"....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.”
"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 11, 2009
-- 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....
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.
Thus, we're really talking about a Pileated that has not one but two IBWO field marks. It's not just the shield. I wonder what that does to the probabilities.
Your color comparison also seems significant, although perhaps not dispositive. I wonder if more analysis of this aspect would be helpful.
Finally, I'm somewhat confused about the measurements. As Emupilot pointed out in a comment on your blog, this page:
suggests that the estimated size of the bird is slightly larger than would be expected for a Pileated. It's worth remembering that these pics come from the range of the somewhat smaller southern subspecies of PIWO.
So which is it: RHWO sized or probably larger than a PIWO, and is it possible to make any estimates based on the image alone, without remeasuring?
"Or you are misinterpreting the image..."
I for one, am open to hearing ANY alternative interpretations that can be given -- the only one I can imagine you might be alluding to is to say this is a normal Pileated and the shield is some sort of artifact; hard to imagine given the analysis available. If you believe there are actually other bird species to consider, I'd truly be interested to know what (I've already considered some and quickly dispelled with them).
I understand Bill's frustration -- he and others have diligently worked on these images for well over a year reaching their conclusions, and now all of us want to come online, look for 30 mins. and offer our own take.
Of course Bill may be wrong, but someone must then offer a well-reasoned fleshed-out alternative to the two possibilities he's down to. In that vein, if any of the other official reviewers who may think this is a normal PIWO (or a Red-headed for that matter) wants to come online anonymously and state their case, I'd love to hear it.
It was in a 200-yard-area over 11 months and appeared on a full moons. Yet no one documented it.
The photos are unidentifiable. If anything, a pair of Pileated.
I'm not sure this is true. The website is silent about whether there were any sightings and accompanying field notes, assuming that's what you mean by "documented." It's clear that the people involved have not put all their data up for examination, since they've posted only two brief sound clips but say they have a lot more audio.
While I trust the people involved have good reasons for keeping the location undisclosed, the website is ambiguous on a number of important points, and that's unfortunate.
Anon 7:35 is just saying "you're wrong" without making any specific points. If pressed, s/he will say "no one can tell anything, it could be anything." Again s/he will not offer any specifics to support this, such as an interpretation that makes it consistent with a green tree frog. In other words, Anon 7:35 is not discussing, contributing, or debating, just naysaying. And in response to that, Anon 7:35 will accuse us of being the ones who are contributing nothing meaningful. S/he knows The Truth (the species is extinct) and thus feels no need to even look at anything that might hint at disagreement with this Truth. You will never get him/her to actually engage in discussion; it is as effective as discussing the historicity of Jesus with a fundamentalist preacher.
If Anon 7:35 really were interested in honest discussion, s/he would provide a detail-laden description of how the image could be completely consistent with one of the simple explanations, such as a strangely imaged Red-headed or Pileated Woodpecker. Many people would welcome reading this. S/he has consistently declined to do this, claiming that this is unnecessary because in accordance with The Truth the matter is settled and s/he can derive the answer from Fundamentalist Principles.
There is very little to be gained by attempting to engage someone like that.
The 'thing' in the picture is unidentifiable, that's why even with your genious Bill, you can't identify it. So stop suggesting it's any more mysterious, it just makes you look like a bad birder.
You and Anon:
It is especially ironic, since some of us have strong suspicions of who Anon might be, that someone who actively fights against the Intelligent Design community winds up using their same tactics. Even if we are wrong in that guess, the irony still stand that you make the claims in the name of science, rational thought, logic, critical thinking, etc. I might just as well look at an electrophoresis gel and say "it's just a bunch of blobs in jello," a mountain range and say "it's just a big heap of jumbled rock," or the night sky and say "it's just a bunch of specks and smudges," and proclaim that no one with any intelligence would try to make any sense out of it. Fortunately for science and humanity, there have always been people with the drive and skills to attempt to sort out pattern from confusion and filter signal from noise. This is how science works and has always worked. Your dismissive "no one can tell anything from that junk" declarations are non just unscientific, they are antiscientific. They have not been shared by the real scientists who have looked at the image.
Funny, a non-birder thinking he is in a position to judge my birding reputation. Try googling my name next to the word "bird" and see what you get. If you like, exclude the term "ivory" just so you can see my actual birding life, not just the small corner of it that is occupied by large woodpeckers.
Your thoughtful and detailed analysis is much appreciated and a testament to your dedication to the scientific process.
Those who claim the images are easily identified as PIWO or RHWO are the ones whose birding skills should be called into question.
