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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, December 30, 2010


-- Ivory-bill Books etc. --


DOH!! I should've thought to do this BEFORE Christmas, but oh well... here's a link to an Amazon listing of major works they offer dealing with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker:


My personal favorites continue to be:

"In Search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker" -- Jerome Jackson
"The Ivory-billed Woodpecker" -- James Tanner
"The Race to Save the Lord God Bird" -- Phillip Hoose

with these two runner-ups:

"Travails of Two Woodpeckers" -- Noel Snyder, David Brown, Kevin Clark
"Ghost Birds" -- Stephen Lyn Bales

One book listed, published this year (at $76 in paperback!!!) I'm totally unfamiliar with:

"The Ivory-billed Woodpecker" edited by Frederic Miller, Agnes Vandome, John McBrewster

If anyone can fill me in on this recent volume (and why the price!?) please feel free to comment below or email me.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


-- Stephen Bales News Piece --


Knoxville news article on Stephen Lyn Bales (author of "Ghost Birds")


Tuesday, December 28, 2010


-- IBWikipedia --


Over the years I've evolved from a skeptic of Wikipedia to a user/believer in it. I use it almost every day now for basic information, yet still remain wary of it for more technical or detailed information... or for controversial topics (nor do I ever contribute to it). So, oddly, I hadn't looked at the Ivory-billed Woodpecker entry in a long, long time, but had occasion to today and was pleasantly surprised at how good an overview of the IBWO situation it gives (still missing lots of details and technical stuff, but a good general overview, compared to what it was some years back).
If you've not followed it, worth a gander here:


There is also a discussion page for the above main-article page, which includes at least a few added bits of interesting material, including a July 2005 sighting in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, mentioned toward the end:


Hey, with luck, perhaps there will be future significant edits yet to come.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


-- Pileated Scaling... --


Last week over at IBWO Researchers Forum, Mark Michaels requested help for his ongoing study of Pileated Woodpecker bark-scaling characteristics:


[ I think you need to be a member of the Forum to contact him through there, or you can probably contact him through the Project Coyote site linked to in left-hand column here; or, if you can't find another way to reach him and genuinely believe you have something of interest for him, send the info along to me for forwarding to him.]

Saturday, December 25, 2010


-- Merry Christmas! --


I used this once before at Christmas; am using it again (a bit somber, but still too lovely to pass up):

Where I live we're expecting the first White Christmas in almost 65 years, before the day is over... I s'pose some things just take that long. ;-))

Merry Christmas to all!

Friday, December 24, 2010


-- The Crossley ID Guide --


Too late for Christmas, but... Richard Crossley's much-anticipated new field guide (to eastern North American birds) is due out in February (...maybe in time for my birthday! ;-))

I"ve been interested in the volume since reading about it at "10000 Birds" blog over a year ago:


More here (although this site is partly under re-construction):


Nice 8-minute video of Crossley talking about the guide on this page:


And a Facebook page also devoted to the guide:


Finally, the Amazon link here:


Many of us hardly need yet another field guide added to our shelves, and I don't know if the book can possibly live up to all the hype it's received on the internet and elsewhere, but it's the first new field guide I've anxiously anticipated in a long, long time. 2011 is looking up already!

[Ohh, and will the Ivory-bill be in it?... I'm doubtful, but have no idea!]

Thursday, December 23, 2010


-- Twittersphere --


Am now dabbling with a Twitter account for "cyberthrush," just to have in place in the unlikely event that there is breaking news on the Ivory-bill front at some point to put out quickly --- Twitter is very effective for communicating news with speed and immediacy, though not in-depth. More likely I'll be using it for mundane bird, IBWO, or nature tweets (...or Steven Wright witticisms ;-), if I use it much at all. For those who follow Twitter, the link button is in left-hand column.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


-- Just Playin' --


Ngrams from Google is all the addictive rage these days, simply checking written word usage over the last couple centuries in all sources Google has catalogued. So of course had to check out "Ivorybilled Woodpecker":

Surprised though to find that, in spite of the last 5 years, "Passenger Pigeon" still blows the IBWO away:


Monday, December 20, 2010


-- FWIW --


For what it's worth, while biding time, just a bunch of still pics of Pileateds in flight that I've brought together, mostly from Flickr (but a few others as well):

might actually start with this pic of a leucistic PIWO in Texas that I stumbled across:


the rest are all normal PIWOs...

