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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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


-- 'Honking Woodpeckers' --


A year+-old interview over at another blog (I may have linked to previously) with Jerry Jackson:



Thursday, May 26, 2011


-- Just Chillin' Out Today... --


and perhaps through the weekend...


Tuesday, May 24, 2011


-- Slither --


Awhile back I mentioned a rehabber friend having two young orphaned Pileated Woodpeckers she was caring for. There's good news and bad news... The li'l tykes progressed well and when close to fledging were moved into a large pen. One quickly left their "box" nest for higher environs, but the other stayed behind, and unfortunately was taken by a snake that gained entry into the pen.
Here's a pic of the other bird after "fledging" to give some indication of the size of the bird victimized (it was a big snake!):

One of the mysteries of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers has long been their possible low reproductive success --- and so I can't help but wonder how much snake predation was a significant factor.


Saturday, May 21, 2011


-- Times (and Prices) Change --


Just a li'l story (I think I've told before), for those who have some spare cash to burn in this economy...:

I noticed this weekend there is a copy of James Tanner's original 1942 Ivory-billed Woodpecker monograph selling over at eBay for a coool $500+ (original copies come up for sale on eBay from time-to-time, and usually around that price).

Anyway, about 25 years ago I came across an original copy in a used bookstore where I live, but was unwilling to pay the exorbitant $60 they were asking at the time! I knew that Dover Press had a republished version for much less, and besides, it was also available at a nearby academic library.
So it wasn't until sometime after David Kulivan's 1999 sighting in La. that I decided I should own a copy and wrote to Dover asking how to order it. They wrote back that it had been out-of-print for many years at that point and there were no copies remaining in stock, NOR any prospect of it being reprinted since there was "no longer any interest in the topic." I thought to myself, 'are you guys NUTS!' :-o
Anyway, eventually they came to their senses and reprinted it again, and it's been available ever since (but with interest waning again, who knows for how much longer...).

Thursday, May 19, 2011


-- Upcoming --


Dr. Geoff Hill will be speaking on the search for the Ivory-bill at Auburn's Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve at 6pm tomorrow, Friday 5/20, followed by a showing of Crocker's "Ghost Bird" film. (If anyone happens to hear Dr. Hill's talk let us know how it goes.)
And a reminder that "Ghost Bird" is also showing again on the 'Documentary Channel' at both 8:30pm and 11:30pm tomorrow night as well.

BTW, with all the attention to Scott Crocker's film, I'd be curious to learn if anyone knows whatever happened to George Butler's "The Lord God Bird" documentary? --- as far as I'm aware it was never completed (maybe for obvious reasons) even though it was shown in unfinished form many times... perhaps someone can clarify its fate and availability. (John Trapp's old review of it here:
http://tinyurl.com/yepxj9g )

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


-- "Why Most.... " --

" There is increasing concern that in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims." -- Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis
I've had a link to this famous, often-cited JPA Ioannidis article in the left-hand column for about 5 years running, but perhaps it's worthwhile to draw more attention to it now --- Ioannidis's concerns are sometimes focused primarily on medical/clinical research (see this The Atlantic article), though much of what he details applies across the life sciences more generally, and on occasion, the physical sciences as well:


...and, a little more here: http://tinyurl.com/ygmupbc

Monday, May 16, 2011


"Huhh, what? ...did I just hear an Ivory-billed Woodpecker"

^...The New Yorker cartoon contest caption that SHOULDA been:


Also, this recent older (long)
New Yorker piece by John McPhee on the Atchafalaya River may interest some:


-- Just a Couple of Paradoxes --


A classic old paradox from mathematics:

Suppose you glue a dime to the very middle of a half-dollar (creating two attached concentric coins), and then roll the half-dollar along a tabletop to make one complete turn. At that point the half-dollar (back at its starting point) will have covered a distance equal to its own circumference, AND the inner dime will also have completed one full turn, seemingly having moved ITS circumference in length... except of course the dime and quarter don't have equal circumferences.

Or, for a different, more geometric paradox see this old chestnut proving that the two sides of any right triangle, when added together, equal the hypotenuse:


Sunday, May 15, 2011


-- "Ghost Bird" on TV --


Sorry for the late notice, but received emails this morning that apparently Scott Crocker's "Ghost Bird" film made its debut on television last night on the "Documentary Channel;" a good opportunity for those who haven't had a chance to see it at an indie festival to take it in. I don't own a TV myself and don't know if the Documentary Channel replays its offerings or this was a one-time showing(?), nor if it will be on the Web anytime in near-future?
Addendum: in a comment below Christopher notes that the next scheduled showing of Ghost Bird on Documentary Channel appears to be this coming Friday, May 20.

Friday, May 13, 2011


-- Wingbeats... --


Note: Google's Blogger platform was down for 48+ hours (making the posting of new blogposts or comments un-doable), but appears to be working once again....

