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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!
Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald from the fifth floor of the book depositary. The Zapruder film confirms all the basic tenets of that theory very comfortably. The rest is just the fevered ramblings of people who want things to be different
It is interesting to speculate what would be different if the Luneau video was unambiguous. At least it’s something different to speculate about.

Initially sightings outside of Bayou DeView (and Arkansas) would be believed, and “suggestive” camera-trap imagery would be accepted. But without refreshing the proof with solid imagery and locating roosts & nests, skepticism would’ve creeped in eventually. The Bayou DeView bird would’ve have been given a name and then widely weeped over for possibly being the very last ivory-bill (with rumors it was tragically shot by a duck hunter who mistook it for a pintail).

For the most part I think we’d be just about where we are right now, since there’s still no reliable method to find birds. If locating birds is left to blind luck, then it’ll always be very hard to study and impossible to estimate what its population is doing.

CLO would be much happier, of course, since the Science article would widely be considered legit. They'd still be in the catbird seat.
Goodness, I'm suddenly agreeing with spatuletail... It was Oswald, acting alone, despite the claims of the Mark Lanes, Jim Garrisons, Oliver Stones, and others...

For anyone disputing this one, I recommend the documentary done by the late Peter Jennings that is periodically rerun on the History Channel (which, as a history reporter I'm generally dismayed by). That one dots every last eye and crosses every tee...

The analogy comparing the Luneau video with the Zapruder film is flawed, however... There are mountains of evidence to reinforce the conclusion outside of this one piece, and there is evidence of the IBWO's persistence as well...

Proof? No... The common element is probably human nature; people don't want to believe a lone madman could so alter the probable course of history, and people don't want to believe the IBWO is extinct, either.

The question is whether it is unreasonable to believe otherwise; in the JFK shooting, I'm convinced it is. I'm not with the IBWO...

There's also the ugly element of politics... I'm old enough to remember how Jim Garrison utterly destroyed the life of New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw, and there have also been heated stories of how the presence or absence of the IBWO will affect policy and research funding. And people's lives...

To quote the late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: "So it goes."
Though I usually bristle at Bigfoot analogies, I think the Luneau vid is perhaps more analogous to the Patterson-Gimlin "Sasquatch" film. The differences are at first obvious -- hypothetical never-scientifically documented creature versus perfectly real and legit (though possibly extinct) species; strong suspicions of forgery versus no (legitimate) suspicions of forgery. But, when it gets down to the core of the forensic analysis of the film, the parallels can be pretty close. The suspicions of forgery are not proven and after 40+ years probably unprovable by direct corroborating evidence; the confessions are contradictory and inconsistent, so even though it seems likely that one of them is true they could also just be attention and fame-seeking on the part of the "confessors" as well. What it comes down to is the identity of the animal in the film: unknown species of large primate, or person in a very well-designed and executed ape suit? Sorry, Martin, but the experts on all sides agree: You can't actually see the zipper up the back. The biomechanics of bigfoot, as a hypothetical species, are of course unknown; the flight mechanics of the Ivorybill are also unknown having never been filmed. The mechanics of the thing in the film appear inconsistent with the null hypothesis (human/Pileated), but are they really? Are they inconsistent enough?

In spite of the allegations and confessions of hoaxes, the P-G film is STILL debated even within quasi-academic circles now, over four decades later. Don't expect the Luneau video to go away any time soon either.

Interesting intro to the P-G film and various analyses and conclusions on Wikipedia:


Those who have closely followed the Luneau debate (and who have actually read the differing analyses in detail, not just jumped on a bandwagon and stuck with their favorite) will likely find much in this article that feels very familiar. Rehashing all the Luneau arguments at this point would be tedious and useless; I just find the analogy and the refusal of P-G to die interesting.
Sorry Bill, but the "Heart o' Zion" here is perhaps ground zero for the Bigfoot believers, and "quasi-academic" is too kind of a characterization (even though I note one site claims no less than Jane Goodall allows for Sassie's possible existence). Local Mormons have been believers since one of their leaders claimed "to have encountered Cain" over 160 years ago. The devotion borders on delusional...

