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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

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.

CT. You said " 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."

What the hell does that mean? If the pictures were taken with Gary's equipment then who would have any say so as to what gets released? Are you saying the government is tellin him what to release?

I brought this up before. If legitimate people out there think their material is going to be hijacked by someone then why come forward?

I think there is alot of soso's ,maybe's, and I'm not sure buts, going around when very little is actually known. I also think there are alot of players or wanna be players in this saga that like to place a little too much importance on themselves.

Who were the 20 reviewers? Were there really 20 reviewers? Or is this all heresay as well?

No one is going to willingly come forward at this point in the game if people don't start owning up and if there is no government agency involved then just say it.

If there is, just name them. Is it the Fish and Wildlife service? Is it forestry? DNR? And can any of these agencies tell a private researcher what to and what not to release?

Or is it just bloggers and such that have assigned themselves as some sort of authority? And no government agencies are involved.

Classic example here of those who feel so important screwed it up. Fangsheath on the other forum said his copies were watermarked. Which means they were subject to manipulation.

Good grief.
And let me add to my post above.
CT your first sentence is "Since I first became aware of these claims there were a number of slightly troublesome loose ends."

Perhaps if these loose ends as well as everyones' had been brought up this wouldn't have gone on as far. My loose ends regarding the color mystery bird are simple. How can someone be standing there taking a picture of this pileated in the tree and not see a large black and white bird swoop in and land on a nearby tree? And then how can they miss it taking off?

The other question I had was why was he standing there taking so many numerous pictures of the same bird alledgedly? Who does that?

And the little film on Bill P's site wasn't any help, the foliage between the images changed when the bird was there and when it wasn't. The pictures were manipulated. And there is a hanging twig or branch quite clear when the bird isn't there and then this vanishes when the bird IS there. DUH.

As for the reconyx pictures I have loose ends as well. How the hell can anyone pick out these tiny "birds" in the images? And according to Erdy the cameras were set to take a picture every 0.6 seconds. That is ALOT of pictures. And look at the picture of the proposed possible ivory-bill wing. How can anyone find that in the picture? Is there a computer program that scans the reconyx pictures for differences? This is a huge loose end for me.
I'll try to cover the above inquiries...

"How can someone be standing there taking a picture of this pileated in the tree and not see a large black and white bird swoop in and land on a nearby tree? And then how can they miss it taking off?"

EXCELLENT point; and this was a major concern of mine as well. Certain things just didn't pass the 'smell test' easily.
As far as 'taking numerous pics' that is commonplace with digital cameras so I wasn't surprised by that.
I actually thought Bill P.'s sequence demo was very persuasive, but there were varying opinions on it.
As to the reconyx photos, people have developed procedures for scanning millions of these in a season -- I don't know what Gary's technique is, but David Luneau wrote about his technique on his website.
Gary is working with certain Gov't. agencies, as almost anyone ends up doing who comes forth with credible IBWO evidence. Because of the land tracts involved, and of course you're dealing with an endangered species, it is virtually a necessity that official agencies get involved at some point.
I don't know the entire list of 20 reviewers, but the names I did see were all reputable birders; I suspect however there may have been no one involved with expertise in Photoshop or other techno-geek software (just guessing).
Thanx for the answers. I feel genuinely bad for everyone involved.
I may have more thoughts on this as time goes on, but it doesn't change my overall view on IBWO survival. . .and as I said earlier, Mystery Bird #2 remains a very suggestive image, and with Reconyx pics, there's not much room for fakery.

I'm disappointed about Steve Sheridan. I hope he'll come forward with a full explanation of his motives and his actions, but what he's done is inexcusable. He'll have to live with himself.

I still think there's a place for restricting information as a case gets built, but in this situation, the information has been handled and disbursed in a way that isn't helpful.

Finally, for now, I think this argues for a radically different, multi-disciplinary approach to evaluating photographic evidence. I'd venture to guess that most, if not all, top level birders aren't experts in the forensic analysis of photographs, and neither are most of us who comment on internet forums. The images available, from whatever source, should be analyzed and (yes) enhanced by people with specific expertise in working with and studying still photographs and video. Such people are likely better able to detect both deception and indications that certain images actually show Ivory-bills than the rest of us. I've had this view for a long time, but it hasn't gained much traction.

