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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

Sunday, March 28, 2010


-- Gallagher --


If there is one individual on whose lap the 5-year search for the Ivory-bill rests it is likely not Mary Scott, or Gene Sparling, or John Fitzpatrick, or Van Remsen, but Tim Gallagher. Gallagher is the writer/adventurer and Cornell editor of "Living Bird" magazine who followed up (with buddy Bobby Harrison) on Gene Sparling's initial encounter in the Big Woods of Arkansas, and quickly saw an Ivory-billed Woodpecker close-up. A claim from Scott or Sparling or others wouldn't have meant much to Cornell, but a word coming from one of their own, quickly set them into high gear (oddly, since the major debate ensued, Gallagher hasn't said much publicly in defense of the finding, even though in a sense, his credibility is probably more on the line than anyone else's). Indeed, all along some have complained that Cornell has taken the words of their own people quite seriously while taking the words/views of others, non-Cornellites, with a huge grain of salt.

After Jerry Jackson's "In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker," Gallagher's "The Grail Bird" may be my favorite popular IBWO volume, for it's coverage of many of the personalities involved. But as a volume that was actively being written at the very time of the Arkansas find (and published upon Cornell's monumental announcement) it opened Gallagher to easy criticism of self-interest and non-objectivity. Not a lot Tim can do about such perceptions. As a person with varied interests and responsibilities, his surprisingly low profile and limited activity in this controversy since it heated up, may be explainable, but hopefully we'll hear more from him on the topic at some point. He likely believes he's already said everything there is to say 100 times, and there is nothing to add. But his central, instrumental role in the saga may require him to speak out further, regardless of whether the species is confirmed or never seen again. This is surely one of the landmarks of his life now from any outsider's point-of-view (as well as from his own vantage point).

IBWO skeptics have long relied on one underlying concept to rest their case on, in explaining events of the last 5 years: so-called "groupthink." Take that away and there just isn't much groundwork to stand on to explain various multiple sightings. (Of course, 'groupthink' can just as easily, if not more easily, be applied to 60 years' worth of the skeptical viewpoint, as to the 'believers' side.) Gallagher is either the progenitor of the worst instance of groupthink in the history of ornithology, or an individual largely responsible for one of the greatest avian discoveries of all time. It's possible we'll never know for sure which camp he falls into. ...It's also possible we will.

An older online interview with Tim here:


Saturday, March 27, 2010


-- "Project Coyote" Update --


First update from the Louisiana "Project Coyote" HERE, focusing on some bark scaling/foraging sign in their area.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


-- 'nuther Scott Crocker Interview --


New hour-long (skeptic-leaning) podcast interview with Scott Crocker, directer of "Ghost Bird," on MonsterTalk.com HERE. (nothing new, but review of the past from Crocker's perspective)


Monday, March 22, 2010


-- Not Much --


Only one individual has sent in a report on Jerry Jackson's Friday talk (since it was an afternoon talk on a college campus, I suspect a lot of interested folks may not have had much opportunity to attend). The single emailer summarizes briefly as follows:
"...He gave a very entertaining summary of the history of the search for Ivorybills. Nothing really new or ground-breaking.
"He ended by saying he still has hope that there are Ivorybills out there, but that his hope is diminishing. He said that hope is not truth. Hope is only the incentive to seek truth. (I did not get his quote exactly right)
"When asked, he mentioned these three areas as ones that could bear additional searches: the Florida panhandle, Chipola and Apalachicola rivers; Louisiana; and the Texas Big Thicket."
With the possible exception of the FL. Panhandle, these are some of the same ol' same ol' areas of interest for the past 6 decades. I s'pose I was hoping maybe he would cite at least one of the more newly-discussed areas (from last 5 years), but apparently not.

Anyway, thanks for the report (curious too, if anyone asked him about the Rainsong episode and if so what he said, if you care to get back to me on that...).

BTW, if you haven't already noticed, I've added a direct link to the latest Louisiana claims website at top of "Ivory-bill Links" in left-hand column, in the event you wish to check back there for any updates.

