"....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.”
"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, 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 many 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?
JP: 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.?
JP: 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?
JP: 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?
JP: 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?
JP: 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?
JP: 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?
JP: 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.