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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, October 30, 2009


-- Two Options... --


As he begins wrapping up his blog series on the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Tennessee, Bill Pulliam explains why he whittles down the mystery double-knock sounds from western TN. to just two woodpeckers... and why Pileated just doesn't seem to fit:


Tuesday, October 27, 2009


-- "Sightings" (Sam Keen) --


It occurs to me, as a sidenote, with this extended coverage of the Tennessee search, that it might be fitting to make mention of author Sam Keen's tale from his small 2007 volume "Sightings," recounting a childhood experience from 1942 near Pikeville, Tennessee, of witnessing the possible shooting of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker by young hunters ("The Lord God Bird," next-to-last chapter of the book). Pikeville is in Bledsoe County (eastern TN.) FAR from the western locale of Bill Pulliam's activities, and though the storyline is true, Keen makes no pretense that his childhood memory of the bird possibly being an Ivory-bill (rather than a Pileated) has any strong credibility to it... but hey, still an interesting read, as is the rest of the slim volume of birding experiences.

ADDENDUM: Someone has asked if I could elaborate on the story Keen tells since they don't have access to his book... I hesitate to even lend it that much attention, but briefly...: as an 11-year-old birdwatcher in 1942 living near Knoxville, and enamored with the story of the Ivory-bill, Keen makes the acquaintance of a 17-year-old girl who tells him that the swamps around her home near Pikeville have Ivory-bills --- and she continues to insist so after he explains about the look-alike Pileated Woodpecker. Over an Easter vacation he gets to visit her home and venture into the woods with her squirrel-hunting brothers who, knowing of his interest in seeing an IBWO, spot one and shoot it for him. The rest is a bit of a blur... he retrieves the bird and takes some of its feathers for his collection but buries the badly-damaged carcass, uncertain which species it is, both thrilled by the idea it could be an IBWO, yet trembling at the thought that he might be complicit in the needless death of such a creature. In retrospect (the story was composed more than 60 years after the incident), Keen affirms he thinks that the bird was almost certainly a Pileated, but still has that gnawing question of what if?
(Pikeville, BTW, is not near any known prior historically-established population of IBWO.)

-- More Spectrographic Analytics --


Bill Pulliam's further analysis of Tennessee double-knocks, putting him somewhat at odds with Cornell's conclusions of same, here:


Saturday, October 24, 2009


-- Weekend Update --


Nothing new revealed, but a brief audiocast of a recent Arkansas radio segment HERE summarizing the Ivory-bill search to date.

Bill P. continues his discussion/analysis of double-knocks in the Tennessee hinterlands HERE. It's not clear to me that Cornell has ever taken the Tennessee (or Illinois) data very seriously... in fact, it's not clear to me that overall they've taken any data except from South Carolina and Arkansas very seriously. Arkansas by now seems a bust (you know something is a bust when it's no longer referenced in direct mail fundraising ;-) --- though still worthy of independents making an effort there, and we'll have to wait and see how much of the S. Carolina evidence officials deem worthy of bringing to public attention. They'll no doubt politely acknowledge possibilities in several other states; just not sure their interest extends beyond the polite stage.

The above radio show says Cornell will now "focus and take stock" of the data they have on hand... for further publications. And no doubt they will... the question is, will they tell us anything of significance we haven't already known or surmised for a long time.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


-- But Does It Make You Cross-eyed? --


From the "What-will-they-think-of-next" Dept.:

(...now if someone would just come up with an imitation sweet-gum tree costume, full of Cerambycid beetles.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


-- Pondering Sonograms --


Bill Pulliam's latest post begins some ongoing technical analysis of the curious Tennessee sounds.

We now have recent recordings of plausible IBWO sounds from at least Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee, and possibly a couple other states. What are the chances that after 60+ years of hide-and-seek there still remain small populations of Ivory-bills in 4 or more such disparate locales!?? Hard to fathom; VERY hard... If the bird is hanging on by a thread in such multiple locations, then some bright 20-something out there will need to do a PhD. dissertation that re-writes what we thought we knew about population dynamics. Could there be a 'central' primary locale of IBWO habitation from which the other locales are populated via juvenile dispersion?... virtually impossible to conceive of. What to make of the accumulated evidence then; is it all good, or all equally wretched?