ADDENDUM: the emailer sends along this additional info:
"The audience was mostly retirees that attend all of this lecture series, with a few students and professors thrown in. Maybe 50 people. There was practically no Ivorybill knowledge in the audience. Dr. Jackson ran long so most of the questions were out in the reception area. They ranged from, "Why do birds sit in a row on power lines?" to "Why does the cardinal at my feeder fly into my white wall after he takes a seed?", to "What do you mean by 'corridor'", to a more detailed discussion of bird photography.
"I did also ask about the latest Texas and Louisiana reports. Dr. Jackson talked about the info he found on the Internet about Rainsong's criminal history, hardly a person to be trusted. About Louisiana, he indicated that better data was needed to draw any conclusions."

Friday, March 19, 2010


-- Reminder --


Just a reminder that if any reader attends Jerry Jackson's lecture on the Ivory-bill this afternoon in Boca Raton, FL. I'd enjoy hearing any synopsis of his current take. Though he's always believed in following up serious, credible claims, I believe at this point he thinks it highly unlikely the species still persists, but if he indicates otherwise would be curious to hear. Also would be interesting to hear any commentary he offers on the entire 5-year official search just ended.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


-- Various Stuff --


Not for math-phobes... Problems with statistics in research here (lengthy):


Speaking of statistics, but on a slightly less-technical note, I've occasionally referenced the "Monty Hall" problem from mathematics here before. Jason Rosenhouse wrote an entire volume devoted to it last year, and it's worth a read for those titillated by math and paradoxes (moreover, I believe it too, like the above paper, relates to the entire Ivory-bill debate, but that's another story):

"The Monty Hall Problem" by Jason Rosenhouse

Barely a peep in either email or comments here about the new Louisiana claims, nor much mention on other bird blogs --- an indication of the damage done by the Sheridan/Rainsong past --- no one wants to touch such claims at this point without crystal-clear photos available, so jaded is the birding community now. I understand that, but still ashame, as it can be a discouragement to anyone wanting to come forth with information that might be helpful yet non-definitive. I don't find the physical evidence of the new claims (photo, sounds, signs) very strong at all, but would be interested to hear more details of the specific sightings, and hope better physical evidence may yet come along.

Finally, possibly rarer than an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, this wonderful find of a white Atlantic Puffin (beee-eautiful bird):


And speaking of beautiful birds, Molly-the-Barn-Owl (and internet sensation) should have her first hatchling (of possibly 5) live on video nestcam any time now, before a worldwide audience:


[Update 3/20: none of the eggs have yet hatched; could prove to be an infertile clutch or possibly hatching still to come]
[UPDATE 3/21: the first egg has hatched at approximately 2:45 pm EDT... to a cheering internet throng ]
[UPDATE: by end of 3/25, 2 more eggs have hatched with 2 remaining that may hatch over next 4 days; and today was declared "Molly & McGee Day" in San Carlos, Calif. where the nestbox with the two so-named birds reside -- probably be my last update here, but may be another 50+ days before owlets fledge from nest, so plenty more time to view]

Saturday, March 13, 2010


-- New Louisiana Claims --


This story has gone 'live' on the Web a little earlier than I expected --- thought it would be posted Sun. (tomorrow) afternoon:

The 'boy-who-cried-wolf' syndrome may have saturated many IBWO birding quarters by now, but
nonetheless, new Ivory-bill claims are out from central Louisiana, from yet another independent team that's been active for awhile; their newly-released website here:


When I first reported the Daniel Rainsong claim back on January 19th, I immediately interjected my hunch that it was likely a hoax (a belief only hardened over time), so let me quickly say that this current claim is NOT in that category; am perfectly satisfied with the sincerity of the claims being made here. I don't however find the specific evidence thus far presented particularly compelling; (am sure others will voice various concerns about it, so I won't go into my own issues here). Having said that, I am very interested that multiple individuals once again claim encounters/sightings, and in an area of Louisiana which I've long thought lacked adequate coverage; moreover, it is on private, not public land, and thus likely a parcel that has not received widespread attention previously.

