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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, March 31, 2009


-- Guthrie Returning to Big Woods --


New York birder Rich Guthrie, who claimed an Ivory-bill sighting in the Big Woods as a volunteer for the Cornell team in 2007, is headed back for another look according to this report. His own blog is here --- I assume he'll eventually post about the outing when he returns.


-- No Luck... This Time --


Painter John Agnew, who reported an Ivory-bill encounter early last year in the Choctawhatchee, reports on his latest excursion there here:


Monday, March 30, 2009


-- Reminder --


Just a reminder to folks that what we have from the last 4 years of searching are multiple sounds and signs, from several states, consistent with what we know of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, and a few fuzzy pictures that people claim are Ivory-bills. Moreover, multiple sighting claims for IBWO from people who are quite familiar with Pileated Woodpeckers, including some who do not say they think, or guess, or believe, that they saw an Ivory-bill, but instead voice unequivocal confidence that they've observed the species. All that is lacking is a definitive, indisputable photo, that everyone agrees upon --- skeptics perceive this as a major fatal lapse; whereas for some of us, it's not so inexplicable that the most stringent level of evidence remains elusive for a rare and sparse bird of dense forest, especially with so much malfunctioning and downtime for the automatic camera systems that may have been the best hope for getting such photographic evidence. I'm certainly disappointed that there have not been more clear sightings by now and that the ACONE system in particular in Arkansas did not capture the bird on film; and disappointed too that the methodologies, procedures, results, and details of official searches have been communicated so poorly to the public-at-large, but I'll await final reports for the '07, '08, '09 seasons (as well as any further reports from independents) before casting a judgment on where we now stand. For the time being,
at least five states, besides Arkansas, remain of great interest to me,

Have to keep passing along this wonderful nestcam of storks in Germany, now with at least two eggs:


By the time you read this the two hummingbird babies, earlier linked-to at another webcam, will probably have left the nest.


Sunday, March 29, 2009


-- Casting Call ;-)) --


With three different Ivory-bill movies out-and-about in the marketplace, figured I oughta render
my own choices for casting a Hollywood blockbuster on the topic. So here are a dozen of the internet figures from this epic saga (column A) and 12 actors I've chosen to play their roles (column B) --- HOWEVER, I've completely JUMBLED the order of the actors from my actual pairings so you can now mix-and-match as you see fit (...and I SHAN'T ever reveal my original choices):

A ......................................................... B

Mike Collins ............................... Matthew Broderick
"Cyberthrush" ............................. Ben Stein
"Fangsheath"............................. Jack Nicholson
John Fitzpatrick ........................ Sean Penn
Geoff Hill ................................... Kevin Costner
Jerry Jackson ............................ Russell Crowe
David Luneau ............................ Will Ferrell
Tom Nelson ............................... Al Pacino
Bill Pulliam ................................. Harrison Ford
David Sibley .............................. Matt Damon
Fred Virrazzi ..............................
Tom Hanks
"Anonymous" ............................. Mickey Rourke

Yo, Spielberg, are ya out there?....

(P.S.: Off-topic question: the highly-popular blog "Mike's Birding and Digiscoping Blog" has been down for at least 24-48 hrs... can anyone apprise me, by comments or private email, what's going on there???)

Friday, March 27, 2009


-- Mobile Team Checks In --


Latest update from Cornell's Mobile Team continues in the not-terribly-informative format adopted well over a year ago, reading more like a travelogue than any sort of scientific study of potential Ivory-billed Woodpecker habitat:


The update reports some of the team's activity in Southern Florida (I presume by now they've moved on to finish up in South Carolina), and acknowledges no documentation of the IBWO attained, before rambling off into other tangents of often minimal pertinence. General but no detailed discussion of habitat, nor of any possible cavities or signs of interest. There would be no shame in simply saying that NO sounds, signs, cavities, or sightings of note were found during their efforts, if that is the case (indeed that would be good info to know), but they don't afford such. Nor do they say if the area warrants additional searching, or they believe other areas are more deserving of peoples' time. After promising "articles and updates coming soon" (whatever "soon" means?) quite awhile back, the meagerness (some might say, laughableness) of Cornell's reports is difficult to comprehend from America's premier school of ornithology.

Having said that, I don't doubt that Cornell is doing much good science in the background, but their communication of it to the public is amateurish at best. Very annoying. One gets the feeling that the communications end of things is being run by the same individuals who communicate to 10-year-olds for their so-called "citizen science" projects. I'd like to think the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a notch or two above that. Anyway, enough ranting...

