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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, June 28, 2011


-- Time For Another Episode of Comic Relief --


From those fine folks who brought us Monty Python and Benny Hill... :


Thursday, June 23, 2011


-- Eskimo Curlew... --


Summer is not a pleasant time to be searching for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, but it's a possible time to look for the Eskimo Curlew, another avian ghost. Reuters reports that USFWS is trying to decide on the species' current classification:


And in an older post on this blog Bob Russell listed places that he deemed worth looking for the ESCU:

1. Texas—Louisiana Gulf Coast. It seems reasonable to include the area(s) with the most recent verified report(s) and that would be Galveston Island. Hurricane Gustav recently cleaned off a large portion of the housing on the western portion of the island but left a huge debris field on former pastures and marshland where the 1959-1962 bird or birds were seen (3 birds reported together in 1962). Give this area a couple of years to recover some vegetative cover and try the last week of March and the first half of April, perhaps in association with American Golden-plovers or Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Large concentrations of shorebirds occur at other nearby sites such as the islands in Galveston Bay (Atkinson Island where a flock of 23 birds was reported on 7 May 1981). The Bolivar Flats, although well-watched over the years, is another site that should be checked if you are in the area. Base in Galveston once the motels get repaired. In Louisiana the southwestern portion of the state is frequently birded but most observers hit the usual “chain of pearls” refuges near the coast. There are many areas away from the coast that host tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of shorebirds during spring migration and many of these sites never see a birder all year. Some of these are rice fields in various stages of planting / preparation; others are abandoned or seasonally fallow fields from Crowley west to the state line. Although most birding is done south of I-10, there is extensive habitat in Acadia and Jefferson Davis Parishes north of the I-10. Base out of Jennings, Abbeville, or Lake Charles.

2. Central Nebraska. Historically, most concentrated in York, Fillmore, and Hamilton Counties between the 87th and 98th parallel. Joel Jorgensen, Nebraska Division of State Parks, has documented large flocks of stopover Buff-breasted Sandpipers in York County in spring but has had no sightings of curlews. There is one recent sighting by Craig Faanes (author of Birds of the St. Croix River Valley) in York County in spring which some people reject. Arrives 18-25 April, departing 15-25 May. Frequented open wheat fields and “tame” meadows in later years, originally often found in burnt meadows and prairies. Base in Grand Island, York, or Aurora.

3. Christian County, Illinois / Benton County, Indiana. The largest staging flocks of American Golden-plover known in the world regularly stage from mid-April to mid-May in northwest Indiana and east central Illinois. These plovers were frequent traveling companions of Eskimo Curlew and were one of the few species able to fly as fast and keep up with the curlews. The best way to find flocks of plovers is to peruse a DeLorme Illinois Atlas and find the headwaters of various small tributaries that historically indicated wet prairie areas. The plovers still prefer these oftentimes wet areas even though most are in soybeans nowadays. Check adjacent low wet areas as well. Christian County stands out in Midwest hunting literature as a place of great curlew hunting opportunities! Of course that was 1880 but maybe they’ve recovered—someone ought to check it out. Base in Taylorville or Springfield for Christian County; in Lafayette or Kentland for Benton County. Large wind turbine fields may now threaten many of these plover sites in Benton County. Rather than direct mortality the plovers may just be abandoning these staging areas, perhaps used since the Pleistocene ice sheets retreated.

4. Southeastern South Dakota vic. Yankton. 3-10 May between Ft. Randall and Yankton. Associated here with Upland Sandpipers and American Golden-plovers. Birds once seen commonly as far east as Vermillion on grasslands above Missouri River. There are numerous small sloughs in the area and a fair amount of pastureland. Apparently this was the northernmost major staging area before northern Saskatchewan as the bird was seldom reported from northeastern South Dakota or North Dakota. Base in Yankton.

5. Newfoundland—Labrador. Although the last record was of a pair in 1932, almost every year one or two Canadian birders still visit the former haunts of this species where the species first staged south of its Arctic breeding range, feeding mainly on crowberries. Sites to try include Battle Harbor, Hamilton Inlet entrance (where they normally arrived on 23rd August), Henley Harbor, Indian Tickle, Isle of Ponds, Curlew Harbor, Table Bay, and Gready Island. This is wonderful, wild, remote country. Access by a ferryboat that visits most of these sites with reservations needed a year or more in advance. Getting to these sites once explored by Audubon is a challenge.

