new volume, "Stalking the Ghost Bird," about the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Louisiana (buy here or here). Not finished with it, but will say a few things, since some emailers have asked about it:

The book is highly anecdotal, which both makes it interesting, but also easily dismissable by critics. But within those anecdotes it gives a little more of the flavor of the many Ivory-bill sightings which have occurred throughout the southeast over the years (even though it largely focuses on La.), but aren't always widely publicized. Indeed, several names, both professionals and average Joes, that are prominent in this book, aren't seen much or at all in some other Ivory-bill volumes (BTW, Mike Collins' work at the Pearl is not included in the book, for anyone wondering -- much of the book was probably written prior to Mike's efforts). The author and most of those he interviews clearly believe in the species' likely persistence. A nice, brief summary of major sighting claims across the south over the decades is given at book's end.

At a pricey $25 (or $17 Amazon) for a ~150 page book that focuses primarily on a single state it's hard for me to wholeheartedly recommend it to all (academic press publications tend to be pricey, and not sure why this couldn't have come out directly in paperback, and cheaper), but it does fill a different niche from other IBWO books and is an enjoyable read and relatively current... so hardcore 'true believers' may well want it (IBWO skeptics will view it as more-of-the-same)... or, if the species is finally confirmed in Louisiana ahead of all other states, then... yeah, it may get snapped off the shelves.


-- Other Stuff --


Nice essay on extinction by Jonathan Rosen here (though no mention made of the Ivory-bill).

And other vitally important news of the woodpecker-variety here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


-- More From Cornell --


When Cornell's Arkansas Team never mentioned the results of their Big Woods' helicopter search in their Feb. updates, one could surmise it meant there wasn't much news to report. So not surprising that in a new Cornell summary of that endeavor, it is concluded that Ivory-bills and many other birds simply do not adequately flush for view at the sound of such overhead flights. Their summary here.

The principal piece of evidence they have is the small number (percentage-wise) of Pileateds which flushed out into the open (they have a sense of the overall numbers of Pileateds present from their extensive groundwork, and of course any IBWOs would be hugely fewer).
This reminds me that I've long wondered how many Pileateds are being captured on film by remote cameras in the Big Woods. Critics find it hard-to-imagine that, if they exist, Ivory-bills haven't yet been captured by remote cameras. Knowing the number and frequency of capturing PIWOs on film might give a slightly better indication of the likelihood that an IBWO ought to have been filmed by now. Anyone out there have such stats (both total no. of PIWOs captured, and as a percentage of all 'critters' captured on film --- one practical problem is that many shots of PIWO will be the same bird returning again and again to the same cavity or foraging site)???


And another aside:

Two men are staring at a lone sentence on a blackboard. It reads simply:

"Only an idiot would believe this sentence."

The first man asks the second, "Do you believe that sentence?"

The second man replies, "OF COURSE NOT! Only an idiot would believe that sentence."

Think about it....
(I've adapted this from one of my favorite, more unusual, internet sites: http://www.futilitycloset.com/ )

Monday, April 14, 2008


-- Southwest Arkansas --


New update from Cornell's Arkansas team with more actual details than they usually afford us, here; continued followup in western Tennessee is briefly mentioned, but most of post about investigating a previously-unsearched area of southwest Arkansas. Interesting story of an encounter with a Pileated missing all its secondaries as well. Buuut... need I say it, no headline IBWO news. Can an update from the Mobile Team now be far behind...?

Re: those inquiring emails I'm getting... no, NO, the recent blog alterations mean NOTHING... I had several changes in mind to make this summer, and seeing David Luneau's revamped website just inspired me to do a few cosmetic changes of my own right now. And there's nothing to read between the lines either. Yes, there are multiple rumors afloat... and there are ALWAYS rumors in April... nothing substantive that I'm aware of, and I've serious doubts (in terms of anything definitive) that any of it means much. But, as skeptics would say, I could be mistaken, and others may have a different take altogether. Carry on.....

Sunday, April 13, 2008


-- More Misc. --

[ -- Making a few cosmetic changes just to battle the current tedium... ]

Ventures Birding Tours has an upcoming May 8 (Thur.) outing to the Congaree in S.Carolina scheduled ($35/day). Will probably cover some of the more well-traveled areas of the park (not the more remote and vast areas of IBWO interest, but still might be of interest to some of you.

