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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, July 29, 2008


-- More On Virtual Ivory-bill --


'nother tidbit
(see prior posts for July 8 and 11) on Cornell's computer creation of a 'virtual' Ivory-bill here:




Saturday, July 26, 2008


-- Pileated Redux --


For them there who never tire of such things, another Pileated Woodpecker (chased by a blackbird) video here:

( http://birdcinema.com/view_video.php?viewkey=95af115de1c414a1849c )

....And for those who never tire of such other things more old Steve Martin comedy here.


Thursday, July 24, 2008


-- Bedtime and Other Reading --


Some bedtime reading perhaps: if you've never read them before here is the famous account of Agey and Heinzmann reporting Ivory-bills in central Florida back in the 1960s:


Good news (for a change) for N. American birds here, about preserving Canada's boreal forest. Scott Weidensaul calls this "One of the biggest conservation stories ever" though it "received relatively little press here in the States." Scott notes the boreal forest is "the great bird factory of North America, producing billions of migratory songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds and raptors; this is arguably the single biggest win in history for bird conservation." He recommends sending "a note of thank you to Premier McGuinty via BSI's website, http://www.borealbirds.org/ -- something every American birder who reaps the benefits of the boreal forest should take a moment to do."

In the 'Not-exactly-the-bluebird-of-happiness' Dept., this bit of bird humor from the press:


Finally, this coming Monday marks the anniversary of Roger Tory Peterson's death. Twelve years ago upon that occasion the inimitable Pete Dunne wrote a wonderful tribute to Roger for "Birding Magazine." Below, the last paragraph from that eulogy:
"Roger was fond of saying that God, in all his wisdom, had crafted but two creatures with feathers: birds and angels. God, in his wisdom, gave us Roger Tory Peterson to interpret and instruct us. And although I do not wish to presume, and I cannot possibly be certain, I have a hunch that by the time I reach the hereafter, there will be a "Field Guide to the Angels" waiting for me. With luck, it might even be in its second or third edition."
--- at which point Pete can commence to writing a short text on how to pish for angels ;-)

(And here's another look at the newly-revised Peterson Field Guide to be released next month.)

Saturday, July 19, 2008


-- Saturday Entertainment --


No Ivory-bill schtuff; just books, ducks, condors, storklets, and.... west coast news:

Another stop in a bookstore yesterday, and another wonderful find: Artist Charley Harper's "Birds and Words" (originally published in the 1970's) has been re-issued, full of Charley's uniquely minimalist and delightful bird art and short incisive verbal blurbs on each depicted bird. This book will bring a smile to most any birder, but also makes a fine introduction to birds for youngsters who can take delight in the artwork as well, while parents read and explain the wonderful short commentaries.

And for all the duck lovers out there, I have to pass this one along for heart-tugging enjoyment:


Hasn't been a lot of good news of late for endangered species, but somewhat positive outcome for the California Condor recovery efforts here:


To my surprise, stork youngsters are still hanging out in the nest here (German webcam), but probably not for much longer :


And finally, here's some satire(?) I could endorse:



Friday, July 18, 2008


-- Into the Weekend --


An Ivory-bill post from biologist Mark Bailey at his blog a couple months ago here:


... and a bit of home-made humor for today here:



Tuesday, July 15, 2008


-- A Lil' Culture --


For poetry aficionadoes:

An acquaintance recently sent me a poem by David Wagoner she found in the Jan. 1983 edition of "The Atlantic Monthly" which recounts, of all things,
Alexander Wilson's famous encounter, 200 years ago, with an Ivory-billed Woodpecker near Wilmington, NC. The poem is available on the Web in a few places, including here.
Another blogger who posted the poem several years ago followed it with this sentiment, that I sorta like:
"... The poem deals with the impossibility of a mutual understanding between man and nature argues Czeslaw Milosz in his introduction. I think that's wrong. I think the poem shows what happens when man tries to learn too much, tries to compartmentalize and categorize nature in ways that nature shouldn't be confined. "

....but enough culture already; for humor today, and on behalf of all the 'believers' out there who feel they don't get any respect, here be the late Rodney Dangerfield:


Ohhhh, and p.s., in case you've recently had any inclination to contact "The New Yorker Magazine" for any particular reason, contact info is here.


