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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

Friday, February 27, 2009


-- True Believers --


This blog peaked at 700+ readers/day for a couple weeks back following the original Auburn Choctawhatchee announcement. Ever since then it gradually but steadily declined until stabilizing around 100+ unique hits per day, where it has remained for quite some time now. It's not the exact same folks every day since some readers only check in every few days or even once a week. Maybe 130 people from around the globe read the blog on some sort of regular basis out of millions of active birders worldwide; i.e. a very tiny percentage of the potential audience.

I suspect many of those 130-or-so folks are 'agnostics' who still aren't sure what to conclude about the IBWO, and an even larger number are likely full-fledged skeptics just checking in to keep up with what 'foolishness' is recited here. In short, I'd guess less than 100 folks check here routinely and loyally who would be comfortable with the label "true believer" (or even leaning in that direction). Again, out of millions of birders, a few score of them willing to unabashedly believe in the Ivory-bill's persistence; too few people to have much impact, as has always been the case through the Ivory-bill's history.

Early on I didn't much care for the term "true believer" with its implication of believing blindly, foolishly, or unscientifically, especially since in most areas of science I'd probably be classified as excessively skeptical; but over time, in this narrow IBWO arena, I've grown comfortable with the 'true believer' handle, because every time I re-read the data and history of this species... the full panoply of it, not just some myopic portion... my conviction is renewed that the probability for the Ivory-bill's existence exceeds the probability for its extinction (and I can only approach science in terms of probabilities).
So I'm content to see this story through to the end (whenever and however that comes about), and happy to be part of a narrow 100 or fewer individuals who may eventually feel richly rewarded... or, be robustly ridiculed... for having been, when all around them were capitulating to a tempting party line..."true believers."

On 24th February you referred to the sceptics and mentioned how recently "their silence is deafening".
I had noticed the same thing and wondered (hopefully) if they had heard something positively definite; or if they had been tipped off, perhaps, by someone with THE photograph. That would explain their cowardly low profile, I thought!
And now you are writing defiantly as a True Believer with a scientific background.

And similarly, I hope that you too have been tipped off, and are smiling knowingly!
Peter in Ireland
no, NO, NO!!! Peter; thanks for your constant optimism, but I HAVE NOT been tipped off to anything, nor do I believe certain skeptics have been -- more likely they are bored with the topic, and there are many other important birding issues to occupy one's attention.
And the post was not meant to be so much "defiant" as simply "resigned" to a label that has taken hold on the Web and which I've finally become accustomed to.
My only guess is that this season (like the others) will end with some further reasons for hope for the IBWO, but with nothing at all definitive, and with few if any plans for further organized, large-scale searching... hoping I'm wrong about that, but I've seen nothing any more compelling than one has come before.
I doubt there are many skeptics checking in.

Really, what could be more stupid than being obsessed with something you don't believe in?
You imply that all of the world's unabashed believers read your blog regularly. That is a bit presumptuous. Perhaps some unabashed believers do not read your blog, which could mean that there are more than a few score unabashed believers in the world.
Seeing recently in the news (within the last year) about rare or 'thought to be extinct' birds and other animals being rediscovered after an absence of 50 years or more, puts this blog in such a perfect perspective ... Not only is it informative and keeping us up to date, but I feel it is also a vigil for us true believers who are waiting for the Photo and/or Video of this Magnificent Icon ... It's not a question of 'IF' the IBWO will be ever be confirmed extant, but WHEN!!! ... To that alone, Mr. Cyberthrush, I commend your blog, and wait with you and all the true believers for that day to arrive ...

~ PJ
-well said PJ

THE perfect ib photo is inevitable.

ibwo hunter
Cyberthrush -

Please do not end this blog. You do a great service to all birders, and help keep up our "spirit". I'm half "true believer" and half "agnostic", but I want to believe and your blog helps keep me there.

I know someday that someone will get the photo/video needed to prove the IBWO's existence.

I was fortunate enough in 2007 to be one of three people to discover the first White Wagtail ever found in Florida (three of us Missouri birders happened to be in the right place and right time), and I was able to obtain a number of photos and videos.

This will happen someday with the IBWO!!
whooooa... there is no intention of ending the blog anytime in the foreseeable future, although it is conceivable that posts in the summer could be much fewer and farther between (the next 2 months will tell).
I'm a true believer for sure, and my mother was before me. The day they announced that someone had seen an "extinct" Ivorybill in Arkansas was one of the most spectacular days in American birding, and I want it to happen again. I can't imagine why skeptics would read a blog as hopeful as yours, and while I'm resigned that nothing is happening right now, anything can happen so don't get discouraged!
I'm a skeptic and visit frequently. Nearly all skeptics believed at first and wanted it to be true but became skeptics after a close scrutiny of the evidence. The reason I visit is that in the months after Cornell's announcement it was the skeptics that were ridiculed and I feel compelled to "see it through."
'it was the skeptics that were ridiculed and I feel compelled to "see it through."'

