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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

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...

Thing about giss... It doesn't photograph. A 2D freeze frame of an instant in a bird's life loses most of what contributes to giss, with distortions of shape and pattern and the lack of any movement. Photos are the ultimate in reductive field-mark birding, along with understanding of imaging distortions; skills and expertise often translate poorly between field and photo. Both have to be learned and practiced on their own. Pure giss birders are often befuddled by photos, just as experts at ID of museum specimens can be hopeless in the field. Not really a comment on Dunne, of course; but this is a big part of why people will see the same photos in drastically different ways.
I understand what you're saying Bill, but I'm not expecting Pete to literally see "giss" in the photograph; I just wanna hear from someone with that orientation to birding (it's a subtle point I probably can't adequately explain in a comment blurb; and I also grant that art and photographic skills, ala Sibley/Kaufman et.al. would be very helpful too, but a lot of my readership won't take them as seriously because of past comments, so I think Pete is the best "total package." For me, he's the closest incarnation we have to Roger Tory P. and that's who I'd want on the case! :-)
In a previous post, CT comments that the Ivory bill Photo Project site keeps evolving with at least one obvious Red-headed Woodpecker ("mystery bird #1") being removed and with some pretty new as well as some "old" (and in my opinion useless) reconyx images being brought in (I'll get into some of those in a moment).

But first, what is that big looking darkish bird in flight with a really big light (white?) bill, hidden within "The Bill" page?

Scroll below the "obvious" but long dead male and female Ivory-bill specimens and it's described as "The Flying Ghost?" Of all the reconyx images on this site, this one grabbed my attention the most. Alas, it is of course too "dissolved" to tell much, but ...

Now for the other black-and-white reconyx images on the site as of Sunday December 15, my take is as follows (for what they are worth):

"blurry-headed bird #2" is a woodpecker in my opinion of similar shape and size to what is on the same tree during the same day (Oct. 20) and called a Pileated. It does appear to have something appearing "light" on the flight feathers, but to my eyes that lightness corresponds to the primaries (and not secondaries). Pileateds have lighter brown primaries (especially late summer and fall) compared with the rest of the back and flight feathers (including secondaries) and I bet that there is some infra-red function on these black-and-white reconyx cameras that may pick these "lighter" browns up and make them look whitish (or at least lighter than the rest of the back and flight feathers). Elsewhere, I think on BirdForum, someone named Jane (I think) keeps posting a picture of a perfectly normal Pileated that shows these lighter brown primaries (and she keeps referring to them as a "white shield" as if to suggest folks may be mistaking these for white secondaries I guess). Regardless, I'd toss this off the site as I am personally sure both birds are Pileateds, and they may be the same bird (about 8 minutes separate the two images).

Under "Habitat and Chisel Marks" (which I believe no one is paying any attention to anymore) are a couple of maddening black-and-white images entitled "Underwing of a Possible Ivory-billed Woodpecker." May be there is more to this, but I have no idea what this is. Might be helpful to see the sequence leading up to this image, but without this, these ought to be tossed as well.

Mystery Bird #2, is another ghost and it would be good I think to see a before and after shot or see if there is a sequence to help understand what kinds of shadows, etc. are at work. Regardless, at least I agree conclusively that the other bird is correctly identified as a Red-headed Woodpecker, but that ain't saying much.

Again, the bird in flight is the most intriguing of the non-color images on this site.

If Ivory-bills are actually present at this site even on a casual basis, it would appear to be substantially less frequently than the proponents think (similar to the wild claims Geoff Hill made in his book for the Choctawhatchee), but wild claims are obviously part of the business here and why it is easy to just get bored with it all.
I concur with much of what 9:22 Anonymous says about the reconyx shots (is that you Pete... no, just kidding); very to hard to hang one's hat on any of those stills.
"The flying ghost" blow-up shot, as pointed out, is interesting (if that's a beak, best shot we've seen of one), but too easy to make a bird out of what may only be artifacts. In fact, I'm not at all clear how anyone looking at the original photo for that image was even able to FIND that possible form of a bird??? It's almost impossible to find even when pointed out.
Somebody commented to Mike Collins in that thread below under the heading of "A Plea" and signed it PD. It seemed of a higher level of learnedness and perhaps that was your Mr. Dunne

Thanks for turning the discussion away from the sensationalistic focus on one color image and back toward the totality of what's been presented thus far. I have a few comments in response to you and Cyberthrush, but first:

At present, the Erdy/Sheridan team has only disclosed a selection of the data they have assembled. Confidentiality agreements may preclude them from making everything public, but I want to reiterate my plea (which has also been made privately) for full disclosure, to the extent this is possible. It's hard to understand why complete Reconyx sequences can't be made available. Doing so would help resolve the question of whether some of these images are artifacts. It also would be very helpful to know how many actual sightings there were and how robust. While quality sightings accompanied by good field notes are not going to settle this in the minds of many, that doesn't negate their value.

