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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

Friday, May 29, 2009


-- Weekend Entertainment (OT) --


For those who think that feeding backyard birds is boring....

(hat tip to 'BirdChick' for drawing my attention to this)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


-- Florida Article --


Newspaper update, based on a Florida Ornithological Society meeting, here:



Friday, May 22, 2009


-- Open Thread #4 --


For the numerically-inclined, this is, according to Blogger stats, post #1001 for this blog.
Who'd a ever thunk it!... (of course BirdForum.net has close to 14,000 posts on their IBWO thread, so maybe we just be gettin' started here ;-).
...Anyway, may be a fine time to try another 'open thread,' even though participants seem to be shy or absent since internet ID was initiated. But if the spirit (or ghostbird) moves you....

[ p.s.: for those who don't already know it, the easiest way to obtain a Web ID that permits 'comments' access to this and other blogs is to sign up for a free Google gmail account --- you can of course use a pseudonym or actual name, and you don't even have to use the gmail account for email if you choose not to, but it does establish a working Web ID ]

Thursday, May 21, 2009


-- More Readin' --


Mikko Saikku's analysis, from a decade ago, of the historical changes to southeast North American habitat that impacted the Ivory-billed Woodpecker HERE, courtesy of Google books (pdf., several pages deleted).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


-- Ivorybill 'Politics' --


Fact is that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a VERY charismatic creature, as birds go, and as such, a potential cash-cow... to the person/group who first gets clear photos of it and otherwise conclusively documents its presence. That is an unspoken truth that everyone knows but doesn't say out loud. The pics alone could be worth 10's of 1000's of dollars, and then there are the book and documentary film rights, speaking engagements etc.

When the Ivory-bill was rediscovered in Cuba in the 1980's a turf war followed over who would be in charge of the search/study that ensued. Some parties were even accused of being at least as interested in the $$$ to be generated by finding the bird as in the best interests of the species itself or the sharing of information. In the last four years similar crass charges have occasionally been lobbed at Cornell and The Nature Conservancy. Their gleeful initial announcements and use of the iconic bird in bulk mail fundraising efforts, even well after regular bulletins and news releases had ceased, made for an easy target. Personally, I've never had much problem with a notion that those doing the difficult hands-on work to find, study, preserve a species ought make back some major dollars in the process. Still, agencies have not done themselves proud in this instance with their public communications (and lack thereof).
Appearances can too easily take precedence over reality.

I continue to wonder just what it will mean, at this late date, if the Ivory-bill should eventually be confirmed (there have been enough sightings): if conclusively documented by official agencies what will the long delay say about the methods/techniques/planning/confidentiality employed; about the infighting, egos, debates/rifts, decision-making along the way; about the competencies of those involved? And if documented first by an independent searcher, will that speak even more harshly about the ability/wisdom of "official" agencies? I have long accounted for such delay by the sheer scarcity of the bird and expansiveness/difficulty of the habitat involved... and maybe it is that simple. Or maybe Jerry Jackson was on to something early-on in this affair when he wrote critically about "hope and the interfaces of science, conservation, and politics" (italics added) (Auk 123: 1-15, 2006).
Despite the conclusions that many have already reached, I'd contend for now at least, as Jackson himself concluded back then that "the truth is still out there."


Tuesday, May 19, 2009


-- Timing Is Everything --


Scott Crocker's independent "Ghost Bird" movie closed to excellent reviews at its world premiere at the HotDocs International Film Festival in Canada, and will soon announce it's U.S. grand opening. Ironically, unless a surprising announcement awaits in the wings, it would seem to be opening just as general interest in the species, after 4 years of searching, could be headed for freefall.

Indeed, many in the birding community, sad to say (...present company excluded obviously), almost find the storyline an embarrassment at this point, and the film's audience may actually be broader among non-birders and non-scientists than those to whom it most pertains. For the film it is almost a catch-22 situatiion: if no further/better evidence of the IBWO comes forth, the movie's relevance quickly fades, and if conclusive documentation of the IBWO does suddenly arise than the most significant chapter of the story is missing from the film. Still, as a historical document of a point and place in time and a brewing scientific debate, by all means, go view this offering if it comes your way:


Monday, May 18, 2009


-- Clarification --


From some emails I've received maybe certain recent posts sounded too pessimistic, as some folks seem to think I'm throwing in the towel. Soooooo, let me be perfectly clear... given the totality of evidence, though
disappointed by several matters, I continue to personally believe that IBWOs persist, and that Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi are the most likely locales for them (but would be pleased to have South Carolina folks convince me otherwise), and am still awaiting for certain loose ends from this season to be wrapped up, though not expecting anything noteworthy from lingering matters. I no longer know quite what to think about Arkansas, but Illinois/Tennessee continue to hold some interest as well. Another year could alter my view considerably... or, it could alter the view of others.
Meanwhile, a skeptical "pcoin" makes some predictions over at BirdForum.net HERE. He may prove right... or, not.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


-- Hellstrom Chronicle --


Speaking of conservation.... reminds me of a classic, award-winning, part documentary, part science-fiction, and part science-prophecy 1971 film, "The Hellstrom Chronicle;" the story of insects taking over the Earth:

(pretty much the entire film is available on YouTube in short segments, or possibly some other video site has it in unsegmented form)

Saturday, May 16, 2009


-- Ivory-bills Not Alone --

Avian future grim...?