With things soon drawing to a close on the official '08-'09 search season (and word is that the final summary for the '07-'08 season might now actually be close to public release... doooon't get me started), I don't foresee any significant news coming forth from this search season (...more sounds and signs of interest likely, but nothing significant enough to grab the attention of skeptics); although at any given time there are 1000's of Reconyx-type photos yet to be reviewed. I continue to hope that Gary Erdy will re-post his website with more details and fuller presentation at some point, and other independent searchers continue their efforts also, but we may well be watching the demise of major Government-funded searches for the Lord God Bird.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


-- New Open Thread --


The previous 'open thread experiment' worked reasonably well (decent variety of issues and commenters, with fewer breaches of etiquette than I expected ;-), so hereby a new one starts below (will probably let these run for 30-40 comments before closing them out and starting afresh).
Again, please refrain from
personal attacks/accusations toward individuals or institutions; criticisms are ok, but keep it on a civil/constructive level. I'm especially interested in using the space for: 1) getting answers to miscellaneous IBWO questions that readers may have on their minds, 2) discussion that sheds any new light or thoughts on specific evidence or claims, and 3) any new information about ongoing searches that may not yet have been made public; but plenty of other things as well.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


-- Flashback --


Three years ago this month this article ran in Outside Magazine:


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


-- 'Ghost Bird' Movie Update --


An interview with Scott Crocker (producer of the documentary "Ghost Bird" movie), available as podcast at BirdWatch Radio here:


Although, already previewed at several film festivals around country,[ CORRECTION: apparently the San Diego showing was the ONLY festival sneak preview for "Ghost Bird" ] the film gets its official 'world premiere' in early May in Canada. No listing yet for when and where else it will be appearing following that debut.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


-- Collins Paper et.al. --


A reminder that Mike Collins' paper "Flight Mechanics of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker," presenting his analysis of his sighting claims primarily in Louisiana's Pearl River region is available for study here:


the videos and graphics that are referenced in paper are here:


I don't know that there is any way to discuss the paper on Mike's site, so comments may need to be posted elsewhere, such as over at an appropriate BirdForum.net thread (if you are a member), or you may use the comment section below this blog entry, or else write to Mike via private email (there might be other options as well). Unless it has already been done, someone
should post a link to the paper on an appropriate thread over at BirdForum.net as well. [ I have now mentioned it on one BirdForum thread; it may be appropriate for mention on other threads ? ]

For those asking, I've left up the link to Gary Erdy's website because my current understanding is that the site may be re-launched at some point though I have no idea of a timetable (or if the URL will even be the same). Probably, there are some, after this experience, who will simply grant the site no credibility should it re-appear, so I stress again for the open-minded and objective, that by all indications this entire episode involved just one person and just one image, and there is NO reason not to examine closely the remainder of Gary's evidence.

....On the fun side of things, some nestcam links:

again, the storks in Germany (great webcam if it's not blocked on your computer and you have broadband):

... a California webcam of an Allen's Hummingbird nest (these little tykes may not be around a lot longer):

...and lastly this webcam of a Great Horned Owl nesting, incredibly in a tropical plant planter in a Florida shopping area:


Friday, March 20, 2009


-- The Story That Keeps On Giving... --


The Ivory-billed Woodpecker... what a spell it casts upon us. Earlier this week, Sharon Stiteler over at Birdchick blog, noting the emotional intensity people, including herself, sometimes have to all-things-Ivorybill, muses in a comment:

"None of us are immune. Maybe that's the bird's secret power?"

A wonderful thought, a bird that has secret power over we humans; may not be so, but almost seems so at times.
This story of hope raised, hope dashed, raised, dashed, over and over and over again. This week Gary Erdy discovered the buzzsaw that is this topic.

And this week, traffic to my blog doubled (welcome to any newbies still hangin' around), and the average person, according to stats, visited 4+ times per day --- since many folks only stop by once or twice a day, a lot of people must've been clicking here 6-8 or more times every 24 hrs, hooked on this latest story. Lot of interest for one lone iconic, charismatic, compelling species. And I understand people's passion.

But a few days ago Bill Pulliam noted on his blog that it is "occasionally good to remember that the topics that consume the minds of we birders are rather far off on the fringe of mainstream society, even within the blogosphere." Fer sure. And Steve Sheridan laments that his obsession with this bird caused him to "neglect" other aspects of his life, leading to this week's rather irrational outcome.
May these be healthy reminders to us all as we move forward.
...Have a good weekend.

(The 'open thread' continues below, and I have linked to Bill P.s blog in the left-hand 'IBWO Links' column.)

Ohhhh... and just one more thing... GO University of North Carolina Tarheels!!


Thursday, March 19, 2009


-- Open Thread Experiment --


A few days ago I bemoaned some people straying too far off post-topic in their comments, so here's your chance... I'll try an experimental "open thread" where you can bring up any concern related to the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker --- it could be from 60 years ago, or from this week. Here is what I do request:

#1. I'd still like people to focus primarily on issues surrounding claims and evidence and related matters, though other Ivory-bill subjects are ok, and some people may simply feel the need to vent a bit at the moment.

#2. I ask that people NOT engage in personal attacks on individuals or institutions (combining #1 and #2 I know is a fine line for some of you ;-) --- this does not mean you can't offer criticism of such, but if you do so, remain civil and thoughtful.

#3. Finally, I hope the space will not be monopolized by 2-3 people going repeatedly back and forth at each other with their own pet peeves which may not be of interest to the readership in general.

With those few guidelines, we'll give it a try. I hope some good can come out of this, but if things get too nasty, repetitive, unproductive, I'll just pull the plug on it, and of course I'll be continuing normal posts as well.


