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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

Saturday, April 30, 2011


-- PIWO Rehabilitation --


No real Iv
ory-bill news to speak of, so on a different matter... A bird-rehabber friend of mine (near the Ark. Big Woods by coincidence) is currently raising a pair of young Pileated Woodpeckers (~10 days old when she got them) and found this wonderful old piece (pdf) on the Web regarding the early life cycle of Pileated nestlings:


Interestingly, it was published back in 1944, in the same era of major Ivory-bill study. But if, by chance, anyone knows of more modern studies of Pileated nestling development please pass them along to me, so I can pass the info along to her (she's raised/rehabbed many birds, but never PIWOs).

Thursday, April 28, 2011


-- Another Searcher Interviewed --


Better late than never... just received back one of the "interview" forms I'd sent out long ago (giving me some hope that maybe some of the others who originally said they might participate may yet get back to me... hint, hint ;-).
John Puschock is an active west coast birder and tour leader, known to ma
ny of you via his participation in various forums. He occasionally communicated with me over the first few years of the IBWO search, and I was always interested in his take on matters, as he took part in several different searches. Here are the questions I posed to him many months ago, with his answers:

1. CT: First, to give the readers some context, can you say where all you have searched for Ivory-bills over the last 5 years, either on your own or as part of a team?

I was part of the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 (part-time only) Cornell search teams and Auburn 2007 (part-time only) teams. Also I independently spent a week on the Choctawhatchee in Sept 2006 before those sightings became public knowledge, and I spent a few hours at the Pearl River back in 2000. (I was passing through the area so I figured I'd take a look.) Overall, about 8 months spent looking.

2. CT: By now, a lot of folks, including some who began as optimists, are pretty pessimistic over the chances of IBWO persistence. How do you personally view the probabilities that any Ivory-bills still exist somewhere in the U.S.?

Extremely low and probably extinct but it doesn't hurt to keep looking (though I'm not advocating allocating a big chunk of public funds towards the effort).

3. CT: Can you say which sightings/claims over the last 6 years you found the most compelling?

All the sightings are equally compelling, or non-compelling depending on if your a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person.

4. CT: From your experience with the official searches did you see any specific flaws/weaknesses in the conduct of the search that can account for the inability to document the species IF it was present?

I don't have any substantial criticisms of the search methods. Walking/boating transects to look for roost holes may not have been the most productive thing to do, but I understand the initial reasoning behind it. It was a good idea at first when an Ivory-billed was suspected as being in a small restricted area (Bayou de View).
For those who criticize the search methods, keep in mind that just about everything you can think of was tried, starting with a passive approach. Cornell started out with a small number of people being as quiet and stealthy as possible and then built up to more "aggressive" methods. It wasn't like they walked in from Day One with a huge army banging on trees, doing playbacks, etc. It's really easy to Monday morning quarterback the search methods. No matter what Cornell or Auburn did, they were going to be criticized for doing the "wrong" thing if they didn't get positive results, i.e., photos, which obviously is what happened.

5. CT: Did you have any interesting personal experiences during all your searches that particularly got you excited or gave you specific hope for the Ivory-bill's presence? Or were there any unexpected surprises (good or bad) that stand out from your travels/searches over the last 5 years?

Essentially, no, nothing happened involving a bird that got me excited, at least not for more than about 5 seconds. Very early on in the first year, I found some interesting scaling, but nothing came of it and subsequently I came to believe that there's no real value in looking for "IBWO" scaling. I imagine there's way too much variability in woodpecker foraging techniques for there to be something to look for that's unique to Ivory-billeds.

6. CT: Short of some future credible claim, are you planning any further active searches for the species at this point?

No. I never did any searching that wasn't based on a previous report, and I was only able to spend the time searching that I did because I was being paid and didn't have any other obligations. Nowadays, it would have to be a very solid report to even make me think about searching to justify spending the time and money on the effort. WIth that said, if I was living in the IBWO's historical range, I'd probably do a little looking, particularly in areas hit by tornadoes a year or two previously.

7. CT: From your time/experience/knowledge is there anything additional you would want to pass along to my readers that you think they should know about or understand?

IT'S EXTINCT....probably.

CT: Thanks for your perspective John... it won't make you the most popular interviewee ever here ;-), but I know it's the result of a lot of first-hand experience and effort.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


-- Ode to a Ghost --


While biding time, this older elegy to the Ivory-bill from poet Susan Wood:


Saturday, April 16, 2011


-- Spring Shopping --


Seen in someone's backyard, perhaps:


or, from Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/6flvgbe

Monday, April 11, 2011


-- Another Testimonial --


Speaking of Arthur Allen, one of the responses I got when I asked for people's memories of what drew them to the Ivory-bill story decades ago, came from Chris Feeney of Georgia, who credited Allen with spurring his childhood interest. Chris's account ran as follows:
"I have had an interest in the Ivory-billed Woodpecker since I was eight years old. My grandmother along with my aunt got me interested in birds. I spent every summer on my grandparents farm near Indiana, Pennsylvania. In 1954 my grandmother got a copy of "Stalking Birds with Color Camera" by Arthur A. Allen. I looked at all the color photos, but the bird that drew my attention more than any other was the black and white photo of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. My grandmother also had the National Geographic books that had the account of Allen's visit to the Singer Tract and his teams subsequent location of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker nest. When we visited the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, the Ivory-billed specimens were always the highlight.