From the late Arthur C. Clarke this:
"It is really quite amazing by what margins competent but conservative scientists and engineers can miss the mark, when they start with the preconceived idea that what they are investigating is impossible. When this happens, the most well-informed men become blinded by their prejudices and are unable to see what lies directly ahead of them."

A recent post from Rich Guthrie regarding white Red-Tailed Hawks (but NOT true albinos) that I found of interest:


David Sibley has had some good discussion recently at his blog regarding a Texas border fence/wall proposed by the Feds for national security concerns, but with potentially devastating consequences for area birds. Worth checking out:


Saturday, April 12, 2008


-- Misc. --


David Luneau has re-done his Ivory-bill website here. Looks nice; same info available as before, but may have to hunt around a little bit for it if you'd gotten used to his old webpage.

See if we can nudge 'em... ;-)) --- been over a month since Cornell's Mobile Team did their last update, at that point from S. Florida....

The First Santee Birding and Nature Festival (S.Carolina) takes place next weekend (Apr. 18-20):



If you haven't checked in with the 3 California owl babies lately they're growing fast (and moving around a lot, so they're not always in camera view), and ugly as sin... NO, NO, just kidding! :


I'll replay an old riddle used here once before:

Three spiders named Mr. Ten, Mr. Nine, and Mr. Eight are crawling along an Amazonian jungle floor. One spider has 10 legs; one has 9 legs; and one has 8 legs. All of them are usually quite happy and enjoy the diversity of animals with whom they share the jungle. Today, however, the hot weather is giving them bad tempers.
“I think it is interesting,” says Mr. Ten, “that none of us have the same number of legs that our names would suggest.”
“Who the heck cares?” replies the spider with 9 legs.
How many legs does Mr. Nine have? (There is only one correct answer, and it is easily determinable from the information given, but interestingly several folks have difficulty with it).

Friday, April 11, 2008


-- More S.C. Study --


An emailer directs me to a listing of an IBWO study (of sorts) in the Congaree region apparently submitted by Ivory-bill researcher Fred Virrazzi about a month ago. It lists a contact for further info, though I'm not sure how much info they're actually giving out, nor do I personally know the specifics of the study beyond what's indicated in the title,
"Assessment of Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) and Picidae Responsiveness to Anthropomorphic Double Knocks in the Summer Season." [ You have to select the year "2007," "Congaree NP," and the subject "birds/ornithology" to get to the citation. ]


Thursday, April 10, 2008


-- FWIW --


Whatever: http://amasci.com/tesla/ballsci.txt

...and elsewhere on the Web:

If this picture is any indication of mutations-to-be, I s'pose any photograph of a purported Ivory-billed Woodpecker is also now useless as evidence; we will need DNA!

....and some more remarkable pics here (nothing to do with IBWOs):


Wednesday, April 09, 2008


-- Nothing New --


Here, report (pdf) from US Fish & Wildlife, summarizing results of the 2006-7 IBWO search season. Also includes some planning, funding, and conservation details, but nothing new in the way of evidence for the presence of Ivory-bills that wasn't already in the public domain in some form (several dozen possible auditory encounters and at most 20 potential visual encounters from across the entire southeast are cited for the season --- slightly more state-by-state detail was given in this earlier report ). And with another season now close to ending, time nears to commence another such report.

Elsewhere in the world of birds:

For your laugh of the day this story (which includes this line, just to pull you in: "Nervous postal workers in the area have been armed with water pistols".

And for your cry of the day this:


(of course skeptics already got their laughs and cries from the above US F&W summary... just thought I'd throw that in before someone sends it as a comment).

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


-- Or, Maybe Not --


An e-mailer reminds me that I haven't done a TOP 10 list for awhile, so without further ado:

Top 10 press releases from assorted skeptics in the event an Ivory-billed Woodpecker is caught on videotape:

10. Jerry Jackson: Hallelujah, hallelujah, I'm a believer!!

9. David Sibley: Get it to my studio pronto so I can sketch those coverts and secondaries!

8. Ilya MacLean: If it looks like an Ivory-bill, and it flies like an Ivory-bill, and it toots like an Ivory-bill, c'mon it's gotta be some sorta duck.

