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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

Saturday, July 27, 2013


-- More History From Houston --


"Houston" at IBWO Researchers Forum continues to post documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, the latest ones being old Ivory-bill sighting claims from various states:


South Carolina:


Mississippi & Louisiana:

Even when one is familiar with an individual claim from the literature, I still find reading the actual, raw first-person accounts from the time fascinating (and sometimes they include certain nuances not included in the more general literature reviews).

Anyway, of the above, I probably find the Mississippi claims the most interesting (even though old) as Mississippi remains among the most under-searched of the likely IBWO states, and shares a long border with Louisiana where IBWO's were last confirmed.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


-- Just Passing These Along --


A couple of tangential things showing up in my feeds today:

New podcast of Tim Gallagher in a radio interview (haven't listened yet myself, but assume it is good):


And relatedly, Audubon Magazine has posted online this old George Plimpton article, from 1977, on searching for the Imperial Woodpecker with Victor Emanuel:


And finally, below, Jack Neely writes the most moving press tribute I've seen yet to Nancy Tanner who passed away a few weeks back:



Monday, July 22, 2013


-- Sounds of Silence --

 "And no one dared disturb
  The sound of silence." -- Paul Simon

To my surprise, have had no substantive feedback on the historical questions previously raised, that I was hoping could be closed out… indeed, the silence has been deafening (not sure if that makes the whole matter even more... or less... intriguing!). Anyway, will move on momentarily to note a couple of updates: 

Mark Michaels updated the Project Coyote site (Louisiana) awhile ago, for any who missed it: 


 And Mike Collins left the Pearl River area to return permanently to Virginia (will probably still make occasional visits back to the Pearl). Before leaving he'd been posting a few short video tutorials on some of his video evidence (he seemed to be putting them up, taking them down, putting them up, taking them down??) -- they wouldn't persuade doubters, but I thought they were at least helpful in clarifying what he believed he saw in some of the clips; presumed he would probably group them together somewhere on his site, but instead they are difficult to locate, if they are even still there. Without them, there is still plenty of past material for people to work with on his pages for anyone with the time and interest. 

...And just this weekend I received an email report of a 39-minute view of an IBWO in an area outside Atlanta, GA. of all places (darn, no camera available)... and so it goes… and goes… and goes… and……. 

Meanwhile, this blog is approaching its 8th anniversary... refusing, like some bird species, to go extinct! ;-)

Saturday, July 13, 2013


-- Freedom of Information Act Requests --


First, for any latecomers to this line of posts, here's a link to the original letter-exchange put up by "Houston" at IBWO Researchers Forum that started the ball rolling on this tangent:


Again, you can also read my posts starting with 5/31, and followed on 6/2, 6/15, 7/4, and 7/7 to catch up.

 [The simple question we are trying to get to the bottom of is whether or not there were any private (timber industry), or governmental lands in the late 1960s/early 70s that were specifically managed for the presence of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, and if so was such action based on any evidence for the species beyond what is already in the public literature?]

Of the documents Houston more recently posted to the Forum, I find this 1985 letter from Dr. John Funderburg (a naturalist and museum director, since deceased) to a USFWS official regarding a study of the IBWO, quite interesting, simply because of some of the opinions expressed:


[Many of the other documents Houston has received are HERE.]

Anyway, I asked Houston if he'd be willing to send along a little primer on making FOIA requests for IBWO documents, for anyone else interested in doing so, and he kindly sent along the following info (and also confided he's still learning as he goes):

Some state agencies have an official form to complete. Others provide a sample letter to modify, and there is usually an easy email submission process. Here's an example of the basic letter format Houston uses:

 Freedom of Information Act Request

I am requesting all < name of government body> communications and documents held from 1900 - present that mention, refer or relate to the presence or possible presence of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the state of < State>. These should include but may not be limited to sighting reports, follow up investigation reports, search reports, habitat assessments, management plans, and other internal communications.

The following documents are in my possession and may be excluded from the response:
       [list of documents that may be excluded]

Please also exclude any correspondence or reports that are specific to ongoing search efforts by private citizens.
Documents in the response will be shared with other Ivory-billed Woodpecker researchers on http://www.ibwo.net/ to provide the public with a better understanding of how to respond to claims of Ivory-bill sightings, and what management practices are considered and implemented for potential Ivory-bill Woodpecker habitat. I am therefore requesting a fee waiver. If a fee assessment is required, please advise if the amount exceeds $25.00.

