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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, April 09, 2010


-- Where Oh Where? --


One question that arrives in my email off-and-on is why am I not more optimistic about chances for Ivory-bills in the Congaree, or South Carolina more generally (many consider it the best Ivory-bill habitat remaining anywhere)? Here's the problem: even taking ALL the suitable S.C. habitat together, it is a circumscribed, contained area (large, but self-contained). If IBWOs have been living/breeding there for the last 60+ years than either the young have been dispersing out (and there's essentially nowhere to go except possibly the coast of North Carolina (where there is a real paucity of sightings), or they would have to stay in that contained area, greatly increasing the density of IBWOs there over 60 years, such that one might now expect far more encounters. In short, if the species has not been successfully breeding there, then that population would be extinguished by now, and if they have been successfully breeding for 6 decades there ought be more sightings, as well as foraging signs of them, by now (that's my view). I find it difficult to have it both ways --- that they've been hiding out there in numbers adequate to stretch across 60 years and yet organized searches fail to better document them (granted there's always the possibility that they are breeding there, but only very poorly so).

The best way in my view to account for 60+ years of breeding, yet sparse sightings, is if the birds reside in pockets along lengthy corridors of habitat that they may traverse up or down at will, and especially including patches not searched that well in 60 years. And the two best such corridors are north-south along the Mississippi River and east-west along the Gulf Coast, in both instances stretching across multiple states.
Even this would be a delicate dance for IBWOs to pull off, but it is made possible by the expanse and remoteness of suitable habitat, and the likely behavioral nature of a cavity-dwelling remnant species. Where along those extended corridors the highest-probability search sites reside is still the unanswered question, but again one may need to focus on tracts least combed-over in recent times, rather than areas that have had 60 years worth of attention.
I have a serious question for you. What would it take to convince you that the IBW is extinct? Be very specific in your answer.
It's pretty simple (and I've addressed it before); if you want to find out if Blackburnian Warblers are extinct (or Northern Cardinals for that matter) you send people out to look for them in the places they might be and if everyone returns having zero encounters, you begin to conclude they might be extinct --- same for IBWO; but if credible people report seeing them, as keeps happening with IBWO (let alone produce associated evidence in the form of sounds and foraging signs) you conclude they might exist, and seek further evidence.
If we went 100 years without an adequate photograph, that too would mean something to me (depending on other factors), but we're not near that.
Instead we have largely what is to be expected for an extremely rare bird: sparse but repeated sightings when large-scale, systematic searching is carried out.
And if you don't believe some of those sightings are credible, than you have millions of unverified sightings from Christmas and Spring bird counts that also must be discarded for lack of scientific backing.

P.S. -- the Ivory-bill is not a conservation issue for me, even though I'd hope, if documented, millions more land acres would be set aside for conservation (probably more than any other endangered species could generate). The effect of documenting the Ivory-bill will be far more wide-reaching than simple, so-called conservation.
"....you begin to conclude they might be extinct..."? When do you definitely conclude?

"...seek further evidence." That's what many people have been doing for several decades with the IBW and no one has found anything verifiable. Alleged IBW sounds, foraging signs, and all the other crap is just that, crap. Not one thing has been verified.

"If we went 100 years without an adequate photograph, that too would mean something to me (depending on other factors), but we're not near that." So, 60+ years isn't enough? And what "other factors"? Hearsay, alleged sightings, and other useless stuff?

"...sparse but repeated sightings.." Alleged sightings, which are worthless.

"And if you don't believe some of those sightings are credible, than you have millions of unverified sightings from Christmas and Spring bird counts that also must be discarded for lack of scientific backing." I don't believe any of the alleged IBW sightings are credible. Even if I saw an IBW, but had no proof, I would not think my alleged sighting is credible. And you're right, many of the alleged sightings people make of other birds are also not credible. The importance of those alleged sightings may or may not be great. When a claim is made that someone sighted an IBW though, it is absolutely critical that they are right and have verifiable, indisputable proof. Otherwise, it's just another alleged Bigfoot or flying saucer sighting.

