"....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
Monday, February 27, 2012
-- February Closing Out --
Looks like February will close out with even less to report on than I thought might be the case...
Oh well, with spring/summer right around the corner, in the event you want to stock up on some Ivory-billed T-shirts, you can check out a few choices here:
Meanwhile, Mike Collins has streamlined his Ivory-bill website, eliminating a lot of previously-posted material (including the last 3 search season logs). Some folks have made inquiries to me, but I don't know whether he plans future Pearl River updates (assuming his efforts are ongoing), or will only do so if/when there is something significant to report. You can always try emailing Mike directly for info (email@example.com). Or, if you're looking for something specific from Mike's previous pages you may be able to find it through the Internet's archival "Wayback Machine" here:
His last paper on the subject of course remains available as well:
And an earlier manuscript (pdf) is here:
I don't currently foresee doing a "Back To Mississippi" blogpost, and yet it has long been one of the states of greatest interest to me -- a good amount of interesting habitat, but lacking the number of extensive visits and searches that Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and South Carolina have garnered.
For now I'll just once again link to Bill Pulliam's 2006 analysis of Mississippi:
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
-- And, Back To Georgia --
It's difficult to truly say "back to" in the case of Georgia, since the state has never been as much a focus of IBWO searches as some other southern states. According to the officially-recognized original distribution of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the U.S., only a slim southern and eastern margin of Georgia was ever home to Ivory-billed Woodpeckers.
An employee of the large Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia recently posted on the Ivory-bill Researchers' Forum about his ongoing interest in the species, and in turn that jogged my memory about a quirky email I received from a friend over 10 years ago (…yes, I save most all IBWO emails!). It tells an undetailed story, not unlike a jillion others many of us have heard over the years, and I doubted at the time it had any significance… but, of course one always wonders… I posted the relevant part of the email at the Forum just in case it had meaning for anyone else, and I'll post it here as well:
"I spent the holidays at my sister's house in Savannah, GA. Three of us went into the Wild Birds Unlimited on Waters Avenue late on the 27th… We were all writing checks and looking at the photos of various birds that were at the counter. We looked at a picture of Pileateds and I mentioned it was too bad we didn't see as many as we saw when my sister first moved to Skidaway Island twenty-some yrs ago. The woman behind the counter very casually commented that her son-in-law has been watching a pair of Ivory-bills on his farm in Ellabell. She said, "he is an expert, well, almost a master birder" and that he was keeping it quiet because he didn't want hordes to descend on his place. She made it sound as if he has been watching this pair for some time."This was written to me in January, 2002, well-before Cornell's Big Woods announcement (2006), but around the time that the Remsen/Zeiss search in the La. Pearl River region was taking place as the final major followup to David Kulivan's 1999 claims. My correspondent, by the way, sent the same information along to Van Remsen, but I don't know if he ever pursued it (and I can't recall, but I may have sent it along to some other folks, as well -- in any event, I never heard anything more of it). I truly doubt that this essentially third-hand story means much of anything, but throw it out at this late date just in case it does ring a bell or have significance for someone else out there.
Ellabell is in Bryan County near Savannah, Georgia, and interestingly, a serious IBWO claim (noted by Jackson and others) did come from that general area back in 1973. The Ogeechee/Savannah river basin is nearby, and is also considered, by some to be potential IBWO habitat. Having said that, most IBWO interest in Georgia has been focused farther south at the Okefenokee Refuge (where IBWOs did reside in the distant past) -- the refuge has been scoured so often I'm doubtful IBWOs are there… though once again, it is an area so expansive that it can never truly be scoured.
Parts of the Altamaha River basin (falling between Savannah and Okefenokee) are another area of significant interest, and Herb Stoddard's famous (and credible) claims from the 1940s/50s, came mainly from the Thomas County area over 100 miles to the west of Okefenokee. [Additionally, over the years one of my most persistent correspondents has made claims for the upper Savannah/Broad River basin, but has never been able to send me anything I could find persuasive.]