Thank you in advance,
       [Your name, address and phone number]
 He notes that the governmental agency contacted is supposed to respond within a week or so (variable) to confirm receipt of the request, and that thus far he hasn't had to pay any fees. The agency may ask questions in order to clarify certain points, and may ask in what format (hard copy or pdf) the requester would like the documents.  And then it may take days, weeks, or months to receive the documents.

 Anyone wishing more details about the procedure can private message Houston over at the Researchers Forum for further assistance. (If you're not a member of the Forum I s'pose you can send any inquiries to me for forwarding to him.) 

Further, Houston sent along contact info for a number of states of interest, and notes that it may be helpful (but not necessary) to be a resident of the state you are contacting: 




South Carolina


Tennessee Wildlife
P.O. Box 40747
Nashville, TN, 37204
attn: Executive Director
 or email melinda.raymond@tn.gov

Georgia Wildlife Resources Division
2070 U.S. Hwy. 278, SE, Social Circle, GA 30025

Now don't everyone file your inquiries at the same time....

Anyway, great information; thanks for sharing it Houston.


Sunday, July 07, 2013


-- Re-hash --


The prior blog-post brought in a small odd mix of email responses, so, re-tracing a bit....

This whole matter began with some simple sentences in a 1967 memo uncovered from a timber industry official to a Government wildlife official (as quoted in my 5/31 post):

"One major company has ivory-billed woodpeckers on its lands in the South and has taken steps to protect the areas where they are located. Fearing that any publicity might attract people to the areas and disturb the birds, the company has kept this matter a secret. It does no harvesting in those areas."
Now, either that statement is:

1) a bald-faced lie
2) a bald-faced mistake
3) a bald-faced truth (and there were living Ivory-billed Woodpeckers under protection on timber industry property in 1967 that several people knew of)… which implies, in turn, lies or deception on the part of many.

My take from the beginning has been that the most likely explanation is an ill-informed mistake/misidentification.
Yet, some emailers felt the last post (7/4) needlessly pushed a 'conspiracy theory'… so will reiterate that I DON'T believe there could've been any group of IBWOs under official protection anywhere in the Southeast in the 60s/70s… in part because I don't believe the folks required for such an effort would've had the brights to successfully pull off such a large-scale deception! ...BUT, circumstances remain that seem peculiar.

The agency receiving the above memo (including those remarkable sentences), surely would've investigated such a claim of Ivory-bill presence at the time, and probably found no verification (there were many IBWO claims across the Southeast in the 60s/70s, and so far as the literature is concerned, none were ever confirmed; but is there a written record somewhere of investigating this particular claim?). I've speculated (6/15 post) that the property referred to in the memo may have been near the Neches River (TX.) where several claims came from, though it could've been from a completely different locale.

But then along comes the last memorandum (7/4 post) which now once again hints at Ivory-bills in Texas, this time at Sam Houston National Forest in 1971, and specific actions taken to protect them (indeed, an "Ivory-billed Woodpecker sanctuary and buffer"!)… perhaps all of these memos reference mere proposals or planning documents, pointing to actions that were considered but never implemented… though as written, they certainly sound like actions that were indeed underway and with the knowledge of a Government agency.

Multiple emailers referred me to this passage (pg. 35) from the 2007 USFWS Draft Recovery Plan for the IBWO, which simply reflects what was already in the literature, and only ADDS to (does NOT resolve) any intrigue:

"Wherever the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is suspected to still exist it stirs both excitement and action. In the early 1970’s Sam Houston National Forest in east Texas proposed to modify timber harvests based on three unconfirmed Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings by their staff (Ruediger 1971). These and other sightings in east Texas were never widely accepted and, consequently, did not stimulate forest management changes to promote the welfare of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.  Similar stories of unconfirmed sightings have generated no change in land management throughout the southeast." [Bold added]
This is the same general version of events that fills the historical writing on the IBWO, but what "Houston" has provided with his FOIA gleanings are raw background materials that appear to directly contradict the above gloss-over statements, indicating that "land management" practices WERE in fact altered in certain instances upon belief of Ivory-bill presence. WHY the discrepancy??? Were these instances of management-changes so minor as to be considered insignificant; were the seemingly altered practices never actually carried out? Is the language in these documents so loose and sloppy that it doesn't mean what it appears to mean?  Or maybe the above statements simply say, rather insipidly, that no broad-scale land-management changes took place all across the entire Southeast on behalf of IBWOs, even though isolated changes did occur in select few areas? Something just seems amiss…

I'm pressing the issue because OTHERS will believe a 'conspiracy theory' is what best fits the pieces together (that the timber industry or a Gov't. agency had IBWOs secretly under protection in the 60s/70s)... which I believe IS a near-preposterous notion… unfortunately, the alternative is that multiple people are lying, concealing, or badly mistaken about some matters, and the question is simply why? 