6. Iles de la Madeleine, Quebec. Remote, scenic and sophisticated, this chain of islands connected by sandbars and one road annually hosts thousands of shorebirds in fall including Whimbrel and American Golden-plover. Historically, Eskimo Curlews were regular here between 20 August and 6 September although there are no recent records. Area included because it was on a direct passage route for this curlew and still contains large bog areas replete with abundant berry bushes and hundreds of acres of short-cropped fields and some of the largest sandflats and tidal flats in the hemisphere. Very low level of birding activity and relatively easy to reach (by plane from Montreal or ferry from Prince Edward Island). Excellent motels on French portion of this bilingual island chain in Cap-aux-Meules.

7. Miscou Island, New Brunswick. Immense numbers of this species once frequented the coast from Shediac to Dalhousie with the largest flocks often on this small island at the tip of the province. Still largely unspoiled, the island is covered by dozens of small ponds surrounded by dense stands of many species of subarctic berry bushes upon which the birds reportedly fed. The island has hundreds of shorebirds both as foragers and flybys during August and September. During the heyday of Eskimo Curlews, they reportedly arrived often before the 15th of August and remained until about the 15th of September, departing before the Whimbrel departed. Many observers commented that the years of highest curlew abundance also had prevailing strong easterly gales during the fall. A very small motel is present at the base of the island bridge and other motels are nearby along the Acadian coast.

8. Martha’s Vineyard / Nantucket Island / Monomoy Island, Massachusetts. During periods of east winds these offshore islands of Massachusetts often held hundreds of curlews seeking shelter from the storms. Reported from Martha’s Vineyard on 6-7 August 1972 and 30 August 2002 (Gay Head), a report not accepted by the bird committee but which one committee member described as totally convincing. With 2 (yes 2!) recent reports this island may be the place to head to during east winds in autumn if you can afford the overpriced motels.

9. Portsmouth Island—Cape Lookout National Seashore. This is a gem of a shorebird stopover site, a 40-mile+ long island of sand, sandflats, meadows, and islets as remote as any site on the USA east coast and virtually undisturbed. Stay on neighboring Ocracoke Island, itself well worth checking the south end for shorebirds, and hire the local boat shuttle ($25.00) for the short 15-minute ride over to Portsmouth (includes free lecture on natural history and ineptitude of National Park Service) or get an SUV and take a car ferry over to the Core Banks from the mainland (see Cape Lookout National Seashore website) and drive northward. Almost every shorebird species known in eastern USA has been recorded here. Bring lots of bug spray and sunburn oil and be prepared to walk (or drive—4-wheel drive only) miles. Uninhabited except for a few hunting camps and cabins in the now ghost town of Portsmouth. A recent spring report was made by an expert birder in 1972 at Pea Island north of here, one seen with 3 Whimbrels.

10. Prince Edward Island, Canada. This quiet, lightly-birded island of potato fields, spruce forests, and remote beaches would seem like a likely candidate for hiding migrant curlews. I would concentrate on fields on the east side of the island, the shorebird flats at Prince Edward National Park along the north shore at North Rustico, the Malpeque area where once reported to be very common, and the remote northwest corner of the island where I haven’t yet ventured but looks good on Google Earth. 25 August to 28 September. Base in Charlottetown.

Honorable mentions:

11. Cape Henrietta Maria. Ontario. Very remote but tens of thousands of shorebirds pass this site in southbound migration. Access by air and bring a gun for polar bear protection.

12. Mar Chiquita, Argentina Mar Chiquita is located northeast of the province of Cordoba and is the largest inland saline body of water in Argentina covering roughly 6000 square kilometers with a floodable plain embracing another 4,000 square kilometers. As many as 4 Eskimo Curlews have been reported from here in a single flock in recent decades. The size of the area and the number of birds is overwhelming but this may be the single best spot for searching for wintering birds. Base in the city of Santa Fe or camp along the shores.

13. Mingan Islands, Quebec. Off the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, these remote islands are reachable by rented boat or kayak. Many shorebirds stage here in late summer but the islands have been rarely ever birded. This is a major staging area for Red Knots in fall. Check out their website at: http://www.canadianparks.com/quebec/minganp/index.htm

14. Sable Island, Nova Scotia. One requires a scientific permit / reason to visit this national treasure far off the Nova Scotian coast. The breeding home of the Ipswich (Savanna Sparrow) and the most remote place in the Maritimes, one could always fake a shipwreck and bird while waiting for possible rescue. If you don’t get rescued, at least be good enough to leave us a detailed description of the curlew you see as your last lifer before expiring so we can publish it and run it by the records committee. Sable Island is a sand bar - 42 km long and roughly 1.5 km wide - located far offshore, approximately 160 km southeast of Canso, Nova Scotia, the nearest landfall. The island has been the focus of human activities, imagination and speculation for roughly 500 years. Shipwrecks, wild horses, seabirds and seals, and inaccessibility have endowed this narrow wind-swept sliver of sand with a special mystique.