-- Odds/Ends --


Steve Sheridan's apology/explanation for his deed is over at Researchers Forum for any who have not seen it yet:


For many of us, stiiill a very inexplicable act. Whatever trials he was going through that may have led to this incident, for the short-term he has magnified them many-fold. I wish him the best in coping in the days ahead. As they say, this too shall pass.

For those asking, I know nothing about the future for Gary Erdy's website. It would be nice to believe he has taken it down to re-vamp, as I suggested, in a more full and open manner --- again, I remind readers, Gary is not involved in the forgery, and he was presenting several independent pieces of evidence which are not tied to Steve; I truly hope the site returns. Possibly though, a bunker mentality has taken hold once again and the site may be removed permanently (possibly even at the request of certain agencies), unless or until stronger evidence is attained --- PURE speculation on my part, just trying to imagine what's possible.

It is clear people have a lot to say, so I will try to offer a venue for that --- an experimental "open thread" post described above. If it works, great, and maybe I'll do it every month; if it doesn't work so be it.

ADDENDUM: just discovered that Mike Collins has finally published his IBWO flight dynamics paper as a pdf on his own site here:


I'll link to again in a future post, though not sure when I'll have an opportunity to read it myself. Can't help but note that in a separate aside Mike claims that I have "attacked" his work in the past, even though I don't recall EVER doing so; in fact I'm surprisingly neutral on much of Mike's work, but am not surprised he perceives things otherwise.


-- Open Access Science --


Article on open access science here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


-- Aftermath --


Longish post, for obvious reasons....

Since I first became aware of the Erdy claims there were a number of slightly troublesome loose ends. And upon first seeing the story and #3 picture, I voiced a concern to someone that nothing I saw totally ruled out hoax (even though I didn't truly suspect that, it had to remain on the table as one option). I was told that no one close to the story (who knew a lot more details than I did) ever regarded that as a possibility. Oddly enough, over days I became more comfortable with the authenticity of the evidence presented, even though certain questions nagged --- and while I believed the Erdy team might be guilty of overzealous interpretation of evidence, fraud gradually faded from my radar.

Now, we know otherwise.
I have to admit to having less sympathy for Steve than what Bill P. expresses at his blog. As deeply and for as long as Steve has been involved in the Ivory-bill saga, he of all people ought surely comprehend the damage done by, and foolhardiness of this almost inexplicable act (it is what I would expect from outliers and newbies to this story, not from those with long involvement, though maybe it was that very long-term involvement without adequate attention that drove him to this point? Who knows...). I suspect the slings and arrows of Steve's own conscience will punish him even more than whatever slings and arrows critics hurl his way. Maybe, in the grand scheme of things, 20 years from now some of the people involved with this whole episode will get together over a beer and look back saying, "Remember when...." and have a good laugh... maybe... but I doubt it, and right now, it stings, a LOT.

...and there is blame to go around:
I am hugely grateful for all those who spend much time diligently involved in the Ivory-bill search and the analysis of data, so I don't mean to sound too harsh here, BUT:
One CAN HARDLY imagine how this evidence could've been reviewed for well over a year by 20 people and this forgery been missed as such. How much intensive technical analysis of the photo and interrogation of the principals was done? Many agree that the bird involved in the photo matches no species adequately, the picture lacks a time-stamp, the story of how the photo was attained had some odd elements, and for some reason only now, 2 years later, does a good and final accurate measurement of size come about. Duhhh!? As Bill P. says (massive understatement), the ball was dropped "at various points this time." I won't ask here the many questions that I'm sure the 20 reviewers are now asking themselves (or will be asked by others), and I'm sure Bill will address some of these things in a future post. But it does leave the mind reeling a bit.

A friend of mine has for years vigorously touted open-access science on the internet. In the beginning I had serious doubts it was a good or truly workable idea. But I have come around. And THIS is a fine example of why. There are certainly reasons on occasion for publicly withholding bits of information, and there are even practical problems as well, but in general, if this data/evidence had been made available on the Web early on for all to view and analyze, 20 people might still have 'dropped the ball' but I guarantee you some (out of 100's that would view it) WOULD NOT have. Different people pick up on different things, pose different questions, come from different backgrounds and experiences, producing different ideas. The more eyes and minds the better. Open access can be disorganized, even chaotic, but it can also be speedy and in the end, result in a much higher quality analysis, filtered through many more appraisals. It is the wave of the future, while the science of secrecy, elites, and closed door meetings, is the science of stagnancy. But change comes slow sometimes, and institutional lethargy is stubborn.

In that vein, it is my hope that as soon as feasible, Gary produces on his site, for full inspection, as much of the evidence that he has gathered over the years and believes is pertinent --- the current piecemeal, drip, drip, drip, production of evidence can only hurt his cause. For the amount of time and energy spent in the study area the volume of evidence thus far revealed seems quite slim IF IBWOs were in fact frequenting this small area on a regular basis.