And note that one of the leading "authorities" on BF is a faithful LDS sort who teaches at Idaho State; Jeffery Meldrum also does double duty as a "Mormon Apologist." If you want to see convoluted thinking in action, check out his claims about the Native American DNA findings versus Mormon Lore controversy...

Given what I've witnessed over the years (I was in 9th grade biology when the Patterson/Gimlin film first surfaced in Argosy magazine, and the idiot teacher spent considerable time on the subject), what would be surprising is if matters weren't "contradictory and inconsistent."

Here's some more video evidence of the sort that has been unavailable for the IBWO...


Too, accepting the possibility that Sasquatch lurks anywhere in North America requires offering a reasonable hypothesis for their arrival here, given the known history of apes' evolution, and that is unreasonable. Note the overwhelming majority of BF "footprints" show an "unopposed big toe," (characteristic of hominids only amd necessary for prolonged upright walking; it probably arose from the process of "neoteny" which gave us many of our "human" characteristics). So BF would have to be descended from a hominid line, and H. erectus didn't venture into the northern realms. That was an environment far too challenging for his African origins...

There is powerful "proof" of a primate that did arrive on this continent long ago, however, and here's some strong evidence of where their journey began...

The Luneau video would be more analogous to the Patterson-Gimlin "Sasquatch" film if the latter had resulted in a "rediscovery" cover story in Science and a major agency and NGO program to purchase land to preserve the species.
Woah Concolor, down boy! All analogies fall apart when you look at them more closely, that's why they are just analogies! You reach out much farther in to Bigfoot lore than is relevant to my point, which is that if the P-G film with all its major flaws won't die, the similar but much-less flawed (in an authenticity and pedigree sense) Luneau vid is not likely to fade away either in all its unresolvable glory.

I think it is fair to describe a faculty member at a State University who dabbles in questionable areas as "quasi-academic." There have been other people with connections to academia who have looked at the film and reached various conclusions, both positive and negative towards the "not a human" hypothesis. Personally I think the odds of that film being genuine are remote, but that is really beside my point. Everyone has an opinion, and most of them are not subject to much change.
Ah Bill, I just like you better when you're bristling, that's all... And I bristle myself when attempts are made to smear the Luneau video or the IBWO's possible existence by even discussing them in the same bit of writing as BF or the P-G film (and I hope we all bristle even more at CT's latest bit of "exinction history" about the passenger pigeon; migawd, that occurred in the short space of thirty or forty years!).

Not that you were doing any smearing in that direction, but I figured unholstering the old six shooter and firing off a few rounds--I do live in the Wild West--might keep some individuals from getting ideas...

You're welcome to your "quasi-academic" characterization; I suggest an ornithological reference is more appropriate myself (think of a bird family, some of whose members abandon their eggs in others' nests), but that might offend some sensibilities.

As one with some nearly extinct academia connections of my own, however, what I find noteworthy is how persistent and instransient beliefs in essentially demonstrable nonsense are (as an old English teacher, I think it's legitimate to split hairs on the respective definitions of "beliefs" and "opinions"). It appears to me that's what you said...

I am one, though, whose beliefs have changed substatially over the years as the result of additional input into my data bases (and as a result, my opinons about the validity of certain beliefs). Shoot, I even used to be a Republican, but I was thinking of the time 20 years ago when I lived briefly in Northern Cali and gave serious thought to investigating BF's possible existence... It seemed a good excuse for extra hours spent flyfishing...

Anyway, what I did learn from those years teaching in the rehab is that beliefs and/or opinions can be modified; it will almost never occur quickly, however... Heck, tt took nearly 20 years for my liberal education to turn me into a liberal...

Some of my mentors used metaphorical baseball bats for their psychic surgery; some employed scalpels, and then there were the Zen sorts whose Kung Fu moves and karate kicks to the groin were particularly painful but powerfully illuminating...
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