Friday, July 11, 2008


-- More On Cornell's Digitized Evidence --


A bit more info about the Ivory-bill computer graphic simulation carried out by Cornell which I referenced a few days ago (July 8 post). This work was done in part as the master's thesis of Cornell grad student Jeffrey Wang under the guidance of Dr. Don Greenberg, and is available here in pdf form (~200 pgs.):


Jeff's academic home page, BTW, is here:


I'm slowly reading through the dissertation (and for a technical Master's Thesis it's a fairly lively read), but since computer graphics aren't "my thing" don't know how much I'll glean from it --- I assume some of my readers though will find it informative. And I presume a more formal journal publication is in the works.

....for another comedy moment, one of my favorite old posts from "Cute Overload" blog (be sure to read the 'comments' section below picture):


ADDENDUM --- just a few things I'll note, having now scanned Wang's thesis more:

In addition to flight mechanics and computer graphics, the paper is VERY HEAVY, for obvious reasons, on underlying bird anatomy. We live in an age of academic specialization, and clearly Wang's thesis delves into highly specialized areas (as a sidenote, found it interesting that out of the 100's of Ivory-bill specimens residing in museums, it turns out there is ONLY ONE 'pickled' in fluid, and thus well-preserved for detailed anatomical studies, at the Smithsonian Museum --- Cornell was able to obtain that single specimen on loan for these specific studies --- fascinating... where pursuit of the Luneau video leads us!).

Anyway, Wang's paper (submitted in Jan. 2007), ends prior to actual testing of the computer-generated Ivory-bill against the bird captured in the Luneau clip, which has since been done; i.e. the thesis describes in great detail the creation of a 'virtual' (computer-graphic) Ivory-bill (and seems very convincing), but not the actual running of that bird in a flight path and environment matching the Luneau bird --- and there's the rub! No matter how precise and accurate a created 'virtual' Ivory-bill is, the real crux of the matter comes when applying the flight mechanics and lighting (and the MULTITUDE of variables that arise therein) to the specifics of the Luneau bird's context, and gauging whether the result better matches a PIWO or IBWO (just using a Pileated as a flying 'surrogate' for an IBWO is grist for debate all by itself, but there are likely a myriad more issues skeptics may raise as well). It will be interesting to see how Cornell explicates all of this in a final paper, and I'll also be interested to see who the co-authors (and those cited for assistance/input) are on any such final paper. I hope such a paper is at least as persuasive as Wang's work is... but one suspects the debate is destined to continue.


-- Happy Anniversaries --


The end of this month marks at least two anniversaries:

1. the 3rd anniversary of the birth of this blog, little knowing what controversy was to follow :-))) and,

2. the 12th anniversary of the death of Roger Tory Peterson :-(((((

One of the above is pretty trifling so I'll only address the other:
Roger Tory Peterson was clearly a hero to many in the birding and conservation communities, including folks at opposite poles of the IBWO controversy. I love Roger's art and field guides, but mostly I love his thoughtful approach to nature, and to sharing that knowledge and experience with others. Roger was always open to possibilities, and to new knowledge and understanding; he understood inherently, how easily what passes for human logic can be defied by Nature; how tenuous and subject-to-change our knowledge is. When others were dropping the Ivory-bill from their field guides, or relegating it to some special back section, he was still including it among the woodpeckers, perhaps signaling a narrow hope he held out. And he was among the last individuals to see Ivory-bills at Louisiana's Singer Tract back in the 1940's; his most thrilling birding moment. Next month, BTW, Houghton-Mifflin is issuing a newly-designed edition of his field guide which sounds great (here and here), so make room on your shelf for yet another.

Too bad Roger isn't alive today to witness the effort finally being put forth on behalf of this species, and add his two cents (more like ten dollars worth!). I could very well be wrong, but I like to think he's looking down from above, a blank canvas before him, paint-brush at-the-ready, waiting, watching over the searchers.... and smiling.

....for today's entertainment, a clip that isn't so much funny, as simply UNbelievable (this guy's a trained professional, or... insane; DON'T you kids try this at home):



Thursday, July 10, 2008


-- August Upcoming --


August is a month when Ivory-bills may be out-and-about, cruising the forest in family groups in search of food, and possibly dropping feathers along the way (Mike Collins reminds us, in a recent post, that August is a primary month for feather-molting in Ivory-bills)... and ironically, it is a month few searchers are ever in the field looking for them.
Mike ponders returning to the Pearl in August and keeping an eye out for feathers in prior hot zones, though finding a feather from an extremely rare bird is probably even more of a needle in a haystack than finding the bird itself (the only advantage being that feathers don't fly away or take evasive action upon approach) --- and getting such a feather DNA-tested, without good advance evidence that it is from an Ivory-bill may also prove difficult --- very few feathers (or other material for that matter) from 3 years of searching have been DNA-tested to this point, so far as I'm aware.
DNA-evidence would generate some excitement, but like other evidence would also be debated. For good or for ill, skeptics have firmly established the position of the bar for Ivory-bill evidence: either a carcass or a clear photo/video must be attained; all else is just grist for continued debate. A carcass, a photo or video, and essentially one more season to achieve it.

