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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.
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"....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






Wednesday, July 02, 2008

 

-- The Natives Are Restless --

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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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vO_EGrYmJ0Q&NR=1
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