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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

Thursday, August 26, 2010


-- A Viewpoint From Arkansas --


Joe Neal posts today on the Arkansas birding listserv (a view shared by many):


Thursday, August 19, 2010


-- Tweeting Across the Pond --


I've mentioned before here the desire to see some major independent wildlife expedition/film group (ala David Attenborough) do a search for the Ivory-bill in place of 'academia-types' and see what happens...

Lo-and-behold (at this late stage) I see on Twitter some chap (Brit) named "Thomas Thynne" is promoting the same notion, and has tweeted to Bill Oddie, Chris Packham (of the BBC), Sir David himself, and the editors of "Birding Magazine," urging such an excursion. He admits they probably think he's "an idiot," but can't hurt to ask; and gotta believe (even without a finding) it would make for a great nature TV special (Attenborough's British accent alone would make for more spellbinding viewing than Fitzpatrick's east coast intonations ;-))

Not sure whatever has happened (if anything) with BirdLife International's earlier plans to incorporate an IBWO hunt as part of their search for several worldwide endangered species, but if any of you blokes across the pond know more details about any of this let us know.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


-- More History --


Nice article (in Sept. issue of Smithsonian Magazine) from naturalist Stephen Lyn Bales, who's book "Ghost Birds" is due out soon:


Tuesday, August 17, 2010


-- PLoS Piece --


Wow, VERY surprised to find Jerry Jackson authoring a lengthy review (entitled "Ghost Bird – The Ivory-billed Woodpecker: Hopes, Dreams, and Reality") of Scott Crocker's "Ghost Bird" documentary for the latest edition of PLoS Biology's open-access science journal:


Jerry doing film reviews... who'd-a-guessed it! ;-) I didn't even realize PLoS did film reviews! Anyway, a peculiar feeling for me reading this (there are a great many reviews of Crocker's film on the Web, but this is different).
There is nothing in the piece that Dr. Jackson hasn't already expressed in some form over the last few years... but an odd format for doing so now; seeming to use the Crocker film as a vehicle to get in a few final swipes at possibly the most bizarre episode in the history of American ornithology. Perhaps it is his way of bringing some closure to the whole affair for himself (even vent a bit at the end of a long process), or perhaps someone simply appealed to him to do a review of the documentary for the journal??? I don't know.

Dr. Jackson always ultimately hedges his bets on the Ivory-bill's existence, but makes it clear here (as well as other correspondences) that he thinks the chances close to nil now for its persistence. Dr. Jackson is one of my ornithological heroes, and of all the "skeptics," the one I most respect. So there is something both sad and ironic in seeing the man who most prominently argued for this bird's possible continued persistence for so many decades (when everyone else rolled their eyes at the mention of IBWO existence), now be cast in the role of one of it's most prominent critics. And how ironic it would be if, as some of us believe, he turned out to be right back when most everyone thought him wrong, and now wrong when so many think him right! Worth noting, as an aside, that there are various long-term underlying schisms in the ornithological community which may also impinge on all that has transpired over the last few years (this has definitely been more than a story about mere scientific process).

....possibly, I'll add to this post later, as I've written more, but not sure how much, if any, I want to put into print.
Meanwhile, for now, the searches continue, the claims continue, and the implacable disagreements over interpretation of the accumulated evidence continue.

Friday, August 13, 2010


-- New Idea? --


A reader, "John D. Williams," sends in some ideas in the comments section to prior (8/5) post from his analysis of the IBWO history/situation. One idea that he mentions in the context of trying to acoustically 'attract' Ivory-bills is intriguing to me:
"Another avenue for this acoustic attraction is the observation that woodpeckers seem to be able to detect their beetle larvae prey remotely on the tree -- presumably by hearing them. Modern science could quantify these vibrations. Perhaps amplified, they would prove irresistable to an IB miles away."
I suspect that amplifying such sounds might distort them enough to make them less attractive to IBWOs, but the possibility of recording and playing them at closer to normal levels in areas where IBWO are claimed or indicated I do find quite interesting... any further thoughts? (read Mr. Williams' 2 back-to-back comments below).