15. Barbados (Graeme Hall Swamp and vicinity). The last specimen of Eskimo Curlew was collected by a hunter on 4 September 1963 near this site. The site was a private hunting club and may be still but I have no recent information on its status or current habitat. Nearby Graeme Hall Swamp ($13.00 entrance fee) has hundreds of acres of protected habitat with numerous shorebirds at low tide. Barbados was a bottleneck for the species, a first resting spot for tired birds departing from Maritime Canada and flying over the Atlantic Ocean.

[p.s. there's actually a small Facebook group dedicated to the search for the ESCU, as well.]

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


-- "Its Physical Prowess..." --

(image, from 1935, via Wikipedia Commons)

"Looking for an ivory-bill today takes the mediating nature of birdwatching to an even higher
level, because in this case the quarry is a kind of ghost bird, a creature that does and does not exist. Birds have always been emblems that shuttled between the natural world and the man-made world, between science and poetry, between earth and sky. But the ivory-bill is even more of an in-between figure --- flying between the world of the living and the world of the dead, between the American wilderness and the modern wasteland, between faith and doubt, survival and extinction. No wonder the bird has taken on a sort of mystical character. Its physical prowess made it king of the woodpeckers. But is it a once and future king?"
-- Jonathan Rosen "The Life of the Skies" 2008

Friday, June 17, 2011


-- Replaying A Li'l History --


From Christopher Cokinos' "Hope Is the Thing With Feathers":
"That same month, apparently on April 15 [1932], a Louisiana state legislator and attorney named Mason D. Spencer, a man with a penchant for bars and gambling, raised his gun, looked through the sight and squeezed the trigger. He collected his specimen -- triumphantly (and legally, for he had a permit) -- then prepared it for safekeeping.
"Officals in the New Orleans headquarters of the state's conservation department had scorned verbal reports of Ivory-bills along the Tensas River in Madison Parish, joking about the quality of moonshine available there. These officials could hardly believe their eyes when they found themselves looking at Spencer's specimen: a freshly-killed Ivory-billed Woodpecker...

"...In early April [1935], the expedition trucks [from Cornell] pulled into the only town in Madision Parish, Louisiana, that had electricity -- tiny Tallulah, due west of Vicksburg. There the men conferred with Mason D. Spencer, the attorney who had shot the Ivory-bill in Madsion Parish three years before, and with the game warden, J.J. Kuhn, who later would aid Tanner in his Ivory-bill fieldwork and who is remembered today, years after his death, as a 'remarkable' and 'marvelous' woodsman.
"Allen, Kellogg, Tanner and Sutton crowded into Spencer's law office in Tallulah and studied the maps of the area spread before them. Spencer spoke of wolves -- more numerous here, he claimed, than anywhere else in the United States -- and of panthers and black bears. A Southerner born and bred, Spencer cautioned the visiting Yankees about mosquitoes and the ease with which one can get disoriented in the forest bayous of the Tensas River. And, no doubt, he corrected their pronunciation. It's the Ten-saw, not Ten-sas. 'The talk,' recalled Sutton, ' ...kept us on the edge of our chairs. There could be no doubt that we were in a fearful and wonderful country.'
"Spencer also spoke of 'Kints' -- the local name for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker -- and bristled when Sutton pressed him on the matter. Sutton worried, as did the others, that Spencer could be misidentifying the common and widespread Pileated Woodpecker for the somewhat similar Ivory-bill...
But not Mason Spencer.
'Man alive! These birds I'm tellin' you all about is Kints!' Sutton recalled Spencer saying. 'Why, the Pileated Woodpecker's just a little bird about as big as that.' Spencer used his fingers to show a tiny bird, though the Pileated was in fact only somewhat smaller than the Ivory-bill. Spreading his arms, Spencer yelled, 'And a Kint's as big as that! Why, man, I've known Kints all my life. My pappy showed 'em to me when I was just a kid. I see 'em every fall when I go deer huntin' down aroun' my place on the Tinsaw. They're big birds, I tell you, big and black and white; and they fly through the woods like Pintail Ducks!' "

Thursday, June 16, 2011


-- ...Risking Belief --


Bruce Tindall on the 'taunting' Ivory-billed Woodpecker:


Wednesday, June 15, 2011


-- NPR on the Ivory-bill circa 1996 --


Transcript of an old (1996) radio edition of NPR's "Living On Earth," with good cast of characters, on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (before the Big Woods story, and even before David Kulivan):


Friday, June 10, 2011


-- For Your Weekend Viewing --


Scott Crocker's "Ghost Bird" is now up on the Web, in it's entirety (85 mins.), at this learning site:


(I'm assuming this is a legitimate showing... if it is pirated or otherwise unauthorized someone let me know that and I'll remove the link).