Almost certainly, there are still at least a few individuals alive today from that period (early 70s) who know what the answers are… and they don't seem to be saying much. The answer may be very simple; I'm just waiting to hear of it.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker saga has for awhile held a sort of reverse Midas-touch effect… many of those deeply involved, eventually become too embarrassed by their association with it, to say much out-loud on the topic -- it becomes the touch, not of gold, but of quicksand.

Thursday, July 04, 2013


-- WHAT did they know and WHEN did they know it?… --


...that was the question raised during the Watergate era, and it's beginning to rattle in my brain anew….

(again, you need to have read posts here from 5/31, 6/2, and 6/15, as background to this post)

Despite a lack of forthcoming conclusive information I still have hope that the facts behind the story unearthed by "Houston" at IBWO Researchers Forum may be resolved... He has put up another 'management plan' document received from his FOIA requests, and for now it only adds to the intrigue. See it here:


It is a 1971 memorandum from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Forest Service regarding management of areas of the Sam Houston National Forest (near to, but separate from the Big Thicket Preserve in Texas).

It contains several statements that are tantalizing, yet not conclusive as to whether they refer only to anecdotal reports of IBWOs, or some sort of more definitive evidence for the presence of the species in 1971:

"Dead trees of any species shall be protected due to probable presence of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. See proposed Ivory-billed Management Plan (attached). The removal cuts in stands 7,8, and 9 will be deferred 2 years or longer depending on the continued presence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker."

"Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings in the SE part of stand 8."

"Give the matter absolutely no publicity. We will follow up with a more detailed statement of our policy on handling publicity in connection with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, within the next few days."

one map shown includes in the key: "Removal Cut Deferred due to Ivory-billed Woodpecker"

and a 2nd map key indicates an "Ivory-billed Woodpecker Sanctuary and Buffer"


WHAT to make of it?
I don't know that any of this is directly connected to either the earlier Goodwin/McClellan memo uncovered by Houston or the reference I earlier posted about IBWO in the Neches area. It is virtually impossible for me to imagine that USFWS (and others) could have known of confirmed IBWO populations under protection from at least 1967 - 1971, and word of this never have leaked out decades ago. The best explanation I can fathom is that the proper agencies (quite rightly) at the time took very seriously a series of anecdotal reports of IBWOs and acted accordingly, but that the reports were never confirmed, and that all involved felt too embarrassed at the time (or just lackadaisical) to ever speak publicly about the matter (in terms of actual protection measures instituted)…

But what if, for years, confirmed Ivory-bills were in fact under protection as late as 1971… it boggles the mind, to think that not only the public, but such Ivory-bill luminaries as Les Short, Jim Tanner, and Jerry Jackson when he conducted his 1980s search for the species, would have been deprived of such knowledge. It would be a conservation story almost as big as the very Cornell Big Woods story that kicked this blog off.
 (...but then, 'for the good of the birds, let's keep the public in-the-dark' is not an unknown attitude in the IBWO saga).
Anyway, it all gives more food for thought while awaiting Freedom-of-Information-Act requests to slowly play themselves out and just maybe yield a fuller explanation.

Monday, July 01, 2013


-- Nancy Tanner… Last of a Unique Tribe --

I was a redhead, so I guess that’s why he noticed me.”  --Nancy Tanner on catching Jim Tanner's eye (from a newspaper interview) 

An emailer notifies me that Nancy Tanner passed away yesterday. She was the last living individual who had seen the famous Singer Tract Ivory-bills in the early 40's with her husband Jim. She had generously shared her knowledge and memories with many over the last several years amidst the Ivory-bill excitement begun in Arkansas. She celebrated her 96th birthday just a few weeks back, as recorded by Stephen Lyn Bales in this post:


I suspect (but don't know) that Mr. Bales may have another tribute to Nancy up at his "Ghost Birds" blog when he gets a chance.

Meanwhile, my emailer sends along two links as tributes to her:



…and I'll add this past post that Julie Zickefoose did when Nancy visited her home some years back:


(If I find a comprehensive obituary or other official newspaper notice in the ensuing days, I'll add a link later.) 

ADDENDUM: Mark Bailey sends along this link to an obituary in the Knoxville News Sentinel:


...and Stephen Lyn Bales now has a farewell post up here:


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