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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

Friday, April 11, 2014


-- Memory Lane --


First, "ChiricahuaBob" has added a couple more entries to those cited in the prior post, about further areas in Florida worth exploration:



A quick note that in the second post C-Bob refers to "the Green Swamp in NC FL," and though it's clear from the post he's referring to an area in NorthCentral FL., just to clarify, I'll note that there is likewise a Green Swamp ("Wilderness Preserve") in southeast North Carolina (NC) that has also had IBWO rumors over the years (…maybe Bob should check it out!). BTW (and I hesitate to even mention this), the FL. Green Swamp is one of the areas the infamous "Magic Bill Smith" early-on made IBWO claims for.

Speaking of Magic Bill, I had occasion recently to go back and re-read some of the discussion from the old, hot-and-heavy international BirdForum thread on Ivory-billed Woodpecker updates (I don't know, is that still the longest thread they've EVER had!?)… anyway, quite a trip down memory lane, and a cast of characters… an interesting way to jiggle the ol' memories a bit. It starts here (but takes a little while to really get going):


You can almost click randomly anywhere in the middle of the 353 564 pages and find something entertaining (and in my case I always find something I'd forgotten about!).

More recent, but still re-hash, is the below brief interview clip with David Sibley, from another site. In it he responds to what I suspect is one of his least favorite questions… what to say about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker:

David is one of the most congenial, soft-spoken, skilled and insightful field birders in the country, and I suspect he is restraining himself mightily here from saying what he actually thinks ;-) (i.e. that the IBWO saga was a wild goose chase and an incredible waste of time, energy, and conservation dollars). At any rate, David remains one of the most respected birders/naturalists around (who's opinion carries tremendous weight in the birding community) so please keep any comments here as civil as David is.

With that said, however, I'll repeat the story I've told previously:

Around the year 2000, after the David Kulivan Louisiana IBWO sighting I was in line at a book signing for Sibley when I reached the table and quickly asked him what he thought of Kulivan's story and the chances of Ivory-bills still being around. Without missing a beat, he answered that he thought it was close to impossible… that with SO MANY birdwatchers around these days and the IBWO being such a LARGE bird, there was almost no likelihood it could have gone undetected for so long. With a line of fans behind me, I didn't have time to argue the points, but it made me aware that David's mind was already largely made up (years before the Arkansas story came along) that the Ivory-bill was extinct, though his reasons seemed simplistic… big birds that spend most of their time either inside cavities, or high in tree canopies in remote dense forests, can fairly easily evade human encounter. And despite the great growth in birdwatching as a hobby the actual number of experienced birders who spend any significant time in IBWO-like habitat remains very small. So at that time, the species' possible survival, seemed well within the possibility realm to me. Today, after larger-scale, longer-term, and better organized searches it's tougher to argue the points, but still the immensity of difficult habitat, requirement for a clear photo or video, and ongoing smattering of possible credible encounters, do keep hope alive.
IBWO sighters, without a photograph, will always be accused of seeing what they want to see, but the skeptics' default position of incredulity is similarly a very predisposing position… as it was 70+ years ago when no one believed Mason Spencer's claim that he saw Ivory-billed Woodpeckers… until, that is, he shot one.

The one aspect of birding that I really abhor...the "competitive" nature of birding for many. I have no issue with "listers" in general, but for some birders, the hobby becomes more about the birder himself and his/her place in the birding community, than it does about the birds themselves.

I think that's at least partly what's at the core of the IBWO 'deniers'. There were many well-respected researchers and birders who had direct observational evidence of IBWO's. There have been others going back over the last several decades who have tried to provide evidence, including photographic evidence, and they've been ridiculed for it.

I've never met Mr. Sibley. However, when multiple, well-respected Cornell researchers, and others, note the presence of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Arkansas, I believe them. When other researchers note their presence in Florida, I believe them.

God knows there are amazing scientific discoveries that are being made every day. It's not exactly shocking that a species could survive undetected, given the habitat they prefer, and their evidently skittish behavior around human beings.

Those that simply dismiss the observations of experts do science in general a disservice, by sowing doubt, by sowing disrespect, for the scientists/experts who have devoted their lives to this work. Is it any wonder that in this type of climate, that scientists studying climate change or evolution are equally as ridiculed?
Terry makes a good point about the motives and psychology of some of the pseudo-skeptics and the damage they cause. Responsible skepticism is an important part of the scientific process but very few of these actors are responsible and impartial reviewers; they are merely pseudo- skeptics.