an entire set from Dan Pancamo:


and a set from Lillian Stokes here:


the rest are individual shots, in no particular order:

















(if any of the links don't work properly let me know; haven't tested them all)

Saturday, December 18, 2010


-- Satellite Searching --


A reader sends in below link to a story on using satellite lasers to pinpoint forest habitat with the tree size and density favorable to Pileated Woodpeckers (ground searches still needed to find individual birds). The work cited is actually done in Idaho, far-removed from the American Southeast, and I suspect by now, from both ground and air searches, we already have a pretty good idea of the forest habitat throughout the Southeast that best matches the Tannertype-profile for IBWO habitat (IF that profile is even accurate), but still one-more potential technological tool for the IBWO search, if needed:


All of this reminds me that I still haven't heard anything further about any specific involvement of "BirdLife International" in the IBWO search after they announced over a year ago that they'd be focusing some efforts on several dozens species including the Ivory-bill. If any of you Brits (a Brit sent in the above link) know anything further about that storyline let us know.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


-- Auburn Back Up --


The Auburn Choctawhatchee search pages are back up now here:


[...someone a few posts back was asking where details of Tyler Hicks' sightings could be found; they are included here:
http://www.auburn.edu/academic/science_math/cosam/departments/biology/faculty/webpages/hill/ivorybill/FieldNotes2006.pdf ]


Wednesday, December 15, 2010


-- Project Coyote Update --


The latest update from Mark Michaels of the Project Coyote team in La. is now posted as a pdf, focusing largely on bark scaling/chips in their area, along with other analyses:


Tuesday, December 14, 2010


-- "Ghost Bird" DVD --


Scott Crocker's documentary "Ghost Bird" is now available on DVD:


http://tinyurl.com/27oc9x5 (Amazon link)

Addendum: I see that in honor of the Crocker DVD release, Amy over at "Magnificent Frigatebird" blog is promoting her Ivory-bill T-shirts to all you Holiday shoppers! If you 'believe,' 'want to believe,' or are just 'wild about Ivory-bills,' check 'em out:


Sunday, December 12, 2010


-- Computer Graphic Animations --


Here's some short animations of Ivory-bills in flight, from a former Cornell computer graphics student, first showing a skeletonized IBWO, and then two brief swamp scenes (ALL animations):
(I'm not vouching for how accurate or realistic these are, but perhaps someone will find them useful?)

Fola Akinola: Show Reel 2008 from Fola Akinola on Vimeo.

Best to go to Vimeo to view in larger format, or simply click on full-screen button above (arrows button).

ADDENDUM: I assume this work by Akinola must somehow be related to the work I've previously reported on by Jeff Wang at Cornell, which was ultimately inconclusive, but which researchers had hoped might show an IBWO to be a better match than a PIWO for the Luneau video bird. This longish, but interesting article summarizes much of that work of Wang et.al.:


....and on a sidenote, apologies to readers who are awaiting more interviews... they're not trickling in as fast as I'd surmised. I'll be sending out some reminder-notes in a few days to folks who said they'd likely take part, or, if you read this you can take this as a reminder! :-)

Monday, December 06, 2010


-- And Now For Something Completely Different... --


"I can levitate birds... but nobody cares."

Some comic relief... It's Steven Wright's birthday today, so in honor of that:


Sunday, December 05, 2010


-- A Li'l Nostalgia --


The below link (from the heady days of the 2005 announcement) arrived in my inbox this weekend and I thought it was just one of the many previous radio stories on Brinkley, Arkansas and Sufjan Stevens that I've linked to in the past. But listening to it I don't recall(?) using it before, and it makes for 12 minutes of some pleasant Sunday listening (even though it's old stuff), interweaving Brinkley with Stevens' ode to the IBWO:


Thursday, December 02, 2010


-- The IBL Interviews Commence! :-) --


Recently, I
sent out inquiries, in an "interview-type" format to several people who have played some role in the internet Ivory-bill "story;" a way of getting some wrap-up on where we stand now. I've been pleased at the number who consented to fill out the inquiries and share their views, at this busy time of the year.
Once this first batch is complete, maybe I'll send out more!?
At any rate, I'll start the ball rolling with the below responses from David Martin (known to some of you more recognizably as "fangsheath").
Despite coming out of a herpetology background, David has become a meticulous resource of information on all things Ivory-bill over the last 5 years, and as most of you know was a principal in the start-up and running of The Ivory-billed Woodpecker Researchers Forum elsewhere on the Web.

