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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

Monday, November 30, 2009


-- Last Man Standing? --


Kinda wondrin' if there may be a last IBWO website standing at some point?....
Mary Scott took down the majority of her Ivory-bill pages long ago; and of course Steve Sheridan's long-time and Gary Erdy's short-term sites vanished well in the past. I suspect The Nature Conservancy Ivory-bill site may fade from existence at some point, and even the sites from USFW and Cornell will likely get whittled down to a fraction of their former selves over time. Bobby Harrison and David Luneau only post occasionally at their respective websites. Recently, the IBWO Researchers Forum was asking for $$$, reminding members that their site costs money to keep running. Mike Collins at one point said he was 'retiring' from the Pearl River search (although he has since removed that posting from his journal). Geoff Hill wrote last August that, short of getting a photo, he wouldn't be doing any more updates to his Auburn IBWO site. With the exception of Bill Pulliam's site even most birding blogs don't report on the Ivory-bill story any longer, short of a crystal-clear photo coming along. What does the future hold?

I only get messages sporadically and second-hand from official sources anymore, but what little I do hear leads me to surmise that key people at Cornell may even have significant doubts about their own evidence at this point and might be inching away from the story (that's just me interpreting certain emails I get, since Cornell says little on their own behalf anymore). If their final report is as weak as I expect it to be, that may say a lot (on the surface it could appear hopeful, while a more critical reading between the lines may disclose a shallower document, possibly with a lot of ecological information, but little really promising for the Ivory-bill... again, just speculatin' here).

Worse yet, I still believe that a large-scale academic team approach was by far the best chance for documenting this species, yet has failed to do so. Am seriously doubtful that any independent searcher can accomplish the task, although someone might get a good enough sighting to attract dozens of other birders in who then finally document the birds' existence if methodically organized. More power (and fame and fortune) to any independent who does succeed.

Moreover, I see no way to piece together the totality of IBWO evidence in a nice, clean, logical manner at this point --- any explanation given for the overall findings runs into major problems/contradictions, whether you believe the species exists or is extinct --- just my disconcerting view. A catch-22 all the way around: one can only explain the IBWO's existence by employing arguments which in turn imply counter-arguments for its very extinction (in short, any view one takes holds the very seeds for the opposing view).

Well, "Ivory-bills LiVE" will be here as an information hub
whether others stick around or not, continually attempting to sort through the evidence and ideas on-hand, positive or negative. And once current final summaries are out I'll draw my own independent conclusions of where things stand.
For now at least, a good number of folks will continue to follow this story... but harder to predict how many will be left standing (...or posting) 6-12 months from now, when the story could have no legs left. My intuitive/gut hunch says the documentation will... somehow... emerge in that time-frame... but my empirical sense says... it won't. The countdown begins.

Well, despite the slightly snarky humor I like to bring to my posts (which I pray is received as intended, as entertainment and a bit of an icebreaking distraction, a sometimes difficult quest among more humorless sorts), I'm deeply troubled by reports such as those from Fangsheath (who's already earned strong friendship points from me, as has CT) about serious sorts who say they wouldn't come forward with a sighting because of possible ramifications...

As I type this, I'm looking at the '71 photo on a pdf file that was widely denounced as a fake . . . I first saw that one the year it came out; I graduated HS that year, and one of my younger siblings brought home a National Scholastic magazine with the picture and the claim the IBWO had been re-discovered...

I never heard the follow-up until recently (you folks more familiar with that story than I am, please feel free to speak up), and this was in the days before PhotoShop... I shudder to think how a digital picture might be received these days... I actually hope someone might have a film camera to provide a backup shot if the happy day ever arrives...

I do have some notions back from my misspent youth as a hunter where I decided "going solo" was the best way to see wary wildlife... I number a weasel and a possible wolverine among my "treasures" (and some wild turkeys not that long ago, to get back to birds even though I'm not a birder per se), and I know from my wildlife activism here that there are powerful interests whose agendas don't include any threatened or endangered species; some friends had to fight like hell to get blackfooted ferrets introduced into some prairie dog colonies not far from here...

There is, too, the matter of "the crazies"; I think that one should rightfully be called "Bigfoot Believer Syndrome." There are a lot of those here (some of the early pioneers even promoted a "Sasquatch-is-Cain" doctrine), and these folks don't seem to have much of a sense of humor either. Of course, of necessity, we have have to separate claims of IBWO sightings from these sorts. I do remember, though, discussing a late night BF "sighting" with one gal, who seemed otherwise reasonable enough, and she went almost ballistic over a suggestion of mine that it might've been a moose seen in imperfect light... People are pretty sensitive about their perceptions being challenged...

Finally, though, the issue of the "meta-message" can't be ducked. When the belief is voiced that "There are no IBWO's on the Pearl," then those offering claims invalidated by that one are often forced into "fight or flight posturing."