What possible concluding event are you seeing it through to? Or are you just waiting for an apology or something?
The ridicule is unfortunate on all sides. Sometimes, under the guise of anonymity, it's just fun and jest. But often things do get exceedingly personal and ugly, and with Tom Nelson leading the charge, the skeptics quickly became the more viscious group. It's been nice that things have calmed down a bit this past year. Why don't we keep it this way?
I'm sure the ranks of "believer" and "skeptic" are far larger than the web site visitation stats would tell us. It might be hard for those of us with the obsession to believe, but most people have better things to do with their time than hang around Ivory-billed blogs on the Internet!
I'm glad there are still some true believers in the Ivory-billed Woodpecker out there. Everyone should believe in something.

As for me, I believe I'll have another martini.....
The best news about global warming is that it chased away Tom.
He may have halted his daily posts, but Mr. Nelson does keep up on IBWO news.
"The best news about global warming is that it chased away Tom" ... much to the chagrine of his pathetic disillusioned followers.
Tom Nelson was right all along.
Who is Tom Nelson and what was he right all along about?
Who? Minnesota's finest and most famous birder. What? Global warming (brrr...it's cold this morning!), weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (they had bullets), Ivory-bill (twas all about glory and money, nuttin more), Amy Lester (God's gift to birding and Bigfoot research).
Oh, right, have heard of him, thanks.

Wasn't he the fella who misled all those great birders into thinking the Luneau video showed a pileated by misinterpreting video artifacts (shadows) as plumage? Made big fools out of them from what I have heard. Suppose even great birders make mistakes, but that one was a duzy.
No, you are thinking of Cornell. They are the organization who took a video of a common pileated and pedaled it the the birding community as an Ivory-bill. Tom Nelson is one of several who successfully debunked the video.

He was THE Ivory-bill skeptic, and, like I said, he was right.
From what I understand, Tom Nelson isn't even a great birder, yet he never makes mistakes. Phenomenal! (And a lot of anonymous folks here seem to have the same track record. Congrats guys!)
Oh yes, Tom was definitely right. He's always spot on. And now we can all agree that he is making fools of Al Gore, Barack Obama, the IPCC, Ian Maclean, and hundreds of scientists who have fallen for the global warming conspiracy. Tom's insight is rapidly becoming legendary. Where would we ivorybill skeptics be without him, Louis Bevier, and John Wall of WorldTwitch? Always good to bring up sure-thing authorities.
Cornell's interpretation is certainly not without problems, but I beg to differ on your conclusion who successfully debunked who. It was Bill Pullium who shows conclusively that fellas like Nelson messed up big time especially with respect to interpreting video artifacts as plumage, etc., and others who seem to be very good birders, having written field guides and such (doesn't really matter how "good" a birder Nelson is/was, the video speaks for itself), apparently just followed Nelson's lead.

We know that Nelson and others that followed his lead are wrong conclusively, but we still don't know whether Cornell and others that follow them are correct and may never know.

However, if Nelson was correct how come there isn't a video of a Pileated that matches the Luneau video in flight style and the amount of white visible frame to frame? After 5 years one would think there would be by now. Would seem much more likely to come up with that than a conclusive video of an Ivory-bill, yet neither has happened yet. Hmmm.
I'm not sure what a psychologist would make of comments like 'we know everyone who followed Nelson's lead is wrong'. Are people still actually convinced that is was an Ivorybill and so delusional that they castigate everyone who's pointing out the obvious? Clinging to pixels, abstruse mathematics, unexplained noises, inept flight models and video 'artifacts' as 'proof' is poor cover for a woefully thinly documented series of encounters with Pileated Woodpeckers.

If all the 'sceptics' are wrong, how come there's no birds, just an embarrassing litany of claims and self-justification (such as that above) bordering on the delusional, in total defiance of reality. It's never been about people, it's been about a bird.

'Hmmm' is about right.
Although there is much to be said about the psychological aspects of all this (for both believers and doubters), there is a misunderstanding here that needs to be cleared up, actually many misunderstandings but I'll focus on just one here.

Rejection of Nelson's and others interpretation that the Luneau video bird was a Pileated, does not reject the possibility that the the Luneau video bird was a Pileated.

There may be other interpretations to support the hypothesis that the Luneau video bird was a Pileated, there just aren't any valid ones in play at the moment (at least none I'm aware of).

This situation does not "prove" the Luneau video bird was an Ivory-bill, but failure of others to produce a valid interpretation leaves us with the hypothesis that the bird was an Ivory-bill as the most parsimonious explanation. But it is not conclusive as was oiginally claimed by the original proponents.

So all the skeptics aren't wrong, but for those who hitched their wagon to what Nelson proposed as an alternative interpretation based on interpreting video artifacts as plumage, then that interpretation is wrong. They can still be honored skeptics as the case has not been made conclusively that the Luneau video is in fact an Ivory-bill.

Just can't seem to find that video of a Pileated (fuzzy or otherwise) that matches that darn big woodpecker in the Big Woods.

And as others have pointed out it is more likely that there is a very small population (or populations) of Ivory-billed Woodpecker(s) that persist so as to go undocumented (but not necessarily undetected) than an undocumented small perecentage of aberantly flying or plumaged Pileated Woodpeckers out there.

