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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, December 10, 2014


-- Thought I'd Read It All... --


Thought I'd read all the old Ivory-bill stories, but this one from the Texas Big Thicket crossed my screen, and I don't recall it (IBWO part in second half of story):


Upon first reading, I figured it was some sort of fictionalized account or creative natural-history writing, but upon researching it, turns out to be a true story from 1967.

This old volume (among other places) on the Big Thicket references it:


The fellow took his specimen back home with him, and there was no serious follow-up or further indication of IBWO on his property, so I can't tell if there's any validity at all to the almost 50-year-old tale... it sounds a bit fishy, if only because it rings so much like a fabricated knock-off of the much-earlier Mason Spencer story from Louisiana (which of course is true)...  nonetheless, entertaining.

During a visit to my doctor about three years ago, he asked what I did for relaxation. When I mentioned that I search for the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, he described the events you've posted about here, in pretty good detail. He grew up in Beaumont, very close to Kountze, and said that it is a pretty well-known and believed story to this day.

I'm not as skeptical as you are that the story is accurate. Kountze is right in the middle of the many Texas sightings in the 1960's, including that by John Dennis just a few miles to the east, above Evadale. The last known shooting of an ivorybill taken in Texas was just twenty miles to the west near the Trinity River, a few decades earlier.

Shooting a bird as proof that your claim is true would also be a natural act for a man born and raised in the backwoods, or a farmer used to shooting nuisance animals. How else could Spencer or the farmer expect to be believed? The same could happen today. Now, most urbanites have a camera phone, but that isn't so likely for folks who live in bottom-land areas of Texas and Louisiana. I wouldn't be all that surprised if some guy did the same thing tomorrow, thinking he'd get some kind of reward or become famous.
correction: "...a few miles to the west". Kountze lies between the Nechez river to the east and Trinity river to the west.

I can picture the following type of scene, with varied language and people, playing out a hundred times across the South from 1850 to 1920:

John: You remember how I told you there are kents in those woods by the river?

Jack: Yeah.

John: And you didn't believe me. Well, here. Look at this one I shot this morning! Do you believe me now?

We have a couple documented cases that occurred when the birds were presumed extinct, making them newsworthy, but it likely happened a great many times before.
Great to hear from you Houston (...and keep up your own good research down that way).

Yeah, by nature, I'm pretty skeptical (moreso than most realize, despite my continuing belief that this species probably still flies!).

1) In every reference I've seen to the story it is very sketchy and undetailed (though maybe it's such a simple story there's not that much to flesh out).
2) The story appeared at a time of renewed IBWO interest, so the cynical-me can't help but wonder if a newspaper editor might concoct such a tale to drum up interest for his paper, especially given that it sounds so strikingly similar (as I said) to the Mason Spencer story of 30+ years earlier.
3) Given the interest in IBWO at the time, it's hard to imagine how a story like this, even in a small town paper, would have escaped greater attention, even sensation, at the time, if there was much to it.

Like so many of the enticing, odd, tempting stories that surround this species, I don't dismiss the story, but nor do I feel very confident about it.

If any of the long-term IBWO historians, Jerry Jackson, Van Remsen, Paul Sykes, Chuck Hunter, Cornell folks, etc. still check into this blog, and know more about the story please feel free to weigh in with any additional details or thoughts.
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