"....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, December 15, 2011
-- The Unknown... --
"There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know." ....Donald Rumsfeld
Major hoaxes have, luckily, been few-and-far-between in the Ivory-bill saga, though they have occurred, and may again. Steve Sheridan's 2009 hoax was the one well-established (admitted) hoax of recent times, and most presume the Dan Rainsong and Florida "magic guy" (William Smith) story-lines to have also been hoaxes (though never admitted). A few folks may yet believe David Kulivan's 1999 claims to have been bogus, though almost all informed folks lean toward either honest mistake or true sighting for that one.
In earlier years of this blog I occasionally had transparent, bumbling hoaxes sent to me via email. Most were lame attempts, easy to see through, even if it takes extra effort to confirm them as concocted. Most who contrive such stories simply lack the knowledge/skills to pull it off, especially with today's means of scrutiny. Still, I've always believed that a well-executed, difficult-to-unravel hoax is possible by someone ornithologically and technologically knowledgeable enough, and with the patience/desire to do so.
It's barely even relevant to the question of whether Ivory-bills persist today, but possibly the most contested hoax/no hoax(?) case is that of Fielding Lewis's tale from 1971. Tim Gallagher detailed the unresolved story in his book "The Grail Bird" (Chapter 7, entitled "The Boxer"); available for free on the Web from Google books:
Over the years a few folks who either had direct knowledge of the story or knew Lewis personally, have emailed me to voice its authenticity or Lewis's veracity… still, I've never felt confident taking either side on this one --- leaning toward authenticity, but only by a slim margin. [ -- For anyone not acquainted with the storyline, Lewis, a prominent Louisiana outdoorsman, presented George Lowery, one of Louisiana's premier ornithologists, with photos of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker on a tree trunk taken near Franklin, La. with a Brownie instant camera. The bird pictured IS clearly an Ivory-bill, the only question never resolved being whether it was living or a stuffed specimen placed on the tree.] One of the Lewis photos was used in a 2001 edition of "Birding" magazine, opening an article by Jim Williams:
It is amazing that even this instance of clearcut photos only takes us down yet another 40-year dead-end of unsettled controversy. Was the bird dead or alive, breathing or stuffed? Only Fielding Lewis knew for sure, and in the realm of the Ivory-bill, one witness is never enough (Lewis died in 2008; Lowery, by the way, died 30 years earlier, his reputation sullied by his trust in Lewis's claim).
Often people will ask what possible motive could Lewis have had for such a prank, if that it be, but the motivations of hoaxers can be many, and need not include money, material gain, nor fame. So I don't doubt that he could've had a motive, but to his death Lewis never recanted his claims (and, so far as I know, no further relics/evidence either backing or detracting from his story were unveiled following his demise).
Like the Luneau video, different people can view the Lewis photos and interpret them differently. Did a Brownie camera in 1971 accomplish what 1000's of dollars-worth of photographic equipment since then has failed to accomplish? Ultimately, in regards to the question of Ivory-bill persistence today, it is a somewhat moot point whether or not Lewis photographed an IBWO 40 years ago. Still, one wishes the Lewis story could be laid to rest, one way or the other, once-and-for-all… but like the Kulivan claims, the Sparling-Gallagher-Harrison claims, Tyler Hicks' report, etc. etc., apparently it cannot. It remains in the over-flowing dustbin of the curious, the tantalizing, the frustrating, the aggravating, the likely forever-unknown, that so enshroud this ornithological quagmire.
I believe we actually know little of the birds current patterns and what environments it needs to survive. While Tanner's work gave us a lot of good information it just may be that by observing the birds in the place he did that he only captured a snapshot of the whole story. The bird no doubt has learned to steer clear of man (but for a couple of credible sightings near populated areas which are over 20 yrs old now). It's survival diet may be far more varied than we have imagined. Optimally, for reproduction, it may need a sufficient supply of recently killed (or diseased) trees, but we are even guessing on that point as to have, what appears to be viable sightings in so many varied and seperated environs means we know much less than we think about it's needs and any adaptions the remaining birds have had to turn to to survive.
The greatest concern I have is that once definitive evidence is obtained..what next? Flood the area with humans, no matter their intent?? That has not worked so far. I think when we do obtain the evidence that we need to take measures to keep the experts that enter the are down to a microscopic number for the birds sake..I know they want to save the bird as all of us do, but we need to re-think how we handel the evidence when it arrives. People should only be allowed near the bird in VERY small numbers and only in ways that will not drive the bird away.
The birding community literaally drove the last of the birds to near extinction in the late 1800's and early 1900's by killing then, the same thing could occur this time by driving them out of places they are hanging on, by birders with cameras. IF we care for the future of the bird we (the birding public) steer clear and work to save the save what is left of the old growth forrests ad bottomlands and promote it's expansion. This is one bird I do NOT want on my life list---for doing so may mean that my name is on the list of the cause of its actual extinction.
Thanks for keeping this blog going. I greatly enjoy it and check it regularly.
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