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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

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


-- Intermission --


Feel like I ought to post something for the time being, so... just some old relaxing nature video:


Sunday, March 18, 2012


-- Of Soras, Kitchens, and Paradoxes --


Probably ought do a new entry since some readers only read the posts here and miss the comments section… so for any who don't know already, the prevailing opinion to the latest taped sounds from Louisiana is that they are likely Sora rails (I'm not 100% convinced of this myself, but its a moot point since I am convinced they are not IBWO sounds). You can read the comments to the prior post to fill in some of the details, if you haven't already...

One other thing I'll touch on from the comments (and I thank people for not letting them slip toooooooooooo far into 'snarkland' before making your points):

For obvious reasons many (most?) birders no longer wish to involve themselves in the Ivory-bill debate (no doubt wishing it would just go entirely away!). It was suggested in prior comments that the 'mystery' sounds should've been put on listserv groups (including "Frontiers of Identification") for access to a quick, broad range of opinion. I don't believe the "Frontiers of ID" listserv is an appropriate site for most questions that come up here, nor do I think they would even take it seriously (they may even have an unspoken ban on this sort of IBWO material), and I don't fault them for that.

I myself had mentioned a desire to see the question put on the Louisiana birding listserv, though I'm not sure even they would have seriously reviewed it (and I wouldn't recommend it for any other state birding listserv -- by the way, you can't just willy-nilly post things on these listserv groups, but must be a registered member, and that involves a process as well). I do wish that more individuals from the Louisiana Ornithological Society had heard and responded to the sounds, and would still be interested to hear from certain of them.

But the point is, soliciting a wide selection of experienced birder viewpoints is not all that easy anymore when it comes to potential IBWO "evidence." When I occasionally seek opinions on certain questions through backchannels, the response I often get (if any) is along the lines of, "here's what I think, but please don't put it on the blog" or "here's my opinion, but don't attach my name to it." I always respect people's desire for confidentiality, but it does mean that more people weigh in on certain matters than can always be told (though still not as many as I'd like!); at this point 'Ivory-bills' is simply a 'taboo' subject for many who don't want to dabble with it.

I've said before here, if you can't take the heat stay out of the IBWO kitchen… (as David Kulivan, Mike Collins, Geoff Hill, and a li'l outfit called the Cornell Lab of Ornithology etc. can all attest to!); the Project Coyote group seems capable of defending themselves, as they should expect to have to do; other searchers prefer not to even have an internet presence and thus not deal directly with skeptics and criticisms. Part of me wishes that ALL evidence could be immediately laid out on an open table and summarily dealt with by the 'collaborative' Web. But I also completely agree with a colleague who notes that the more 'suggestive' evidence that comes forth without something conclusive following it, the more the IBWO case gets weaker, not stronger. That is the 'paradox' of the IBWO case… the more "evidence" that is produced the WEAKER the argument becomes to the general birding community, UNLESS clearcut photographic or video evidence follows close behind….

(image of Sora via Wikipedia)

Wednesday, March 07, 2012


-- 'Round and 'Round We Go --


Thanks to all who've sent along their thoughts on the Louisiana sounds via email… even though nothing is settled; no one writing me is willing to call the sounds Ivory-bills, but nor has anyone pinpointed a really convincing candidate for what the sounds are -- I'm honestly surprised a good candidate hasn't arisen yet. I think the most difficult thing to account for is the sporadic, unpatterned nature of the calls -- the notes themselves do sound like certain things, but not when given in the rather random sort of series that they appear. As I've been leaning somewhat toward waterbirds as the source for the sounds my best candidate thus far (though it has some problems) is immature Common Moorhen (Gallinule):


Kinda wish someone would put the calls on the Louisiana listserv -- even if most readers there are likely jaded to Ivory-bill stuff, it still may take just one person, well-acquainted with Louisiana fauna, to hear the tapes and say, "Well it was February, so of course that is ___________", and the riddle is over! -- I'm a believer in the collaborative 'hive mind' of the Web (even as messy as it can be) -- the day of "experts" solving things in isolation is receding (and this 6-year IBWO saga/debacle? of inconclusiveness may be an example of why). Still, would also be good to hear the opinions of David Sibley, Pete Dunne and several others, though they may not wish to publicly wade into such matters. We need to put these mystery sounds to rest as soon as possible… even if it's not Ivory-bills, other IBWO searchers need to know what is capable of such sounds. I've recently put the sound clips on Twitter, but don't expect much feedback from that. (On a sidenote, the last people still alive to have actually heard Ivory-bills in the wild, Nancy Tanner and George & Nancy Lamb have heard the tapes, but are not able to clearly rule in or out the possibility of IBWOs.)

For what it's worth, I think the Louisiana team wishes these latest auditory clips to be viewed not in isolation, but as part of a larger body of work (sightings claims, scaling, anecdotes, etc.) that they've compiled over an extended period of time in the general central Louisiana area they are working. Still, we need lengthy, close-up, detailed observations by multiple observers, at a minimum…. and really, photos/video. (sorry, to sound like a broken record…)

Again (so you don't have to keep jumping back to an earlier post), here are the swamp sounds in question:



ADDENDUM: for bird-detective-types ;-), wishing to play around with various sounds themselves, the site I used above, xeno-canto, is here:


I like it because it usually has several different examples for any given species; males, females, and juveniles can have quite different calls/songs, and even a single given bird may have a variety of different vocalizations depending upon circumstances.