Your P.S. is very telling. It appears that you're only interested in some sort of bragging rights or other form of notoriety if an IBW ever turns up. That's what I figured.

Do you believe all dinosaurs are extinct? If so, how can you be certain? Couldn't one still be living in a "pocket" in some deep, dark jungle somewhere? After all, they have been thought to be extinct for only about 65 million years, and no one has searched absolutely everywhere for them, have they? There could even be some on the dark side of the moon. I don't recall a thorough search being done there for them. Maybe some of the aliens who have visited Earth in flying saucers took some dinosaurs there to make sure they wouldn't become extinct. They might have taken some to their home planet too. We better search there to find out. Maybe Cornell or some Bigfoot *researchers* will help with the funding. The USFWS might chip in too.

Many people seriously believe that man and dinosaurs lived together and that the Earth is only about 6,000 years old. The Ark must have been one crazy boat ride.

Many also seriously believe that The Flying Spaghetti Monster is fictional, but has anyone ever proven that with verifiable evidence?

Like I've said before, the burden of proof is on the "believers", and that burden has not been met, even though millions of dollars have been spent (wasted) and redirected.
credible people are NOT seeing them
Incompetents, charlatans and less-than-average birders ARE

See the Red-headed Woodpecker video by the world's foremost IBWO field expert. And Hill and Hicks' notes etc.
Spat and Whole need to read the full literature, instead of just mouthing John Off-the-Wall's raving rantings.
It would also help if they understood the underpinnings of science, uncertainty, birds, and evidence (there is no such thing as proof, only evidence), but that's probably too much to ask.
We're just going over and over and over and over and over the same ol' arguments here; why don't you two move along since it's clear you have no interest in this story, and will be highly dismayed if the IBWO is documented.
You really should stop taking their bait. When they come at you with the same arguments or conspiracy theory accusations that have already been addressed hundreds of times, they are clearly just trying to pick a fight, not have a discussion.

To the point --

I think you have problems both with your population biology and your geography. I think you overestimate the habitat and connectivity of the gulf coast, and underestimate it for SC. Sure there are lots of rivers along the gulf, but many of those corridors are rather narrow, and the coastal flatwoods strips connecting them are also far from continuous. The SC rivers have humongous floodplains, when you consider length and width, and the lower coastal plain flatwoods are likewise quite extensive. If you allow for the flatwoods as potential corridors, then in fact SC connects all the way down to the Okefenokee on the GA/FL line and the extensive Altamaha drainage in central Georgia. In my opinion, the Atlantic CP from the Okefenokee to the Winyah Bay basin is as good a landscape as any. As for population biology, there's no reason to assume that a bird that has been successfully nesting for 60 years would necessarily show a population increase. Successful reproduction is a prerequisite for persistence, but it doesn't have to cause an upward population trend.
Bill, if you read the comments over here much you know I mostly DO ignore the prattle from Spat and Whole, but just on occasion answer back lest it appear I'm turning the floor over to them.

You may well be right in your defense of S.C.; it is very extensive, but it is also possibly the most heavily birded area for IBWO in the last 60 yrs, other than the ex-Singer Tract region and I think it is one area that should have produced more encounters and documentation if the birds were present; but perhaps as you say, population stasis with no increase for 60 years can account for lack of encounters. The S.C. folks have never publicly released their data, so I've only seen a glimmer of it; maybe if they did I'd be more convinced of the possibilities there.

Didn't mean to imply that the entire Gulf Coast was one connected tract, but simply that it has significant, even if broken, stretches of good habitat (which in many instances extend inland). Similarly, the Miss. River corridor also isn't unbroken, just interesting stretches on both sides at various points.
But my fear is that we've reached the end of a 5-yr. study with no more consensus on where the bird might be than Jackson offered at the end of the 80's; virtually the same laundry list of possibilities after 20 yrs.
cyberthrush said: "Spat and Whole need to read the full literature, instead of just mouthing John Off-the-Wall's raving rantings."