Thursday, June 09, 2011


-- Bookshelf --


I suspect (hope) the very best books about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker may not yet have been written... but, of the volumes already out there touching on the subject, my favorites, in order of preference, are as follows:

1) The Search For the Ivory-billed Woodpecker -- Jerome A. Jackson
2) The Ivory-billed Woodpecker -- James T. Tanner

3) The Race To Save the Lord God Bird -- Phillip Hoose

4) The Travails of Two Woodpeckers -- Noel F.R. Snyder, David E. Brown, Kevin B. Clark

5) The Grail Bird -- Tim Gallagher
6) Life Histories of North American Woodpeckers -- Arthur C. Bent

7) Hope Is the Thing With Feathers -- Christopher Cokinos

8) Ghost Birds -- Stephen Lyn Bales

9) Stalking the Ghost Bird --Michael Steinberg

10) Ivorybill Hunters -- Geoffrey E. Hill

11) The Black Swan -- Nassim N. Taleb ;-)

For now, I continue to believe that the claims of certain individuals over the last several years (and prior), indicate persistence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, BUT having said that, of all the players in this saga, the two individuals who's overall judgment I most trust at this late point (and perhaps the only two!) are Jerry Jackson and Noel Snyder, both of whom, counter to my notion, appear extremely doubtful about continued IBWO presence.

Hopefully, individuals with the interest and opportunity to continue searching for the species will do so... while being under no illusion as to the magnitude of the task before them. Those especially who are already on public record as saying they've seen the bird may bear a special responsibility to further pursue definitive evidence backing-up such claims, lest their names go down in birding history forever with an asterisk by it (and, accompanying snickers)....

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


-- Priceless... --


A.T. Wayne's [19th century collector] Sample Price List as of July 29, 1893:

Ivory-billed Woodpecker, male and female $22.00
Mississippi Kite, price reduced 2.00
4 Carolina Paroquets, adults 15.00
1 (Carolina) Paroquets, immature 3.50
3 South Carolina Swifts @ .50 1.50
1 Scott's Sparrow 1.25
1 Red-eyed Vireo .25
1 Yellow-throated Vireo .30
1 Acadian Flycatcher .35
1 Bachman's Warbler 2.50
1 Parula Warbler, Blue Head 1.00
1 Black-poll Warbler .25
1 Worm-eating Warbler .50
4 Manau's Marsh Wrens 3.20

(from Phillip Hoose's "The Race To Save the Lord God Bird")

Saturday, June 04, 2011


-- Campephysics Principalis ;-) --


Here's another odd photo (pileated woodpecker) showing how lighting can play tricks on perception:


The analogy to 'Schrodinger's cat' has also of course been made repeatedly to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Another, more-current analogy one might make though is to the Higgs Boson. I'm not competent to describe the technicalities of the Higgs, but simply put, years and years of tangential evidence has indicated its likely existence, yet no proof of it has been forthcoming -- one of the major goals of the much-publicized Large Hadron Collider is to establish the presence of this elementary particle (known popularly as "the God particle"... hmmm, echoes of "the Lord God Bird"). Both the LHC and its rival, the Tevatron collider in the US, have recently found rumored evidence (still being analyzed) for the Higgs, after decades of theorizing and failed searches. Hints, glimpses, findings, calculations, debates... but still awaiting proof.

I'll confess my bias: Schrodinger's cat is mostly an abstract thought exercise... I suppose I prefer an analogy to the Higgs, because so many of those in the know feel sure it is really there, and just a matter of time before that is patiently demonstrated... may it still be so for the Ivory-bill... not Schrodinger's Woodpecker, but Higgs.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


-- Something New and Something Old --


Yet another Ivory-billed inspired work (novel) on the way, in July, here:


(see also: http://www.ofthewing.com/new.htm )

And as a reminder as to why the bar of evidence for this bird is now set so very high (clear photos will be assumed inauthentic until demonstrated otherwise), this old 'anybody can do this' post from Mark Bailey:


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