Generally speaking throughout the avian kingdom, larger birds have slower wingbeat frequencies than their smaller cousins. Louis Bevier's original 2007 analysis for PIWO vs. IBWO wingbeat frequency follows in that vein, for any who haven't seen it:


There is NO firm data for what the range of wingbeat frequency for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker should be. None, just speculative conjecture. The one specific piece of old Singer Tract audio (of a bird flapping) that is sometimes alluded to for analysis is useless and meaningless, with no accompanying video to know WHAT is even doing the flapping --- but even presuming it is an Ivory-billed Woodpecker it is at least as likely that the bird is merely flapping to maintain balance on a tree, or fending off an intruder/interloper, than a recording of actual flight (though it may be 'hopping' from one branch to a nearby one). This specific area of analysis is fraught with problems and assumptions (and uncontrolled variables), but I believe Bevier's analysis, in this instance, is as good as is out there. Thusly, for now, I'm more interested in video clips of purported IBWOs that show birds flying below or at the low end of the purported range for PIWO wingbeat frequency (which also is not well-established).

But short of a truly definitive photo or video (requiring no analysis, beyond proof of authenticity), what I'd really like to see at this point are more high quality and lengthy sightings that come from multiple experienced, credible observers (lone observer claims simply are not taken seriously by most of the birding establishment at this point), and preferably, then, repeated by others (photos, video can come later, if at all).
So far, it ain't happenin' :-(


Thursday, May 05, 2011


-- Pearl River Findings (a bit long) --

"Mathematics is a powerful means to win arguments because people have a strong feeling that mathematics is objective, that "figures cannot lie." The truth is that it is easy to mislead and obfuscate a situation through the use of mathematical and statistical models that are inappropriate, whose assumptions are simplistic, or just plain wrong." -- mathematician W. Byers

I'd planned to avoid this whole subject, but since Mike Collins has blanketed news sites with a press release of his Pearl River findings (in turn causing several emails to me), it seems increasingly unavoidable, especially since so many news venues are treating as new evidence, what is largely a rehash of previously-considered data. I encourage people, and especially scientists, to read Mike's article and view/listen to his video/audio tapes (and he has more material at his website), and decide for themselves....

The journal article is available for free here: http://tinyurl.com/3rutguj

You can go to this abstract page to link to some of Mike's referenced video/audio clips:


The current article is the latest culmination of a lot of reporting from Mike over the last few years beginning with his run-ins with folks at BirdForum.net. Let's just say that Mike has developed a propensity for publishing evidence with a degree of certainty that appears unwarranted (what William Byers would call "pseudo-objectivity through quantification").

His brief initial 2006 video did intrigue me a great deal at that time, and he reports several more sighting claims in the current article.
However, lone self-report is never a strong basis for scientific conclusions, especially on a controversial subject. The strength of prior Cornell and Auburn reports was that they came from multiple observers in the same locale. Over the last dozen years many, many individuals have looked for IBWOs in the Pearl River area without success, while Mike keeps claiming encounters --- I grant that he has spent a tremendous amount of time there (and has access to certain areas that others don't have), and occasionally reports other individuals, under his tutelage seeing the species (although I've never seen a submitted full-account by any of those other individuals). And I admire Mike's dogged persistence, but given the public viewpoints he has espoused, Mike is now so vested in his own opinions/pronouncements, that his personal objectivity simply can't be assumed. Indeed, one of the flying Pearl River birds he filmed in 2009, turned out, on further analysis, to be a Red-headed Woodpecker (a bird not even half the size of an IBWO), despite his implication that it could be an Ivory-bill... perhaps indicative of the magnitude of a subjective bias.

But on to the current paper (and I'll only hit on a few points):

1) We now have 100s (perhaps 1000s) of reports of "kent" calls from deep woods, yet still no ability to definitively identify by recording (let alone by human ear) those kent calls that emanate from Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. All of Mike's verbal reports of kent calls are thus of little scientific value, although it is good when they come in conjunction with sightings, but those too are merely one-man verbal reports with no confirmation (and his recorded calls are, at best, inconclusive, no matter what sonograms show). The same fate befalls double-knocks, large cavities, and bark-scaling data --- these are interesting when found in close conjunction with good sightings, but by themselves remain weak evidence for Ivory-bills when presented in the literature. Many of Mike's "sightings" are cloaked in few details (how much time, what distance, what field marks, in what kind of light, etc.), again resulting in little more than shallow verbal claims (although he labels two sightings "of exceptional quality," whatever that means). His central focus in this paper seems to simply be on a few high-pitched calls and inconclusive double-knocks.