For the moment I wouldn't expect this to change much of the overall Ivory-bill discussion; it is however another new lead, and with luck further evidence may follow.


-- New Technology In Place --


Back in mid-December I referenced Mark Gahler who'd announced a new acoustic-detection technology for possible use by IBWO searchers:


David Luneau offers a brief update here, as some of the units have now been deployed in Arkansas and Louisiana:


[and tune in tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon for some possible related news]

On a total sidenote, some readers here might have interest in part-time work offered in conjunction with showings of Scott Crocker's independent film "Ghost Bird." See here for details:


Friday, March 12, 2010


-- Where To Next? --


In 1989, Jerry Jackson rated Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi the 3 most promising states (in that order) to look for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers (and actually considered Arkansas low probability) --- an assessment that seemed on target to me at the time. Amazingly, 20 years later, despite all the hoopla and claims and research and even new areas of interest, while I'm not certain of Jackson's current view, it still seems that these are the 3 key states for Ivory-bill searches (until someone can convince me otherwise), based on their habitat, corridor linkages, past claims, and especially in the case of MS. it's lack of prior coverage --- it's almost as if we've learned little or nothing of significance in the 20+ intervening years of study (others will continue to argue for South Carolina or Texas or Arkansas, and certainly cases can be made for these and several other states, but the question is where to get the most bang for the buck, or where might the species linger in enough numbers to make searching most worthwhile).

Those who by sheer convenience are able to search any particular area of interest should certainly continue to do so, but freelancers who are free to travel to any prospective areas may want to review Bill Pulliam's cursory 2006 habitat review of FL., La., and MS., included below (and do their own up-to-date Google Earth analyses as well):



Thursday, March 11, 2010


-- State of the Birds --


With but a couple months left in this year's main search season for the Ivory-bill, I'm really more interested at the moment in a 'State of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker" report (or, even a 'State of the Southern Bottomland Forests' report), but since most other bird blogs will likely link to the just released "State of the Birds 2010" report (focusing on climate change and bird decline), I shall too:


(the above is the news release, with links to sections of the fuller report to the left).

From the news release:

“Birds are excellent indicators of the health of our environment, and right now they are telling us an important story about climate change,” said [Cornell's] Dr. Kenneth Rosenberg.

...and :

“The dangers to these birds reflect risks to everything we value: our health, our finances, our quality of life and the stability of our natural world,” said Audubon’s Glenn Olson.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


-- Blast From the Past --


The six expert birders who comprised the Zeiss-sponsored 30-day search of the Pearl River WMA back in 2002 (further follow-up to David Kulivan's 1999 claim) offered their concluding thoughts at the time here:


Monday, March 08, 2010


-- "Wild Echoes" --


An older book on endangered species that I've long liked is Charles Bergman's "Wild Echoes" (1990). Just a couple of passages:
"I have come to view endangered species as another of the great topics that challenge our certainties...
"Yet, in their imperiled status, endangered species represent a paradox: Though they
are the result of our long obsession with power over nature, they embody the limits of that power. They are a mirror, not of our stunning triumphs over nature but of our failures...
"They are also symbols in which we can read who we are. When we look at endangered species, we can learn not just about animals but about ourselves...
"We are living in an age of loss --- more loss, even, than occurred in the Pleistocene. I want only to see the truth about life in our times. I'm not interested in making sure I feel good about myself, and I don't think that focusing on loss is simply negative thinking. It is honesty --- about life and about ourselves. Extinction has become a part of the meaning of our lives. It's happening around us, If you just look, you can literally see it happening. You're a witness to death on a scale unknown before in history and prehistory. There is really no debate, except over the extent of the catastrophe...
"...something else has happened with the rise of endangered species in North America: We now have a totally new, totally modern category of animals --- shadowland creatures, neither certainly extinct nor certainly living..."
Chapter 9 of the book is his lyrical ode to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, including his own search for the bird in the Atchafalaya Basin (La.), and his basically pessimistic view that the species could possibly linger on. The book was written well before Kullivan or the Big Woods or the Choctawhatchee or... whatever. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sunday, March 07, 2010


-- "All Ravens Are Black"... --


Induction and "The Raven Paradox" (classic problem in scientific method, from Carl Hempel):


(There are fuller, more technical treatments of Hempel's paradox on the Web, but these are a start.)