....for today's humor, a short clip from one of Britain's finest exports ;-), Benny Hill!:


and you may want to put yourself in the proper mood by viewing this even shorter bird clip first:


Wednesday, July 09, 2008


-- Cornell Non-update --


Cornell's Mobile Team posts final (non-informative?) updates to their travel log for the season here.

Not sure why it's being posted this late --- their last previous post was April 10, and these posts merely fill out the month of April, telling where they made cursory stops, but lacking any Ivory-bill info or speculation at all. More significant for how little it has to say, than anything it does report.

....comic installment today, one of the favorite clips (out of sooooo many) from 'Seinfeld':



Tuesday, July 08, 2008


-- Digitized Evidence --


Believe-it-or-not Ripley, the Luneau film clip continues to be analyzed --- new computer-derived evidence (from Cornell) for the Luneau bird here (using computer graphics to argue that David's bird matches an Ivory-bill --- I can already hear the grumbling and arguments commencing ;-)).

....and for today's comedy relief, some pure Woody Allen:



Monday, July 07, 2008


-- Population Stasis --


Summer re-run --- a repeat of thoughts covered here before:

The lack of a definitive Ivory-bill photo from somewhere by now is troubling but points no more to Ivory-bill extinction than it does simply to Ivory-bill scarcity. (Only the ubiquity of photography in today's society and field studies, a relatively new phenomena, makes it seem more convincing to many.)

Assuming IBWO scarcity then, the more difficult issue to grapple with is how such a scarce species could even manage to hang on throughout decades. What such long-term rarity implies is the existence of small populations in near enough proximity to one another that dispersing offspring could relocate and find mates (and as a powerful flyer the 'proximity' needn't be as close for Ivory-bills as for many other species). Creatures in low densities with limited habitat and resources can reach population stasis, or steady-state numbers, that may be successfully maintained over lengthy periods with fair ease. For Ivory-bills, all that is required are a few bottomland or riverine corridors connecting small populations and the birds might maintain themselves at low numbers over long periods, very occasionally being seen and heard, and difficult to get a clear irrefutable photo of --- not unlike, need I say it, the situation at hand (...or at least as plausible an explanation as writing off 100's of claims over years to 'mistakes').

Make some conservative assumptions: Ivory-bill life-expectancy of 10 years (most say it is longer); no breeding during the first 3 or last 3 years of their lives, leaving just 4 breeding years (again, wholly unlikely); out of 3-5 eggs laid, on average only 1 hatchling survives.
Given these assumptions, a single pair of ivory-bills, on average, produces 4 offspring in their lifetime (i.e., 4 birds produced to replace 2) --- if half those birds go on to find mates and continue the process, stasis is maintained. To the degree that some of these conservative numbers increase, IBWO population may even increase slowly over time.
If habitat itself is in a somewhat steady-state situation (some good habitat growing, while other habitat diminishing), not much may change; only to the degree that habitat is improving for the species, might population markedly grow and encounters with the species increase to a point of easier detection and confirmation.
Of course the point of organized, large-scale searches is to increase the number and likelihood of such encounters. Whether they have done so or not is a whole 'nuther debate.


Saturday, July 05, 2008


-- Nothing Better To Do --


Got nuthin' better to do so I'll just list my current obligatory baker's dozen list of states in order of most-to-least likely to harbor any Ivory-bills at this point:

1. Florida
2. Louisiana
3. Mississippi
4. Arkansas
5. Tennessee
6. Alabama
7. Illinois
8. Georgia
9. South Carolina
10. North Carolina
11. Kentucky
12. Missouri
13. Texas

I'd settle for Ivory-bills being found in just half of these ;-)) ...but, seriously,... awhile back, Bill Pulliam noted to me that he had called attention to Alabama's Mobile Delta region, recently mentioned favorably in Cornell's summary report, over two years ago on his blog when he surveyed (via computer) the Southeast for possible IBWO habitat:


It's been a long time since any credible reports of Ivory-bills emanated from this area (although a few unconfirmed reports have come from other parts of Alabama), and Tanner reported the delta region as totally cut over when he reviewed it in the 30's, but The Nature Conservancy is actively trying to preserve much of it today. The area falls nicely between the Florida Panhandle and the Pascagoula region of Mississippi if one cares to think in terms of a Gulf corridor for the species (which can stretch on to Louisiana's Pearl, and of course eastward to Florida's Apalachicola/Chipola).