I have read more than enough "literature" about the IBW and it's the "believers" who come across as the raving ranters.

And: "It would also help if they understood the underpinnings of science, uncertainty, birds, and evidence (there is no such thing as proof, only evidence), but that's probably too much to ask." You have GOT to be joking. It's the IBW pushers who don't have a clue about the "underpinnings of science", and there is such a thing as proof, just not in the case of the IBW. Fitzpatrick (Cornell), The Nature Conservancy, etc. didn't say the so-called "rediscovery" of the IBW was or is uncertain and the "believers" don't say that either. The "rediscovery" is touted as certain, and proof positive.

One of the main reasons there are many "skeptics" is because there is NO proof. There is only hype, bias, alleged "evidence", hearsay, and a lot of tall tales. There's a huge difference between proof and biased, wishful speculation.

And: "We're just going over and over and over and over and over the same ol' arguments here; why don't you two move along since it's clear you have no interest in this story, and will be highly dismayed if the IBWO is documented." The reason skeptics go over the same ol' arguments is because you believers keep going over the same ol' arguments. You keep rehashing the same old worthless crap that didn't prove the existence of an IBW then, and doesn't now.

Not one thing has confirmed any sort of "rediscovery" whatsoever. Just because something is repeated endlessly, and because some people have lofty positions at universities, conservation organizations, etc. or have fancy letters after their name, doesn't make what they say true.

If some hillbilly yokel from the swamps of the south were to appear on TV tomorrow with an IBW perched on his arm, that would be indisputable proof, but if some nerd with a PhD writes yet another "paper" that claims the IBW exists based on hearsay, alleged sightings, sounds, flaking bark, blurry video/pictures, etc., that wouldn't be proof and never has been.

I wouldn't be "dismayed" if the IBW were actually "rediscovered". I would be thrilled. However, I live in reality and I haven't seen any proof that the IBW still exists.
I haven't mentioned conspiracy theories or even given an opinion on whether the species is extinct. I have only commented on the quality of documentation of sightings and the analysis of such by self-styled experts.

The level of competence of people commenting on the evidence is there for all to see. Witness the comments on the Red-headed Woodpecker video for example.

I feel my comments are reasonable and accurate. Yes, I have been less than polite about Mike Collins and FAV but they put themselves up there to be laughed at. I mean, surely you all remember the comments about the top birders all being useless and know-nothings and how they couldn't id an IBWO as they didn't know its giss and behaviour? They have no credibility now. And even less shame.
spatuletail, would you please point me to where I can see the comments you refer to? Thanks!
granted spat, I probably shouldn't tarnish you by linking you too closely to Whole.
Spat: "charlatans" implies deliberate deception, does it not?

Some of the AR sightings were from well-respected observers with established reputations, same for a few of the FL reports. It's circular logic to say "Tyler Hicks must be an incompetent birder because he reports an Ivorybill, therefore no competent birders have reported an Ivorybill." The Bayesian issues are a real concern here, but you don't need to slander the personal reputations of honest people to address them. Mike Collins is one kook in a much larger field, he's hardly representative of all the people who think they might have seen or heard something over the last 70 years.

But I think we have covered this, like, maybe, a few thousand times already?
Hi Bill

I disagree, based on the descriptions by the observers and not the fact that they've claimed to have seen the species. They are very poor descriptions, even for state rarities, never mind a bird that many think is extinct. If I had done similar I would expect to be crucified.

Charlatans could well imply deliberate deception but I meant it in terms of people who are professing to know much more than they do about bird identification, and to be much more capable than they are - and that's a large number of people, I'm afraid to say. I think people just get carried away and are easily satisfied with poor views of something - the sightings of IBWOs by amateurs within minutes of arriving in the Choctawhatchee for example read like classic over-expectation, add in the 9 or 11 pairs that just disappeared etc and it gets embarrassing.

