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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

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


-- Worth Reflection --


With independents still searching actively in several states across the Southeast, it's worthwhile from time-to-time to reflect back on the inspiring words of those historical figures who, without debate, saw Ivory-billed Woodpeckers over 65 years ago at their Singer Tract toehold in Louisiana. First the words of Roger Tory Peterson upon encountering them there in 1942 (from his "Birds Over America" volume):
"By noon, we were back at the spot, down the road, where we had seen so many diggings the day before. We would make another sortie before throwing in the sponge. Hardly had we gone a hundred yards when a startling new sound came from our right --- an indescribable tooting note, musical in a staccato sort of way. For a moment it did not click, but then I knew --- it was the Ivory-bill ! I had expected it to sound more like a nuthatch; it was much more like the 'toy tin trumpet' described by Alexander Wilson or the 'clarinet' of Audubon. Breathlessly we stalked the insistent toots, stepping carefully, stealthily, so that no twig would crack. With our hearts pounding we tried to keep cool, hardly daring to believe that this was it --- that this was what we had come fifteen hundred miles to see. We were dead certain this was no squirrel or lesser woodpecker, for an occasional blow would land -- whop! -- like the sound of an axe. Straining our eyes, we discovered the first bird, half hidden by the leafage, and in a moment it leaped upward into full sunlight. This was no puny pileated; this was a whacking big bird, with great white patches on its wings and a gleaming white bill. By its long recurved crest of blackish jet we knew it was a female. We were even close enough to see its pale yellow eyes. Tossing its hammer-like head to the right and left, it tested the diseased trunk with a whack or two as it jerked upward. Lurching out to the end of a broken-off branch, it pitched off on a straight line, like a duck, its wings making a wooden sound."
And next, the haunting words of artist/birder Donald Eckelberry back in 1944, describing what was to become one of the last fully-accepted Ivory-bill sightings, a lone female in the same Singer Tract:
"She came trumpeting in to the roost, her big wings cleaving the air in strong, direct flight, and she alighted with one magnificent upward swoop. Looking about wildly with her hysterical pale eyes, tossing her head from side to side, her black crest erect to the point of leaning forward, she hitched up the tree at a gallop, trumpeting all the way. Near the top she became suddenly quiet and began preening herself. With a few disordered feathers properly and vigorously rearranged, she gave her distinctive double rap, the second blow following so closely the first that it was almost like an echo -- an astonishingly loud, hollow, drumlike Bam-bam! Then she hitched down the tree and sidled around to the roost hole, looked in, looked around, hitched down beneath the entrance, double-rapped, and went in."
And maybe lastly, those eternal words from Jerry Jackson, that still apply: "The truth is out there."

I like this quote from Allen & Kellog's "Recent Observations on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker" [ Auk: 54(2): April-June 1937: 164-184]:

"On the other hand, failure to find the birds in a given area is no proof that they are not there, for they are not noisy except when disturbed; their voice does not carry nearly as far as that of the Pileated Woodpecker and in the big trees which they normally frequent they are easily overlooked. We camped for five days within three hundred feet of one nest and, except when the birds were about to change places on the nest or were disturbed, seldom heard them. We had great difficulty in following them through the woods to learn their feeding habits even after becoming very familiar with their notes. The senior author at one time stood under a giant oak and caught in his hand chips of bark and wood that an Ivorybill was scaling from a dead branch high in the tree without either one being able to see the other. We had hunted for three days for this particular pair of birds without ever hearing them, even though we were frequently within three hundred yards of the nest, which we finally found because we happened to be within hearing distance when the birds changed places on the nest."

Lurching out to the end of a broken-off branch, it pitched off on a straight line, like a duck, its wings making a wooden sound.

I believe that any report of this distinctive(?) sound has been lacking from the putative 21st century sightings.

And another quote from Allen and Kellog talking about just how colonial they were, and how local colonies could be found again at the same locations over a period of decades, despite their quiet ways:

This [range] does not give one very important fact in the distribution, namely, that the birds are non-migratory and moreover they are probably sedentary. It is our belief that most individuals spend their entire lives within a few miles of the place where they are hatched and develop little Ivorybill communities. These, when left to themselves, may develops such local abundance as reported by early observers and give a wrong impression of the general status of the species. On the other hand, one not knowing the exact whereabouts of one of these communities might search for days in suitable forest cover within a few miles of the right spot without discovering the birds.

The birds which we discovered in Florida were within a mile of the place where a hunter reported having seen three and shot one three years before. The birds discovered in Louisiana in 1935 [Singer Tract] were apparently close to the spot where Beyer (1900) reported collecting seven specimens nearly forty years previously; the place had been known to local residents for fully as long and had been reported by Pearson in 1932.

It's amazing to me how some people who seem to rely so heavily on historical accounts, particularly those originating at Cornell, can be so selective in their readings.

Tanner, p. 35:

"Considering all the evidence, I believe Ivory-bills were not sedentary birds, but sometimes wandered considerable distances."

Tanner, p. 46:

"The Ivory-bill population and ranges in the Singer Tract have not remained constant....In 1931 a cyclone ripped a swath through the forest near the northeast corner of the tract....J.J. Kuhn did not remember seeing Ivory-bills in that area until 1933, about two years after the storm....The birds apparently left that area soon after 1934."

Tanner could not find a sign of an ivory-bill in the Santee only months after Sprunt and others had seen the birds repeatedly there. See pp. 26-27. In point of fact, Tanner believed that ivory-bills existed in 5 distinct areas of their former range during his searches, yet never saw a single ivory-bill outside the Singer Tract (even most of the Singer Tract birds were never directly observed by him).
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