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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, 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.

We often misidentify people, animals and birds based on "gestalt." Yes, mistaken IDs are exceptions to the rule but there are countless examples of these exceptions/mistakes. There have been many admitted mistakes made in the current IBWO round. Check out post #13158 where Choupique1, claimant to multiple IBWO sightings (quite a coincidence,) admits to a hoax where he purposely produces a fake IBWO kent on a duck call and successfully fools some IBWO searchers. Their "auditory encounter" added to the endless list of unsubstantiated claims some call evidence. Would any of these people have heard an IBWO if they weren't trying to hear an IBWO?

It is not only possible that every single IBWO sighting/sound/hole/beak mark is a case of mistaken identity, the lack of any verification in decades makes it, in my opinion, a virtual certainty.
ALL birders can, and do, make mistakes.

It explains a lot to me when I keep hearing people who are sure the IBWO is extant in several places say that you can't mistake one for anything.

Well, of course you can. Any competent birder knows it well and it explains a large majority of the 'sightings'. Why this has to keep being said is more baffling.

The comparison of records of incredibly rare (or probably extinct) birds with xmas counts is inappropriate and plain silly. Thorough documentaion is not anally-retentive. It's necessary and correct procedure without which records look shoddy and amateurish. The days of 'I know them and I saw one' have thankfully long gone.
One of the problems with your argument is that is relies heavily on sightings being by competent observers. My experience with large groups of birders is that 90%+ are not competent to make "jizz" IDs with any degree of accuracy, and this often includes those with decades of experience. Experience is only a part of competence and alone it is not enough. The top end birders definitely can make most IDs by jizz in seconds. It always amazes me how stunned a group of experienced, but not particularly skilled, birders will be when you call out IDs quickly without even raising your bins.

As someone who spent some time at one of the purported IBWO locations as part of one of the search crews, I can tell you that the VAST majority of the people there were not remotely competent to make a quick, impression based ID. And that is the problem with most of the sightings--we flat out don't know who these people are and have no reason to believe that we should trust their judgment in a two or three second look.

Making the "they can't all be wrong" argument over and over again is not going to convince even people like me who desperately want to believe and have gotten off our butts and spent some time looking, let alone more skeptical folks. No bird, no matter how rare, no matter how skittish, is capable of avoiding searchers and cameras forever. We are over 50 years since the last undisputed sighting. It is time to stop blaming the skeptics and saying that they can't prove it is extinct. It is time to put up some real evidence and accept that the standard for rare/possibly extinct birds is different from CBC birds. Sightings do not count for ANYTHING other than as a clue for where to direct your search energy and as a moral boost for those who already believe.
Why do I have to keep banging myself over the head in frustration with these skeptical comments!!!!! I can understand some people being wrong with their ID's for ivorybill sightings. But they're not NOT all wrong! nowhere near it!!!!!!!!! To many good quality observers have seen this bird for it not to be there!!!!
Peter (is bemused)!
But they're not NOT all wrong! nowhere near it!!!!!!!!!

How about the Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster or Alien Abduction believers? They say the same thing.

If you really think they can't all be wrong in regards to the Ivory-bill, you are thinking with your heart and not your head.

It's possible the arguments of every single skeptic are wrong, but it's probable that if nobody for decades can find irrefutable evidence that the bird lives that it is extinct. It is simply rational thinking.
IF 90%, plus or minus, of birders are not competent to make ID calls on gestalt, what about the 10% that are?

What about the detailed sightings?

It seems like a lot of excuses have to be made in order to dismiss every single sighting as a misidentified Pileated Woodpecker.

There may not be irrefutable evidence yet, but taking into account that no systematic searches for the bird in decades means a lot of lost opportunities to gather such evidence.

Rationally, it can be expected that a lot of reported IBWO sightings are probably the result of misidentifications. I don't think any one would sensibly dispute that. But a number of pretty darn good birders have gotten good looks at IBWO in the last couple of years, and have staked their reputations on their sightings. I don't think that can be casually dismissed.

In sum, the evidence may be scanty, but there's enough evidence that is supportive of a small population of IBWO to warrant extensive searches.