But "more likely" does not make it so. All of which unsettles both believers and skeptics. It remains a mystery.
anon 8:56 AM - enjoyed your comments

the sight of an Ark ib?
".. O! The Joy!"
(Clark with Lewis on the Lower Columbia)

ibwo hunter
"...as others have pointed out it is more likely that there is a very small population (or populations) of Ivory-billed Woodpecker(s) that persist so as to go undocumented (but not necessarily undetected) than an undocumented small perecentage of aberantly flying or plumaged Pileated Woodpeckers out there."

I concur with a lot of what Anon. 8:56 says but would make one clarification -- as I've written before I believe the 'aberrant PIWO' hypothesis is the only real leg skeptics have to stand on, and further I believe there may even be plenty of aberrant PIWOs around, BBBBUT they must be aberrant in a very specific way (mimicking IBWO plumage) to come into play here, and THAT has not been demonstrated in the numbers needed to make the skeptical case.
This is only relevant if you accept it wasn't a perfectly normal Pileated to begin with. But it was.
It has never been, and should never be, for skeptics to prove that the Luneau video is a Pileated. In the absence of proof that the bird is an IBWO, it is at best 'unidentified' (as are millions of fuzzy birds captured on video every year).

It does seem though, that high profile and widely respected U.S. birders are perfectly happy that the bird is just a normal Pileated
There are also high profile and widely respected U.S. birders perfectly happy that the bird is just a normal ivory-bill. Many of them don't wish to be named because of the tar-and-feathering that skeptics take such delight in.
Robot Boy, you are correct that it is not up to skeptics to prove anything, only to present alternative explanations. To many birders, the Luneau video bird will best remain unidentified, but the scientifically driven attempts (Sibley et al., Collinson) at providing an alternative explanation to the ivory-billed woodpecker identification wasn't that the bird could not be identified, it was that the bird was identifiable as a normal Pileated.

In that it is critical in science to treat all alternatives and evaluate the evidence, the only alternative explanation that has been scientifically evaluated is one that due to faulty interpretation of video artifacts and flight mechanics is wrong. As stated above, That does not make the original identification "right."

I don't know for a fact, but I suspect the authors of the rebuttal papers still maintain and are satisfied with their belief that the bird is most likely a Pileated and that at most the original proponents have not "proved" their interpretation. And from a birdwatcher perspective that is an appropriate position to have.

But from a science and conservation standpoint, the lack at present of a valid alternative explanation does mean that the remaining published hypothesis that the bird is an Ivory-billed Woodpecker remains the most parasimonious explanation. This is not proof of anything, as other possibilities do remain "out there" as Cyberthrush discusses briefly, but they are still "out there" explanations without any scientific treatment or for that matter much relevant evidence. Not very satisfying to anyone, but that is how science works.

Good discussion
Perhaps it isn't always possible to 'scientifically' analyse a fuzzy video down to species? You could doubtless run the same exercise and come up with 'unidentifed' birds that then presumably 'do not rule out' the fact that the birds in your videos could be rare ones. But that would be an insane to approach bird identification.

I do not accept that the video can be taken as 'proof' of an Ivorybill due to flight mechanics or whatever nonsense people come up with. I think that's obfuscation to save face. It can be likened to the evolution vs creationism debate where the creationists often claim success - the evolutionists on the other hand can't win when the entire basuis of the arguments is spurious.

It's just something that people who 'believe' can cling too as if it can't be 'proved' to be an IBWO/PIWO, it will always make sure the debate never dies - although 'most' seem to be quite happy it is a normal PIWO)

It really is time to accept that even if there are a few birds out there, what has transpired so far has not succeeded in proving the presence of IBWOs anywhere - and hasn't pointed realistically to even a faint hope that they might be somewhere out there. All claims have come to nothing - which is why we are still stuck here discussing fuzzy videos.
Anon at 8:56 said:
"failure of others to produce a valid interpretation leaves us with the hypothesis that the bird was an Ivory-bill as the most parsimonious explanation."
demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the word "parsimonious" and suggesting they should (at the minimum) read the Wikipedia entry for "parsimony". One also wonders why one would start with the "hypothesis" that the bird was an IBWO.

Humans regularly think the intensity of their belief will somehow allow them to overcome the reality of probability. State governments make large amounts of money selling lottery tickets to these people and CNBC puts them on display on "Deal or No Deal". In general, an overemphasis in "belief" while ignoring "probability" is not looked on as a sign of intelligence.

As the IBWO story moves from being the "conservation story of the century" to its place in the Great Hoax Hall of Fame it would be good if Cornell, TNC, et al. would try to regain some credibility by admitting their error in jumping on the bandwagon being driven by agenda-driven zealots who had spent too much time in the swamp. I don't mind people entertaining delusions in their private lives, but it crosses the line when those delusions are portrayed as facts and when the government and private citizens are asked to donate to support those delusions.
Humans regularly think the intensity of their belief will somehow allow them to overcome the reality of probability.

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