I believe the location, the number (and approximate dates) of possible sightings and sound encounters, and any possible cavities or foraging sign of interest, should all be exhibited on site for all to judge. At a minimum, sequential before and after pictures for each Reconyx shot used on site should also be included. This may entail a lot of material (or it may not), but I am surprised that, given the time-length of this study, there has not already been a more complete presentation pieced together for the Web. (Frankly, it's difficult to fathom what people have been doing with this evidence for 2+ years???). There are ways then to categorize and filter the many responses that would result from such Web presentation. I'm not sure that Gary, as a non-birder, even fully comprehends the gravity that Ivory-bill claims carry, or the quality of the evidence required to sustain such claims in the present atmosphere --- luckily, he writes in a very tentative tone on his website as warranted, and luckily he has not been associated directly with the forgery we now know of. I also realize these are not entirely Gary's decisions to make --- other agencies are playing a role and have input as to how things proceed. But I continue to say... TIME is of the essence.

p.s.: I have placed Gary's website at the top of the "IBWO Links" list in left-hand column for easy access.


-- News Flash! --


Photo forged....

Bill Pulliam has broken the unfortunate news of mystery bird #3 at his blog here. I'm not even sure myself if Bill knows how little of the official story had been released on the blogosphere yet (this may even be a 'canned' post since I believe he is still away from computer access; not sure). My own intention was not to say much until Gary had spoken his peace on the matter. Though now I may post later this evening or tomorrow, whether or not Gary has posted anything.

I will remind folks that there is other evidence besides the #3 bird color photo, but I don't know anything about the handling/processing of the Reconyx pictures to know if there is any possibility that they could be compromised.
Obviously, a very sad, disturbing turn of events.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


-- Not Good Signs? --


The longer we go without a report of new size measurements for mystery bird #3, the murkier things potentially become... at least for now.

On a separate note, I am not currently able to bring up Steve Sheridan's own Ivory-bill website (which detailed his Ivory-bill sightings of the more distant past, unrelated to the current claims). It was working yesterday as I recall --- possibly he is doing major revisions to it in light of the current story, or, possibly the reason lies elsewhere. If anyone knows for sure please feel free to comment, but I'd like to avoid idle speculation.

Addendum: Now (5 am. 3/18), "mystery bird #3" has been deleted from the Erdy website. Again, maybe it is down while that section simply gets re-vamped; I won't speculate about the likely reason right now. More foreboding: I just noticed that Steve Sheridan's name has been removed from mention as part of Erdy's "team" on page one of his site (Sheridan was the photographer producing the bird #3 photo)..
Just to avoid rampant speculations I'm turning off comments here for a 12 -24 hr. 'cool down' period until further clarification comes.
BTW, Bill P. is in the field without computer access, but will return late Thur., and likely have his own thoughts on matters to share at that point.
Should anyone wish to send along clarifications, not conjecture, to me via email you may still do so.

Monday, March 16, 2009


-- The Links Again --


Again, links (besides this blog) to keep near at hand:

http://www.ivorybillphotoproject.com/home .....(home for the Erdy site)

http://www.ivorybillphotoproject.com/mystery_bird_3_and_comparison_b .....(mystery bird #3) [ NO LONGER AVAILABLE ]

http://bbill.blogspot.com .....(Bill Pulliam's blog)

Folks may want to play with images of woodpeckers at:


(Just type in whatever species you want to view; there are 1000's of images. Many images on Flickr as well.)

There are also videos of woodpeckers, if you wish to view them in motion, on YouTube, birdcinema, and other sites, though as a start, still images are quicker to run through.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


-- Pete Dunne, Ya Got A Moment? --


;-) To say the least, this is a longshot, but what the hey....

I can probably give one teensy hint as to the identity of the 3/13 anonymous respondent: it WASN'T Pete Dunne... But if a genie popped out of a Beaujolais bottle and granted me just one American birder to analyze mystery bird #3,
without much hesitation, I'd choose Dunne (he probably only gets about 3 dozen outlandish requests like this per day). Pete likely needs no introduction to most readers here, and while there are other field birders with equal skills to his, he brings a combination of attributes to this discussion that set him apart:

1. Every serious birder likely knows of and respects Pete's field expertise, and would consider very seriously his analysis and judgment.

2. He is a primary advocate of the "Cape May School of birding;" also known as "gestalt" or "giss" bird identification. I've previously contended that gestalt birding is a key element in this entire decades-old debate, and I want to hear from someone with that specific orientation/slant to bird identification. Who else could write a 700+ page book of strictly verbal descriptions for N. American birds (NO pictures), and make it an almost indispensable guide for American birders? NO ONE, that's who!!

3. Several prominent birders/ornithologists have at some point publicly committed themselves to the notion that the Ivory-bill is almost certainly extinct... personally, I think these individuals can STILL objectively/fairly analyze a given piece of evidence, but others (including many readers of this blog) worry that past statements impede full objectivity on the matter. Pete does not come with that baggage, as he has always (so far as I'm aware?) been open to the possibility, however unlikely, of Ivory-bill presence.

4. If Pete says this bird is a normal Pileated, then for me that just about locks it down, barring new subsequent information; if he says it's inconclusive, the debate goes on. And if he says let's go out for some pizza and beer, I'M IN....

So Pete, if you're out there somewhere working on your 45th book, and wanna take a break to write somethin' up
in your inimitable style about mystery bird #3, to send along to me here, then go to it... I be gratefully waiting.

All kidding aside, there's no one's analysis I'd be more anxious to hear...


