"....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.”
"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."
-- Arthur Schopenhauer
Thursday, November 12, 2009
-- Permanent Open Thread --
Issues, Thoughts, Ideas, Concerns, Questions....
Taa Daaaaa!... an experiment: trying a permanent "Open Thread" (which may or may not succeed).
As I'm mulling over all-things-Ivorybill these days I suspect others are as well, with other thoughts. At the top of the "Ivory-bill Links" in the left-hand column I've listed "Permanent Open Thread" linking directly to this one post. I'm attempting to create a space that folks can quickly access for more open-ended discussion of things on their own minds. Am dubbing it a place for issues, thoughts, ideas, concerns, questions that readers just want to throw out for discussion. The operating rules, as usual, are 1) keep things civil, and 2) that space not be monopolized too much by 2 or 3 people going 'round and 'round with each other repetitively on a single matter --- make your best case, maybe with a couple of follow-ups, and then move on if it's clear that you and another person simply don't agree on the matter.
Hope folks of all persuasions in the debate will feel free to voice their thoughts in constructive, yet critical ways. If this works, you may wish to just check in from time-to-time to see what if any discussion is taking place even if you have nothing to add... or, it may simply not succeed at all!
With that said, comments are open to you readers:
1) that it WASN'T participants (who simply did what they were asked), but methodologies that were flawed in the searches; or alternatively that the volunteers were not at fault, but the problem was higher up; one of too many chiefs, so to speak, or bickering and indecision among official planners.
2) neither the methodologies nor searchers were deeply flawed; the projects basically were completed successfully, and the most logical conclusion is simply that the birds aren't there.
3) some agree, to one or another extent, that quality and experience of searchers was a factor in the lack of results attained.
4) and of course a 4th alternative, that no one mentioned, but that comes to mind, is that the searchers, the leaders, and the methodologies, were ALL fine, but just needed still more time to succeed.
Anyone have further comments/ideas toward accounting for the lack of conclusive results from official searches?
Why would better birders have produced better results. Sightings of ivory-bills haven’t really been accepted as proof by those you want acceptance from, so that doesn’t seem to be the key. Ivory-bill sounds are so simple that even a non-birder like myself can recognize them. Unless platinum-level five-star birders have a sixth sense or the ability to smell a species from a great distance, I don’t see it making a difference.
That said, credible sightings from Arkansas and the Choctawhatchee have been made by both high level and casual birders, so I don't personally think the skill level of volunteers has been an impediment to the search process.
So, what would it take to mount a search of amazing birders with amazing equipment and high quality nature filmmakers and photograpers? Spielberg or Gates or National Geo (or Ken Burns) to fund a project that concentrates a year on it - paying the participants enough to take their families with them for a year or a season, providing craft services :), setting up permanent pontoon boat camps? Or maybe a "Survivor, the Swamps?"
I would love to go and search. And I am a good amateur photographer and OK backyard birder. And I'd be next to useless in this effort. ON THE OTHER HAND, I volunteered and wasn't chosen, so one can only assume those who did go were somewhat more skilled than I.
As for sightings, we all just watched a birder with many years experience mistake a Red-headed Woodpecker for an Ivorybill on a quick view. I have also had my heart skip a beat from a quick look at a Red-headed where the apparent size was unclear or distorted by illusion. I can only assume that novice birders, or non-birders, who do not have many years of practice at NOT being fooled by illusions and mistaken first impressions, are going to be even more liable to such seemingly gross misjudgments.
So many people on all sides of this discussion have adopted a position that, unique among the world's 10,000 bird species, birding experience is neither helpful nor even desirable when it comes to finding and correctly identifying Ivorybills. This is just bizarre...
Ivory-bill sounds are in fact easy to identify by ear, which is probably why ivory-bills have localized nicknames such as “kints.” A double-knock might show a lot of variation on a sonogram, but the timbre of the sound is more consistent and identifiable. It’s like a crow’s caw: not terribly distinctive on a sonogram, but I know it when I hear it.
Bill, you wrote once that you had a fairly large readership for your recent journal. Why would people bother to read it regularly if they thought you were mistaken in hearing Campephilus double-knocks? It’s a distinctive sound, and a series of them has no significant competition.
As for my readership and whatever credibility I might have, this comes mostly from the fact that I have been doing this for 36 years and have a well-established reputation in addition to tangible credentials within the birding community. Some of these people actually *know* me, and have known me for decades before this whole situation came up. Google my name plus the word "bird" and minus "woodpecker" and see what you find, if you wonder why at least some in the community find my tales perhaps more interesting than some others.
And, by the way, I have NEVER claimed to have heard a Campephilus double knock in Tennessee. I have only reported sounds that appear to be essentially identical to known Campephilus double knocks, from an undetermined origin. These are not just semantic distinctions. They make a great deal of difference in the scientific and birding communities alike.
I know you never claimed you heard Campephilus double-knocks in Tennessee. That was inferred by those reading it. Nobody is interested in a story of a sound from “an undetermined origin,” unless it’s a short story. Maybe a short thriller.
I wonder if any philosophical cracks appeared between birders and non-birders on the IBWO Recovery Team.
Readers have doubtless found my stories interesting for a wide variety of reasons; I would hardly presume to know what everybody or nobody makes of it. I suspect you'd find everything ranging from "this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever read; it's like a train wreck in that I can't stop watching it" to "Oh my god there are Ivorybills in Tennessee!"