Thursday, August 05, 2010


-- And the Beat Goes On --


There's long been a bit of a dichotomy in American birdwatching (despite substantial overlap) between what I'll call the 'pure birders' or 'top-notch birders' and the 'ornithologists.' By top-notch birders I mean not just 'rock stars' like Sibley, Dunne, Kaufman, but also, those who may be lesser known to the public, but are huge in the birding world for their accomplishments/abilities, if not for their writings. These are excellent, experienced birders, highly knowledgeable as well as instinctive; they'll make a living out of birding if they can figure out a way to turn their recreational love into a vocation. The ornithologists, on-the-other-hand, are birders as well of course, but more academic in focus, with specialized interests and pursuits, and a lot of 'book-learning,' with the act of birding more of a side-endeavor. The two sides certainly overlap greatly, yet their focuses tend to differ. Pure birders may be more attentive to 'life-lists,' identification, hotspots, field gear, and the like. 'Ornithologists' take a more scientific and academic interest in birds, including bird behavior and conservation/habitat issues as well.

Any readers who are members of the American Birding Association (ABA) know that it is going through a transition right now and trying to determine just what it's focus will be in the future --- again, it is largely a debate between those who want a recreational/hobbyist focus on pure birding, and those who definitely want the organization involved in conservation/political/scientific issues that relate to birds. It is interesting to watch it play out.

I mention all of this because one of the most fascinating aspects of the IBWO debate over these years has indeed been the 'birder' vs. 'ornithologist' debate in the form of David Sibley vs. Cornell (over the Luneau video). In point of fact, David has a large slew of 'ornithologists' or academics who side with him on this issue, believing the Luneau bird to be a Pileated (and for that matter a significant number of 'birders' side with the Cornell ornithologists in their interpretation of the video as an IBWO).

With the exception of Roger Tory Peterson (and maybe Audubon himself), America has rarely had a birding figure as esteemed, experienced, respected, renowned, multi-talented and iconic as David Sibley. Thus when he speaks (even if he didn't have the backing of others) the birding community stands at attention. If David had said the Luneau bird was an Ivory-bill, I suspect the doubts of Jackson, Prum, Bevier, Collinson, and so many others, would've largely been muted in the birding community; such is his influence. But of course, David said otherwise, and the entire weight of the debate turned.

Yet David's position (though not that of all the critics) relies on his assertion of "wing-twisting" in the downbeat of a Pileated Woodpecker's flap (a motion that Cornell claims cannot be detected on any comparable available videos of Pileateds in flight). It's odd to me that David's idea of wing-twisting flaps hasn't been definitively proven or disproven by now... we have quite precise knowledge of the movement-pattern for the wings of a hummingbird flashing at 50 beats/sec. --- can't we determine to everyone's agreement the precise movement-pattern for the wings of a cruising (lumbering, by comparison) Pileated Woodpecker (to what degree for example, did Jeffrey Wang's animated analysis of a Pileated-in-flight, exhibit twisting wings)??? While the Luneau video is fuzzy and blurry and brief, can modern day technology not decipher where the white shown is coming from? That, by itself, wouldn't end this debate (and the claim for the existence of IBWOs rests on a LOT more than the Luneau clip), but at least this one narrow argument might attain some conclusion.

There is NO POINT in having those who have already taken a public stance on the IBWO, further analyzing the Luneau clip and re-stating their cases, but I do wonder if somewhere out there, there isn't a group of excellent, experienced, detached wildlife videographers (with the Smithsonian, National Geographic, the BBC, or any number of other possibilities), who have not taken a stand, and who would be viewed as objective and supremely competent to pass judgment on what is seen in this video (and on PIWO videos) --- a group, BTW, that requires little expertise in birding, but keen, seasoned expertise in film-making and analysis.
....and I say all this as someone who thinks we've already spent waaaaaay too much time on a single silly 4-second clip of accidental video!

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