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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, January 22, 2016


-- For the Conspiracy Theorists Out There --


Every couple of months I hear from someone who thinks I may have special, privileged information relating to Ivory-bills being found. Occasionally they've even seen something on the blog they think is a hidden message of some sort. When I recently changed the icon on my Twitter account (something folks pretty routinely do from time to time), I received multiple inquiries in one day, as to what it meant... I WISH it were so!! (i.e., that there was some sort of significant, definitive evidence lurking out there beyond public purview).

I've not seen any compelling evidence that Ivory-bills will be documented ANYtime soon. In the last 5 years not a single photo sent to me has been even slightly intriguing; not a single double-knock tape emailed my way has been convincing, and only a couple of 'kent' sounds, out of MANY, have been at least a little tantalizing. The likelihood of sounds, foraging signs, or cavities (pics sent through email) being convincing of IBWO presence is minimal. What is needed, short of finding a roost or nest hole, are multiple clear, somewhat lengthy or close-up sightings, preferably by multiple and experienced sighters. And it hasn't happened... in 70 years. Is it any wonder the skeptics are legion...

Since the USFWS/Cornell/Auburn searches closed down, I've had a few, but paltry few, intriguing bits of evidence hit my Inbox (and even after all this time and discussion, I still hear from folks who have no clue that there is a confusing species, the Pileated Woodpecker, out there, or that the IBWO was never west of the Mississippi Rockies). It's fine to send along claims and pieces of "evidence" (indeed, I enjoy perusing all of it), but realize that, short of a clear photo or video, the likelihood of a very positive response back from me is slim. (Yet I still believe, for now, that a documented Ivory-bill discovery could occur in a number of locations at any time).

This is all just to say that when I write folks back that I haven't seen anything terribly promising it is only because... I truly haven't seen anything very promising (the one rumor I heard last year that I found intriguing, completely fizzled). Indeed, most of what I'm seeing increases my pessimism, except for the fact that there remains soooo much habitat still not getting much coverage. But no, there are no conspiracies afoot.

Anyway, I meant to end 2015 with Sufjan Stevens melancholy tribute to the Ivory-bill (which I try to post at least once each year)... but in the hubbub of the holidays I completely forgot, so, before January gets away...:

"In the delta sun, down in Arkansas
It's the great god bird with its altar call...

"the IBWO was never west of the Mississippi"

You mean Rockies, perhaps?
Thanks! DOHH!! (corrected)
I agree in general with most of the points made in this post. Although interesting stuff may not always be
publicly shared and I'm aware of some of it, I have no doubt there's nothing conclusive that's being concealed.

That said, what are your specific criteria? What is "clear"; what is "close up"; what is "lengthy"; what qualifies as ascribable to "multiple and experienced sighters"" There are only a few people left alive who have unquestionably seen an ivorybill. There's a pretty strong case to be made that the Arkansas sightings (Gallagher, Fitzpatrick, Driscoll, LaBranche, and Taylor, at minimum) meet these criteria, and the same argument could be made about the Choctawhatchee.

And what are your criteria for deciding whether material you receive (sign, DKs, kents) is intriguing or tantalizing? I've spent years trying to figure out feeding sign – and again agree that most of what I see from others is not very interesting, except for some of the Choctawhatchee material – but please, show your work.
This really requires a whole lengthy post, but I'll try to hit main points:

1) I found elements of BOTH the Cornell & Auburn evidence very compelling (certain of the sightings primarily and some of the kent recordings) -- but, the failure of two such organized, semi-large-scale searches to document an Ivory-bill after years of continuous effort and automatic cameras, is very troublesome (and leaves me concerned whether a smaller effort can even succeed).

2) As to my own criteria:

a) "sightings" preferably by either experienced birders or woodsmen-types who've seen dozens if not 100s of Pileated Woodpeckers.
Sighting by 2 or more people simultaneously is much more compelling, but multiple single sighters over period of days can also be compelling.

b) "clear" just means unobstructed, in good light, not blurry
c) "close up" is ~40 ft. or less
d) "lengthy," probably at least 10-15 seconds for a perched bird, longer for a flying bird

But these all intermingle: if there are 5 simultaneous experienced observers, other criteria become less vital; if the bird is very close-up and in clear view, 10 seconds aren't required, etc. etc.

3) Unfortunately, DKs and kents rarely intrigue me unless they come from interesting habitat and in some temporal conjunction to a sighting (many things in deep woods can sound like DKs and kents -- most sent to me don't sound like the real deal to my ear, but even when they do it's NOT strong evidence).
Even 10 years ago, when this saga began, I argued that all 'signs' of IBWOs presented by Cornell was weak evidence and only their actual sightings and video carried much weight.

Scaling below ~30ft. doesn't intrigue me: I think it is likely done by PIWOs or mammals (several species, big and small) or simple weathering of bark over time. I believe IBWO-work is relegated to higher tree levels (in any event, 2-dimensional photos of scaling are difficult for me to judge at all).
(I see scaling in my own woods often matching what people send me -- don't know what's doing it, but I KNOW it's not Ivory-bills.)

