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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, November 26, 2010


-- Crocker Q & A --


Here's a relatively recent YouTube upload of Scott Crocker (producer of the independent documentary "Ghost Bird") answering some questions following a showing of his film (~10 mins., but last couple mins. not pertaining to IBWO):

Past and upcoming screenings of the film can be checked from this page at the film's main website (may take awhile to fully load):

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


-- Tuesday Sidebars --


A link that showed up in my inbox a bit ago went to this Arkansas news story about the Freedom of Information Act and the Arkansas Fish and Game Chairman, Craig Campbell:


In general not really of much interest to me, except for a few lines that popped out:

"Campbell told the committee the only thing he was still concerned about regarding the FOI was the possibility that releasing public records could harm endangered species. He said that after information was released about the ivory-billed woodpecker’s discovery on the Cache River, 'there were people from England, Spain, Portugal, throughout Europe, throughout the United States, coming in by bus. The woodpecker didn’t have a chance.'"
Where did that come from? Was it just an exaggeration to try to make a point? Or, is my memory off, and there were busloads of Europeans coming to the Big Woods? While there were a lot of visitors, relatively speaking, to Brinkley, AR., my recollection is that there never was the sort of streaming flood of seekers that many had feared an Ivory-bill announcement might bring on; in fact my impression is that Cornell was a bit hard-pressed to even attract the number of qualified volunteers/staff to their Big Woods project as they might've liked to have had on board. Busloads of people? The Ivory-bill didn't have a chance?? Maybe(?) a little hyperbole there (the release of info about endangered species certainly can have drawbacks, but I'm not sure that an influx of those pesky Europeans ;-) is one of them....).

In a totally separate sidebar, I'll just put in a plug for the relatively new ABA birding blog, in case any aren't aware of it. I've been pleased with the variety of writers, subject matter, and posts they are putting out, and after all the recent controversy surrounding the ABA, nice to see them doing a good job with this:


Winter is just around the corner, and with it at least some independent searchers (who aren't already in the field) will be heading out in most of the states that had official searches over the last 5 years for yet another, if albeit, slimmed-down look-around (...don't know if that there Iowa boy is still planning on a mid-December visit to the Sabine River as he previously scheduled and advertised for...).
Thanks to all who send me emails about your own private endeavors, even when you don't have a lot of positive or substantive news to pass along; I like knowing what out-of-the-way areas, are at least getting some coverage.

And assuming(??) I have nothing more to post in next 48 hours, a Happy Thanksgiving to one-and-all.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


-- The Elephant In the Room --


At one point in Stephen Lyn Bales' recent book he writes of James Tanner's concern over frequent inquiries from Louisiana locals about the monetary value Ivory-billed Woodpecker specimens might have. Indeed, through much of their decline their dollar value increased substantially as their numbers decreased. Hunting of Ivory-bills was no doubt routine throughout their North American existence, including even in the 30's when laws may have been more stringent (but hardly enforceable in backwoods swamps).

In his work (with 2 other authors), "The Travails of Two Woodpeckers," Noel Snyder writes openly that significant restrictions to human activity, especially hunting, would be needed to insure any conservation chances for Ivory-bills IF they were ever confirmed in a tract of habitat (not because hunters, in general, are irresponsible or law-breaking individuals, but because it only takes a couple of bad apples to have a devastating effect on such a small species population). Yet, few in an official capacity want to voice that concern out loud; just not terribly PC to do so.

Indeed, agencies in charge, seem intent on saying they can work with hunters and other recreationalists to maintain freedom of access and use of land, while also protecting any birds in question. Uhhh, sure....
Ivory-bills, if ever found in numbers in a locale frequented by the public will almost certainly, on occasion, be poached, and even strict access restrictions could only diminish such law-breaking, not end it, given this bird's allure. That is the world we live in, where a dead, stuffed IBWO, in certain circles, holds more value than a living, breathing one. Indeed, one wonders how many may already sit atop mantelpieces or in attics of out-of-the-way ramshackled domiciles of the rural south... such is the acquisitive instinct simmering deep within humans.

