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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

Thursday, February 04, 2016


-- Explaining the Inexplicable... --


"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool."
-- Richard Feynman

[There's ongoing discussion for readers to follow, in the comments to the prior post (which I'm trying to stay out of!), but I will here further explain my own speculations a bit...]

Whenever I've asked participants in Cornell's Big Woods search whether they thought the search was adequate or suffered major problems, I've received a similar answer: the effort had issues/flaws, but nothing that any large, similar project wouldn't experience. Generally, most felt the search was good enough that IF the birds were there they would've been found and documented -- of course Cornell didn't survey the entire Big Woods area, but did cover what they felt were the most promising areas. (It's even slimly possible that, as Cornell always acknowledged, the one IBWO initially reported, was the very last of its kind and deceased by the time the major search was underway.)

Similarly, Auburn's organized Choctawhatchee search began with high confidence and ended unsuccessfully, despite a lengthy, systematic effort.  David Kulivan's rather astounding 1999 claim for the Pearl (La.) was followed (after some delay) with an extensive search of those woods, unable to verify his claim. And I've lost count of how many missives I've received over the years from people telling me, 'Ohhh, that woodpecker, I know where they are; I'll get the proof, it'll be easy; those other bumpkins just don't know where to look.' And of course none of these folks EVER get back to me. None, NONE, NONE, NONE, ZIPPPPPO....

So I well understand why almost every individual I knew growing up who seriously believed there was a chance of IBWO survival no longer thinks so. The exasperation is palpable. We don't need reams of evidence for this bird, or pages of info, or 100s of hints or claims or recordings, nor DNA evidence, nor even a nice video... we just need ONE clear, indisputable photo in 70+ years to get this story out of the starting gate, and nobody can do it... even in a day of excellent, lightweight, prolific, easy-to-operate, point-and-shoot cameras, not a single individual has been able to pull it off, even... one... friggin'... time.  Probably no other woodland bird in the history of the planet (certainly not of this size, loudness, distinctiveness) has EVER proven this elusive to so many searchers. There has to be an explanation for such an outcome.

For decades I presumed the difficulty of proof was a reflection of the bird's scarcity and remote habitat. But following the Kulivan, Big Woods, and Choctaw searches (in combination with all the smaller searches over time) I find that, while not impossible, increasingly implausible -- it requires a remarkably fine balancing act for there to be enough Ivory-bills continuously reproducing successfully over 7 decades, yet so few as to be undetectable or little encountered. The bird gets seen, but then rarely re-seen; it is heard, but then rarely found; its sign is observed, but it doesn't return to it; it is spotted by a single individual, but virtually never by a group, nor remote camera -- this species either does NOT exist in the places we are looking for it, or, if present, it is essentially invisible to human eyes... and of course it can't be literally invisible -- my speculation (prior post) is merely a means to explain such "invisibility."

Either the photos taken by Fielding Lewis in the early 70's, with a Brownie camera no less, within yards of an Ivory-bill, (and in the presence of dogs no less), are absolute frauds (stuffed specimen), or remaining Ivory-bills have markedly changed their behavior since then. My outside-the-box view is simply that few of the habits, behaviors, requirements recorded for prior IBWOs (which are based on an exceedingly small sample anyway) can be assumed to hold true today for any birds remaining. Loud, mobile Ivory-bills, scaling downed dead trees are a creature of the past, replaced by relatively quiet, reclusive, canopy-dwelling denizens (so I'm hypothesizing, until someone can persuade me of a better alternative). (It all reminds me a tad of white-tailed deer evolving nocturnal habits as a sheer survival mechanism... and yet, when a herd is hunted repeatedly at night, they will switch back to daytime activity; animals continuously adapt for survival.)

Millions of dollars spent, 1000s of man-hours expended, yet we seem no closer to finding Ivory-bills today than we were 10 years ago. The failure is STUNNING! One goal I expected that even a failed Cornell effort would accomplish was to delimit the search for IBWOs to perhaps no more than 3 states and a few locales. Instead, we remain stuck with at least 7 states (perhaps more) and dozens of tracts that might be home to the species... little has been ruled in or out, and paltry little established with certainty after all this time and money.

Having said this, I STILL believe IBWOs ARE out there (and likely in multiple states) -- but the near inexplicable situation we have cries out for an explanation (other than as skeptics wish to explain it). My own belief (in persistence) rests almost entirely on the tiny trickle of good sightings of this almost unmistakable bird that have transpired over the years; beyond that I see no strong evidence for the species (though there are intriguing bits in association with some of those sightings). Many disagree, and regard the sightings themselves as very weak evidence (if the IBWO is ever confirmed, a serious, clarifying discussion of the crucial nature of sightings and field-identification ought occur) -- for now, my engagement with this topic is so deep it's difficult, any longer, to even judge my own objectivity on those few pieces of evidence I'm relying on. We need always keep Feynman's admonition fresh in mind, for we most risk being fooled... by ourselves.

Yes these searcher chaps have fooled themselves on various aspects of basic ecology. My mates will excuse me if I wing into an arse about face and assume there is a large pecker wandering around with, Martjan, Markie, Billy and Prairie dog.