A lot of people will undoubtedly fuss about this, since they need a pretty picture to convince themselves, but informed analysis of this kind of data is clearly beyond the abilities of most of the people who are examining the material. Look at how readily people on both sides accepted both this doctored image and the phony PIWO with dorsal stripes and a white saddle.
And now Gary's site is down. I hope it's only for revamping and a more comprehensive disclosure of data.
I don't need a "pretty picture" to convince me. I just need a picture.
It doesn't have to be pretty but I have identified many images of birds to species. If you have a picture that takes "informed analysis..." beyond the ability of most people for a species identification, then I would keep it to yourself or spend time in the field trying to get a decent image rather than fretting over the bad one.
CT why does it take you 7 paragraphs to say what can be said in two sentences:

"I aplogize to my readership for prematurely asking bird ID opinions on a phoney pix. In the future I will not fawn over and beg alleged experts...that are as bad as me in IDing virtual birds as actual birds".

"I aplogize to my readership for prematurely asking bird ID opinions on a phoney pix. In the future I will not fawn over and beg alleged experts...that are as bad as me in IDing virtual birds as actual birds".


And I hope those 'experts' don't now have the nerve to explain to us how and why "we" were all taken in.

eat my pixels.
"And I hope those 'experts' don't now have the nerve to explain to us how and why "we" were all taken in."

I suspect most of us would like to know the process by which this photo passed muster, if only to serve future similar situations.
it doesn't change my overall view on IBWO survival. . .and as I said earlier, Mystery Bird #2 remains a very suggestive image, and with Reconyx pics, there's not much room for fakery.

That is why for some this will never end. You do not need good evidence. The most recent "Ivory-bill photos" included at least one red-headed woodpecker photo, one forgery, and blurs that may or may not be animate objects. But Erdy still has some evidence left, right? I mean stuff that cannot be conclusively proven as something other than Ivory-bills?

since they need a pretty picture to convince themselves

After what has just happened, your ridiculing of those who want a quality photo speaks for itself. Faith-based ornithology indeed.
Wasn't Jesse Gilsdorf searching in this same area? Has anyone heard from him? He has been absent from the research forum of late. I would like to hear what he knows.

You know, this reminds me of a story that has a similar point. Crop circles. I think most intelligent people know they are crap. Or not. That doesn't matter. But I was watching a pbs special years back and they were interviewing the director of crop circle studies in England. He seemed completely sane, he was an older man who obviously had alot of passion about his work. Anyway, the producers unknowingly went out and made their own crop circle. They filmed themselves making one in the most basic way. And they told no one. They waited until it was "discovered" and then researched. They filmed the interview with the director of crop circle studies as he told them they had found this crop circle. He then spewed out how his researchers found this or that type of reading on their instruments, how the wheat had been bent in such a way that could have only been accomplished by an intense yet short term heat source. He told how the locals in the area had seen glowing orbs in the days around when the circle was supposedly made. The point is, he had all of these researchers finding "evidence" that was accepted as truth. Then the pbs film crew showed him the video of them actually making the circle, which of course meant that all of the data collected at the site was garbage.

He ultimately quit his position.

The point of all of this is that every controversial research area has these "experts" that everyone thinks are flawless. People place so much importance on themselves sometimes, and the people that listen to these people do not question them. After all they are the experts right?

Well this incident is a perfect demonstration of that. Perhaps the people that have deemed themselves important and experts are not quite as perfect as they seem. And perhaps everyone should be a little less anxious to blindly listen to people just because they are a little louder than everyone else.

Critical analysis can be done by anyone. You don't have to own a blog or shout real loud and talk down to others to be able to engage in logic and sense. Perhaps people need to start thinking for themselves and make opinions and decisions based on data that is real and not purported to be real by others just because they say they are important.

A little common sense in this incident would have ended it long before it did. And now we have a problem for anyone out there doing real research. If you think your results were going to be subject to scrutiny then look out. I cannot imagine what will happen to the next person to come forward.
Anonymous 9:46 AM, that was brilliant.

I hope everyone reads that twice and thinks about it very hard.
If nothing else, this exercise turned out to be an excellent test for detecting bias among bird identification "experts" in the analysis of a fuzzy bird photo. As far as I'm concerned, everything Bill Pulliam (who I've never met) wrote about the bird's identity was essentially right on--except that he failed to detect the hoax.

The bird was positioned vertically on the trunk, not contorted into an unwoodpecker-like horizontal position. The black, red and white were just as they appeared in the photo and were hopelessly irreconcilable for any species. It definitely was not a Red-headed Woodpecker. Those who were convinced it was either a "normal" Pileated or an Ivorybill were dead wrong. It was essentially a faked "hybrid" between a Pileated and an Ivorybill.
Anonymous 11:30 am, that was brilliant.