For a whole school of reasons I've already heard before, many will lambast any suggestion that public land holding Ivory-bills (if ever found) ought be cordoned off from most human activity, as best as physically possible; yet anything short of that is likely just a hopeless spinning-of-wheels and pretend IBWO conservation. Still, realistically neither political correctness nor practicality will likely ever allow it to happen --- the hunting community and its cohorts aren't to be meddled with by their tepid and weakly-empowered counterparts/accommodationists in conservation (in fact, attempts to control such human activity/behavior probably only lead to fiercer backlash against such controls). Instead, most likely, we will cordially dance around the elephant... while it stomps out remaining birds.

In closing, I'll quote these passages from the Snyder volume:
"Focusing on the values of preventing habitat loss and encouraging the public to believe that successful conservation of ivory-bills can be achieved without significant sacrifice of hunting privileges on lands where ivory-bills occur may be politically attractive because these policies minimize immediate opposition to conservation efforts. But efforts limited to such policies may well be too timid to be effective in conserving the species... for a reasonable chance of success with ivory-bill or imperial woodpecker recovery, it appears essential that the needs of remnant populations for safety from shooting be recognized and accommodated in a truly effective manner....
"We submit that until ivory-bill and imperial populations are truly out of extreme endangerment, no losses to shooting and other depredations should be tolerated in recovery efforts, and this does indeed mean exclusion of shooting activities from confirmed use areas by whatever means may be feasible. The reserves at Aransas in Texas and Red Rock Lakes in Montana that appear to have been crucial in allowing recovery of the whooping crane and the trumpeter swan, respectively, were established specifically to conserve these species by protecting them from shooting, rather than to promote traditional hunting activities. It is only prudent to assume that such protection would be essential for any ivory-bill or imperial population unambiguously rediscovered today."

....of course the operating phrase above is "unambiguously rediscovered" --- for now, this entire post is moot unless a confirmed room with Ivory-bills in it is actually found.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


-- Thank You, Stephen Lyn Bales --


With Christmas around the corner I'll throw out another plug for Stephen Lyn Bales' recent book, "Ghost Birds," on the work of James Tanner at the Singer Tract (and beyond). This is a volume that any naturalist, birder, and certainly Ivory-bill enthusiast, on your list will likely relish. There has never been such a full and detailed treatment of James Tanner's IBWO research.

Almost everyone agrees (even those who discount some of his conclusions) that James Tanner's 3-year study of Ivory-bills in the 1930s, is one of the finest pieces of natural history study in ornithology. Bales' book is a natural history... of Tanner's natural history, and much of it enthralls.
The first third-or-so of the book is on the original 1930's Arthur Allen-led Cornell expedition to the Singer Tract in search of Ivory-bills (that Tanner was part of), and the remainder (and best part) of the volume covers Tanner's own classic 3-year study that followed thereafter, as he traveled the south in a Model A Ford, in search of his ghostly subject.

Some readers may find parts of the book to read like a tiresome travelogue, but for anyone entrenched in the Ivory-bill saga, many parts are stirring, almost sending chills up the spine, as one immediately imagines being there and experiencing the sights and scenes of the dank swamp and bottomlands. There is lots of new information, and entertaining anecdotes, as Bales basically recounts his story by meticulously digging through Tanner's daily journals and notes. The fleshing out of J.J. Kuhn, Mason Spencer, and other IBWO-related figures and southern ways, is fascinating at times.

Chapter 20 (and part of 21) is a lovely sidebar on the courting of Jim Tanner and his wife-to-be Nancy (who later joined him in treks to the Singer Tract to see Ivory-bills). We also have Nancy to thank for encouraging Stephen Bales to compile and write this wonderful history, that we are all richer now for having. (James, BTW, died in 1991; his widow Nancy is in her nineties and still active --- I'll link once again to this older post of a Nancy Tanner visit to Julie Zickefoose's home: http://tinyurl.com/25laktm.)

I also, especially like that Bales includes an Appendix listing Tanner's travel itinerary for his entire 3-year study (1937-9), including how long he stayed in each search area. As I've noted here in the past, other than the Singer Tract, there were very few areas that Tanner ever stayed in more than 1- 4 days at a stretch (although he often made multiple visits), and it is difficult to fathom how even someone as skilled and knowledgeable as Tanner, with modest equipment and techniques, could have adequately surveyed many of these areas in such brief sojourns. (Many question whether the weeks/months spent by modern search-teams were sufficient to adequately cover areas of the just-ended 5-year search.)