-- Interlude --


Still a number of new people stopping by blog just now learning of this story, so felt it best to give them 24+ hrs. to catch up and digest as much material as they care to. Will likely have one NON-newsy entry much later today, but nothing new or substantial to post while still seeking additional information and awaiting size measurements of mystery bird #3.

To hold you over
in the meantime, some entertainment below from a wonderful webcam of nesting storks in Germany --- I linked to this last year though and some folks told me it was blocked on their work computers:


Friday, March 13, 2009


-- Weekend Catch-up --


New people are continuing to hear about this now week-old story and swing by the blog, so a little summary and catch-up:

1. For newbies you need to first carefully read through Gary Erdy's site to get a sense of the material he has put together and what the discussion/debate has been about. BTW, Erdy modifies the site without announcement so it is worth checking back with some regularity for any changes (material being removed or added --- also note that because photos used on the site have changed over time, some early references to photos in posts and comments may now be confusing):


2. 2nd step is to read Bill Pulliam's initial blog entry on the findings, posted (and later appended) immediately after a news embargo on this story was lifted (Bill was one of 20 reviewers of this evidence for 1+ year during which it was withheld from public disclosure):


He has follow-up posts as well.

My own blogposts on the news begin on the same day (3/9), but are not as necessary reading as some of Bill's material. And even though there is some good discussion and information in the 180+ comments herein, it is sometimes buried amongst repetition, triteness, snark, aspersions, etc. that often ensues in such controversies, so few may want to wade through all the comment sections (I do believe there are many good comments particularly on the earlier post today). Many of the same points already made, will likely be reiterated in the discussion ahead. (I also want to thank all who keep their comments focused on evidence and arguments, not on personalities and individuals.)

3. The #3 Mystery Bird at Gary Erdy's site has been the primary focus of attention (although there is other data of interest there), and of the initial possibilities for its identification Red-headed Woodpecker is probably assigned little probability at this time. The only remaining seriously-considered candidates are normal Pileated Woodpecker, leucistic Pileated (with abnormal white patches), or Ivory-billed Woodpecker. VERY briefly, issues at hand are:

For Ivory-billed Woodpecker (putting aside rarity or improbability), major issues centering around the size and shape of the perceived white saddle, the lack of dorsal stripes, and the appearance of the crest.

For normal Pileated, concerns reside around the possible perception of a white saddle, and the facial and neck patterns or appearance. Leucistic Pileated has same concerns except that now white saddle is explained.

There are many other more subtle issues, and it is conceivable that yet more issues could arise as time proceeds.

By early next week new (and hopefully fairly accurate) measurements for the size of mystery bird #3 may be publicly disclosed (being taken this weekend), and could have significant ramifications for the ongoing discussion, possibly even in unforeseen ways.

In a very skeleton way, that brings newbies up-to-date. I may have multiple posts this weekend (not sure yet) so stay tuned.


-- One Person's View --


The respondent I alluded to in yesterday's post is "an experienced birder, naturalist and field sketcher." I would go slightly beyond that to say that their experience and background makes them a keen and careful observer (both instinctively and analytically) of nature. I might also add that this individual is very open to the possibility of IBWO persistence if carefully examined evidence supports it.

This person quite summarily rules out Red-headed Woodpecker for the mystery bird (for reasons that have already been covered here), and that species is off the table for me as well at this point.
Viewing the photo-in-question, this person's "first impression" was of:

"a normally plumaged pileated woodpecker which happens to have its head turned directly away from, and its body rotated away from the viewer. It's peering around the trunk and its body is foreshortened, facing almost directly away from the viewer (i.e., its tail is pointing away to the left side of the picture.) I see no white secondaries; I see skylight where these might be imagined. The angle of white intersecting black on the bird's wing would be all wrong, even if the white area were its secondaries."

What follows are simply a few pertinent quotes I've extracted from emails exchanged:

"The white area... is much too large to be its secondaries, if you're taking into account the head, neck, and upper back proportions. Go back and look at the Singer Tract photos of nest exchange in IBWO's, and see how that white delta on a perched ivorybill is a small, compact triangle, not a huge parallelogram. The secondary section of a woodpecker's folded wing is not an enormous, tree-trunk obscuring parallelogram. It's a triangle."

"There's just no way the white spot below the bird's body is white secondaries. It's way too big a patch, and not in proportion to the body of the bird. It's sky, beneath a bird that's perched almost at a 90 degree angle to the vertical trunk."

"If that white area is secondaries, we've got an enormous, big-bodied bird with a teeny little head; i.e., with the proportions of a moa. What we've got, in my opinion, is a pileated woodpecker, foreshortened, perched almost crosswise on a tree, peering around the trunk and facing away. It's hanging out with the pileated in the foreground. Big hint as to its identity right there."

"If it's an ivory-bill, where are the white dorsal stripes, anyway? By any interpretation, that's a solid black back: pileated."

"There's just far too much that has to be explained away here. Again: Where's the dorsal stripe? Answer: Maybe it could be hidden. Maybe the bird's getting ready to fly and has its wing raised, hiding it. Well, then, where's the raised wing?"

"It's keeping company with a pileated; that fact alone argues for its identity."

"The neck of a pileated certainly looks like that when the head is turned away... Ditto on the big fluffy crest. [ and the writer notes that they know this from having held "a dead (not mounted) specimen" in their hand].