I trust the one common element of those visiting here is that we do wish this issue to be ultimately resolved by the bird's actual existance (or its non-existance, which will take care of itself if that's the case), and not by forces with those other agendas I alluded to.
Actually I'm rather amazed that there has not been more photographic fakery. I know of no way to distinguish a well-crafted model from a living bird. For this reason a few stills can never suffice for solid documentation (although they should be, and are, taken very seriously). Fuzzy video of a bird in motion, even a few seconds (which would contain over 100 de-interlaced frames) is far better than a few "clear" stills.

I believe that an independent will obtain reasonably clear imagery. Very possibly it will come from a camera trap. The next several months should be interesting.
But that seems to be the major problem of all attempts at proving the existence of the IBWO!
There have been a surprisingly high number of encounters that were filmed, but inevitably the pictures were far too blurry.
Digital motion cameras just don't match the sharpness of a DSLR image, so the bird needs to be extremely close to the filmer to be identifyable - a task made almost impossible by the landscape and the fact that large woodpeckers are generally difficult to approach.

In my honest opinion, any photographic evidence that qualifies as proof will be a clear picture (by DSLR) of a flying bird.

You can't attach a realistic model into the air and I am pretty confident that it takes a whole lot of effort to actually fake a digital image of a flying bird so good it won't be detectable by experts - unless George Lucas is a good friend of the faker.
Had Luneau, the Choc searchers or Mike Collins used a DSLR, we could by now clearly state if the birds depicted were Pileateds, Wood ducks and Anhingas or indeed "the Big One".
This is so maddening to me: I think that bird identification ought to be based on knowledge and not belief, yet there still can't be any knowledge (either way, pro or contra the bird's existence) because all we ever get to see are blurry pixelated videos that could be anything, from Muscovy to Ivory-billed WP.
Another detail to make my point clear:
The IBWO - if it is still around - is:
a) a bird,
b) a bird,
c) a bird, and
d) a bird.

It is a rare one, just like an Arctic Loon or a Lapwing or a White-crested Elaenia would be in North America.

Therefore, one would assume that birders woulkd apply the same tools to document it as they would to document any other rarity.

And the most common "tools" by far I use myself or see other birders use is
a) DSLR with a 400+ mm IS tele lens OR
b) digiscoping

If you're in a canoe, you can use the camera + tele lens, if you walk through the forest you can carry scope and tripod. You may not be able to go anywhere with it, but hey, you don't really need to when you have a 40x magnification + the zoom function of your pocket digital camera.
I'm not sure what you mean by a "surprisingly high number of encounters" being filmed, but it almost goes without saying that we need something clearer than the Luneau video at this point. Still we should not overlook that the Luneau video spurred the USFWS to invoke the ESA in Arkansas. A digital SLR is no magic bullet, as Tyler Hicks can attest. It should also be noted that neither the Luneau video nor Geoff's video of a putative ivory-bill in the Choctawhatchee were taken by human beings, so to speak. They were taken by unmanned camcorders, necessarily set at low zooms. It stands to reason that almost any bird imaged under such circumstances would have to be poorly resolved.

I find it rather significant that there is not a single clear image of an ivory-bill in flight that was not taken at a nest. People are so used to the beautiful close-ups of the John's Bayou pair that they often overlook Tanner's other shots of ivory-bills flying overhead. These are just as poor as recent offerings. Many hours taking shots of fast-flying, wary birds have convinced me that clear ivory-bill imagery is far more likely to come from perched birds than flybys, despite the fact that encounters with perched birds are far less frequent. Likely as not such imagery will come from a camera trap. The better ones have a whopping 3.1 megapixel resolution. Not exactly National Geographic stuff. But I think it may be a while before something better is forthcoming.
I think we both agree then that the current techniques used, unmanned video cameras, are unlikely to produce satisfying results.
I am also not overly optimistic about camera traps as I think the probability is just too tiny.
I am fully aware that a DSLR is far from being a magic bullet and am sure it is much more difficult to obtain a DSLR image of an Ivory-bill than an image with a video camera set at low zoom - but the more I think about the way people are trying to document the bird, the more I get to the conclusion that this will be the only way - again: if indeed there are still birds around to be photographed.

Of course the best and clearest image will be of a perched bird, but documenting a perched bird very clearly was achieved back in the 70ies already, to no avail. It is far too easy to call an image from a perched bird a fake - it could be a mounted model or a photoshop trick.
A bird in flight though - with typical blurr of the wing tips etc. would be so extremely difficult to fake - and likely also expensive when you take the working hours into account - that a fake could be almost certainly ruled out.
The best of course is that someone finds a perched bird, gets some digiscoped video, then a few digiscoped stills in a much higher resolution than the video and eventually photographs the bird flying off.

Yeah, right ;-)
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