Anyway, we all know the end of the story, with Tanner's and Audubon Society's inability to save the habitat where they suspected remnant IBWOs might hang on, as America headed into war and a war economy. No matter how many times I read it, the poignancy never lessens. So many times, and in so many ways, we failed this bird... and of course many, many others.

Bales' writing throughout is both matter-of-fact and touching, with a clear and appropriate reverence for James Tanner the individual, and his life-work. I highly recommend the volume for the growing library of Ivory-bill must-have reading.

I've not actually seen this volume yet in any bookstore, but it is readily available online (it is from a university press, and I'm not sure how widely it is being distributed).

Bales' blog for the book is here: http://ivorybillwoodpecker.blogspot.com/

[It occurs to me, as an aside, that perhaps I should note that Bales' book has no connection to the similarly-titled Scott Crocker independent film, "Ghost Bird," which has been making the rounds now for awhile, except that both deal with Ivory-bills.]

Sunday, November 07, 2010


-- Coming For All Bird Fans --


Main website for movie:



Saturday, November 06, 2010


-- "A Beautiful Moment," Indeed--


Gloom versus hope... (again, off-topic IBWO-wise):

After thinking about Passenger Pigeons for awhile I browsed various bird news websites looking for some POSITIVE news related to birds... difficult to find amidst the plethora of negative reports. But did finally settle on a short uplifting blurb regarding California Condors... some hope for these birds that are so magnificent and beautiful in their ugliness!:

(image via Wikimedia)
In turn, this reminded me of an old favorite article, that always gives me a chuckle, from earlier days of the Condor release program. I've actually run this before here in the distant past, but will do so once again:

"Cocksure Condors" By Bob Saberhagen Californian correspondent
Filed: 09/09/1999

"PINE MOUNTAIN — When former Sierra Club national chairman Les Reid helped pass the 1992 Condor Range and Rivers Act to provide habitat for the endangered California condor, he never thought he would have them in his bed. Monday, while working at the computer in the downstairs den of his rustic Pine Mountain home, the 84-year-old environmental activist heard noises coming from the top floor. There Reid was greeted by eight giant California Condors cavorting in his bedroom. They had ripped through the screen door leading from an outside deck of the hillside home nearly 6,000 feet above sea level.

One bird was carrying Reid's underwear around in his mouth, he said. "It was a beautiful moment," said Reid."They just stood there looking at me. They weren't afraid of this old white-haired gentleman." The group in Reid's bedroom was part of a gang of 15 young birds that invaded the mountain community a week ago and decided to stay. The 15 are among only 29 of the huge vultures flying free in California, part of a recovering population that totals only 167 after nearly becoming extinct in the 1980's.

Dubbed the "The Wrecking Crew" by biologists chasing them, the wandering birds have spent the past few days making their presence well-known to residents of the mountain community south of Bakersfield. But so far, to the dismay of some residents, a team of biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's California Condor Recovery Program has been unable to chase the endangered birds back to the wild.

While many locals marvel at their graceful daily flights over the village, others are not so pleased. The giant vultures, averaging 20 pounds each with wingspans of 9 or more feet, have been soaring from home to home at the higher elevations, startling several occupants with destructive, noisy — and messy — visits to their decks and rooftops. Homeowners report the birds have destroyed patio furniture, potted plants and insulated wires. They've also torn up roofing shingles while leaving huge amounts of droppings in their destructive wake.

Recovery team members have been in hot pursuit, chucking pinecones at them when they land, but the birds just flee from house to house. Their apparent lack of fear toward humans has Fish and Wildlife biologists concerned for the safety of the group. The birds were born in captivity in San Diego and released over the past three years in Lion Canyon near New Cuyama in northern Santa Barbara County.

"If they keep this up they could end up back in captivity," said biologist Mike Barth who, with team partner Tom Williams, has spent the past several days trying to convince the birds to leave the area and shy away from contact with humans. Pine Mountain resident Patti Fields resorted to squirting them with a garden hose after they ignored her shouts, but they continue to return to her home each time biologists flush them from another. "I just scrubbed the deck the day before they first showed up," she said, her nose wrinkled at the mess on her roof and wooden deck. "They sound like an army marching across your roof."

