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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

Saturday, June 06, 2009


-- Lull --


Some skeptical sorts keep asking that various parties from the last few years admit errors, take back assertions, and apologize for 4 years of a wild goose chase... ummm, is the Pope converting to Zen Buddhism??? ...don't think it's gonna happen. Though many birders increasingly do believe the IBWO search has been a wild goose chase, in general, positions remain little changed: some folks certain they've seen the bird, some finding (at least a portion of) those claims convincing, and others still sitting firmly on the fence, though skeptics' ranks do grow. I'm not expecting much Ivory-bill news in the next several months, let alone any news that would shift peoples' views.

When the first two years of searching produced no indisputable photo of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker
I wasn't overly concerned, and even after 3 years, the lack of a picture was understandable, but I figured potential search areas were surely being more tightly delineated and defined; such that the 4th year would produce, if not a photo, at least a significant number of more detailed and credible sightings. And THAT is the most troubling part of the 'official' search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker: that 'credible' sightings have not increased significantly over time (and possibly even decreased), even though searchers should by now be honing in on the most promising areas. It's not as if a worthy variety of sensible strategies, techniques/methods haven't been tried. They have. Is the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's woodsy wisdom and wariness that much greater than all the searchers' human skills and technology? Maybe.

Or, beneath it all, is there a problem of human competencies, or too many chiefs and not enough indians, or too much discussion and not enough execution... or simply too much territory and not enough time; a combination of all of the above, perhaps???

The Ivory-bill may yet be documented, but that won't end the questions... indeed, THAT would be the start of a great many questions, and the need for a LOT of explaining from both sides: skeptics needing to explain why they were willing to so readily write off extensive evidence of the bird's persistence, and believers needing to explain why it took this long to definitively confirm that very evidence.

Meanwhile... :


The most basic problem in my opinion is related to your remark about how "searchers should by now be honing in on the most promising areas." Let me illustrate it this way. Tanner reported 7 pairs of ivory-bills in the Singer Tract in 1934 (none of which he saw himself). Now ignoring one pair whose home range was logged, of 6 pairs only 2 could be found by 1938. In other words, if you had picked one of the 6 pairs at random in 1934, chances are you would not have found it 4 years later. Tanner could not find a single ivory-bill in South Carolina despite persistent searching, only months after others had seen the birds. Wasn't this a "promising area"? It is pretty clear to me that "honing in" on ivory-bills will not work, simply because wherever they are today is unlikely to be where they are in a few years. Why should they stay in a particular area? They are built for distance travel. They have tons of forest to choose from.

I believe clear images will come, and not from official searches. They may come from the kind of searching that Gallagher and Harrison did, which is following up on recent reports. Or they may come from long-term, patient monitoring of funnel areas. But I think we have to stop thinking in terms of "honing in" and understand that this is a highly mobile, non-territorial bird.
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