Now on to the Recyonyx images. If the "flying ghost" really shows a bill, the photo's highly suggestive, but Cyberthrush is right. At present, it's hard to say for sure whether that's a bird in the image.

As for "Mystery Bird #2," I think it's even more suggestive, as it appears to show both dorsal stripes and the white saddle. Some calculations about size should be possible with careful measurement of distance and the use of a reference object.

I tend to agree with you about the markings of "Blurry Headed Bird" (to the extent that they're discernible) but not about the shape. Thanks for pointing out that the claim about the PIWO posted on Birdforum is misleading; that's no white shield, and it's unfortunate that it's being used as a bootstrap to suggest that PIWO field marks sometimes resemble those of the IBWO.

AFAIK, there's one anecdotal report (and no photo) of a partially leucistic PIWO having a white shield. Cornell's leucistic PIWO could not be confused with an IBWO, and the recently posted image of a PIWO with dorsal stripes and a seeming white shield was a pretty transparent hoax; from what I understand, such a plumage pattern is inconsistent with the way leucism manifests itself anyway. So, until there's some real evidence for it, let's put aside the idea that there are PIWOs out there masquerading as IBWOs. There certainly aren't three photos of same, as someone asserted on another thread.

The BW Reconyx cameras are terrible, and it's a good thing they're falling into disuse. With the cameras that are now available, one or more of the team's images might have proved conclusive. For those who complain about lousy images, please remember that whether or not this was the best available technology in 2007, it was the standard. It's not the fault of the searchers (especially these independent searchers with their limited resources) that the cameras failed them, and the poor quality doesn't render the images totally worthless.

With regard to the two photos above, the entire sequences are important, since they would help determine whether these are birds or some kind of artifact.

I too am underwhelmed by the image of the possible wing and the one photo of putative foraging sign that's been posted; you're right about chisel marks, but that's not to say that no one's paying attention to sign. Geoff Hill's team is, apparently, and a careful reading of Tanner suggests that bark stripped from live or recently dead hardwoods, with no damage to the underlying wood is indicative of IBWO. Gdebusk on ibwo.net has identified another type of sign that he associates with IBWOs and makes a good case for why.

I've seen the former type of sign in a few areas where there have been recent IBWO reports but not elsewhere in the historic range or in the Northeast. And I continue to think that looking for possible foraging sign and suggestive cavities are useful for searchers, although by themselves these are just indicators and are hardly dispositive.

FWIW, Tanner relied heavily on the apparent absence of stripped bark in the Big Thicket to dismiss the Dennis report, and (if I remember correctly) cited his failure to see any on a brief visit to Congaree (although he doesn't seem to have spent much time out of his canoe or to have gotten into the more remote sections of the park), to support his belief that no birds were present in either area.
Yes and CT then stops that interesting thread that actually provides some concrete guidance to those who are not taking field notes or do not know much about them. CT wants to talk about partial evidence from IL but refuses to discuss basic field science methods or lack off.

No field notes of important events is called the modern way by MC. Its old fashioned according to him; we are all to keep data and mental images in our heads and regurgitate them if and when needed and the world must blatantly accept this as the modern and best method.

CT this has implications for IL and elsewhere and is centric to the comprehensive study of IBWOs. Why do you gloss over it?

MMinNY you said "Confidentiality agreements may preclude them from making everything public"? Does this mean there is someone else involved besides Erdy/Sheridan? Is the state involved or a federal agency making them stay hushed on something? What kind of confidentiality would be required if there isn't some really good evidence? You see, this is why people don't come forward. Even speculation about government agencies shutting you up whether this is true or not is damaging. There needs to be open discussions about evidence. People shouldn't be signing any confidentiality agreements and there shouldn't be any agency telling someone not to talk. There shouldn't even be whispering about this happening if it is not because someone's going to believe it. And if they believe the government is going to hush them then they are not going to talk if they find them. All of this cannot be good for conservation. I'm completely confused. If this is what is going on with Erdy and Sheridan then why even come forward with anything let alone ambiguous evidence?
Roses are red
Violets are blue
Anonymous is schizophrenic
And so am I and I and I and I
@anonymous 10:57

I don't know whether confidentiality agreements are a factor in this particular situation (which is why I wrote "may preclude,") but they're not at all uncommon in this field, for various reasons, sometimes sound, sometimes not.
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 Ivory-bills are actually present at this site even on a casual basis, it would appear to be substantially less frequently than the proponents think (similar to the wild claims Geoff Hill made in his book for the Choctawhatchee), but wild claims are obviously part of the business here and why it is easy to just get bored with it all."

