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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, October 29, 2010


-- Musing Over The Past --


more idle thoughts....

Many years ago, shortly after David Kulivan's claim of a pair of Ivory-bills near the Pearl River, I chanced to be at a David Sibley book-signing. As David signed my copy of his field guide I asked him quickly what he thought about the likelihood of the Ivory-bill's persistence. His reply was that given the millions of birders now in America and the large size of the Ivory-bill, he didn't believe it could've escaped detection for this many decades. It was a (simplistic) response I'd often heard, but had expected something better from David. With a stream of Sibley acolytes behind me though there wasn't time to debate the point or see if he could flesh out a fuller reply. He was polite, but his cynicism seemed evident way back then.

But at that time it didn't really matter how many millions of "birders" there were if 99% of them never spent any significant time in Ivorybill-like habitat in their entire lives. And it doesn't much matter how large IBWOs are if they spend most of their lives split between the upper canopies of remote dense forest and the inner sanctum of tree cavities.
But such is the Rorschachian nature of ornithology that some of us see a country full of ardent birders who have well-traveled/inventoried our woodland habitat, and others of us see a countryside 99% devoid of birders 99% of the time, with our avian knowledge only scratching the surface...

Still, that was 10 years ago. David Kulivan's claims were never substantiated (and Mike Collins' claims from the same area also await validation/acceptance by others), and after 5 years of the first-ever large-scale, organized, focused searches specifically for the Ivory-bill in select areas, only very limited results have followed... Sibley's pessimism carries at least a little more weight now than it did 10 years ago, when only spotty searches had been conducted. His view is a long way from a slam-dunk, but the whole IBWO story does, unfortunately, seem left 'twisting, twisting slowly in the wind
' (in the prescient words made popular during the Watergate era).

The USFWS map of some major IBWO claims since 1944 is here:


It's certainly unlikely that the species could really be spread across the Southeast (even in tiny populations) in a manner depicted by such dots. But it's difficult to choose the viability of certain areas over those of others, especially when the last five years of effort don't seem to strongly point us in any particular direction?

...One night, some weeks ago, for no particular reason, I searched "Zapruder film" (the epic film-capture of the JFK assassination) on YouTube and looked over many of the clips... slow-mo, zoomed-in, raw footage, enhanced footage, digitized footage. Theories still abound to explain JFK's murder, from the mundane (supporting the Warren Commission Report of a single lone assassin) to the complex, to the outright crazy (...or seemingly so). I could've watched those Zapruder videos all night long, so mesmerizing (and full of controversy) are they... in a macabre sort-of-way... unresolved questions almost 50 years later.

...David Luneau's video is often called the "Zapruder film" of ornithology. Just a little bit closer, or a little bit sharper, or a little bit longer, better view, and perhaps this debate would already be over. Instead, just enough brevity, fuzziness, uncertainty, that opinions abound, with no resolution in sight, and yet the temptation is to re-watch it over and over again. Like the film clip out of Dallas, Texas, so long ago, it continues to haunt some of us. There is good reason this bird is deemed the "Ghost Bird."

...and 'tis the season of ghosts and goblins!

Saturday, October 23, 2010


-- Weekend Miscellany --


I've long been a fan of Arthur Cleveland Bent's natural histories of North American birds, even though some of the writing is now outdated. His account of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (actually written by Arthur Allen prior to Tanner's monograph) is available online here (scroll down several pgs. to reach IBWO):


And finally, a good recent, close-up photo of the birds here ;-) :


Lastly, Mike Collins proudly shows off his new La. license plate here:


(Searchers in Louisiana on the lookout for Ivory-bills, can now also be on the lookout for Mike's Honda driving down the highway!)


Thursday, October 21, 2010


-- Wistful Thinking --


Thanks to all who sent along tidbits about Herbert Stoddard and his IBWO experiences. It all further confirms for me the established view of Stoddard as being a widely-credible figure who was confident he'd seen Ivory-bills on multiple occasions, at least through the 50's; but, as expected, I've seen no indication that he ever claimed to know the specific location of an active nest-site for the birds, and chose not to reveal it --- moreover I've always presumed that if anyone ever did find a nest and not want to disclose it, they would take copious photos thereof and at some future date release the pics... such is one of my occasional wistful scenarios...:

John Q. Birder dies. A note and key found in his desk direct survivors to a safety-deposit box. In the box is a manila envelope. In the manila envelope is a plain piece of paper with a rubber band around it. Removing the band and opening the paper reveals a stack of clear, time-dated photos of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers at a nest cavity, sometimes with a juvenile bird protruding its head out. And attached is a sheet of lined paper with a simple handwritten note:
"Pictures taken between March 18 and April 7, 1988. My love for these majestic creatures prevents me from divulging the location. May they long-live. As of April 1988 Ivory-billed Woodpeckers most certainly dwelled upon the planet! Bless their wildness! I'll have no more to say or write about them."
.... or, fill in your own dates and words. Perhaps not a likely scenario... but to paraphrase some older words from Julie Zickefoose, no one can tell me it's implausible, and, it seems no one can tell me it is plausible.

(...if nothing else, hey Steven Spielberg, I've got a movie plot for ya!)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


-- Herbert Stoddard Tale --


In case any reader out there can, by chance, flesh this story out any further....