Those who claim the images aren't even worth analysis are locked inside the prison of there own perceived "truth" and are of no value in the discussion.
There's a basic reason why it is probably not possible to ever absolutely rule out Pileated in the case of this photo. The white shield may be very unlikely, the appearance of the neck may be just as unlikely, but you have to consider the phenonenon of preselection. This image has been singled out from an untold number of other shots of large crested woodpeckers, accidental and intentional, precisely because of this unlikely confluence. It is not a random selection. So, even if we were to conclude that each of those events had, say, a 1:1000 chance, so the combination has a 1:1,000,000 chance... but there might have been 1000 or even 10,000 images of Pileateds taken over the last several decades by people knowledgeable enough to single this out. We really have no idea of that number. Even if it is as low as 1000 shots, our odds are down to 1:1000 for this bird; if it is 10,000 shots we're down to 1:100 odds on this bird. But in reality we don't know anything about these numbers other than that they are all pretty large. IF there were a visible dorsal stripe, then the triple coincidence would become so much more unlikely that even the preselection effect would be overcome in the judgement of most reasonable reviewers, I suspect. This is especially true when you consider that it is much easier to imagine leucism creating a large patch of white flight feathers than a narrow strip of white mantle feathers. But we don't have a visible dorsal stripe, so I don't really think there is any way anyone will ever push this bird past the barrier for being identified conclusively as an Ivorybill. It is still intriguing discovering how close it might get to that wall! And, in that gap between likelihood and scientific certainty is where the realm of personal beliefs, feelings, and opinions is found. Thus we have, and will probably have more, people who personally feel this bird is an Ivorybill, and get a thrill from that, but will also state that scientifically they feel that a very odd Pileated can not be conclusively ruled out.
And there is nothing unscientific about that.
Suppose the length is reliably calculated to be outside the normal range for Dryocopus pileatus pileatus? According to a couple of references I've seen this is 15-16.5 inches.
With regard to partial leucism, wouldn't what goes for the dorsal stripe also go for the appearance of the neck? There's less white on this neck than would be expected on a normal Pileated, and that seems inconsistent with partial leucism.
I don't agree that the white shield is definitely part of the bird. How is this proved? My impression is that the bird is a Pileated (sorry CT, felt that before reading your entries). The bird looks like it is hitched at an angle towards the camera, meaning the light area is more likely sky below the right side of the body. Just can't agree--and certainly don't read any proved, quantified argument--that the white area is without doubt part of the bird. The pattern and shape of the white patch doesn't appear to match that of ivorybill specimens or photos offered either.
In response to MMinNY, I don't see the white streak as white feathering on the neck. It looks more like it is the bill blurred by motion, but here again, nothing offered proves it is definitly that or white on the neck.
With the body turned the way I see it, then the upper back is clearly shown, and clearly lacks white stripes. To me, this is the strongest evidence that the bird isn't an ivorybill. It is a stretch, again, with my dismal intellect and eyesight, to see that black back and wing as somehow hiding two white stripes on the back. I'm sure anyone who wanted this to be an ivorybill could argue that the possibility remains, but that seems the way all these arguments are constructed, no definite conclusions.
Lastly, the color and extent of the red (head?) looks more like pilated that ivorybill--more crimson (lighter and brighter) and less scarlet or simply bright red that characterizes ivorybill. In addition, the left side of the red area (right side of face in my interpretation) shows two paler streaks that appear to me like the face pattern on a pileated (given the angle and blur, these would not show as crisp white lines). Any way, there is definitely a two banded, paler patch there across what looks like the bird's right face.
So, I'm with (whoever, I don't know them) Robot Boy is. People are making way too much of these photos. When challenged, they should not respond by trying to cut others down. When I first looked at the website CT linked, there was a mystery bird #1 that looked like a red-head woodpecker in flight. Where did that go?
Leucism can take many forms. It is quite common for it to affect only one part of a bird, leaving the rest of the bird normal. White can also occur from non-genetic causes, such as injuries or developmental abnormalities.
If you read through the entire comment thread (staring about 100 comments and 2 posts ago) you'll find that the cutting and insulting and ridiculing started from Robot Boy and the Anons, beginning with comment number 2; my sarcasm has been in reaction to that. I have not insulted, ridiculed, or been sarcastic to anyone who actually posted with courtesy, thought and substance even if I completely disagreed with them.
Some comment samples from just the first few hours:
this is joke right?
I mean, no-one would take this seriously?