"I see nothing inconsistent with an ID of pileated woodpecker."

and as an afterthought they sent this along:

"You might add that there's no one out there who has greater hope and (yes) FAITH that the ivorybill still lives than I do, but I agree with [I've deleted name] in thinking that it's much too important a thing to shore up on shaky evidence. For me, that photo depicts a pair of pileated woodpeckers, working away within earshot and sight of each other, as they often do---not a pileated keeping company with an ivory-bill. Rare birds are rare, and the chance capture of an image of a vanishingly rare bird which also happens somehow to have no visible dorsal stripes (huh??) is millions of times less likely than the chance that it's a photo of a pair of pileated woodpeckers."

=> (In retrospect it strikes me that these quotes taken out of full context may sound a bit terse or hasty, and I can only ask the reader to trust my judgment that this is NOT a terse or hasty observer.) That they find this photo fairly clearcut and non-controversial with their trained eyes is noteworthy to me (perhaps some of the official reviewers did as well?). This individual has NO interest in being embroiled in the sort of verbal squabbling that takes place on a site like this, so they will not be responding back-and-forth-and-back-again to issues/questions raised about their take --- there is NO point in lobbing rejoinders in hope of a response (and I understand/respect their wishes in this regard). Simply take these thoughts for what they are worth to you and move on. I know there will be questions.
I heartily thank this individual for taking time out of a very busy schedule to even offer up their judgment for use and quotation here, and only wish others of their caliber and recognition would do the same.

Everyone knows this debate can go 'round and 'round forever, with the same points and counterpoints, unless more evidence comes forth.
Lastly, it may be worth noting that the #3 Mystery Bird is just one of Erdy's pieces of evidence, albeit the most-discussed piece.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


-- A Trickle of Response --


Have received a tiny trickle of 3 email responses to my "plea" for further professional opinions on mystery bird #3, and will post at more length sometime tomorrow on one particular respondent. Am still interested in hearing from others as well.
I don't think any really new arguments (that aren't buried somewhere in the comments here) are put forth, I'll just briefly say that one European scientist finds IBWO at least as plausible as the other candidates based on all the same arguments that have been stated here; an Alaska Fish and Game official argues for normal Pileated, and his arguments are more elaborately echoed by the third individual who wishes to remain anonymous but who's judgment I VERY MUCH trust and respect, and who fairly unhesitatingly sees a normal Pileated. I will summarize this person's opinion more fully tomorrow (with quotes), while also awaiting any further input that might come in.

Many (including myself) have difficulty perceiving the normal PIWO scenario and this individual too is not saying much more than has already been offered (and now buried) in comments along the way from a few people who have put forth that notion, BUT coming from this person it means much more to me than hearing it from "Anonymous" or some "John Smith" who I don't know. The crux of course (though there are multiple issues) is how one perceives the white "shield" --- as part of the bird, or, even in Bill's demo, an artifactual component from the background sky. We won't settle it here. I can only say this person's perspective means a great deal to me, just as many were swayed by David Sibley's view of the Luneau video (doesn't mean either of them are right, but they must be taken seriously).
Truly, this is one of those classic wonderful (textbook) examples of how people can view the same given flat image so utterly differently.

NOTE: I have removed the link to a special example Pileated picture that was previously included here, because latest indication is that it was NOT an illusory-appearing natural photo, but in fact simply a human-doctored photo. [ this was a side piece of entertainment having no connection to the Erdy team evidence ].


Wednesday, March 11, 2009


-- A Plea --


The majority (not all) of us here are essentially rank amateurs in this endeavor.
Doubt that much will come of this, but I'll make a plea anyway: I'd genuinely like to see some of the more recognizable names out there weigh in with their most objective view of the #3 mystery bird: Louis Bevier, Martin Collinson, Pete Dunne, David Sibley, Van Remsen, Noel Snyder, Kenn Kaufman, Clay Sutton, a few names (of many possible) that come to mind --- what are the best choices for the bird's likely ID as you view it? I know some individuals may feel restrained by confidentiality agreements from what they can say openly. Others with major credentials, but maybe less name recognition, should also feel free to respond (and state those credentials). Some individuals may not view "blogs" as an appropriate outlet for expressing such viewpoints, but it truly would be helpful/appreciated, and hey, you'll have a very interested captive audience. (contact me via a means, email or comments section, that allows verification of identity; i.e., I don't wish to suddenly receive 10 comments all signed "David Sibley" :-))
The sole desire here is to see as many different intelligent viewpoints put out in the open as possible, for study by all... open-access information is a wonderful thing!

p.s. -- I did not include Jerry Jackson above, only because I have already contacted him (he is always remarkably generous with his time and thoughts) and he felt limited in what he could say publicly, so his brief response does not add a lot to the discussion at this moment. Some of the people above I could also individually contact, but am hoping this message will find its way to them.

And for now, I'll just keep re-posting these two pertinent links:




-- Stay Tuned --


Not to change the subject, but new brief video overview of the Auburn search in north Florida is given here. Again, they have switched to vibration-triggered automatic cameras rather than the Reconyx-type cameras Erdy's
team (and others) employed, but no significant news in the video.