The birds can drop a cup or more of excrement at a time, Williams said. While undesirable, the group's behavior is not all that unusual. Condors have in the past been known to frequent areas populated by humans.
"It's normal for juveniles to hang out together and they have a tendency to tear things up," Williams said.
This group recently spent some time in the Stallion Springs area of Tehachapi, where Fish and Wildlife workers are presently going door to door telling people not feed or encourage them. They have also visited homes near Lake Cachuma. Recovery program officials said they are being tolerant — for now.

"We're hoping that when they start breeding they'll stop this kind of behavior," said Deputy Project Coordinator Greg Austin. "We don't want to see these birds doing these things. Right now we're giving them some slack." Austin said the birds, ranging in age from 2 to 5 years old, will reach sexual maturity at age 6. Only 167 California condors are in existence today. They were near extinction in 1987 when the last of 22 remaining wild birds were captured and placed in a captive breeding program. So far, 49 condors have been released to the wild since 1992, when the first 13 were released. Twenty of those are presently in Arizona with the remaining 29 in California.

Ideally, biologists prefer the California-released birds remain within the 467,000 acres of habitat in the Los Padres National Forest provided for them in the Condor Range and Rivers Act. Outside the wilderness the birds face a host of urban dangers. Condors have died drinking anti-freeze, by electrocution after landing on power poles, and others have become ill eating carrion containing lead bullets. Many of the problems have been solved by using aversion training methods, including use of mock power poles that jolt them with a low voltage shock. But this group of juveniles seems to have forgotten lessons taught in the negative conditioning classes, especially the portion regarding fear of humans.

Among other perils they face here is the possibility they might collide with power lines during their low-level flights through the community. "They can spread their wings and electrocute themselves," Barth said. Austin said efforts to train the birds are being thwarted by well-meaning people who feed and encourage their presence.
Officials ask that residents stay at least 100 feet away from them. "If they approach, clap your hands and yell to scare them off," said Williams. Above all, don't feed them, he stressed.

Williams said condors normally feed up to twice weekly on the carcasses of deer, cattle and other large, dead animals found in the wilderness. Officers said they will continue attempts to persuade the birds to leave the area where their activities will be constantly monitored. "We're going to keep tabs on them, document where they go and what they're feeding on," Williams said. "We just want to keep them out of trouble," he added."



Tuesday, November 02, 2010


-- 'Another Heaven and Earth Must Pass' --

Not Ivory-billed, but pulling at same heartstrings....

Below page with a photo of ghostly captive Passenger Pigeons in a Chicago aviary, circa 1896, was recently posted to BirdChat:


(Look... and... sigh....)

And many more pics from the same wonderful historical gallery here:


"The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last individual of a race of living beings breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again." --- William Beebe, The Bird, 1906

(pics from Wikimedia)

Monday, November 01, 2010


-- Briefly Noted --


Bobby Harrison posts a pic of an Ivory-bill and nest (taken from Florida ~1890) in an Alabama museum:


What I find most intriguing is the size of the nesthole as measured by Bobby... quite small. Possibly it reflects the huge variability in IBWO cavities (further downgrading them as a diagnostic tool), but I'm wondering if there is anything that might be done to a museum artifact (to preserve it) that could possibly have shrunk the hole-size??? (Doesn't seem likely, but anyone know?)
Several people have sent me pics of cavities over the years, many of which I quickly dismissed as looking too small (though difficult to judge size from a photo), but now I wonder...

On a side-note, a reader alerts me that the Auburn Choctawhatchee webpages have been taken down (I presume they're still available on the "Wayback Machine," but haven't looked); a somewhat sad happenstance/omen?. Will the Nature Conservancy and Cornell IBWO pages slowly disappear into-cyber-thin-air over time as well....?

ADDENDUM: I've now heard from someone who previously worked with Dr. Hill and has been in touch with him, who says that the Auburn pages/material are in the process of being moved to a new server and are only 'down' temporarily; should be back up once the changeover is complete; hopefully that is the case.

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