They pushed themselves into the event while having limited or no acumen in pertinent disciplines: these being Ivory-bills, importance of keystone species in conservation, actual field time spent, method development skills, causal wing beat frequency issues and video artifact analysis.

That climate change denier and the “leading” pseudo-skeptic became happy bed fellows years ago. Their entire field work for the IB was a leisurely 6 day stroll based out of a vehicle in AR circa ‘05. How many unique square miles did this person effectively cover after retreating every night to the same pillowed camper? Maybe 5 sq. miles of the 2 million+ in the SE US? (Yes, Cornell volunteers covered much more, but it was clumsy, poorly designed and in the wrong state; regardless there was a handful of encounters).

Additionally the main pseudo had no scientific methods for the miniscule area he covered and what??? He thought that the occupancy rate and density of this species was greater than 1 pair per 20 sq. miles in today’s less than late seral forests? Evidently he thought the density was very high, since he eventually scratched his head and a bright light bulb came on saying “if there were IBs really here, wouldn’t I see scaling?” Scaling is often inconspicuous and in the tree tops; mortality by bark beetles often starts in the higher branches first. IBs have rarely if ever been initially located first by recognizing their possible scaling; historical recollections say in effect “all the IBs I found were heard first”. And the literature doesn’t say that scaling is homogenously distributed despite DS’s thoughts; quite the opposite actually---- scaling is heterogeneously distributed.


Additionally it was intuitive in 2005 for some but not DS and Cornell that if IBs were extant and being a member of a tropical family, the more probable location for an ancestral pop from which the lone dispersing male located in AR came from is likely hundreds of miles S. The only strong reports of a pair of IBs pre 2004 was from southern reaches (Kulivan, LA and others FL). Vagility is well documented.

And it’s more than intuitive; it’s a fact, that the outbreeding mechanism in Picidae is young males being forcibly evicted by their mother. Collective sightings of a single lone male in a narrow, northerly corridor in AR in ‘04 points squarely to a southern origin; male woodpeckers have been documented to travel long distances.

So this great pseudo-field work and all-encompassing theory and putative evidence that AR had no birds so the species is likely extinct since scaling could not be found by a single pseudo-skeptic is totally weightless.

The sheer logical oddness of some of their AR assertions are only surpassed by their 10 year-long vaudeville episode of predicting the heuristic wing-beat frequency of the IB and the Imperial as they tripped over each other to malign the AR video. They predicted the great Picidae congenerics beat Hz would be less than the Pileated despite several of us warning them they were wrong and several founders of American ornithology telling them the species has a rapid, pintail-like cadence.

A rudimentary review of avian morphology relative to wing beat frequency showed the skeptics were in error. It only takes a few hours to realize that the IB must flap faster than a PIWO. You would think an illustrator of field guides would quickly pick up on this, especially after conspicuous thumps on the head via quotes from some legends. One wonders what went wrong-----are they incompetent, purposefully deceitful, lazy, over-worked, forgot to look at wing shapes, or so worried about being proven wrong that they lost their moral compass. Even after the airing of the Imperial Woodpecker flight clips there has been no reassessment by them although that website was thankfully taken down.

Allometry of the PIWO and IB show great differences-----centric is that the IB wing surface does not scale up with its weight. Much smaller relative wing surface area and ~ 80% greater weight of the IB compared to PIWO was a huge clue. Long tapered IB wings compared to paddle wings are another clue. The proximal half of the avian wing is mainly involved with lift and the PI obviously has a larger wing surface area for the proximal half of the wing than an IB’s half. Yes, the PIWO has a larger surface area for the proximal half of its wing than the IB, but it weighs much less. And important is that the actual wing span of IB and PI are the same (the IB does not have longer wings). Observed or inferred flight speeds of the birds is another clue—faster birds flap more than others.

They didn’t get much right and predicted a bizarre ~ 2.8 Hz for the Imperial in their formal graph. The Imperial of course flaps at 8 revolutions per second the IB at 8.7, all perfectly consistent with the theory that wing beat frequency decreases with increasing weight if allometry scales as it often does in conspecifics. The AR video of an Ivory-bill shows a bird doing ~8.7; Pileateds do about 5 revolutions.

There has never been a single Pileated, a common bird, filmed anywhere with the Hz of the Ivory-billed filmed in AR…………and there never will be.

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