Another skill needed for searching the IBWO is a willingness to deal with a harsh and icky environment. The overwhelming majority of birding done in the USA is done under very comfortable conditions by comparison and I suspect that this is a deterrent that prevents many people with good birding skills from participating in IBWO searches.
I also check Bill's blog from time to time. He's one of the good guys and has his feet planted firmly
on the floor. I disagree with him on the IBWO but, I expect, on very little else. I respect his position, he argues it well. I just think he's wrong.
I don't follow Mike Collins very much, but I recall that a few years ago he thought he might've recorded a third vocalization? Was that resolved to be from something else?
Bill, I'm not a scientist. Having an "established fact" such as an active cavity would thrill me to no end. To me it's a search for an entity, not a science project. Progress matters.
The first Marbled Murrelet nest was not located until 1974. When it was finally discovered it was found in a well-known State Park in one of North America's most heavily-birded Counties (Santa Cruz, CA), about 25 miles from downtown San Jose and 45 miles from downtown San Francisco, smack in the middle of one of the largest concentrations of birders anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. And, it wasn't even found by a birder. At that time the species was still locally common, though it had been in decline for decades.
And yet we're supposed to believe that we certainly should have found an almost extinct bird lurking in a vast area of one of North America's least birded environments in just a few years?
Hill is eloquent in describing the distinction - right now all I can manage is a weak recollection that science depends on the scientific method: observation, recongition of a pattern, formation of a hypothesis, and repeated tests of the hypothesis.
Birding is valuable, and the observations from birding can ultimately contribute to science.
But all we searchers are trying to do right now, is find the bird.
There is no question the bird exists. When you read the descriptions by birders who've seen it, there is no possibility of confusing it with a pileated or even an abnormal pileated. It's a different bird. The dark plumage is different, the white plumage is different, the size is different, the behavior is differnt, the flight is different. It ain't the same bird.
Look at Tim Gallagher's sketch drawn minutes after his sighting. Gallagher was a member (the captain?) of Cornell's competitive birding team. The sketch is conclusively an ivory-billed woodpecker. As is Bobby Harrison's sketch. Two birders - observed the same bird at the same time, independently draw the same sketch. That's solid.
Read Hill's account of Tyler Hicks' sighting of a female ivorybill perched on a trunk 40 feet away. Naked eye observation by a crackerjack birder. Step off 40 feet from a license plate and look at the plate. I know people like Hicks - that sighting is rock solid.
Watch the video of Brian Rolek nearly coming out of his kayak as he raises his arm, points, turns and yells "ivorybill!". We may not have a clear video of an ivorybilled woodpecker just yet, but we certainly have an unambiguous, clear video of someone seeing an ivorybilled woodpecker.
The bird exists.
We're indebted to Cyberthrush for keeping this blog going. It's a great place to check for updates.
But there have been several posts recently that seem to do what Hill cautions us not to do in the chapter on science. It seems like we're trying to draw conclusions based on data that doesn't exist.
The data are clear: people go out into the woods, and observe the ivorybilled woodpecker. The observations are rare, usually brief, sometimes clustered about a location, and then later, the bird is no longer seen at that location.
That's it. Nothing more. There are no data to substantiate more than that. We can speculate that photos SHOULD have been obtained by now. But why? What data conclusively proves that a photo SHOULD have been captured?
We're still just birding. Just looking. We haven't got to the science part yet.
Birders make mistakes regularly, even some of those you may have been told were 'infallible'. Birders who make absolutely sure of what they have seen before making claims are probably in a smallish minority.
I disagree that the bird has been reliably documented anywhere in recent times. I know Bill is sure the Luneau video is an IBWO but I disagree. Every other claim has fizzled out. But time will tell. Any birds that are left are surely in dire straights.
It has almost leveled off 3 secs into the video segment, 3 secs post take off yet maintains an unprecedented Hz for the null species.
Is this interesting or just trivial when considering no video of a PIWO has been found to do this?
The bird in the video, if a PIWO, is certainly very, very unusual; it remains something to ignore as very inconvenient for some.
Interestingly a LA 2008 video that shows a bird with the correct wingspan for an IBWO and white in the trailing half of both wings also shows a steady wingbeat Hz above 6 Hz. By sheer odds this is where Kulivan, a few biologists and 3 to 4 others with some experience claim recent sightings.
It's then rapidly exclaimed by authors from both of the Science rebuttal papers as being a Kingfisher !
The Choctawhatchee videoed birds, one IDed in the field as an IBWO, shows an impossible amount of ventral white for a PIWO, and in shaded conditions. As we just saw in the 11/5 tape it doesn't take much for video settings to shade a white chest to gray.
In all the above locations hundreds of kents and DKs are recorded by skilled field personnel and the data tempospatially correlates very closely with sightings.
Control ARUs upriver in Alabama record no such DKs or Kents.
Multiple repeat sightings from a dozen people occur in the area.
Have we ever heard any comprehensive, plausible, and consistant explanation on all these AR, LA and FL facts from anyone?
I ask because western Tennessee is probably the coolest, most northerly of the locales IBWO have been searched for, and am wondering how much (if at all) winters there may restrict likelihood of the species' presence?
Extant range is also often not a good indicator of physiological tolerances; Baldcypress grows just fine in southern Canada when planted, 1000km north of its usual range. There's a whole lot more behind biogeography than just physiological limitations.
As for west TN, there is plenty of hard documentation that the species occurred even farther north than this in the past, and it has been looked for in recent years in Illinois.
-- DECEMBER'09 COMMENTS BEGIN BELOW --
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