Cornell has at least 2 sites from which you can listen to bird sounds, their famous Macaulay Library, and their "All About Birds" site:


And a couple other sites here:


Finally, even YouTube will often have great examples of bird calls.

Sunday, March 04, 2012


-- Update --


Not much of an update (read prior post if you haven't already), but I've been listening to the Coyote tapes repeatedly, and received slightly more context about the sounds. My first impression remains the same, that these don't sound (to my ears), like what I'd expect of Ivory-bills… the pitch, tone, cadence, speed, rhythm doesn't maintain itself correctly through the tapes, even though some short bits do sound intriguing (but, I've done no technical analysis). Having said that, I can't pinpoint a good alternative candidate for the sounds either. Certainly though, a great many sources must be considered:

1) various amphibians

2) injured or 'yelping' dogs or other mammals

3) mechanical or artificial (man-made) sounds: bird calls, tools, hinges, equipment etc.

4) I'm not aware of insects that could make these sounds, but would want an entomologist to weigh in on that.

5) just among birds alone, jays, herons, waterfowl, blackbirds, hawks, escaped psittacine birds, vagrants, and perhaps more must be considered

If some of the above suggestions seem outlandish to people, one must understand that the possibility of IBWOs IS outlandish to people… to rule IN such a low probability possibility as IBWOs, one needs to consider and rule OUT all other low probability possibilities. And from what I'm told, several of the above are already considered and ruled out. Process of elimination is a somewhat weak, but necessary, way to proceed (and I would expect spectrographic analysis will rule out all but a few of the above, though not necessarily pinpoint an answer). My own guess is still that there WILL be an alternative explanation for the sounds (this is the time of year a LOT of forest critters begin sounding off!), but admittedly, with each listening I'm having a harder time surmising what it might be.

I'm curious, by the way, of what Nancy Tanner might think of the sounds, if anyone out there can draw her attention to them. Anyone else who cares to weigh in via the comments or privately through email, feel free to do so, as well.

Friday, March 02, 2012


-- And Hey, Back to Louisiana --


yeah, we can play this musical chairs game of southern states for awhile yet… ;-)

As regular readers here likely know the Project Coyote Team has put forth more evidence for the possible presence of IBWOs in their general search area in Louisiana. You can go to the IBWO Researchers' Forum to read their report and link to audio clips of extended "kent" sounds (that they believe emanated from two separate birds):

(beginning with 2/28/2012 entry)

You can also listen to a few
representative known IBWO sounds from the Singer Tract recorded 7 decades ago here:


…or the longer version here (from Cornell's Macaulay Library):


I assume at some point the Coyote team will be posting their data up at their own Website for easier, more organized (and long-term) retrieval than on the Forum site.

As long-time readers here also may know, I don't generally find auditory evidence very convincing (have heard a lot of it over the last 6 years), especially if unaccompanied by detailed sightings, and the same is true in this instance ('kent'-like and 'double-knock'-like sounds may not be all that uncommon in deep woods), and by their own admission these specific clips don't match up all that well to the old Singer Tract recordings… thus far, I'm not even 100% convinced the current audio sounds emanate from birds (though I suspect they do); other animals as well as mechanical or man-made objects will need to be ruled out, in addition to consideration of various avian species.

Interestingly though, the La. recording team believe these kent series were at least partially in response to "attraction" methods they were employing at the time. I'll certainly wait to see what further technical analysis has to say about the audio clips (though that likely won't be definitive either), but for now am doubtful they arise from Ivory-bills. (...It's always possible that if I'd heard these sounds in the field myself they would be more impressive than hearing them through a computer sound system though; context can alter perceptions).

I do believe the Project Coyote team is working in a good search area, and hope that perhaps follow-up work will produce more compelling evidence… obviously, locating the general area for TWO possible Ivory-billed Woodpeckers at this time of year (breeding season) would be extremely significant IF it were truly the case.

I've long contended that stationing automatic recording units in the woods of say Maine or Vermont for a week (or even 72 hrs. over a weekend) would likely pick up some 'kents' and 'double-knocks' (…am still surprised that no one, so far as I'm aware, has done such a study to indicate in some rudimentary way a sort of baseline of the auditory possibilities). Similarly, interesting cavities and significant scaling can be found in northern woods. As I think the Coyote team understands, from the standpoint of the current public arena, all such evidence at this point is weak without coinciding lengthy, detailed (and preferably close-up) sightings… and better yet of course, photos/video. The bar is set very very high, to even catch people's interest at this point.

I know some other independent-sorts have been searching in the last month... if anyone has anything at all encouraging to report let me know through confidential email (if you're willing).

ADDENDUM: a Proj. Coyote team member sends along to me these stand alone links to the 2 'kent' recordings (first one long, 2nd one short):


Further, the emailer recommends this additional Cornell page for a rendition of the Singer Tract kents under conditions more similar to the Proj. Coyote recording:



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