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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.

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"....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, April 08, 2009


-- 'nuther Cornell Update --


Latest update from Cornell mobile team here:


They acknowledge that part of the team is now in South Carolina through early May. Saw some good habitat in southern Florida, but no direct indication of Ivory-bill presence, and update ends as follows:
"Given the results, it is unlikely a population of any meaningful size of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers exists in south Florida. Because the habitat in its current state has a lot of potential, we do think that lingering individuals might still move around in the region. South Florida parks, preserves, agencies, and birders should remain attentive and open-minded to reports of the species in the region.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology will remain available to assist in following up on promising reports."

Otherwise, in the too-cute-not-to-pass-along entertainment dept. this brief clip of young barn owls in action (hat tip to Birdchick for directing me to this):


Thanks for finding the update. As usual, these statements from Cornell beg a lot of questions:
Because the habitat in its current state has a lot of potential, we do think that lingering individuals might still move around in the region.

That phrase, "lingering individuals", I find quite remarkable. From whence are they lingering? They would have to be lingering, or wandering, from a breeding population. If so, where is it, Arkansas? Are they lingering from the last known breeding population in Florida from the 1920's? From "The Choc"?

That's the problem with these whole hypothetical birds--they would have to be breeding somewhere--it always seems to be somewhere else.
ya know Cotinis the minute I read that word "lingering" I could just sense your eyes rolling!! ;-)
I too thought it was an odd word choice -- as you suggest I suspect they really meant something like "wandering" or "roaming" birds (possibly young dispersing offspring) coming from a 'lingering' population in perhaps the Apalachicola or other north/central locale.
CLO reading between the lines here, is saying that there are IBWO's in SWFL but the search area is just to vast and unsearchable in places.
Yeah, on re-reading it I think they may be implying the possibility of a few individual birds existing (perhaps spaced apart), but not breeding in s. Florida.
"The Cornell Lab of Ornithology will remain available to assist in following up on promising reports."

Your have to feel this is a pretty tough statement for them to make. After what they did the last time "following up on promising reports" you would think they would be extremely wary of the promising report market.
I don't see the report as leaving much room for the optimistic interpretations given above, but I've never thought Southwest Florida was likely to be worth the intensive effort.

I'm a bit more intrigued by the plans for South Carolina. I understood they intended to be there for a month, from mid-March to mid-April. If that's correct, they've extended their stay by several weeks.
Excellent news

I look forward to the photos of cake and trees. And themselves of course.
This area is so terribly vast and a few people drifting around on a houseboat would take a year to even remotely cover just the waterways through this part of Florida. There are so many huge islands of mangroves that you CANNOT walk on, they only got to look at perimeters, it is a hopeless jaunt to look for a bird that most likely, again, is flying from one point to another and isn't going to come landing onto their houseboat. But it is admirable this time that they even bothered to look. Reports do come in from time to time but how can anyone follow up on any of these? If someone happens to be down there and see a bird on a mangrove does anyone really believe that particular bird is going to be there when someone comes back to follow up? It is an astoundingly frustrating situation. As for any bird in the Fakahatchee strand, the name alone indicates what you are dealing with, a strand of habitat that is loosely connected with Big Cypress, it is doubtful that any one bird is going to sit in a given spot there waiting to be seen a second time. There are "funnels" as the popular term goes, that allow the birds to move all over southwest Florida and when people report them as they do quite regularly they are no doubt seeing one flying from point A to point B. This area cannot be compared to the somewhat isolated area that Tanner was able to study and relocate his population on.
That's why Southwest Florida seemed like a poor choice for Cornell's last season of searching. And their emphasis on covering territory (80% of the surface areas of interest) seems to come at the expense of actually trying to find the birds. This is just one of the many problems I see with Cornell's methodology.

I'll probably get flamed for this, but look at Mike Collins. He's probably spent more time in the field than anyone, and contrary to the claims of the skeptics, he doesn't report regularly seeing Ivory-bills or suggest that it's easy to do. I haven't calculated the ratio of field days to sightings, but it's probably less than one per month, and he's working in a relatively small area that's part of a large expanse of forest. This matches the experience of others.