You are right on. Clearly, those who insisted the bird was a normal Pileated proved their own susceptibility to bias every much as those who dared to hope it might be an Ivory-bill.
Anonymous sock puppetry aside, Bill Pulliam gets the implications right:


Independent freelancers, you're sunk. As far as ever getting widespread acceptance of any evidence you produce (if that is your goal), you can just about forget it. I am not saying this is right, I am not saying this is the attitude I will take, I am just guessing that this is what will be in the community as a whole. You are guilty until proven innocent, and the standard of proof will be set unattainably high.

That will have quite the opposite effect on Ivory-bill conservation than Steve Sheridan was intending.
In hindsight the forgery of mystery bird #3 is obvious. I am left wondering whether the entire episode was actually staged as a test - of the "experts" (if any have truly reviewed the original images) - and of the rest of us.

What I take from this episode is the need to trust my own instincts about such data. I was troubled by several aspects of the image and it's interpretation, and I raised those questions in a couple of comments to earlier posts on this blog. I was taken in by the second-hand assurances that expert analysis had concluded the image had not been forged, and my concerns did not rise to a suspicion of outright fakery.
Steve Sheridan posted a confession and apology in the Ivory-bill Researchers' Forum saying that he did it to promote Ivory-bill conservation. Others are getting caught up in the web, including other searchers via guilt by association and the experts for failing to catch the fraud earlier.

Hopefully the winner in this process will be openness. Letting people view the data is chaotic, but it was a very effective vetting process.
Emupilot said, "Hopefully the winner in this process will be openness. Letting people view the data is chaotic, but it was a very effective vetting process."

Yes the kind of openness that the research forum is doing at this moment by allowing Steve's apology to stand but deleting honest people's responses.

There will be no openness. And with this miracle of the internet where information should flow freely it is ugliness and conceitedness that won this match.

No one will come forward in this community again. Not unless it is a National Geographic quality video. And even that will be accused of being cgi.

Perhaps someone will delivr a dead bird yet.
There will be plenty of people coming forward in this community, regardless of how ugly it can get. This issue is not going to go away.

For those who want "openness" in the ivorybill discussion, there are plenty of places to argue, debate, and get just plain nasty. The moderators there are simply saying take it somewhere else. Sheridan has made his statement and there is no need to rehash whether he should be forgiven or eternally pilloried. As for the "damage," we've heard it all before...from Cornell's so-called crimes against conservation to Hill's and Collins' overactive imaginations. When is enough?
Anon said...
[Quoting Bill Pulliam here] It is either the best (such as it is) photo of an Ivorybill in many decades, or the first tangible documentation of a white-shielded Pileated ever. Battle of the improbabilities. [Unquote]

Or you are misinterpreting the image. Someone misinterpreting a poor photo is very common, even amongst honest, confident and knowledgable people. You emphatically insist that those who don't agree with your interpretation are doing exactly that. Nevertheless you conclude that two of the far more improbable explanations are more likely than the chance you've erred.

He did err. Big time.
Interesting that some are ready to blame the expert reviewers without even knowing what the conclusions of the reviewers were?!

What if the website containing the Sheridan faked image was sprung on the reviewers without them knowing that it was going up. Steve Sheridan's image is his own, Gary Erdy's images are his own, and they were put out there in a rather reckless manner.

I would maybe reserve judgement and blaming until all the facts are known.
Well, the photo did turn out to be a white-shielded Pileated, even if it wasn't natural. Bill thought the photo was unlikely to be a fake in his original post:


No one, including me, has found any indications at all that the image is fabricated; indeed it makes very little sense that someone would go through all the trouble to fake an image so carefully, and yet still leave it so frustratingly ambiguous.

No doubt Bill has been chastened by this - he will be posting more on it later.

Although I don't know Sheridan, I'm very surprised that someone who was part of the Ivory-bill community for years a) thought this was a good idea and b) thought he could fool everyone.
Anonymous of 2:02 PM:

Bill concluded that it was unidentifiable as either an Ivorybill or a Pileated. His IDENTIFICATION of the bird was correct.
I may be wrong but my impression of Bill's previous writings is that he is neither a firm believer nor a skeptic of the existence of the Ivorybill, but remains open to the possibility that the Ivorybill exists.

My impression based on this exercise is that the guy is objective in drawing conclusions, and I'm more impressed with his analytical skills than I am of those who insisted the bird was what it wasn't.
This bird eats 'experts' for breakfast.

Who will be next to read way too much into a very poor set of evidence/data, and then pronounce in public about its importance, deriding anyone who disagrees with their analysis as unscientific?

A common thread is that none of the people burned by this bird ever concede they may have gotten something wrong or judged something too loosely. They just tough it out.