7. The Board of the American Birding Association: huuuuuhhh, say WHAAAAAT????

6. Louis Bevier: It doesn't matter a twit, the Luneau video is STIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIILL a Pileated.

5. Kenn Kaufman: DOHHHHHHH!!!

4. Patrick Coin: LORD GOD, what a videotape!!

3. Jane Turner: Ok so it's NOT a Pileated, but are we absolutely positively certain it isn't a bloody-crested, oversized, bi-laterally leucistic crow, with jaundiced eyes and steroidal albino beak-syndrome. Are we sure, huh?....

2. Martin Collinson: CRIIIIIIKEY!!!!

1. Tom Nelson: seeeee, what did I tell ya, yet more evidence that global warming is just a friggin' sham! (...oh, and puhhleeeeze everyone, stop by my blog and read today's 163 scintillating posts).

Monday, April 07, 2008


-- And The 'Expectations' Game --


Another frequent contention of skeptics is that Ivory-bill reports are simply the result of excited people going into the woods "expecting" or "anticipating" seeing the bird, even though many if not most serious IBWO claims since the 50s have come from folks who weren't even looking for the species. Indeed, if expectations were such a driving force, by now one might've expected far MORE reports during the last two years of intense searching; FAAAR more. Instead we are getting precisely what one would anticipate for an exceedingly rare species: occasional, few-and-far-between sightings, not a rash of encounters.

Moreover, expectations cut both ways: BY FAR the PRIMARY expectation for the last 6 decades of birding in southern woods has been that any large black-and-white woodpecker was a Pileated. An important question (with unknowable answer) is how many brief sightings over the years, written off as 'Pileateds,' were in fact unrealized Ivory-bills. It is the heavily-biasing expectation birders have for seeing PILEATEDS in the forest which actually needs to be recognized and adjusted, so that in the future all large B&W woodpeckers might be studied more closely, instead of routinely shrugged off.

What all the skeptics' doubts boil down to is this: no Ivory-bill report of the last 60 years has been followed up with multiple quality sightings, nor clear photos, nor roost or nesthole finds, and skeptics simply find this an unfathomable, incomprehensible, unintelligible circumstance, so great is their trust in human capabilities and thoroughness... a trust toward which, needless to say, I am highly skeptical.

Elsewhere on the Web:

"Black Swan theory"
here and here.


Sunday, April 06, 2008


-- 'Dogness' etc.... --


Suppose you see someone walking down the street accompanied by a 4-legged furry, tail-wagging critter; it's specific shape and color pattern may be different from any animal you've ever seen before... and YET you recognize it as a dog... NOT a cat, not a cow, not a goat, or horse, nor coyote, wolf, or fox, but a DOG. There are a bajillion types of dogs, and yet upon seeing one we pretty automatically know it is a dog, even if we can't recognize the breed or mix. How do we do that!?? It may not help a lot, but some would say that dogs simply have the quality of "dogness," difficult to define precisely, but still recognizable in a split-second, once ingrained in our psyche (in fact, try to come up with a verbal description/definition of dogs that would allow a stranger who's never seen one to consistently identify them, yet not call a fox a dog; it ain't easy).
Another long-time mystery of perception is how we humans are able to quickly recognize from a distance a sibling, parent, friend, etc. in different attires, under so many varying conditions/contexts, and from different angles.

Or this: take out a piece of blank paper and without looking draw from memory a detailed picture of your television set, refrigerator, washer/dryer, or similar common object/appliance in your living quarters. I'm betting your best effort will be hugely devoid of accurate detail even though you see these objects every single day, and if you walked in one afternoon and somebody had substituted a different refrig, TV, etc. for yours you would immediately notice it.

