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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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


-- One Person's Suggestions --


A poster to IBWO Researchers Forum makes suggestions for the next search season here:


I believe the 'bottleneck' strategy he is recommending has been done in Arkansas, but don't know that it's ever been done in any of the locales (other states) he is proposing (the ACONE automatic camera set-up in the Big Woods also accomplished the same idea, but it seemed to be out-of commission almost as much as it was up-and-running).

Saturday, September 26, 2009


-- Open Thread --


For now, I'll just throw out another 'open thread' in the event anyone wishes to bring up a specific topic, question, comment re: the IBWO quest at this point (not expecting much else in the way of news near-term).

Do stay tuned to Bill Pulliam's blog for his ongoing thoughts/account of the Tennessee adventure.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


-- This and That --


Bill Pulliam's first blog post of the week HERE.

It's reported HERE [see 1st comment below] that Cornell has been awarded (in conjunction with the National Park Service) a grant to place ARUs (autonomous recording units) in remote sections of the Congaree National Forest (S.C.) for possible detection of calls from Bachman's Warbler or the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. This is followup to extensive work that has already been done there.

Speaking of awards.... Yale ornithologist Richard Prum was one of the earliest skeptics of Cornell's announcement of an Arkansas Ivory-bill, only to reverse himself in whiplash manner upon hearing "kent" recordings Cornell had gathered from the Big Woods. He was quoted at the time as saying,

“We were very skeptical of the first published reports, and thought that the previous data were not sufficient to support this startling conclusion. But the thrilling new sound recordings provide clear and convincing evidence that the Ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct.”

How any scientist could've been so dismissive of the main body of Cornell's evidence, and yet so easily swayed by a few imprecise forest recordings was always beyond my comprehension, quashing (for me) any credibility he could have brought to the Ivory-bill arena.
However, hopefully his credibility and prowess is a tad keener in his chosen specialty fields of bird evolution and feather structure, as he has been awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship ($500,000 to pursue ongoing studies/work)... hey, always nice to see an ornithologist get one of these "genius" awards. All of this year's 2 dozen winners listed HERE.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


-- Wingsuit Flying (OT) --


Just some simple weekend entertainment... I've always thought that most folks who become birders secretly wish they could fly like a bird... and then there are the crazy folks who actually figure out a way to try it (p.s. kids, don't try this at home):

(this is reeeal, by the way, not faked; they land using parachutes, but are working on suit modifications that might make landing without a chute do-able)

Friday, September 18, 2009


-- Peter, Paul, and... --


In remembrance of folk singer Mary Travers who died this week...


-- Potato Planting 101 --


Bill Pulliam continues to fill in the summer lull in Ivory-bill news, by recounting his suggestions to the Tenn. search team on how they ought proceed in 2009, given that their primary evidence was a number of impressive double-knock sounds:


Tuesday, September 15, 2009


-- Why The Rush, He Asks? --


This week Bill Pulliam starts us off, not with a Tennessee ground search narrative, but with a bit of a rant about a rush to judgment, with statistics to boot! I don 't completely agree with all his points (and those who see the debate as boiling down to a matter of fiscal priorities certainly won't), but one point I especially concur with runs as follows:

"Most birders, even experts who should know better, vastly overestimate the efficiency of the transcontinental birding community as a bird-finding machine. The vast majority of individual North American birds live out their entire lives without ever being seen, identified, twitched, or reported by any birder. For dozens of individuals of a woodland species to go undetected decade after decade even in the eastern U.S. is in fact exceedingly easy, not virtually impossible."

Sunday, September 13, 2009


-- Credibility --


In the Ivory-bill realm a lot of "credibility" perhaps lies in shreds at this point... Much of the IBWO debate always hinged on credibility: either you believe some of those making Ivory-bill claims (trusting their expertise, judgment, honesty), or you don't believe any of them (you distrust their expertise, judgment, or honesty... at least in this instance) --- "credibility" of individuals has a few objective parameters, but remains largely in the eye of the beholder.
And even though some Ivory-bill claimants have enough experience, knowledge, credentials, to be deemed 'credible,' skeptics would further quickly point out that even credible people make mistakes on occasion. But mistaking one gull for another, or one sparrow or fall warbler or hummingbird for another, as would be typical, is one thing; claiming with assurance that you've seen an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and being mistaken, is quite a whopper; in a league of its own compared to the 'mistakes' that we can all agree birders do make.

It is unfortunate (and some would say telling) that none of the recent IBWO claims come from any of the most hands-down, household names (of unquestioned credibility) in American birding or ornithology; of course many of these folks haven't even spent significant time looking for the IBWO. There is even a second tier of birders in the country, who while not household names, are well enough regarded within the professional community, that their word would be widely accepted --- no claimants from that level either. Instead, most Ivory-bill sighters come from ranks where there is more wiggle room to cast doubts on credibility (of course these are the same sort of folks who turn in the bulk of 1000's of routinely-accepted yearly bird counts and stats... interesting how they are presumed right 99% of the time, and assumed wrong 100% of the time when their report is of an Ivory-bill).