And getting back to the subject... in one of those instances of being thrilled to be wrong (hey, I said my first impression/analysis was tentative), after further enlargement and manipulation of the Sheridan color photo, and in conjunction with persistent reasoning by Bill P. and others, I'm happy to now conclude that the bird in question is hugely unlikely to be a Red-headed Woodpecker (hopefully, accurate size measurements will easily confirm that), leaving us with what seem to be only two highly improbabilistic possibilities, leucistic Pileated (with mimicking white shield) or Ivory-billed Woodpecker. (...Is that Twilight Zone music I hear playing in the background?)

One source indicates to me that US Fish and Wildlife may release a summary of the reviewers' findings/judgments "soon" (whatever that means in Gov't. terms ;-), and since my vague understanding (not certain) is that Pileated may have been the majority opinion of reviewers, I'm more curious than ever to see exactly how those judgments are constructed.



Now, pan to Rod Serling, stage left....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


-- March Madness, Indeed --


Wheeeeew... Will start a new post just so people have a blank slate on which to continue comments, as they're getting confusingly long on prior post (anyone who has issues specifically with Bill P.'s stance is certainly free to carry those arguments over to his blog site if you wish for more direct back-and-forth with him, or you're welcome to stay here as you choose).

Just some housekeeping for now:

1. Here again are the important links so you don't have to keep shifting down below:



2. THANKS everyone for largely staying on topic and relatively civil (as these discussions go!). Obviously the subject stirs strong emotions on both sides and everyone needs to come here with a fairly thick skin for the snarkiness, terseness, redundancy, etc. that often ensues, but it's been a largely worthwhile discussion.

3. Even though Bill and I don't agree on some things here, I want to thank him for taking so much time to step in not only to defend his view, but to respond to various issues raised, and hopefully everyone realizes he's been dealing with this evidence set much longer than most of us. I'm trying to largely stay out of the discussion and let other people make the points I would want to make; so thanks to all who do that.

4. The size measurements clearly could quickly alter some arguments here. For now, unlike Bill, I continue to believe Red-headed Woodpecker IS tenable (I also believe leucistic PIWO is tenable... and IBWO possible as well), but may not be worth going through all the point-by-point arguments, until those size measurements are in.
Lest anyone be too swayed by my personal opinion though, let me say that I've viewed a lot of mystery bird quizzes in the past and probably been right well UNDER 50% of the time --- so even though I trust my instincts on this one, there's no legitimate reason for anyone else to!!!

5. I'd very much like to see the opinions of the various (~20) reviewers of these pics released in some venue, but that may not happen. There would be great benefit to the rest of us in seeing what those who have spent the most time with the material (besides Bill) have to say.

6. There's some new traffic here daily (surprise, surprise)... hate doing this but if possible I'd request newbies to read through the comments after previous post, just so you're not tempted to say something that has already been voiced 5 times before.

Carry on....

Monday, March 09, 2009


-- News, Addendum, P.S. --


Possible Ivory-billed Woodpecker photos incoming... :

Everyone will want to visit the new website from Gary Erdy and Steve Sheridan for recently-released pictures (from 2007) of possible Ivory-bills in a location not as yet publicly disclosed:


Bill Pulliam's current take (as one of the outside reviewers) on this evidence below (bottomline, he leans toward identification of mystery bird #3 as IBWO, and be sure to read his full analysis):


The proponents here (Erdy/Sheridan) seem to be taking a judiciously cautious, but optimistic, approach to their findings and seeking out further opinion and analysis. Many individuals have already
extensively reviewed the material presented (and more) and offered various opinions which I'm hoping will be made public at some point. The enlarged color picture of "mystery bird #3" (actually captured on film by accident while focused on another bird) will undoubtedly draw the most comment; the black-and-white Reconyx images are much less convincing, but are interesting, worth studying, and further indicate the difficulty of obtaining good photographic results from automatic equipment under such conditions. (May be worth mentioning that IBWO-like sound has also been recorded for the area in question, though not included as part of website.)

Once again the evidence is NON-definitive
(is that the high-pitched sound of skeptics tearing out their last few hair follicles that I hear in the background...), but maybe on par with the Luneau video, or some may think increments better, or, worse... tantalizing and worth pursuing, while also maddeningly inconclusive. I suspect the cyberspace debate over this material will be INTENSE, lengthy... and likely unfortunately, unresolvable (except by additional material). ...But for now, a nice adrenalin rush that may yet lead to something more solid.

For a variety of reasons I won't express an opinion on the material just yet --- though I have a 'first impression,' it is not a firm opinion and could be swayed by further disclosures. A 'vetting' process of sorts will likely ensue across the internet (there are certain individuals I'm particularly interested in hearing from). Given more time, details, and information I may voice a more definite opinion
later. For now I simply encourage readers to view the evidence carefully and cautiously. Otherwise...... have at it!!