1. C:
First, for those who don't know of you David, can you state a little of your background and credentials to put your viewpoints in some context?

I’m not an ornithologist and I wouldn’t even call myself an avid birder, although I certainly enjoy birds as I do everything in nature. I’m a herpetologist. I received my M.S. in Zoology from the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette). In Florida I participated in research on the eastern diamondback rattlesnake and Choctawhatchee beach mouse. Later I worked at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. In Texas I collected important information on rare, difficult-to-document amphibians such as the Mexican burrowing toad, white-lipped frog, and black-spotted newt. I have always had an interest in documenting rare species.

2. C:
You had your own area of Louisiana that you were searching for awhile (at least partially on private land as I recall). Are you still spending time there, or anywhere else for that matter?

I continue to conduct ivory-bill searches in southern Louisiana and continue to closely monitor one specific area of private land. This area produced a number of ivory-bill reports from 2005 to 2007. I monitor the area acoustically and conduct periodic forest inventories to determine if there are fresh cavities with promising characteristics.
But I also investigate other forests in the parish. It is my belief that present-day ivory-bills are essentially nomadic and will not linger in a given area for more than 5 years, usually less. As far as that goes, most of the ivory-bill pairs in the Singer Tract couldn’t be found in a given area for more than a few years.

3. C: Which Ivory-bill sightings/claims from the last 6 years do you find most compelling?

DM: The Arkansas sightings by Tim Gallagher, Jim Fitzpatrick, Melanie Driscoll, Melinda LaBranche, and Casey Taylor are very impressive to me because they were made by highly competent, very careful observers who were keenly aware of the fact that they needed to eliminate confusion species. However, I think the single most impressive sighting is the one reported by Tyler Hicks in Dec 2005, again a highly competent observer. He saw the bird perched, at very close range, and reported virtually every ivory-bill field mark.

4. C:
Which arguments of the skeptics do you find most compelling in arguing for extinction?

Well, the arguments from the supposed inability of the southern landscape to support them after the 1940’s are pretty much worthless as far as I’m concerned. I think they’re based on patently false assumptions about bottomland deforestation in the region and the bird’s requirements. However, one thing does bother me a great deal. Why have no recent searches been able to discover an active ivory-bill roost, despite people
hearing and recording putative double-knocks at a number of sites close to sunrise or sunset? This is worrying and is of course connected to the often-raised issue of why no clear imagery has been obtained. I believe it is very unlikely that such imagery will be obtained away from an active roost or nest.

5. C:
IF the Ivory-bill persists do you believe there were any major flaws/weaknesses in the official searches that accounts for their failure to confirm at this point?

I think there are a number of flaws, but the single most important one is an excessive dependence on Tanner’s statements about ivory-bill foraging and habitat use, some of which are plainly contradicted by recent and historical data including his own. I have the utmost admiration for Tanner but I focus much more on his data than his conclusions. There has been a strong tendency to look for “Singer Tracts,” and reject areas that do not fit that mold. There has also been an excessive focus on public lands. Ivory-bills may reject public lands for nesting precisely because they are
public. The amount of secluded, mature private forest in Louisiana is unappreciated by many.

6. C: You likely hear various things through 'backchannels' that aren't made public. Have you heard anything (no need to say what) that especially sustains your hope for the species, and might give others more hope if they knew about it?

DM: My own studies have produced results that give me great hope, even though I have not seen the birds myself. In my study area, I found a group of very unusual cavities in one particular area in 2007. This area is within a “funnel,” a relatively narrow strip of forest connecting 2 large blocks, and it was in this area that a number of ivory-bill sightings were reported from 2005 through 2007. These cavities still appeared active in 2008, and more evidence of the presence of ivory-bills was obtained. Since 2008 these cavities have clearly become inactive, and the landowner has not reported ivory-bills in the area. In intensive inventories of almost 3000 acres of forest in the general area I have yet to find anything like this group of cavities. Much of my search effort is devoted to finding another such group.

7. C:
You've been one of the more staunch defenders of Cornell's interpretation of the 'Luneau video.' How confident do you feel that the bird in that clip is likely an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, or have any of the various skeptics' arguments altered your confidence in that?