Before I even look at the photos/evidence I predict it will be lousy and subject to interpretation. I further predict that many believers will accept said evidence.
await thoughtful analysis?
here you go:
ha ha ha
this is soooooooooooo wrong on so many levels
but brilliant with it
Identifying birds from imperfect images may not be an "unusual thing" but that does not mean that is is worthwhile thing. The fact Birding magazine has a regular photo quiz shows just how trivial the exercise of photo interpretation is. A hobby magazine trying to sell things to people with that hobby will do most anything to engage their readership and sell advertising space.
And so on...
To the substance:
Most of the things you mention are things I have covered at my own blog; linked above. If you haven't looked there, give it a click and you'll find my thoughts these matters laid out. If you have been there, well then we just disagree; I appreciate your actually taking the time to spell out the reasons for your disagreement.
As for the neck stripe, it seems too remarkable of a coincidence to me that it disappears right at what looks like the corner of the wing, and right against the red at the other end. And I can't see how the head would be positioned to put a bill like that, coming downwards out of the side of the face. Plus either of the large crested woodpeckers should have a neck stripe; if that is not it, where IS it? I've also looked at the place where the white and the red meet quite a bit; I have never been able to tell whether it was where the white on a Pileated's face would meet the neck or where the white on an Ivorybill would be expected to disappear behind the crest. I don't resolve the double stripe or any black in that area, which given the resolution of the image doesn't mean a whole lot at that fine scale.
*Everyone* thought mystery bird #1 was a Red-headed, and I think it was taken down for this reason, since it was not actually mysterious.
Interpretation of anything is clouded by the biases of those doing the interpretation. The Vatican has committees to determine if a given event is a "miracle" or not. The determination is important in granting sainthood. What they call "miracles" are simply very low probability events that defy understanding by humans and (for those who believe in a supreme being) can best be attributed to a deity. Because of your interest in rare birds your explanation for low probability events is that a species thought to be extinct might now be extant.
The chances that miracles are due to a deity or that you are looking at a recent image of an IBWO are about the same. For me the important difference is that the Vatican doesn't ask for government funds when they they declare something a "miracle".
As for me, should there be a supreme being, I am hoping that the future patron saint of woodpeckers will bring back the IBWO to gain sainthood. And if he or she does that the image obtained would not require years of analysis.
The identity of the Pileated Woodpecker in the foreground is certainly not in doubt. In comment #15 of CT's previous post (Tuesday), you offered some thoughts on the sharpness of the second woodpecker in the background, the possible Ivory-bill. Perhaps you could compare the relative sharpness of both birds, particularly the body edges and black/white boundaries (neck stripes and shield). If the second bird is as sharp, or nearly as sharp, as the Pileated, then it might increase our collective confidence that the bird in question can be identified.
If you have not already done so, download and look at Bill Pulliam's 3-frame video, showing the same spot with and without the bird. The resolution may be better than what we see on the Ivory-bill Photo Project website and the before and after frames are additional content as well. The video makes it very clear that there is a white "shield" on the bird. That doesn't mean it isn't a Pileated, but it would have to have an aberration not previously documented by photo or specimen.
Emu: Well, I wouldn't say my mini slideshow "proves" it absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt; whether it "proves" it to the satisfaction of the typical reasonable birder remains to be seen. I'll be especially curious to learn whether or not some who previously reviewed the image and concluded the white shield was probably a lighting trick or intervening object have their feelings changed by the little video.
The video made it "clear" to me that there was sky below the right side of the bird and that there is no white on the wings that we can see for sure. Sorry. And how do you explain it being the wrong shape and proportion for an ivorybill's white "shield".
The wiggly line looks like the blurred movement of the bill to me, not a neck stripe, and it would "attach" exactly at the front of the head (bird hammering or moving down and to the left or retracting from a movement down and to its left). The neck stripes would not be visible in this pose because they would be behind the head and contracted with the neck. The face stripes seem very apparent to me on my monitor. It is a stretch to say this is the wedge of (darker) red that runs from the nape to back of crown on a male ivorybill. Was there a full moon the night before or after this photo was taken? If the first mystery bird was thought by *everyone* to be a red-headed, why after all this time did they choose to put it up in with this "announcement"? That makes it sound like they were just throwing up what they had to see what sticks?