BirdLife International's latest evaluation of world bird populations finds 12% of all bird species currently threatened with extinction. 1227 species in total are adjudged as 'globally threatened,' and 191 species in addition to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker are listed as 'critically endangered.' While many express alarm at the 12% figure, the writing has been on the wall for decades regarding the trajectory that bird populations are on. I suspect that percentage could double within 3-4 decades, and as a practical matter, given human nature and human will,
there's not a lot that can be accomplished. Worse yet, the outlook for many other animals is likely no better.

The report does list a couple of 'success' stories in the making, but these are the exception to the norm. Habitat conservation remains key, and is slow to attain,
territory being the limited commodity that it is. And even saved habitat is far from immune to the direct or indirect polluting and chemical effects of human activity/presence. And what we are doing to the oceans and waterways may represent an even worse story than the spoiling of land. Oyyyyy vey!

A "cautiously optimistic" E.O. Wilson, hopes for a "critical threshold" or "tipping point" to move Mankind forward on the topic here:

Lastly, on a brighter note, the Roger Tory Peterson Birding Festival will run from June 4-7 at the RTP Institute of Natural History in Jamestown, NY, with Pete Dunne and Kenn Kaufmann, among others, in attendance.

Friday, May 15, 2009


-- Tidbit --


In a post over at IBWO Researchers Forum "Fangsheath" quotes briefly from a letter of Arthur Wayne's (famous 19th century collector of IBWOs) stating that "The Ivory-bill is a bird of the inland swamps, not the river swamps...." (the letter is included in a new volume, "The Travails of Two Woodpeckers: Ivory-bills and Imperials" from Noel Snyder et.al.).
Fangsheath goes on to add, "By inland swamp he seems to mean any of the hardwood- or cypress-dominated forests of what we now call the Gulf Hammock region, not associated with major rivers. This seems to include hammocks, bays, and cypress domes, which interdigitate with pine flatwoods in this region. In his 1893 paper he stated that the birds were to be found in large tracts of heavy timber "destroyed" by fire. This suggests to me that occasional fires burning from the pyrogenic pine forests and into fire-tender swamp forests/hammocks yielded patches of high tree mortality, attracting ivory-bills. The preference of the birds for hardwood and cypress forests away from major rivers in this area may also explain why Brewster saw so few of these birds along the Suwannee."

Impossible to know to what degree Wayne's experience-based notions from over 100 years ago in Florida might apply to any Ivory-bills remaining today in other locales, but interesting nonetheless.

According to Fangsheath, at the time (1905) Wayne contended there were still good numbers of IBWOs in at least 3 separate areas of Florida (many already thought the Ivory-bill extinct at the turn of the century). Read the full post HERE.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


-- Whimper...? --


"This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper. " -- T.S. Eliot

Visits to the blog are dialing back down to the hard-core readers. A quickie check of the last 100+ hits by geographic site (by state) shows New Yorkers leading the list, double any other state; Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Ohio, and North Carolina are in the next tier, followed by Arkansas, Alabama and California, all lower than they used to be. Oh, and the British continue their interest in the topic as well. No hits at all from almost half the states.

Checking the USFWS Ivory-bill website this may say a bunch: their "official press releases" on the IBWO went from 10 in 2005, to 3 in 2006, to 1 in 2007, to zero in 2008 and thus far for 2009.

Every summer I imagine things will be slow on the IBWO front, only to find more to report than anticipated... but guessin'/hopin' this summer may actually offer a long pause. No telling when, or if, any search plans for next winter (however limited) will be unveiled, or for that matter, when summaries of this season will be released. But looking forward to spending more time on other projects/blogs... and maybe even fit in some birding for a change!

Meanwhile, the question lingers: Will the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker end in a bang or a whimper? And when??....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


-- Off Topic --


While biding time, a good Allen's Hummingbird nestcam from California here:


Friday, May 08, 2009


-- Praan --


Heading into the weekend, a video set to Garry Schyman's "Praan" music:


Thursday, May 07, 2009


-- Winding Down? --


Four years of searches for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and likely we're left in the worst of all possible worlds. Limbo. Best-case scenario of course the species would've already been documented to everyone's satisfaction by now. But even a near complete lack of sightings and sounds over the four year period would at least have lent more satisfying closure to the debate, and greater unanimity in the species' extinction. Instead we are left with plenty of sightings and sounds, but scattered amongst different areas, and no way of ascertaining with confidence what they all represent. For lack of a photograph, we meander in a suspended state, occupied by individuals who "know" they have seen the bird, individuals who "know" it can't possibly exist, and those who simply don't know for sure what can be known.

I've never had great confidence (...although others do) that independent searchers could likely accomplish what organized academic/scientific teams, with the resources at their disposal, have failed to do. Yet it may be left to independents to do just that and document this bird
(...and if they do, what would THAT say about the skills, wisdom, foresight, etc. of those in charge of this 4-year endeavor???) --- Or is documenting Ivorybills little more than a matter of sheer chance anyway, barely associated with strategy, planning, or knowledge...?