The photo was unidentifiable - it doesn't take an expert to see that. And in those situations you just have to leave it at that, not pry an identification out of the poor photograph or sighting. And to start going on about layers and pixels and the 'shield' being part of the bird did no one any favours.
Although I am not an "expert" I was also taken by the fakery.
I thought it was a Pileated but couldn't explain away the white shield.
Later in the day when I had found out about this picture in this Blog, Mike Collins called me from LA. I mentioned the picture and he was not aware of it so we both went to Erdy's site in our computers and looked at it. After a while Mike told me that none of the 3 main candidates was a good fit for the pic (as most people that saw the pic had already concluded) and he thought that it might be a fake. I replied in the usual way: why would anybody fake such a poor photo? Living and learning... Meanwhile by allowing the forger to post his pathetic excuse there the IBWO Researchers Forum threw whatever little integrity it might once have had into the dumpster by becoming an emotional support group for cheaters.

This comment from Mike Collins' post on his website yesterday:

"As Dalcio Dacol can attest, I immediately recognized the color photo as a fabrication, and this has now been confirmed."

does not seem consistent with the comment (purported to be from Mike Collins) to the 3/15 post on this blog:

"I see something interesting in Bill Pulliam's little movie...


In frame 1, there is a thin black branch in the background that is oriented vertically. If you follow this branch downward, it fades from view at about the same point as the top boundary of the white patch that appears in frame 2. This suggests that the while patch is vegetation. I'm not saying this is definitely the case, and there are various factors to consider, such as diffraction and possible variation in light level due to the sun going behind a cloud between frames.

Mike Collins"

If he believed it to be a fake, why didn't he say so here?
What a bunch of bitter, finger-pointing people. Sour grapes all around. One by one, they all turn against each other. People just wanna fight, fight, fight. They weeble, they wobble, and they all fall down. If only folks would take things a little less seriously...
As Dalcio mentioned, I immediately thought the photo was a fake, but it wouldn't be right to make such an accusation in public without proof. I don't see anything inconsistent about giving Sheridan the benefit of the doubt and pointing out another problem -- short of fabrication -- about the photo. A few days ago, I uploaded this photo of specimens...


...and was going to point out that it seemed odd that the black crown on the top of the head was not visible. At the time, I decided that it was pointless to continue discussing the photo, but I will ask that question now. Does anyone know if the black crown would be expected to be visible on an ivorybill viewed directly from behind?

Mike Collins
I was concerned about the black crown as well, but was told that the head could be angled in such a manner as to conceal it (there may well be pics on the Web demonstrating such).
The picture of course was so ambiguous that one could pose/angle the head in many different ways.
Sure Mike. You thought it was a fake all along. Too bad you went on record as saying how the evidence suggested the (hoaxed) shield was vegetation. That's why field notes are useful. They help prevent people from changing their story to present the reality they currently wish to portray, or believe.

Anonymous of 2:02 PM:

Bill concluded that it was unidentifiable as either an Ivorybill or a Pileated. His IDENTIFICATION of the bird was correct.

??. He was asked flat out what species he thought it was and he wouldn't say. Here's what he did say:

It is either the best (such as it is) photo of an Ivorybill in many decades, or the first tangible documentation of a white-shielded Pileated ever.

If you think his "IDENTIFICATION" of the bird was correct you are wrong on two levels. There were a whole lot of people who wanted to suggest the evidence showed an Ivory-bill(s) without taking responsibility for it. At least Sheridan admitted he was a liar.

I have no reason to believe anyone else in this particular situation is lying, but it seems there were those trying mighty hard to squeeze blood out of a stone. Yet again.
"Sure Mike. You thought it was a fake all along."

I immediately believed the photo was a fake, and this has been corroborated by Dalcio Dacol. If you think that Dalcio and I would conspire to lie about such a trivial matter, then you have a very petty little mind -- whoever you are. Despite the fact that the photo was faked, the little movie that Bill Pulliam posted does indeed suggest that the white patch was vegetation.

Mike Collins
You are changing your story.

Here's what Dalcio said: "he [Mike]thought that it might be a fake."

On your blog you say "As Dalcio Dacol can attest, I immediately recognized the color photo as a fabrication."

That's two completely different things. "MIGHT BE A FAKE" vs "IMMEDIATELY RECOGNIZED AS A FABRICATION."

Add that to a third version where you publicly analyze the hoax photo saying

"This suggests that the whi[t]e patch is vegetation. I'm not saying this is definitely the case"

I guess it wouldn't be "definitely vegetation" as you already had recongized it as a hoax.

When I first saw the Luneau video I said to myself "That might be a Pileated or it might be an Ivory-bill." Following your lead, I could then claim I immediately recognized the species regardless of which one it turned out to be.
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