I think the best strategy would have been to identify areas where the birds are likely to be based on credible reports and then have small, unobtrusive teams focus on those areas, possibly for months at a time. From what I understand, that wasn't really the approach, even in Arkansas, and the Mobile Team replicated Tanner's mistake of visiting areas briefly, making a snap judgment (perhaps while dining out), and then moving on.

While it's unfortunate that Cornell hasn't gotten conclusive proof, the fact that they're abandoning the search is probably a good thing. Independent searchers have more flexibility, and someone will get this done eventually.
The one skill that Tanner had that few have today is the ability to sit in one spot and remain observant for many hours on end. This in my opinion is the best option for having any extended look at the bird(s). There are a few searchers that seem to have good success at hearing vocalizations and rapping but fail to see any birds and I think it is because too much noise is made moving about looking for the sources of these noises. I think if one does get lucky enough to be within earshot of sounds then finding a quiet spot to sit and wait will be the most likely way to have a view. Not trampling through the forest or paddling up and down a water way. All the birds have to do in that case is move upstream or through the woods a few hundred yards and you will never catch a glimpse. Listen, sit and wait to me is the best way to go.
The one skill that Tanner had that few have today is the ability to sit in one spot and remain observant for many hours on end.

Except for millions of hunters.
Actually I believe it was JJ Kuhn, the State warden and a local hunter, who had that ability and who led Tanner and others to where the ivory-bills were from one year to the next. Tanner's not being able to locate ivory-bills anywhere else in the Southeast, even where he was convinced that they occurred, suggests he wasn't any more successful than anyone else then and since in any one spot or when he didn't know where the nest/roost sites likely were. And these had to be pointed out to him by local woodsmen. Not a criticism of Tanner, just the way it was (and possibly still is?).
I was going to make the same point about Kuhn, although it's not quite accurate to say that he led Tanner. . ."from one year to the next." Once Tanner was familiar with Tract and the general vicinities in which birds nested, he was able to manage on his own. Nevertheless, it's pretty clear (from the monograph and from Tanner's notes) that Kuhn was better at finding the birds than Tanner, even Tanner had learned his way around the Tract.

The general point about local people and hunters, in particular, is absolutely on target. Birders tend to dismiss reports from hunters, sometimes with good reason – quite a few people I spoke to in Arkansas claimed to have seen the bird and clearly either didn't know what they were talking about or were trying to play me – but often out of mere prejudice.

I hadn't thought about Tanner's failure in other areas from your perspective, and it's a very good point, although I think the limited time he spent in most places was also a factor.
To 5:50 Anon, hunters report the bird and those reports are discounted for a variety of reasons. Again, not taking my line out of context I was talking about IBWO searchers. Keep dissecting my words. Lol.

8:13 Anon. Kuhn was a real woodsman by most accounts. While I hold a grudge against Tanner for discounting many habitats around the country HE too was not a shabby woodsman. And he was quite capable in the Singer tract of finding the birds on his own once he became familiar. And his tolerance for the hardships of moving through the forests was far better than many of those today seeking the same prize. Likewise, his observations were few compared to the incredible amount of hours he spent in those woods.

There is an interesting passage in Gallagher's book when Tanner's wife is recounting the story of when he took her to see the birds. In the story she talks of him picking her up at the hotel and then entering the swamp before dawn and trudging through it in the dark for 6 miles or more. After dawn they searched for the entire day and did not find the birds but found what Tanner believed were roost holes. So it wasn't until the next day that they repeated the hike in and located the holes where the birds exited at dawn. Reading the story sets my example of the type of hiking and dedication it takes to get to a place where one might see a bird. They spent an entire day in there and did not find them. And repeating the trek on the second day they were lucky enough. But even with him being familiar with the terrain it took two days. And on the first day they heard vocalizations and still didn't see them. How many people today will do this?
Well, we could start with the European experts at BirdForum...eventually touch on Sibley and his coauthors...and end with the not-to-be-named dude from Duluth. These folks have been there, done that.......
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