The point is, that perception is very much a kind of 'gestalt;' we routinely perceive things as a whole, and quite instantly at that, not by their components. Ivory-bills CAN be ID'd in but seconds, by gestalt, just like thousands of other bird ID's that take place every week across the land... or like recognizing your own refrigerator. In birding it's called "giss" or "jizz" or "the Cape May school," (and thank you Pete Dunne for making more people aware of it, even though they've always done it unconsciously). That doesn't mean every Ivory-bill claim is accurate; it means that people who know what IBWOs and PIWOs look like, and who are experienced with the latter, do have the ability to recognize when a large black-and-white woodpecker is NOT a Pileated, leading to one alternative.

It reminds me of the heated debate in American education over the "phonics" method versus the "look-say" method of teaching reading. In "phonics," children are taught to learn words by sounding out phonetic components of individual letters and stringing them together (even though English has a LOT of phonetic inconsistencies). In the "look-say" method children are taught words as wholistic entities based on repetitively seeing them and on sentence context. Both sides have strong arguments and data to support them. But here's the thing, whichever way one learns 'reading' initially, once it is learned one uses the wholistic manner to DO it. No adult reads by focusing in on letters or phonemes (it would take half-a-lifetime to read one Harry Potter volume in that manner!).
Similarly, field marks are a fine learning tool, as well as useful in a multitude of individual cases, but the vast majority of bird IDs simply are NOT made by checking off field marks. Birding is an art and a skill, not a science, and anal-compulsively applying field marks to bird identification, lends a scientific-sounding veneer to the discussion, but in fact misses the reality of how perception and most bird recognition operates.
Skeptics will counter with example after example after example of documented mistaken IDs over the years, but those examples exist and are noteworthy precisely because they are the exceptions-to-the-rule --- for every missed ID due to mis-read field marks by birders there are 100s of correct IDs done on a moment's basis; that is precisely why bird counts are useful and valuable, even though they lack scientific rigor or validation --- enough birders get it right, enough of the time. The same birder who undergoes an inquisition for reporting a single Ivory-bill, can report 65 different species on a Christmas count without any questioning of his/her competency/veracity whatsoever. If birders were as mistake-prone as skeptics sometimes imply, there'd be no point to conducting bird counts; they'd simply be junk science. As it is, they may be in recent parlance, "faith-based ornithology"... but they are not junk.

I've said from early on in this affair that what was most important was NOT IBWO sounds, nor signs, nor the Luneau video, but sightings
(the very essence of birding) from credible people, and over the years we've had enough of these, from different places in different circumstances and contexts, to strain the probability that ALL of them are false. Unfortunately though, as with so much in life, probabilities, in the Ivory-bill arena, remain in the eye of the beholder.

Friday, April 04, 2008


-- :-) --


I prefer to approach the weekend with a smile on my face if possible (...it's getting harder and harder all the time), so today just a link to an article posted by John Cleese, er rather, that is Martin Collinson, which falls into the category of
"why-can't-more American-companies-think-like-this" :


I justify linking to it on the basis that the very first word in the piece is "Woodpeckers," as well as the fact that I'm always willing to peruse articles written by anyone named "Farquhar." Moreover, Martin claims to be quoted in the report (...can you find his quote?). He doesn't tell us just how old the piece is, nor whether it perhaps came out on a prior April 1st....

I actually do have several IBWO-related posts in the works, but they keep needing revision, so who knows when/if they'll appear.
And a good weekend to all.... but most especially to the University of NC Tarheels ;-) [ Addendum: :-(((( ]

Thursday, April 03, 2008


-- Ruminating --


Skeptics generally deny having any deleterious influence on the search for the Ivory-bill, noting that skepticism is a 'healthy' thing. And certainly skepticism comes in a wide variety of forms. But the overall effect of IBWO cynicism over 6 decades (especially the more recent sort of piling-on, sometimes-derisive, always-quick-to-criticize-or-castigate skepticism), yes, has been obstructive to open Ivory-bill discussion, and moreover had a very 'chilling effect' on the current free flow of information. So much so, that official search leaders now seem largely afraid to even release information if it falls short of being definitive (i.e., accompanied by a photograph), leaving skeptics and others alike with an impression that nothing is being found, when in fact they have no idea what evidence has been gathered. The healthy, free flow of information in science is often stymied by competitive pressures, but rarely by the sort of browbeating intimidation at work in this instance.