Skeptics will disagree, but I also find it hard to fathom that
ALL the recorded sounds, not to even mention all sightings, are bogus (non-IBWO), and if the truth lies somewhere in-between (most sounds bogus, but some from real, living Ivory-bills), then apparently we have no sure, clear-cut technological way to tease out the real from the unreal. Quite a dilemma. Does all of this gathered data do nothing but indicate just how unreliable and unreal the data is (are IBWO sounds a dime-a-dozen if you just run enough recording equipment over enough time in enough patches of woodland?), or does it show how amateurish our techniques are when it comes to tracking cavity-dwelling birds of the deep forest upper canopies? After five years the questions seem more pervasive instead of less-so. And I fear we'll have no more answers when an official final report is issued.

...Don't mean to be redundant, but want to again thank Bill P. for the thoughtful ongoing account of the Tennessee happenings which have instilled some interest in an otherwise boring summer for Ivory-bill news. And again I wish folks from South Carolina, or maybe other locales, were more willing to publicly air certain of their experiences, but, so be it.
(They seem to fail to comprehend the benefits of 'open access' while neglecting to realize that silence is perceived in many quarters as a sign of no results worth considering.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009


-- Ghost Bird, Indeed --


Bill Pulliam recounts a March 2009 morning of double-knocks in western Tennessee HERE (depending on your sound system, the DKs, especially the first two, can be difficult to hear). More analysis will likely follow.

Meanwhile, "Ghost Bird," the movie, continues its showings across the country, picking up awards along the way....

I've lost count of how many examples of possible Ivory-bill double-knocks and kents are now available to hear on the Web, let alone how many total have been reported by intelligent observers over the last 5 years. Such sounds are necessary or at least valuable backup and support for claims that the Ivory-bill has been seen in recent times... but they are not sufficient by themselves as evidence for the presence of the species. The fact is that both "kents" and double-knocks are simple enough sounds that they can be simulated by other sources, and are not clearly diagnostic for Ivory-bills alone. Worse yet, we have very little historical record of Ivory-bill sounds to even base careful scientific comparison upon (no Ivory-bill double-knock recordings and just one small sampling of kent sounds recorded in a single location, at a single time period -- really very little to go on). Nor am I convinced that one can even consistently discern through analysis, mechanical or man-made sounds from bird or nature sounds. DKs in particular can vary tremendously depending on the type, age, and condition of wood. Wind and weather conditions, and obviously distance are also confounding factors; and even different recording devices may introduce different variables into the mix.

In the course of Ivory-bill searches we need to hear double-knocks and kents, find foraging signs/bark stripping and old cavities, and... above all, to tie it all together, have sightings --- clear, unobstructed (even if brief) sightings by credible observers on the ground... in those very same areas of curious sounds. Without sightings of the bird in the flesh, or feather as-it-were, the rest of the evidence pales, even as it intrigues.

I continue to put faith in certain visual reports of the past, as well as more recent times, as indication of Ivory-bill presence. Meanwhile, stung by critics early on in this saga, official agencies have become very conservative in publicizing sighting claims over the last couple years. Also early on, skeptics warned that sending dozens of people into the field with hopes/anticipation of seeing an Ivory-bill would merely insure that many more 'sightings' would indeed be recorded... and, they would be meaningless. My concern, and a far greater worry I think, with so many individuals stalking through so many areas, is that many more sightings have not occurred. We can go for many years with 2 or 4 or 6 plausible sightings each and every year; but we ought be advancing to 10 or 15 or 20-25 sightings, if search techniques have validity. And then a clear photo, a nesthole, and then film... and hey, along the way, champagne and high-fives.
The official IBWO search is screeching to a halt, not for lack of evidence, but for lack of sightings of a creature that has indeed earned the name "Ghost Bird."

Thursday, October 15, 2009


-- Ornithological Oddity (OT) --


'nuther quirky off-topic story I found too fascinating not to pass along....