I wasn't planning to jump in this quickly, but since some commenters are already echoing my initial thoughts, I'll go ahead with my FIRST gut impression/analysis:

First, I think there COULD be 1 or more IBWOs in these pics; knowing that there have been sighting and sound claims for the general area helps make that POSSIBLE. So I DO NOT DISCOUNT that as a possibility. The images do not appear to match ANY obvious candidate very precisely. What follows then is just an initial interpretation subject to change:

I believe "mystery bird #3" (as some others have indicated) is most likely a Red-headed Woodpecker; putting the shape/proportions aside (because they are easily distorted), the general color pattern matches RHWO better than alternative candidates (in my view). MOREOVER, I believe the bird may have its HEAD TURNED 180 degrees PREENING its back or wing, such that what people are interpreting as a neck stripe may actually be its beak and a tiny piece of white breast showing through separated (preened) feathers. The head-turning would also help explain the admittedly distorted look the bird exhibits for a RHWO. Clearly, other arguments can be made, but I don't believe RHWO can be easily ruled out.

I don't make out much at all from the last Reconyx image (bird on trunk way left); the flying bird image is intriguing (I'd like to hear further analysis), but I suspect also to be a RHWO, and the "blurry head" bird, while also intriguing, lacks enough detail to shout out IBWO more than the alternatives.

I want to stress that these are very tentative conclusions on my part, but in what I have heard/read so far they are tending to be reinforced, more than shaken. But I also want to add that even if ALL these particular images were shown to be NON-IBWOs, it does not eliminate the possibility of Ivory-bills residing in the area under study.

P.S.: it occurs to me that these pictures, at least the color photo, might be suitable (I would think) for discussion on the "Frontiers of Identification" birding listserv (which often has excellent insights), but I'm not a member over there. Surely though some reader here is a member and could direct that group to Gary's page for discussion at their listserv (they actually had a "woodpecker identification" thread going on recently, but it had nothing to do with Gary's website). ...Just a thought (unless it is inappropriate there for some reason? --- possibly, the Frontier group just doesn't touch IBWO stuff anymore???)

P.P.S.: from comments I see on the Web and in email it's clearer to me how ambiguous this bird (color photo) is to viewers. It can be viewed as angled leftward, angled rightward, or facing directly ahead; the head can be viewed in a wide variety of positions; not even absolutely certain what is bird and what is not part of the bird (I'm reasonably convinced by Bill's demo that the shield is part of the bird, but some other subtle elements less sure). That's why I like hearing from as many different people viewing on as many different screens as possible. Obviously, there is no exact species match for the bird as it appears; we can only look for a "best" match and then explain away the anomalies by distortion and special posturing. Accurate size measurements would certainly help, though those very measurements may be endlessly debated as well. And beyond all this there are probably many other tangential questions yet to be clarified.
...Have to go now, and let my head explode ;-)

Sunday, March 08, 2009


-- 'Ghost Bird' Panel Update --


"Birdchick" blogs briefly about the "Ghost Bird" discussion panel in San Diego this weekend here. The most interesting note to me is that Jerry Jackson apparently joined the panel as a last minute addition. Cornell, BTW, chose not to participate (in the film). Birdchick says she'll have more to tell later about the discussion.

Friday, March 06, 2009


-- Gulls Just Wanna Have Fun --


Off topic, but with the weekend and warmer weather approaching, too good not to pass along:


Tuesday, March 03, 2009


-- Florida This and That --


From a poster over at IBWO Researchers' Forum some description of one of the areas in north Florida's Appalachicola region
for prospective searchers:


From Cornell, pics posted from south Florida by the Mobile Search Team below... nice pics, no IBWOs.


No accompanying written report, but the team should be close to wrapping things up in Florida and possibly headed to South Carolina next???


Monday, March 02, 2009


-- Upcoming --


"Birdchick" reports that she will be part of a panel discussion later this week with filmmaker Scott Crocker and David Sibley following a sneak preview screening of Crocker's documentary release, "Ghost Bird" at the San Diego Bird Festival (Mar. 5-8).


-- Stepping Lightly --


Feel like I walk a tightrope a bit when I post these days. From emails I get it's clear that many people either think I'm too pessimistic, or think I'm being cryptic and know a major piece of news as yet unreleased. The truth is in-between; I'm optimistic that some IBWOs persist, pessimistic that conclusive (to everyone) evidence will arise this season... and even more pessimistic that even if it did, there's much chance of saving the species (though the chance at salvaging some fantastic habitat remains a strong impetus). Again, NONE of the things I'm aware of publicly/privately seem (to me) any more compelling than what has come before. While there's always a chance of some well-kept secret that could alter everything, recent history consistently suggests that a paucity of news from official sources usually reflects a paucity of information worth telling, NOT some conspiracy of silence (unreleased news usually being 'more-of-the-same,' and not 'game-changing').

Skeptics have won the immediate battle... verbal claims, pictures of cavities, foraging sign, intriguing habitat, recorded sounds, fuzzy video analysis, are all of interest and must be compiled/analyzed, but they simply won't be enough. Even DNA or a sighting and accompanying drawing by David Sibley could be debated. For good or for ill, critics have set the bar that establishes clear, indisputable photography/video as the required standard of evidence in this case; for a sparse, quick-moving bird of thick forest, it is a high bar. And if that standard is ever achieved, those in a position to do so will need to thoroughly analyze what worked and what didn't, to try and insure that we never again require this amount of time to attain that standard in any future analogous situation.

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