Friday, March 05, 2010


-- 1989 Recommendations --


A lot has happened since 1989 in the Ivory-bill arena, but back then Dr. Jerry Jackson prepared a report for USFWS based on his study of the species' status at that point in time and included this prioritization for future searches:

-- 1st Priority:

Louisiana: Atchafalaya Basin

Mississippi: Lower Yazoo River and adjacent bottomland forest along the Mississippi; Delta National Forest

Florida: area between and near Chipola and Appalachicola Rivers, Appalachicola National Forest; areas south and east of Kinard

-- 2nd Priority:

Louisiana: Tensas National Wildlife Refuge and contiguous forest

Mississippi: Pascagoula Hardwood Tract and continguous foest in Jackson and George counties.

South Carolina: Lower Santee River, Wambaw Creek Wilderness and vicinity

Florida: Big Cypress Preserve and adjacent areas; Fakahatchee Strand

Texas: Big Thicket

Florida: California Swamp and adjacent areas near the Lower Suwanee; other swamp forests of the "Big Bend" area

-- 3rd Priority:

Georgia: Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Mississippi/Alabama: Lower Noxubee River and adjacent areas along the Tombigbee River

Georgia: Lower Altamaha River

Florida: Wekiva River preserves and adjacent portions of Ocala National Forest

Arkansas: Lower White River and nearby bottomland

Again, I'm sure 21 years later the precise order of priorities will have changed significantly, but still interesting to look back at the conclusions from a time before all the current hoopla.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


-- Dr. Jackson Speaking --


Dr. Jerry Jackson will be speaking at Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton, FL.) in a couple weeks on "History, Hoopla, and Hope: Lessons of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and its Emergence as an Icon for Conservation" as part of their 'Frontiers of Science Lecture Series': Friday, March 19, 3:30 - 4:30pm.
Location:Room 126, Biomedical Science Center, Boca Raton Campus Contact:Patsy Jones, 561-297-1301

Obviously, a timely presentation. If any readers get a chance to attend please feel free to offer your thoughts/synopses via comments or email.
In fact if anyone attends and wishes to ask Dr. Jackson a question, one that I'd personally like to see posed runs as follows: "If you had to name just 2-3 areas remaining that you'd like to see get further intensive exploration (for IBWO) where would they be?"

One of Jackson's prior print pieces that likely touches on some of the material he'll discuss on the 19th here (15 pg. pdf):


Tuesday, March 02, 2010


-- Great Viewing --


Just consolidating together these 4 wonderful U-streamed nestcams (all from Calif.), to keep you entertained while we await any IBWO news for this search season. Great and fascinating stuff, peering into the family/nesting lives of species, as rarely observed by humans before:

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/the-owl-box (Barn Owls)

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/Two-Harbors-Cam (Bald Eagles)
http://www.ustream.tv/channel/Hummingbird-Nest-Cam (Allen's Hummingbird)
http://www.ustream.tv/channel/allen-s-humminbird-nest (another Allen's Hummingbird, with babies)

There are lots of other nestcams worldwide, but these 4 are particularly good and varied, and can keep one mesmerized for a good while. The first 3 are currently sitting on eggs, and the real fun starts when chicks appear and child-rearing begins, as in the 4th one. Hats off to the folks running these sites (which include chat rooms, BTW).

Of course there's still a certain woodpecker nestcam we'd all really like to see...

One other note worth mentioning: Bill Benish recently started a blog exclusively devoted to Campephilus woodpeckers that is definitely worth perusing for all the woodpecker-philes out there:


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