In 1958 my grandmother and a friend decided to take a trip around the country while they were still able to travel. My grandfather had passed away, and my grandmother wanted to visit some of the great National Parks again. I went along. Even though it was a "tourist" trip, bird watching was a priority. We stopped at a number of places with museums. One of these was in Hastings, Nebraska. I was very surprised to see a display with several Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. After a journey that took us all the way to British Columbia and down the coast to California, we stopped at the Grassy Lake Hunt Club near Hope, Arkansas on the way home. This spot was in "A Guide to Bird Finding" by Olin S. Pettingill, Jr. We checked in with the caretaker's wife, and birded the area for a bit. I got my life Anhinga there, so I was excited. It was a very hot day. The caretaker's wife invited us in for some lemonade. She got us our drinks, and then pulled out Chester A. Reed's bird guide. She turned to the page that had the Pileated Woodpecker and said "We have these all around". I would have loved to see one, as it also would have been a life bird. Then she turned a few more pages and showed us the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I was stunned when she said "You know, we have had a few of these here as well". She clearly knew the difference.

I have been chasing the Ivory-bill off and on since then. I was not able to go to Texas in the 1960's to look for the birds in Big Thicket, as I was in school in California at the time. However, I wrote all the experts at the time for information on the Ivory-bill. I have letters from Dr. James Tanner, Dr. George Lowery, Mr. Whitney Eastman (who sent me a copy of his article "My 10 Year Search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker", and also Mr. John Dennis. I corresponded with Mr. Dennis in the 1980's when the Ivory-bill was reported in the Atchafalaya Basin. He got me linked up with a person who worked at LSU and knew the locals in the area. With his help I was able to spend 9 days looking for the Ivory-bill, and also got to examine the Ivory-bill specimens in the LSU collection.

Since the Arkansas sightings I have spent field time in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina, and Florida searching. I feel strongly I have heard the bird in both Arkansas and Florida (calls, no double knocks). No good sightings though, but I keep looking.

It all started with the photo on page 2 of 'Stalking Birds with Color Camera'."

Saturday, April 09, 2011


-- WWAAD --


Perhaps it's karmic... I'd recently been thinking of doing a blog post inquiring "What would Arthur Allen do?," regarding past ornithological icon Arthur A. Allen (Ivory-bill-documenter, and founder of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology). But I'll forgo my idle thoughts in favor of just linking to Stephen Lyn Bales' latest post which also briefly alludes to Allen's notions here:


Monday, April 04, 2011


-- Of Camels and Thoroughbreds --


A camel, it has been said, is 'a horse designed by a committee'. . . . .

Traditionally, April/May are the last 2 months for much Ivory-bill searching before the heat/humidity/bugs of summer preclude much deep woods activity. And I don't foresee anything on the horizon likely to alter how things stand at this point. Indeed, in 5 years of reports coming into my email in addition to what shows up on the Web, I just haven't seen anything terribly convincing since the original Big Woods and Choctawhatchee reports... plenty of intriguing stories/claims certainly, but nothing really compelling, in my view, from any single locale. I'll await to see what Cornell has to say in their final report on the subject, but not expecting any more insights there than what is already in print.
IF confirmation of IBWOs ever comes I suspect it is liable to be sudden and unexpected, without much news leading up to it.

So why the camel???... I've long thought that the scarcity of results achieved by Tanner, and Jackson, and countless others along the way, was simply due to a lack of manpower and resources. If only a large-scale, organized, systematic search for IBWOs was conducted throughout the Southeast, Ivory-bills would be documented to everyone's satisfaction, in a reasonable amount of time... so I thought... Multiple Government and University-backed personnel with money, equipment, and training surely could accomplish what had eluded lone searchers. BUT, they haven't. Though independents can search more stealthily and make quicker decisions, than a large team, I still believe they are hampered tremendously by the sheer immensity of the task, short of a very HOT, hot-zone being found.
One has to wonder at this point though, given the results, if IBWO-searching-by-large-committee is itself an inherently flawed-and-bumbling approach (I don't think so, but it did have problems/issues, and I'm left to wonder). In any event, it is largely up to a steadily-decreasing cadre of independents now. I just wish Cornell or USFWS could direct them specifically where best to expend their limited time and energy out of the still many interesting, potential locales... but as best I can tell, after 6 years of study, sadly, they barely have any clue themselves.

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