Oh, OK, I see the interpretation you are talking about now; I misunderstood before. Couple of things: The neck stripe extends down on to the body feathers and under the wing on a Pileated; if the bird is preening near the shoulder, the neck stripe should still be taking off backwards from the shoulder and visible cutting across the twisted nape, shouldn't it? For the head to tip that far forward the neck would have to be pretty much completely extended, and the neck stripe should make a broad sweeping curve around the nape.
And I now see what you are calling the face of the Pileated also; I was looking on the wrong side of the head. But doesn't it have way too much red and no black on it at all? Below the crest the face of a male Pileated is mostly white and black with just a little dab of red, but that "cheek" is painted entirely in shades of red, no hint of black. And of course there is the complication that in this interpretation the bill is (a) bent, and perhaps more troublesome (b) WHITE (or at least very pale), all the way to the tip.
Conversely, the only way I can make that crest work with an Ivorybill is to have the bird looking directly away from the camera, so the big diamond of red completely hides the black on the crown and face, as well as the bill. It takes precise posing no matter how you slice it, no doubt about that.
Still, if you ignore rarity, I find with the Ivorybill I only have one feature to explain away (the missing dorsal stripe), with quite a few photos of real birds showing how this can happen fairly easily. But with the Pileated I have to explain away multiple marks, no matter how I pose it, and I have to use things that I have no independent documentation are actually possible. When you factor in the extant/extinct issue, it really becomes a personal judgement call, to my view.
As for Gary and Steve's motives in the choices of what to post, couldn't tell you much there.
The white shield blocks branches which were were visible against the sky in the frames without the bird. It would be a really weirdly shaped bird if the white were not a part of it.
I haven't tried an analysis of the shape or size of the white shield. The upper border of the white area in a perched bird is variable in historical photos, often showing a more or less straight line as shown in the photos below.
Not the way I see it, but that doesn't seem to matter because we don't know. Given the different camera angles and lighting, the changes seem consistent with an artifact. None of those photos look like the patch proposed.
Bill P. doesn't give definitive characters that help. The bill of pileated is pale to steely gray with a yellow to pale lower bill; I think that could produce the streak. If not, the twisted neck of a pileated and a narrowed white line fits too. I just think he doesn't see this. This does seem more like acknowledging a miracle as someone above said. Sorry Bill.
If the white patch were the sky, how could a third of what you ascertain to be a Pileated Woodpecker be hidden behind it?
I've looked at literally 1000s of images of Pileated Woodpeckers in all manner of postures, many in the form of clicking through videos one frame at a time, thereby including all the awkward poses that would not make the cut as still photos. I have not in all that seen a Pileated neck that resembles the pattern on the mystery bird. It is not just the narrowness of the stripe, it is the broad expanse of black on the neck behind it. Any posture that narrows the white also narrows the black. If you know of such an image, please post a link to it.
I just reviewed some of those videos with your theory in mind, and several things are obvious. The Pileated bill is too dark and especially too short to make that streak, and the Pileated neck stripe could not be missing unless the bird is actually perched erect and owl-like on a branch facing directly at us while it is preening; again if you have any video or photographic evidence that this is even remotely conceivable please post it. Finally, the faces of male Pileateds are black and white, not red and white; the small red moustache is overwhelmed by the large amount of black and white, which is a very poor match for what you have hypothesized as a pink and red face.
I see perfectly well what you suggest, and I think it is unrealistic and does not match the image. You say the same thing about what I suggest. "I'm open to your arguments, but none seem to provide data that hold up." Ditto. Do we really need to keep doing this back and forth ad infinitum?
Let's see, 100's of comments, and what I get as a summation is as follows (so far):
(1) Black on extended neck and in front of right wing eliminates Red-headed (with size issues unresolvable).
(2) narrow white neck stripe oreinted backwards (not forwards) and "disappearing" under right wing as it is pulled back seems to eliminate Pileated. At least no known pictures exist of a Pileated with this combination of features on the neck. If such a photo exists please someone post it somewhere. (sorry not following anon 7:27 suggestion the the narrow white stripe could be the white avocet-shaped bill of a Pileated, perhaps a drawing posted somewhere would help?)
(3) no apparent dorsal stripes (but maybe one hidden behind right wing which is pulled back), no apparent black crown (which may be due to head pointing directly away from camera), no ivory-bill (same as previous), tail is not visible, the color of red on the crest not noticeably different than the Pileated in the same photo (age-related, lighing issues?), relative size to the known Pileated unknown (and perhaps unknowable).
All of which are not suggestive of an Ivory-bill, but all of which doesn't remotely eliminate Ivory-bill either. But being extinct would, wouldn't it?