....and here, classic comedy interlude for all those who have kids in summer camp this year... or... ever:


Thursday, July 03, 2008


-- Have a Happy Independence Day --


.... unless you're one of my British readers.

Mini-movie-review of sorts of George Butler's "Lord God Bird" film here:


And the Arkansas irrigation project, previously-stalled by attention to Ivory-bills, now awaits another judicial decision here.

"Ecstasy. Sublime." Indeed! Connection; wild; merging of worlds, and some nice pics (Pileated) here:


....Comedy offering of the day from 'wild and crazy guy' Steve Martin:


Wednesday, July 02, 2008


-- The Natives Are Restless --


Been getting a few emails from folks essentially 'throwing in the towel' on the IBWO. I'll try to buffer some of that despair:

What some of us long wanted was a serious, organized, systematic, large-scale, scientific search for the Ivory-bill --- the closest thing to that has now been underway for a couple years --- not completely thorough or perfect by a longshot but at least an honest effort put forth. Interest in the Big Woods and Choctawhatchee only arose in the last few years. Whether Ivory-bills exist there is almost secondary --- the question is do they exist ANYwhere across the Southeast, in areas of far longer interest and rumor than Arkansas or the Florida Panhandle; at last many of those areas are getting significant, coordinated attention.

Realize, again, this is a powerful bird capable of rapid long distance flight; a bird that spends much of its time inside tree cavities or obscured high-up in tree canopies, and likely wary of human encroachment. Almost certainly it is, at best, sparse and scattered in its numbers (conceivably even the rarest bird in the world). Finding and photographing it ought not be easy, and 2-3 years of searching vast habitat with what continues to be small groups of people, remains less than ideal. Results thus far are disappointing, but far from conclusive. The evidence for extinction is certainly no more conclusive than the evidence for persistence.

Even if absolutely nothing of interest had resulted from these particular searches it would not be solid evidence of Ivory-bill extinction --- but in fact the efforts have produced a succession of possible sounds, signs, and sightings of the species (and NO, not all such searches for rare critters, produce such results). By themselves the sounds and signs are suspect --- other explanations are always possible --- but coming in conjunction with the occasional sightings from knowledgeable individuals who express no doubt or hesitation of what they've seen, they take on more meaning (the sightings themselves would also be far more questionable if there were no associated sounds or signs detected, but with all these elements reverberating together they do carry some weight).

It is almost odd how quickly some people repeatedly gravitate to alternative ad hoc explanations for any piece of data collected, over any possibility of an Ivory-bill connection. All for lack of a photograph. Odd as well, how heavily everything now hinges on irrefutable photographic evidence. A single photo can change everything, while 100 more sightings may change nothing at this point --- from the skeptics' viewpoint, a few sightings are meaningless, and 100 sightings without a photo are yet additional evidence (circularly) of how unreal those sightings must be. We have entered an Alice-in-Wonderland (or Through-the-looking-glass) world, in which each piece of evidence can be defined or scrutinized out-of-existence, making it easier to do the same then to the next piece of evidence. Planting doubt is equivalent to denying.

At least a couple of locales will be getting intensified looks next year, and Mike Collins continues his independent efforts to attain evidence that will persuade everyone of his claims for the Pearl River region. Others make equally certain claims for other sites. More time, patience, and effort, is all that can resolve these discrepant viewpoints.

In short, it's not over, 'til it's over... which it ain't yet --- not idle musing, but a reflection of how scientific investigation proceeds. And it shall proceed for at least one more season. The probability of success dims with each season without a photo; but for now the question remains whether that probability is a reflection of the Ivory-bill's disappearance, or more a reflection of flawed human field techniques. If the species is ever conclusively documented after all that has transpired, what should've been seen as a simple scientific accomplishment, will now have to be viewed in some quarters, as, a miracle.

--- But so much for the Ivory-bill; for your comic relief of the day... if you're too young to remember Rip Taylor than, hey, you can get to know him here:


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