"....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, 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):
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.
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.
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'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.
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.
Except for millions of hunters.
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.
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?
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