If you were to spend a few years in the field and learn from experience how incredibly difficult these birds are to see, you might not regard Geoff's claims to be all that wild. I only think they are somewhat wild. I believe there is a good chance that there are about four pairs in the Choctawhatchee. There was/is a pair in the Bruce Creek area that became almost impossible to find after around January 2007 (I was fortunate to get there just in time to see a pair). They simultaneously had activity in the Old Creek area, which suggests at least a second pair. There have also been reports in other parts of that river basin, which certainly seems large enough to support multiple pairs. Here in the Pearl, I had clusters of sightings along one small waterway in Feb 2006 and Feb-Mar 2008 but none between that period. Were the birds there but not seen? I have no idea. How many pairs could be in the Pearl? Once again, I have no idea, but I have heard rumors about sightings further to the north of my usual search area.

Mike Collins
Mike, IF the Ivorybill indeed still survives (and I hope it does but have grown rather skeptical), the inability of anybody to consistently relocate a bird in the area of any sighting suggests to me that there are ZERO resident pairs in the area. Instead, one must be nomadically wandering through the area.

By the way, if you ever get a manuscript on the Ivorybill accepted by a scientific journal, I recommend keeping mum about it until it actually appears in press. It seems obvious to me that your announcement of your manuscript being accepted for publication in PLoS led to it being sabotaged by mischievous enemies who, I imagine, lobbed missives at the editor loaded with reasons why it shouldn't be published.
There are multiple tragedies here:

1 - That an editor would take it on him/herself to censure science based on external pressure and against the express wishes of appropriately selected expert reviewers.

2 - That anyone should have the power to censure science by inappropriate lobbying efforts.

3 - That an author would be subjected to inappropriate actions by an editor, specifically the withdrawal of an "accepted" article, whether with or without (in this case apparently without) an explanation.

4 - That expert reviewers waste their time on a review process that ignores their opinion.

5 - That CT's blog gains more clutter from this unfortunate circumstance.

Personally, I side on the position that IBWOs still exist, yet I have a healthy skepticism toward Mike's work in particular. Regardless, I do feel that an injustice was done to Mike and the editor should have or find the balls to own up to it.
Mike can publish his paper on his own website and I (and probably others) will link to it, and given time, it will likely reach the very same readers who would have wanted to read it on PloS. (I have personally contacted PLoS and they give me a different version of events than Mike's version -- there are always 2 sides to every story -- I don't even care which version is right; it's old, boring news, and I won't discuss it. Move on... yaaaawn.
I may simply delete future comments that draw attention away from the current story to Mike's data or story. People who come here late should not have to read through so much extraneous, barely-pertinent info in the comment section.
Anyone else think there is any significance to the titles of the photos: Mystery and Blurry or the names Ghost and Elvis?

When a photo entitled "Mystery Bird #3" is described as the best photo out there, you have got nothing. I have heard the "confidentiality" and "totality" excuses plenty of times.

This latest "discovery" will fade away like all the others in the last half century.
I have a question, Cyberthrush. Why would a scientific journal disclose anything to a third party? I'm not questioning your word, but it seems unusual. When did you talk to them? I won't dare ask what they told you.
I'll answer the above, and this will be the last use of the "comments" section for this months-old un-relevant story. It's amazing how bogged-down people want to get in minutia.
I know someone who works for PLoS and while he had no involvement with Mike's paper (or any other specific paper, that's not his role) he hears things from others there who did, and when I casually asked him about it he mentioned a couple of sentences of clarification that were a bit different from Mike's perception of things. Frankly, even without asking I would've known there would be at least two versions to how things transpired (maybe 3-4 versions) -- I mean how bright do you have to be to realize that...
Anyone who has friends in MANY workplaces knows you get dribs and drabs of info on occasion about those workplaces that might be of a private nature. I spent much of my adulthood working in medical labs where medical privacy is a FAR higher priority probably than publishing privacy, and I can assure you your private medical info is NOT sacrosanct and can seep out on occasion; that's just the inevitable nature of people and workplaces. Even my current job takes me into medical offices several times a week where records are often out in the open for anyone who walks in to see or even photograph if that were their intention.
Get reeeeal folks, there's very little actual privacy left in the world today.

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