His discussion of the "high-pitched" calls, which he turns into putative Ivory-billed calls, is highly speculative, given that only a single brief reference by Tanner even hints that IBWOs ever make such sounds (and without a tape from Tanner there's no way of knowing if what Mike recorded even remotely resembles what Tanner heard). He then compares this unknown call to "putative kent calls" from Florida --- in other words he compares an unknown call with an unknown call and expects to derive some conclusion from that! (he does the same thing at a later point meaninglessly comparing a "putative double-knock" from the Pearl with a "putative double-knock" from Florida ---
comparing two unknowns to each other is of little value; an unknown needs to be compared to a known/certain sample --- his related assumptions about the harmonic structure of IBWO calls, which he ties his sounds to, is based on a tiny sample size recorded on old equipment).
Also, the direction and distance of calls/sounds in deep woods can be notoriously difficult to establish or follow, but Mike assumes in one instance that he has followed the high-pitched calls accurately and can safely link them to a rapidly moving bird he presumes might, perhaps, possibly, in his judgment, be an Ivory-bill.

Mike's second video is his 2008 encounter with what appeared initially to be a Wood Duck, except that on further after-the-fact video analysis turns out, lo-and-behold, God-bless, to be an Ivory-billed Woodpecker! This is the bird that, according to Mike, revealed "a flap style that is radically different from what was expected for this species [IBWO]." Mike makes a big deal (as a new discovery) out of the fact that his bird folds its wings in-close during flight, claiming that old reports of the Ivory-bill having a "duck-like" flight style imply stiff-flapping (outstretched) wings... but this is simply erroneous. Previous historical accounts of "duck-like" flight for the IBWO are in reference to the fast, straight, direct, level flight path of the Ivory-bill (unlike the undulating flight of many woodpeckers), NOT its flap style, which could, like most woodpeckers, be presumed to include the closed wing periods --- absolutely NOTHING new or significant here --- in fact, Audubon reported the folded-in wings over 150 years ago, but Mike presents this as some grand NEW finding on his part!

In figure 4 Mike uses a a graph from Tobalske to compare data from a single Pileated Woodpecker to his 2008 video bird. For starters, using a single bird (with no context given) for comparison represents too small a sample size to be empirically meaningful, let alone conclusive, and I'd say that even if he was comparing his bird to a House Sparrow!! But even worse, the scales for the x-axis don't even match (time in ms) in the 2 graphs, making direct comparison difficult if not misleading (unless I'm missing something, and maybe I am). Further, no scales whatsoever are even presented for the y-axis, so no telling how different they may be!???.

Quantification, or application of mathematics, is a common practice to make weak data (or even junk science) appear scientifically stronger. Mike's videos are of poor quality and no amount of analysis changes that. If he is off, even a small amount, in any number of the initial measurements he calculates from these videos, than his end-point calculated numbers can be waaaay off. Additionally, Pileated flap rate and flight speed may vary from individual to individual and situation to situation (since we have little data), by whether it is a young bird or old, a gravid female, or a juvenile, or a cruising, fleeing, or chasing male, or an injured bird for that matter, or a bird dodging obstacles, or a startled bird, or flying into a head wind or pushed along by a tail wind... i.e. the variables are MANY, yet Mike's data set (and most data sets on both IBWO and PIWO) is very limited and simplistic. He no doubt thinks he can put a limiting range on such data for the PIWO, and then place his bird outside that range (even though we have no good flight data, beyond conjecture, for IBWO either); I don't think he can do that with available data.
One is left to wonder who, if anyone, peer-reviewed Mike's article, and if the editor of the acoustics journal it appears in has any significant comprehension of the subject matter.... (is it any surprise that no professional ornithological journal would touch this paper).

I'm skimming the surface here, but I think you get the point... the science presented is weak, and all the more-so, given no way to independently corroborate much of what Mike reports in print. Moreover, Mike's statements and behavior from the past have yielded him little credibility in much of the birding community (...and I understand that well because this blog has bestowed me with little credibility in much of the birding community!! ;-)), but he and I brought that upon ourselves; it is not the fault of others. As a result, no serious birding listserv, forum, or Website is much covering his recent publication (lest they be mocked for doing so), NOT even the Louisiana listserv!

As always, I believe it is possible that Ivory-bills may pass through the Pearl River region from nearby areas on occasion (I'm doubtful they breed or reside there), and I wish Mike luck in producing evidence that will demonstrate their presence to everyone's satisfaction. I'm not sure though that he comprehends what is necessary to accomplish that at this point; the bar is set very, VERY high (if he ever does document IBWOs conclusively he'll deserve immense gratitude from the birding community for incredible perseverance and hard work, but until then, well....). Over the decades 1000's of reports of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers have come in, the vast majority of which pretty quickly fall apart, and most of the rest never panning out upon follow-up. Time will tell, perhaps, if Mike's Pearl River claims are any different, or just more-more-more-of-the-same.
For now, my Ivory-bill hopes reside elsewhere.

(p.s. -- if you're someone who hasn't seen the recent Pearl River IBWO news reports on the Web, and have no clue what this entire post is about... well, then... nnnnnnnnevermind!)


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