Assuming no last-minute game-changing findings awaiting announcement, for me many disappointments emerge from the last 4+ years, including:

9) failure of remote Reconyx cameras to capture an IBWO on film, even allowing for their unreliability.

8) scarcity of time and resources spent searching in Mississippi, relative to time and resources expended in South Carolina.

7) inability of the scientific community to decipher recorded "kent" sounds with any conclusive precision.

6) the Steve Sheridan hoax in particular, and the diversion of trollsters, hoaxers, pranksters, and the like, in general.

5) unresolvable nature of the Luneau video.

4) generally poor, infrequent, and undetailed public communications from Cornell's Lab of Ornithology and others in charge of the search (almost inexplicable, except by the 'chilling' effects that harsh criticisms may have had on those in charge).

3) overall scarcity of reported sightings from any single given area since the original Big Woods and Choctawhatchee claims, despite scattering of reports from many areas.

2) failure of the ACONE camera system to attain a photograph from the Bayou de View area. (in my view, possibly the greatest chance of documenting the species, and best technological creation of the 4-year effort, but to no avail).

1) ...and perhaps biggest disappointment of all: Laura Bush (of all people), originally being invited to the initial announcement of the Ivory-bill's rediscovery, and cyberthrush not. ;-] (go figure...)

These things can all be explained away, but of course all sightings of IBWOs for 60+ years can also be explained away.

Monday, May 04, 2009


-- Readers' Reports --


Nothing particularly new or significant in the sightings reports I've received from readers, but here goes.

Only 7 responses that I'll summarize:

3 sightings from Arkansas, 3 from Florida and 1 from Louisiana, all between 2005-08, and all ranked as "certain" or "somewhat certain" (I decided not to include a couple of reports rated as "1's" which didn't seem very compelling, and of course no auditory reports included). I believe 1-2 of these 7 claims have not been reported to official sources, but the remainder have all been reported to Cornell, though not always mentioned otherwise on the Web.

Some clarifications:

For the most part these 7 reports represent only responses to my specific inquiry... many individuals who read this blog from time-to-time and who have made past claims did not respond directly to the post, and so were not included (as I couldn't decide where to draw the line between who to include and who not to). So for example, Mike Collins' well-known claims are not part of the seven, nor most of the original Cornell or Auburn claimants, nor any of a couple dozen other folks with past reports that readily come to mind (indeed, though there are dozens of claims prior to 2005, none were sent in, and also surprising that only 3 states were represented). It is possible a few claimants may have felt constrained by confidentiality agreements from reporting anything to a blog. Thus, a great many known reports are missing here; on-the-other-hand I was happy to hear of a couple of claims I was not previously aware of.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


-- Ambrose Bierce Redux --


Today just a re-written version of a post I did some time ago....

As a public service for any newbies to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker debate, I've compiled a brief glossary of a few terms one ought be acquainted with:

"Groupthink" --- A blind thought process that 'Party A' accuses 'Party B' of engaging in, all the while that 'Party A' is wholly immersed in it.

"Luneau video" --- Modern-day ornithological Rorschach test (or 4 seconds of cryptic, enigmatic, pixelated mystery) that splits all birders into 2 diametric groups.

"kent... kent" --- the sound that Blue Jays repeatedly make... when they're imitating certain big woodpeckers of the deep forest.

"Cornell Lab of Ornithology" --- the renowned professional bastion of knowledge and expertise in North American ornithology... or... NOT.

"extinct" --- the state-of-being of any lifeform that refuses to subject itself to current photographic representation.

"field biology" --- the "science" in which limited observations of small, generally non-random samples are routinely extrapolated to draw loose/false inferences and generalizations about entire populations.

"field marks" --- Specific physical characteristics/markings used to differentiate Ivory-bills from all other birds... except for briefly-glanced, over-sized, bi-laterally leucistic Pileateds.

Bigfoot --- creature whose very non-existence proves the extinction of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

"the non-commutative law of mistaken identifications" (or, the one-way direction of mistaken identifications) --- out of dozens of brief "Ivory-bill" sightings ALL can be assumed to actually be Pileated Woodpeckers, but out of 1000's of brief sightings of Pileateds none could ever be an Ivory-bill.

"extraordinary" --- a description typifying any supposition that you don't personally believe in, but definitely not applying to any supposition you do believe in.

"certainty" --- in science, the product of linking conjecture with circular arguments, while ignoring underlying assumptions; otherwise, a term applying only to death and taxes.

Occam's Razor --- the philosophical notion that when faced with multiple explanations for a phenomena one may as well believe whichever explanation one most prefers, and figure out how to justify it afterward.

Unless other news supercedes it, I'll post the readers' sightings report summary sometime Monday (it's proving more difficult than I anticipated to decide how best to summarize them.)

Haven't decided on your summer vacation yet??? Richard Lyttle posted this (South Carolina) offer over at IBWO Researchers Forum recently:


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