This is likely the last major month of Ivory-bill searching for the season, most official searches likely not venturing far into May. There are probably at least 4-5 IBWO efforts outside of Arkansas and the Fla. Panhandle that aren't much publicized, and may not even publicly release their data this year. I mentioned Tuesday being surprised that Cornell was even publicly acknowledging searching for the Ivory-bill in Tennessee, given how close-to-the-vest they've held most findings. The tight clamp down on the free flow of information for the last year+ is a somewhat unfortunate, but predictable, reaction to the given state of affairs.

My guess (and it is SOLELY a GUESS, based on a few things) is that the season will end with additional sightings, auditory encounters, and signs, like past seasons (maybe even more than past seasons), and maybe even new geographic locales of focus as well, but no photo or anything else at all conclusive. In short, enough to maintain believers' interest and even most true agnostics' hopes, but nothing that hardened skeptics won't easily dismiss... again. I fear that failure to attain definitive evidence may even cause most findings to be withheld from public view --- and various final reports may NOT be released publicly (even Auburn's final report from last year has yet to be publicly released).
Again, all of this is just guessing on my part (otherwise known as blog-post filler ;-) --- so DON'T run with it! Indeed, I hope I'm wrong, and there is better evidence than I suspect, and most findings are openly released, but if that doesn't come about, I know who to blame for it... and then here we'll be 3 years later and not much changed. As some of my old Chicago Cubs fan friends would say, 'there's always next year...'

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


-- Close Encounters of the Bird Kind? --


I've never cared much for science fiction (have never seen a Star Trek or Star Wars movie, and you couldn't pay me to sit through one), but one offering I did fancy was "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." If you saw it you know part of the plot involves disparate people from around the country eerily drawn together by the coming arrival of extraterrestrials on Earth. Sometimes I think about the 'feel' of that movie as we await now, as it were, for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers to land!
One of the grand things about this whole Ivory-bill adventure is that in an oddly similar way it too has drawn together dozens and dozens of people (many having believed in this bird since childhood), who otherwise might never have known each other, or shared anything in common, yet are now inextricably connected by the draw of this iconic species. People with academic credentials and/or titles, or unsung names, or internet handles, all intertwined like the seekers at Devil's Tower in the award-winning movie. And the full cast of characters in this ongoing saga is even more outlandish than that cast of "Close Encounters..." Who would've scripted a "Bill Smith" or a "Tom Nelson" or even a Gene Sparling, or a... well, nevermind. And who knew a movie could be this long and hold an audience... Indeed, like any good movie, many of us anxiously await the ending... which in this case will be the only way of determining whether the plot itself was science-fiction, or science-fact. ...Oh, and did I mention, I don't usually sit through science-fiction.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


-- But, A Little More Seriously --


New update from Cornell's Arkansas search team, you can link to via "ARK. '08 Search Log" near top of my left-hand 'IBWO Links' --- generally, little of great import to report, and I may stop routinely announcing these updates unless something of special note appears (you can just check those links on your own from time-to-time). There is, however, one semi-interesting note in the March 6 entry:
"Today, Ron Rohrbaugh and I flew into Memphis, Tennessee, to meet up with Scott Somershoe from Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency. We talked about the use of Reconyx cameras and autonomous recording units (ARUs) to monitor some areas not far from the Mississippi River."
I assume this means the use of Reconyx cameras and ARUs in TENNESSEE, and would imply the seriousness of rumors that have emanated from that state off-and-on for the last couple years. Last year's IBWO Draft Recovery Plan mentioned several areas in TN. of interest, and most all are near the Mississippi River. (Historically, there were also Ivory-bill reports from that area.)

On another note, as a poster to BirdForum reminded me, TODAY is the 9th anniversary of David Kullivan's sighting of a pair of Ivory-bills at Pearl River in 1999. Happy Anniversary!!...


-- (Ivory-bills?) Gonna Fly Now --


--- APRIL 1, 2008 Post:

For your viewing enjoyment and edification, some slightly-retouched, behind-the-scenes video here of Cyberthrush going through his daily regimen (that's me in the beard and mustache... not 100% certain, but I think the blonde bloke just may be Martin Collinson).

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