Here is a link to a 2005 post by Georgia birder Sheila Willis covering a little more of the IBWO history at the Okefenokee in Georgia:
Finally, when Bill Pulliam did his own 2006 (Web/TerraServer) survey of promising southern habitat, he listed his conclusions for Georgia here:
IBWO sighting tales for the Apalachicola (FL.), the Atchafalaya (LA.), the Congaree (S.C.), the Big Thicket (TX.), and some other areas are almost a dime-a-dozen, and yet follow-ups never confirm. If Ivory-bills are actually encountered in these areas it almost seems as if they must be young, dispersing birds (passing through), and NOT resident breeding birds (which could be 100 miles away), to account for the lack of results. And thus, I'm always at least a tad intrigued by these claims from off-the-beaten-track locales paid little attention, that are near, but not directly in, traditional IBWO search areas.
The bottom-line question is, has Georgia very largely been overlooked (as far as large-scale searches go) in recent times for good reason... or is that neglect all the more reason to perhaps afford it yet another look?
Friday, February 10, 2012
-- Birdwatching Magazine Links --
Birdwatching Magazine's (formerly "Birder's World") updated summary page of their various online Ivory-billed Woodpecker articles over the years:
Sunday, February 05, 2012
-- "Odds"/Ends --
The previous post took a swipe at applying statistics/probability in the social/biological sciences, but it occurs to me that the physical sciences are by no means immune from the temptation either. In astronomy, the Drake equation (which involves several terms that must be assigned values) was a famous attempt to guesstimate the chances of 'intelligent life' existing elsewhere in the Universe. Now, I have no doubt, based on nothing more than common-sense inference, that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the Universe (or in the Multiverse, as the case may be), but I do doubt that it can be demonstrated empirically with applied statistics. [Correction: the Drake equation applies only to the Milky Way galaxy, NOT the entire Universe, let alone any Multiverse -- the same underlying problems still arise on the 'smaller' scale though.] And while not a huge fan of Michael Crichton, I largely agree with his words on this one:
"The problem, of course, is that none of the terms can be known, and most cannot even be estimated. The only way to work the equation is to fill in with guesses... As a result, the Drake equation can have any value from "billions and billions" to zero. An expression that can mean anything means nothing. Speaking precisely, the Drake equation is literally meaningless…"
(again though, I'd substitute the word "silly" for "meaningless")
Somewhat interestingly (for its analogousness to the Ivory-bill situation) there is actually a second-take on the extraterrestrial life debate, known as the "Fermi paradox," which tries to argue against the probability of intelligent life elsewhere (because, hey, wouldn't we have found them by now?).
On a complete side note, while I'm not always a fan of statistics applications, I am a big fan of good nature writing, and If Julie Zickefoose isn't the best nature wordsmith living in America today I don't know who is. Her latest book, "The Bluebird Effect" will soon show up in bookstores, so I'll put in a plug for it.
And while at it, I've pointed readers to her 1999 essay on the IBWO (pre-Arkansas hoopla) from "Bird Watchers Digest" multiple times before and will do so again:
Thursday, February 02, 2012
-- "Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics" --
There seem to be more people involved in individual IBWO searches this month than perhaps there will be the remainder of the season, though I'm doubtful much will come of it (possibly the occasional sightings claim somewhere of course, but probably no photos or other documentation).
Meanwhile, as Kai Krause once famously wrote (only part tongue-in-cheek): "93.8127 per cent of all statistics are useless"..... (though, I'd probably substitute the word "useless" with "silly.")
The drumbeat of IBWO negativity/pessimism continues on with more "statistical" studies of various data at-hand… never mind the innumerable extenuating and immeasurable variables left out of such studies. "Birdwatching" magazine cites the two most recent examples taking this approach (and getting plenty of play around the Web), though it almost borders on pseudoscience to try and apply statistics in a meaningful way to the persistence/extinction of the Ivory-bill (…but then I'd say the same thing about applying statistics to the extinction or persistence of Tyrannosaurus Rex). Number-crunching and math-application is fashionable in many social, and some biological, sciences to lend an aura of empiricism that is... well... illusory.