DM: Actually, there are aspects of the Cornell interpretation that I disagree with. For example, I think it is quite likely that the bird’s wings are open in frames showing light color at around the time of launch. However, I do consider the Luneau video compelling evidence of the presence of at least one ivory-bill in the area at the time. There are things about the bird that were not even noticed by Cornell which I find difficult to explain if the bird is a pileated. I have yet to see a pileated video that even approaches this one in a number of respects. How hard can this be if the bird is a pileated? Of course if someone were to produce such a video, my opinion would change.

8. C:
You were one of the founders of the Ivory-bill Researchers Forum on the Web, a site that pays a fee for its upkeep and maintenance. With Ivory-bill interest fading, and especially if no major news breaks this winter season, are you concerned at all about being able to keep that site running? And if it is taken down at any point will there be any sort of archive that interested parties can search for certain information or past

We don’t anticipate any problems keeping the site going. We have a core of supporters and I think it’s important for anyone who might see an ivory-bill to have a place to go to where they will not be subjected to haranguing and vitriol. I certainly don’t miss the hoopla associated with the 2004 “rediscovery.”
The data I collected on rare amphibians in Texas will never be published. That is fine with me. It is in the hands of those who need it. It took years of patience and persistence to get some of those nuggets and I expect no less from the ivory-bill. I think many people have found the forum to be a place where they can find like-minded folks. Once they do so they often move on to using conventional email. That is fine too. The forum will still be there.

9. C:
Can you name anything from the last 5 years that stands out as the most surprising or unexpected happenstance (either good or bad) for you from your involvement with the Ivory-bill saga?

Just when I think I’ve heard all of the surprising and bizarre stories about ivory-bills, a new one seems to pop up. There are the fairly well-known cases of people like Neal Wright, Bill Smith, and the more recent one of Daniel Rainsong. In many of these cases I have access to far more information than the average ivory-bill researcher, and some of them are completely unknown to all but a few. Often, more information adds
greatly to the bizarreness factor. I often imagine that a compilation of these snippets would be most entertaining, but it would require breaking a lot of confidences. I will mention one example although I won’t use the fellow’s name. I interviewed a man a few years ago who claimed to have seen an ivory-bill nest in St. Mary Parish, La. when he was a teenager, around 1970. Note that this is the same general time that Fielding Lewis took his famous photos. He said that he had even made sound recordings of the birds but they had been destroyed in a fire. The man said that he had walked up to the nest at one point and saw large white grubs at the base of the tree which had apparently been dropped. He showed me the general area. This swamp, like many in St. Mary Parish, is extremely difficult to penetrate and virtually no one ever does so. What is truly astounding about this guy is that he had never heard of Fielding Lewis, had no idea about his photos, and was completely unaware that there was any recent controversy surrounding ivory-bill. One of the hardest things for avid birders to understand is that most people who spend lots of time outdoors do not read birding literature or browse birding newsgroups or fora. Many of them have never heard the name ivory-billed woodpecker. In a few cases they have apparently seen the bird and can describe it quite accurately, but either have no name for it or use a local name such as indian head woodpecker or poule de marias.

10. C:
Anything else you want to pass along to my readers that you think they should know or understand about the Ivory-bill situation at this point?

I think the good news is that probably the ivory-bill is one species that can benefit from benign neglect. Bottomland forest acreage and maturity are increasing and there is a greater realization of the importance of large snags in bottomlands. In retrospect I think I and others were foolish to have given up on the ivory-bill. We bought a narrative about a specialized bird that clung to a precarious existence in one last refuge, until it was finally destroyed. It’s a poignant tragedy and I think we in the conservation community sometimes become enamored with poignant tragedies, rather than looking at the issues honestly and scientifically. In fact I think the species is slowly recovering and will continue to do so. Some of us will continue in our efforts to document the species, quietly and patiently.
Stay tuned.

C: Thanks David for all you've done along the way, and taking the time to communicate your thoughts to readers here. We will indeed, stay tuned!

p.s. --- this is sort of an experiment, but if you've been active with the Ivory-bill story in some capacity over the last several years and feel you have something to say on the subject (pro or con), feel free to send me your email address if you'd like to be interviewed for the blog (don't be shy!). I can't promise that I'll go beyond the initial set that I've already sent out, but especially once the holidays are over I may consider more.

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