Yes, it's been covered before but so has everything else here.
A few definitions of "charlatan":

"A charlatan (also called swindler or mountebank) is a person practicing quackery or some similar confidence trick in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretence or deception."

"one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability"

"A person who makes elaborate, fraudulent, and often voluble claims to skill or knowledge; a quack or fraud."

If the shoe fits......
Speaking of shoes fitting, I see where the proprietor of this site asked you to move on, but you persist--in narcissistically entitled fashion--that the rules don't apply to you (an observation that has 100% statistical corroboration from my inbox).

And I for one think you've been a particularly immature jerk with your namecalling, characterizing me first as some sort of religious zealot, and when that failed to fly, accusing me of being a conspirator in the Great IBWO Hoax when I've characterized myself as agnostic on the subject of conclusive proof.

Ah well, I see your from Washington... Same state as Glenn Beck . . .

Now there's a shoe that fits, and you might have trouble extracting that one from your mouth.
".....an observation that has 100% statistical corroboration from my inbox)."

An excellent example of groupthink. Since some other people agree with you, you must be right, right? I could say that my inbox is filled with emails from people who agree with me, but would it really mean anything? Whether other people agree with me or not doesn't matter. I really don't care if I'm the only one who hasn't fallen for the IBW hype and worthless co-called evidence. You cannot produce an IBW and neither can anyone else. I'm sure you can find some people who will pray with you to the "Lord God bird" and will claim all sorts of wacky things but that still won't produce an IBW or prove in any way that they still exist.

Who's Glenn Beck?

Oh, by the way, to all you "believers"; have you looked for IBWs in the Pacific Northwest? There are HUGE forests here and there are Pileated Woodpeckers here. If they can get here there's no reason why IBWs couldn't get here. Just think, you would have millions of acres to add to the "pockets" where IBWs could be deliberately hiding from people and cameras. If Bigfoot can hide from people and cameras here (oh wait, there ARE alleged Bigfoot pictures) then an IBW could easily go undetected and un-photographed here.

Come to think of it, I have heard some strange sounds in the woods around here at times. Maybe it was an IBW, or a whole flock of them. Sheesh, just think, I might have been rich and famous by now if I had just traced those sounds to their source. :)
Pacific Northwest hasn't been considered, WT, for reasons you wouldn't comprehend. But feel free to check the area out and get back to us with a full report...
On behalf of the decent people of the Pacific Northwest, let me apologize for that WT guy. Every region has its insufferable dorks, and he's apparently one of ours.

Again, I'm sorry.
Thanks Onthecoyle,

You should see the varieties we grow here on Planet Utah. You guys have Glenn Beck, but we had one of his patron saints, the late W. Cleon Skousen (ah, to have had him around on the Internet; I could've had a field day with his initials). In 1999 W.C. blamed a freakish tornado that hit Salt Lake on the increasing gay population that was moving into the city.

I suppose it's our groupthink that regards Hole-in-the-truth's behavior as extreme and boorish. With defenses like that it's unlikely he'll ever join civilized society. Well, there was the old story about the Scotswoman viewing the parade and remarking how everyone was out of step but her Johnny... I guess they were just engaging in groupthink as well...

I've already apologized over on the IBWO Forum for letting myself get drawn into this one (of course I'm green with envy over CT's "spat" shot), and I'll repeat that apology here. I just haven't found a good way to wrestle a polecat--or a net rat--without getting into the slime myself.
Bill P. left this comment on a another post, but I s'pose it may bear repeating here:

"Those interested in reading more of Whole truth's stellar prose may find it at his own blog:


Yes, it's the same profile number, not just a coincidentally similar screen name.
Those who seem overly fixated on badgering me for my own opinions may find them in great detail and excessive length at:

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