Report from Britain of day-shift/night-shift bird species sharing the same nestbox (in this instance Barn Owl and Kestrels):


...seems bizarre, but maybe just evidence that we really can all just get along! (although poor baby Barn Owl doesn't appear thrilled with the arrangement).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


-- Crying Wolf? --


Bill Pulliam opens the week with a long Tennessee post and some interesting tidbits (...including the possibility of Pied-billed Grebes 'kenting') here:


And thanks to all who have recently sent along to me some positive or optimistic feedback re: the IBWO searches... but... here's the thing: As indicated in previous posts the troubling part for me is not the lack of a glossy photo, the lack of a nesthole found, the lack of DNA evidence... no, the troubling part is that after 4+ years of supposedly methodical effort we are not seeing an increased number of sightings, especially not lengthier sightings and ones by people of established skill levels. More sounds, more brief and fleeting glimpses, or claims from individuals of uncertain knowledge/experience, yes, but at the 4+ year-point one might expect more. Nothing on an automatic camera, nothing resulting from a $50,000 reward offer, nothing from rapid followups to sound detections. Either the birds aren't there, or they are in such miniscule numbers as to be hopeless, or, the search planning and effort has been a travesty... unless the final reports, when issued, sway me otherwise, that is all I can conclude for now. And, sad to say, of those alternatives, I'd prefer to believe that the search process has been a travesty... but that would be too easy and unfair of a conclusion based on mere hindsight and judgment from a distance, so I can't do that either.

One reason many were skeptical early-on of the Big Woods claims, is that throughout the 50's, 60's, 70's several individuals closely followed up (on the ground) IBWO claims and always came up empty (as far as definitive confirmation is concerned); it happened again following Kulivan's 1999 Louisiana sighting. And now yet once more we go through it again... tempting, tantalizing, enticing hints of something in black-and-white haunting the forest depths, yet always just out of reach. At some point it gets more and more difficult to find fault with the doubters (even though I still think them wrong) and more and more easy to find fault with a process that can't 'close the deal.' The sheer expanse of the land tracts involved may account for the results, but it gets harder and harder to rely on that as a sole explanation, as well.
We all learn early in life, from a fable, that you can only cry 'wolf' so many times before people begin ignoring you (we believers are stretching the limits)... all I can say though, is that one ought not forget, as is easy to do, that at the very end of that famous fable... there really is a wolf.


Friday, October 09, 2009


-- Fading Interest --


The Ivory-bill story wanes. Readership at this blog is at it's lowest nadir in a long time, the last two "open threads" drawing no responses. Comments to Bill Pulliam's extended account of the Tennessee search have been few and far between (much to my surprise). The main BirdForum.net thread on the IBWO is running out of steam at close to 14,000 posts, and posts at IBWO Researchers Forum run slow as well. Meanwhile, Cornell seems to be tiptoeing away from the story (their final report could be an interesting read in word-parsing!). Even new claims, sightings, sounds, will likely evoke only yawns from an audience largely worn out.

Bobby Harrison and his Ivory-bill Foundation vow to plow onward as time permits. Mike Collins continues his quest in the Pearl River area, and other independents operate elsewhere with less publicity. Many still hold out the greatest hope for South Carolina's Congaree region; for myself, parts of Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana still seem the most interesting (but based on nothing concrete). Even the Missouri-Illinois-Tennessee corridor intrigues, as no one has ever adequately explained where the final Singer Tract IBWOs withdrew to as the Singer Tract was being cut over. If the birds flew north and established themselves it might readily explain why no one has seen them for 60 years, as they weren't looked for there.

Messages/sightings to my email continue to trickle in as well, but nothing at all substantive (which is to say nothing more substantive than what has gone before, and mostly less so). In short, despite many of us still believing some birds are likely out there, patience and hope in the broader public has largely run its course. If the birds are found it will be that much grander and splendid of a story now; INCREDIBLE to most minds... and, if they are never found it may be an albatross (so to speak) around the neck of ornithology and conservation for years to come.

Come January, it will be interesting to see how much field work (and where) is generated in the next search season.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


-- Knock-Knock, Who's There... --


Bill Pulliam's tale of Tennessee double-knock intrigue continues here:



Saturday, October 03, 2009


-- Another Very Endangered Bird (OT) --


What some folks will do in the name of science....

This video of the rare New Zealand Kakapo ground parrot has been making the internet rounds lately, but in case you missed it... enjoy:


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