I don't mind posting with my name either. I stand behind any statement I make.

You do realize you are criticizing people for not posting under their own names on the blog owned by some mysterious person known only as "Cyberthrush" don't you. Ideas and arguments are what is important, not who puts them forward.

As far as 'what about the detailed sightings?', none are all that detailed and all are from very brief observations. That is a pretty good recipe for misidentification. And I'm sorry but most of the "detailed" sightings are not by people who have any serious reputation as being skilled at field ID. Working for a prestigious university or having an advanced degree doesn't tell us anything at all about ID skills.

"It seems like a lot of excuses have to be made in order to dismiss every single sighting as a misidentified Pileated Woodpecker."

Most are simply not high enough quality to consider seriously. The ones that are better are simply anecdotes of brief glimpses of flying birds. It is not up to the skeptics to show why every single sighting is misID; it is up to your side to prove that ONE of those sightings is an IBWO. You only have to be right one time. Seems to me it takes even more excuses as to why no one can take one identifiable photo of a bird. Can you name a single other species known to be extant in the US right now that you can't go into the field at an appropriate location and have photographic proof of its existence in a couple days max? I can't.
It's amusing to see people still debating this issue despite all the sightings by experienced observers and the physical evidence that has been obtained (imperfect as it may be). It should be clear by the patterns of the sightings (including clusters of sightings and sightings accompanied by kents and/or double raps) that this isn't just a collosal mistake. While others sit around debating, I am excited about obtaining my third video in three years. I have no doubt that the videos that I obtained in 2006 and 2007 show ivorybills because I saw the birds before obtaining the footage. I'm not yet fully convinced by the latest video, but I caught a glimpse of what appeared to be dorsal stripes, the 10 Hz flap rate narrows down the possibilities, the bird clearly has white trailing edges on the wings, and the non-duck-like flap style appears to be identical to the flap style of ivorybills that Tanner photographed in flight (it also appears to be at odds with historical accounts of a duck-like flight, but Tanner's photos don't seem to show a duck-like flight either). I'm suffiently convinced to do an immediate U-turn after an 1100 mile drive back home from the Pearl.

"Last year, I publicly guaranteed that I would find ivorybills. That mission was easy enough. This year's guarantee is that I'll get a good image."

Mike Collins, summer, 2006
Physical evidence, Mike? You call blurred photos and videos physical evidence? You call tape recordings of calls that no one can identify with certainty physical evidence? You call "interesting" tree cavities physical evidence? You call bark scaling of suspect unknown origin physical evidence? How about a feather, or droppings from which DNA can be extracted? THAT would be physical evidence!
It's true that I didn't manage to get a good image in 2007, but I'm not aware of anyone else who has obtained three videos and had sightings in three states. I could use the broken arm as an excuse, but the reality is that locating these birds is much harder than my experiences in 2006 led me to believe, and the post-Katrina Pearl is not an easy place to search.

The first footage of an ivorybill in cruising flight has been obtained, and John is worried about semantics. Just to clarify, I was referring to forms of evidence other than human observations that involve hard data, including video and audio recordings, measurements of cavities and bark adhesion, etc.
In your opinion Mike

In mine (and the vast majority of credible birders), they aren't identifiable - although granted I am not a red hot birder like you obviously are.

And I don't think for one minute that you have seen them in three states. Very poor video strung into 'certain' identifications. It looks very shoddy indeed.

just my opinion, of course.

the same old rubbish going around and around, and hey! where are the birds?

You are a bright enough guy to know that the fact that you IDed your birds as IBWOs before you videoed them means absolutely nothing to anyone else right? The video is supposed to prove that your ID was correct--it doesn't work the other way around, that your ID can make the video evidence stronger. I have lost count of how many times I have viewed your videos and I have no hesitation in saying that they are simply unidentifiable. No amount of analysis can save them because they simply are not good enough.

Your claim to have seen the species in three states does not lead me to believe that you are an excellent observer who is an expert at finding IBWOs. Rather it ruins whatever credibility you had at the start of all this by demonstrating that you will see IBWOs wherever you look for them (and fail in every case to produce usable evidence).
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