I didn't even have to mention the white "shield," but will now. It appears real to me and while consistent with a previously undocumented (by photos or specimens) but possible form of leucisim in Pileateds, I have seen photos of live ivory-bills that are consistent with the "sharp" edge look between white secondaries and black wing feathers in this image. Further, I have seen photos of several mounted Ivory-bills with the bend in the wing pulled back some with the corresponding spread of primaries/secondaries shifted forward that would appear consistent with this image. Just a lot of possibles here, but nothing definitve.
I know it's not that simple, but it was fun to write it.
You just successfully and clearly summarized 110 comments worth of content in a few short paragraphs.
My hat is off to you
If we are looking not at a right side view but at a dorsal or a ventral view, what exactly is the bird perched on? If it is perched on teh adjacent tree trunk, we pretty much have to be looking at a right side view of the body. If it is positioned in some other way, it would appear to be floating free in space.
If the apparent white shield is just sky shining through, where is the lower half of the bird? The sky would have to be shining through the bird.
Thanks, Bill, for responding to my comments in the previous thread regarding the apparent position of the bird relative to the foreground branch and distant trunk. Since you asked about other possible orientations of the bird, here’s one. It still seems plausible to me that the bird is actually in approximately the same plane as the angled branch above it. In the before and after images, there are several strands of vegetation hanging from this branch. One strand in particular hangs directly where the bird will appear in the second frame. This strand does not seem to be resolved in the image with the bird, but reappears in the third frame. I don’t know whether the strand is simply blurred due to motion (i.e motion of the camera, or the strand itself), or possibly even obscured by the bird. It seems plausible to me that the bird is actually perched on a small branch or clinging to one or more of the strands emanating from the large angled branch. Of course, this would mean the bird is considerably smaller than the estimates based on the assumption of a more distal perch… with obvious significance regarding possible identity. Is there anything that rules out this location of the bird closer to the camera?
One possible orientation of the bird is leaning backward, with its back toward the camera and to the right. In this scenario the white shield is primarily from the left wing, with a portion of the right wing shield also visible to the right of the bird. In fact there appears to be a “peak” toward the right of the white shield that could be where the wings meet. In this orientation, the black area below and to the left could be the tail or wingtip.
Obviously there are problems with an ID of red-headed woodpecker as well. Given the distortion of the distant trunk, I think it possible that the junction between the red neck and the black back is also distorted, giving an unnaturally narrow appearance to the upper back. To see this as a red-headed woodpecker though requires the white “neck stripe” to be either the bird’s bill, or an intervening twig, or an artifact.
This link shows a red-headed woodpecker clinging to a vertical twig; it’s body is swung underneath (and to the left rather than to the right) a little more extremely than I envision for the mystery bird:
Note how the white “straps” give the appearance of a narrow black “neck”. A view with the bird less extremely reclined might enhance this effect.
Did you see this photo on the Researcher's Forum? A good quality Pileated photo with apparent dorsal strips AND white shields. Now make that image much smaller, pixelate it and blur it up at bit. Seems likely to mislead people, doesn't it?
What I am having the hardest time with is deciphering the dorsal stripe illusion. I guess the bird has its wings pushed back and twisted just enough to reveal a sliver of the white underwing coverts?
Birds like this could cause problems with photos; but at least with a photo you have the opportunity to examine and reexamine. I suspect in the case of that bird, even if it were much blurred and shrunk, the incorrect (for Ivorybill) shape of the neck stripes and dorsal stripes would be identified by those who looked in detail; the excessive amount of white on the face and neck, diagnostic for Pileated, would also still be evident. What that bird could really pose a problem for would be the sorts of brief-glimpse sightings we are perennially cursed with, as well as the abundance of non-birder sightings. Given only an instant glimpse, followed by a disappearance that didn't allow for better study or the acquisition of definitive Ivorybill marks (e.g. large white bill, black face, secondaries that are white rather than missing, etc.), the flash of white shield and dorsal stripes could make nearly any birder's heart stop. A birder who got that bird in binoculars for even a few seconds would quickly pick up the classic Pileated head and face pattern, and I expect the dorsal stripe illusion would go away as soon as the bird moved its wings a bit. But a non-birder would likely not know to look for these additional marks, leaving us with a report of a big woodpecker with a red crest, white saddle, and white suspenders seen perched in a tree for several minutes.
This is why we desperately need someone to actually see or photograph that dang BIG WHITE BILL! Maybe we have evolved a new species, the Absent-billed Woodpecker?
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