Skeptics would additionally argue that even highly credible sightings may become UNcredible if followup investigations by competent, skilled individuals fail to confirm the original reports (replication is an essential element in science) --- this too though is mired in fuzziness in the IBWO arena, where additional sighting claims are no longer considered confirmatory, but only photographic or physical evidence is... indeed the more sightings that come forth devoid of photographic evidence, the more potent demonstration it is, according to some minds, of widespread delusion.

Emailers on occasion ask me which claims I personally give greatest credence too --- a question I never answer because the number is embarrassingly small, and readers would assume that names I leave off the list are ones I don't find credible... which is not accurate. There are a large body of claims I simply view in limbo as neither clearly credible, nor non-credible, but too sketchy to cast judgment on. If just 10% of those claims turned out to be credible it probably doubles the list of sightings I'd find believable (not that the number even matters, since finding a single lone sighting highly credible, is enough for me to lean toward the Ivory-bill's probable persistence).

And finally again, given the potential rarity of the species and expanse of habitat to be covered, the question lingers how 'credible' really were the search strategies, methods, and skills employed that have come up largely empty-handed? Like the credibility of so many of the sighters themselves, I'm just not sure what the answer to that is yet.

Friday, September 11, 2009


-- Moss Island Moments --


More Tennessee moments from Bill P. up at his blog now. Nothing much new except some video of the area, as he ends his 2008 search season (ensuing posts I assume will deal with 2009).

...And let's see, summer officially ends in less than 2 weeks... anyone wanna bet if Cornell "a-summary-will-be-posted-over-the-summer" Laboratory of Ornithology will have anything to report on the IBWO search in that amount of time (...not me, maybe November).
I'm personally more interested in hearing what Jerry Jackson's take on things is at this point (highly pessimistic, no doubt), but don't know if we'll get a separate perspective from him or not.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


-- Going Forward, Looking Backward --


Quite awhile back I told someone, only half in jest, that I had deliberately tried, at one point or another, to offend everyone in the Ivory-bill debate --- ascribing that as the best way to maintain my own independence and non-favoritism.

Looking back with 4+ years hindsight, it's now even easier, if one so chose, to take to task various organizations, people, methods that have been part of this story. And before it's over there may be some semi-bloodletting amongst various participants themselves over the non-stellar results of the last 4 years... there is blame to go around in what has been a complicated and controversial process.

It remains difficult to believe that the Ivory-bill still persists and simultaneously believe that the official search process was well and methodically executed. And I'm not even someone who requires a drop-dead indisputable photo of the bird to be persuaded; I just need to see that over time an increased number of credible sightings are coming forth (an increased number of putative sounds, foraging sign, and cavities would be nice to go along, as well) --- that doesn't seem like too much to ask for; indeed it seems pretty minimum for a 4-year effort.

If the Ivory-bill is yet documented I'm not sure there can be much success going forward with its conservation (it's simply, regrettably too late, and I doubt the will exists for the sort of large-scale land preservation/management needed), but maybe we can learn something looking backward (which will assist future cases) to understand how such a lengthy massive failure could have occurred in the first place (if that is indeed what has transpired).

....and Bill P.'s latest blog entry, of Tennessee and djembes, here:


Friday, September 04, 2009


-- Of Zebras and Double-Knocks --


It's Friday, so that means Bill Pulliam is continuing his narrative of Ivory-bill glimmers in western Tennessee HERE, this time with an allusion to the old bromide that when you hear hooves clomping don't think "zebras." But when someone intriguingly describes something in black-and-white, and you repeatedly hear certain sounds, and the swamp abounds with woodpeckers, well, what to think, what to think?....

Thursday, September 03, 2009


-- Readings (OT) --


Sorry, again off-topic today... but have to recommend a couple of volumes:

Someone recently sent me the NY Times bestseller from last year "Wesley the Owl," the 19-year story of an injured Barn Owl raised by a Cal Tech rehabber of sorts; must reading for every bird-lover out there... and many many others as well!

By happenstance, I'm simultaneously reading "Alex and Me," Irene Pepperberg's account of her life with Alex the world-famous African Grey Parrot, newly out in paperback.

These sorts of volumes I think tell us more in-depth about birds (their true nature, their behavior, their cognition) than most $75 ornithology textbooks.
I know I'm late to the table in recommending these books, as many of you will have already read one or both of them. But if you haven't you may want to get a hold of them (...just be sure to buy a box of kleenex at the same time!)


Tuesday, September 01, 2009


-- Biding Time --


Some more sheer bird entertainment here (woodpecker/hummingbird face-off):


...and Bill Pulliam's latest Tennessee entry HERE... in which he performs his best Charles Manson impression.


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