Lastly, some of the stuff sent my way arrives because senders are dissatisfied with responses they get from ornithologists... who's basic response to claimants now seems to be, 'when you get a clear photo/video send it along; otherwise you're wasting our time.' I'M still more open than THAT, but also unlikely to find anything short of photographic evidence persuasive. All the scaling, cavities, sound recordings, verbal claims, etc. in the world mean little unless or until they lead to a photo or video -- that's just the state-of-affairs we've reached, after walking in circles so-to-speak for 70+ years... and we could easily go on like this 20 more years with dribs-and-drabs of hints, but no conclusive documentation :-(

Fair enough. I'm being charitable, but I think your ideas about scaling and 30' are utterly arbitrary and ludicrous (especially in light of what's documented from the 1920s and '30s) just like Tanner's idiotic statement about sightings near the ground, but so be it.
I may have more to say about this, but do some of your own research on known prey species.
My first response was unduly harsh, not charitable. I apologize. Tanner's statement was idiotic, given his own observations, as well as Kuhn's and Allen and Kellogg's, and also given the fact that (assuming ivorybills are out there) most people who'd stumble on one probably wouldn't be looking up at the canopy, squirrel hunters excepted.

Your ~30' rule is arbitrary and seems to be based on an idea about rapid evolution that you've concocted and for which there's not a shred of evidence; in fact, the evidence is against it. It's indisputable that ivorybills fed on or near the ground in both of the last two locations where they were studied. The Cuban species did likewise.

I can accept some measure of rapid evolution/epigenetics/learned behavior leading to wariness, but these factors make no sense in the context of foraging behavior, which is in large part anatomically determined. The hypothesis seems even more farfetched given that food supplies are likely more limited today than they were in the Singer Tract. You're essentially arguing for an even higher degree of specialization in a species that was already considerably more specialized than other woodpecker species in its range. That strikes me as being an argument for extinction, not against it.

As for mammals, squirrels can strip bark anywhere on a tree, and to an extent that I had not considered until recently. Live and learn. Work that's lower on trees is easier to examine carefully; one can identify prey species, which are often abundant in boles, and differentiate between mammalian and woodpecker work far more easily than with the higher branch stuff.

You may not be wrong to be unimpressed; it has taken me years of study and analysis to develop and refine my hypothesis about what is diagnostic, and you're right that it can be very hard to evaluate sign without seeing it in situ. The basis for your lack of interest, however, is unsound.

I agree with your ultimate point. No one's mind is going to be changed without a clear picture (or more likely a series). And that's likely to require finding an active roost or nest or having an extraordinary stroke of luck.

One day I'll write a post further explaining my belief about the behavior of any Ivory-bills remaining.
Meanwhile, I wouldn't quite call it a "lack of interest" on my part (indeed, I think I'm far more interested than most professional ornithologists are), just a lack of being persuaded.

The main point I was trying to make is that people who get a negative response from me (about something they've sent along) need not feel bad, because almost EVERYone gets a negative (or at least non-committal) response (in a very few instances I let people know if I'm sending their stuff along to "higher ups" for additional attention; very rare).
The difference between my skepticism (which is great) and that of those who call themselves "skeptics" is that I'm skeptical ALL across the board, which includes Tanner's findings and generalizations, and field science more generally, which leads me to different conclusions about IBWO extinction than other skeptics, who accept Tanner's conclusions as gospel (we both agree that's a mistake, even though Tanner did some fantastic work with what opportunity and methods he had available at his time).

mark thou and your attack coyote protest too loud lol. And the moderator is usually the one to advise what is proper in case you're not familiar with blog etiquette.

I know it's difficult to accept that years of work was not well planned but that's what we have here. Researching a comparative methodology between just pileated and ivory bill was tried by a colleague of mine a decade ago at it proved very elusive that was only with two species behavior being looked at. This effort was done by experienced biologists.

One conclusion:pileated doubling or tripling their blows could and did leave marks on bark that appeared ivory bill like.

Researchers should be highly skeptical of their own work. Questions should be welcomed.

You claim that the bark methods proselytized can replace or substitute for basic well accepted surey methods. As you have reminded us repeatedly you have been doing this for several years yet you have found few if any ibs with these methods.

Hill and his students were able to quickly propose a method to quantify bark adhesion They added basic control data for adhesion from forests WO ibw0. It worked out well for them in months and over subsequent seasons

You were just recently told by another that squirrels were the likely source of what you thought was putative ivory bill workings. And this was wood you could closely examine. It's quite possible that higher work that precludes close inspection is at best attributed to other non ivory bill animals and even to an abiotic source.

it also must be pointed out that if the method was so good why are you continually visiting the same forest and not trailblazing new discoveries elsewhere?

I like to think with plenty of evidence that your methods are extremely flawed and incomplete. The other choice being the ib is close to extintion.

Granted the bark subject is difficult. But when an abstract of dubious value is staffed with a researcher that's inexperienced these things can drag on forever. it matters not what rationalizations can be made but this is a very poor survey tool when 1 considers the many hypotheticals from one forest to anotheror even second bottoms to first bottoms when the plant community changes.

in addition we are talking about a rare animal thAt could meet its caloric intake requirements in less than an hour per day meaning workings will be very rare within the whole data set of workings in a community.
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