Responding to yesterday's post, a reader initially emailed me a story I'd never heard before about wildlife biologist Herbert Stoddard (who had several well-known IBWO encounters in Georgia through the 50's):

"Your story today on Dr. Terres brought to mind some mention about Herbert Stoddard’s statement, near his death, that he knew of an IBWO nest but had never revealed it for the sake of the birds. I cannot locate this passage in the several books I have on the subject. I am not confusing it with his pretty well known sightings that are often listed as credible accounts, but maybe I am just wrong. Have you ever read about this?"
 A few hours later the same emailer had sorted out this additional info:
 "...I just ran across the reference, and I will clear up my somewhat inaccurate memory.  In Peter Matthiessen's Wildlife In America, 1959, he states '...though Herbert Stoddard, the quail authority, is said to know of a last pair or two somewhere not far from his home in Thomasville, Georgia.  For obvious reasons, not excluding an invasion of well-intentioned naturalists, Stoddard will not disclose its whereabouts; quite possibly he is the only man who will ever hear again the ivory-bills loud, wild cry...'
 Unless I did in fact read something else printed after his death in 1970, this may be the only reference I based my memory on..."
 I've never read Stoddard's memoirs, "Memoirs of a Naturalist," which were published in 1969, a year before his death, so don't know if they add any further clarification to this. If any reader knows more about the story (and can cite a source or give your credentials) please let us know, although I'm doubtful that Stoddard ever specifically claimed to know the location of a nest... but, would love to learn something new! (it is known that he believed he knew areas where the birds were present).

(Email me privately if you don't wish to be involved in the 'comments' section.)

Monday, October 18, 2010


-- A Li'l History --


A few posts back I mentioned the common belief that many more experienced birders may think they have seen Ivory-billed Woodpeckers than have ever reported it publicly, realizing that without a picture or multiple corroboration such a claim may do more to harm, than enhance, their reputation!
Possibly the most famous case of a credible birder NOT reporting an IBWO sighting is that of Dr. John Terres, always worth repeating.

Terres (now deceased) was a nationally-known birder/writer, winner of awards, long-time editor of Audubon Magazine, and author of the Audubon Society's tome, "Encyclopedia of North American Birds" (among several works).
Probably no IBWO claimant of the last 60 years has any more credibility than John Terres, who, as his claim goes, saw (with his wife) a PAIR of Ivory-bills fly right over their car south of Homosassa Springs, Florida, on April 9, 1955... but then kept it a secret for 30 years. Terres said he could see no good that could come, either to himself nor to the birds, by reporting the pair's sighting. He knew not where they came from, nor where they were headed, and assumed also that an influx of seekers/searchers into the area was probably not in their best interest. And so, it was 30 years later (1985 1986) before he broke his silence and divulged the experience in print.

Of course a sighting, even a credible one, of Ivory-bills from the 1950's tells us absolutely nothing about the probability of the species still hanging on today. But it does cause one to wonder how many other sightings of the 50's, 60's, 70's... may have passed unreported (by people who would've been taken a lot less seriously than Terres). More importantly, it makes me incredulous of those who would state that the species assuredly went extinct in the 1940's --- no evidence, beyond the conclusions of a lone grad student and imprecise human conjecture support that.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


-- Dunne On Ivory-bill --


Pete Dunne's description of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker from his "Essential Field Guide Companion":


Friday, October 15, 2010


-- Mississippi Hearkening --


Having long considered Mississippi one of the most promising states to search for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers I've been disappointed by the relatively short shrift it seemed to get from official sources during the last 5 years compared to Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, and South Carolina.
Mark Bonta of Delta State University was one of the few people to spend some significant time researching the possibility of IBWOs there.
A podcast is now up in which he makes general remarks/points about that IBWO search. First half of the podcast is more on the music and sociology of Mississippi, but the Ivory-bill material begins at about the 14-minute mark, and is worth a listen:


[ NOTE: as mentioned in comments below, the above direct-link to the podcast comes from this blog post:
http://tinyurl.com/2g3xhhz ]

Thursday, October 14, 2010


-- Nancy Tanner Profile --


Nice news article on Nancy Tanner, who apparently initially attracted her husband Jim by being a red-head! :-)


...and here's an older post on Mrs. Tanner during a visit she paid to the Julie Zickefoose (and some guy named 'Bill') household:


Wednesday, October 13, 2010


-- In Repose --


Bobby Harrison has photographed Imperial, Ivory-billed, and Pileated Woodpeckers (...museum specimens) here:


Tuesday, October 12, 2010


-- Louisiana Note --


Just passing this along in the event there are any other searchers in this specified area, to be on the lookout for such a bird
... A reader sends in the following note about what he labels a possibly leucistic PIWO from western Louisiana:
"I just thought I'd share with you an odd woodpecker seen while driving on highway 6 between Many and Natchitoches (just west of Acorn Hills road) in Sabine parish, Louisiana. I only got a few half second looks while driving, but noticed it had an odd, almost bat-like erratic swoop as it came out of a tree before crossing the highway, and had solid white on the trailing edge of the wings (from underneath). I even did a verbal "Wow!" out loud in the car. Ivory-billed? Nah, I don't think so. It was actually big enough, but had a white chin and classic woodpecker flight. But hey.....just for the record, it was 9:06 am, partly cloudy, 72 degrees, October 11, 2010.
I have little 'general' birding experience, but get to see a lot of woodpeckers, particularly pileateds, as I have land in Zwolle, Louisiana and I live in Huntsville, Alabama near Monte Sano mountain, so see a good many pileateds there also. I won't be back through Sabine parish until May 2011, so thought I'd share this with you now (for amusement purposes I guess). Good luck on any future searches."

Thursday, October 07, 2010


-- 'Ghost Birds' Blog --


Stephen Lyn Bales has a blog to help promote his new book, "Ghost Birds," here:


Tuesday, October 05, 2010


-- Trip Down the Cache River --


Recent Arkansas broadcast of a float down the Cache River:


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