First we need to pass the cap to fund their remedial courses in basic ecology, evolution and physics or at least pretend they have just blindingly passed.

The inconsistencies in their own swerving missive is a prelude to bodging up in the field,

Markie believes the ivory billed is physiologically equipped to fit the bark scaling niche. He seemed overwhelmingly proud when he regurgitated centuries old literature that 'bills are uniquely equipped for scaling.

We all agree its a good scaler; we all agree its very rare (or worse). So therefore the niche is basically unfilled in those pestilent swamps you Tanks are always wandering about in, and falling out of trees, into. Unfilled niches are advantageous to fill; they have excellent resources.

Low concentrations and populations of specialized animals results in the few individuals left occupying a range that most optimally fills their needs. They occupy the best hectares. From all the distance lugging we hear about these premium best plots are blatantly deep in the boonies.

Naturally these wooded areas have winged and terrestrial predators; of course there is the past and present human hunter that is certainly to be avoided especially if the bloke has just staggered out of NOLA.

Predation avoidance is one of the great components of foraging behaviour. Needless, behaviour is selected against rapidly and is fatal to that genotype. Markie and Billys assertions that food availability in the lower bole supercedes strong core instincts is a comedic chin wag.

Woodpeckers in temperate and subtropical regions are minimally limited by food availability but rather by predation, forest size, intra and interspecific competition and roost holes. Food for specialized species in mid to late successional habitat that is said to be improving is plentiful; that's why 'bills became part of the community. Everything from Marks pen screams the premises that unfortunately leads again to another one of his stringy conclusions even when the subject is rudimentary.

He is codswalloping due to his schoolwork on scaling that demands these birds act like hoopoes.

Large birds in general avoid foraging in lower sections of forests due to obvious driving forces. Higher perches, foraging areas and roosts allow escape routes in all 3 dimensions and directions. On the forest ground the escape routes are halved. Avian predators often use gravity to assist in taking or injuring birds larger than them; they come from above onto lower prey. Bills high in trees are better positioned to detect and escape interior forest predators that can be fatal (accipters, hawks).

Billy birds are allowed no mistakes but many hours to fulfill reasonable caloric needs. The many species I have observed are quite inactive for many daylight hours. In fact many species or a must get hours before the midday pint break because they disappear.

Gravity does not aid prey when they are escaping from the ground but its does the predator; low on a bole is a very dangerous place. And more.

Now about these large pieces of highly adhesive bark-------can you share how the bill is curving around 6 inches of the outer radius of a curved tree surface-----------are these Terek Sandpipers or is this bark not as tight as you believe?

good hunting
Whether or not Ivorybills feed low on the bole or on the ground might be irrelevant for the searcher, though I imagine the birds would do as others of their kind, and go where the food is. I often see woodpeckers on the ground, but it is nearly always in open country; I cannot recall an instance of having ever seen one on the ground in deep woods, or feeding low on tree trunks, though the evidence for such behavior can often be found. I believe the reason searchers should train their eyes primarily on the canopy is not because Ivorybills now have perhaps altered their behavior and feed there almost exclusively, but rather because of the great difficulty in approaching a low-feeding woodpecker in dense forest close enough to be able to obtain a visual. One is much more likey to catch a glimpse of a bird in the canopy, where it perhaps feels safer and is less disposed to a quick retreat than it would be in a position nearer the ground.

Again, I believe the birds will go where the food is, but it does the searcher little good to try stalking a low-feeding woodpecker through a couple of hundred yards of underbrush.
A short bug police guy from New Jersey does not make a good Brit skeptic... Hey Freddie, This is comedy gold despite its incoherence. If we're so far off base, it's strange that you showed up uninvited at my door, less than a year ago, practically begging me and Mark to take you to our search area. You stink of sour grapes and Jaegermeister. Next time I might be tempted to give you a geography lesson.

By the way, how's that plan to mist net an IBWO workin' out for ya'... lol

Not afraid to identify myself...
Frank Wiley
Yes Chris I agree its rare to see woodpeckers close to the ground in forests including even flickers (like ants) that swell the southern US area in late fall onwards. My prior comments were more on why larger birds avoid that microhabitat.

Smaller birds have rapid take off flight and often move in groups of two or more depending on season. They are in general hypervigilant lower in the forest and explode away if they even hear a warning call or chip let alone actual predator stimuli.

Smaller woodpeckers visit lower areas but at disproportionately reduced frequency than safer areas. Ibwos do visit lower areas rarely and i suspect in pairs with one a bit higher up as a sentinel.

Pileateds i have seen numerous times near the ground; 90% of these sightings are on prone horizontal dead wood (logs) which are punky and can mitigate the predation risk by obtaining an abundance of carpenter ants in short unit of time.

Sitting on a grounded log has reduced predation risk since the forager has a 360 deg view of the above approaches. On the side of a low bole making noise a bird attracts attention and has a large blind side and cannot escape by diving as ibwos do. The act of feeding there is likely one of the most maladaptive things an adult Ibwo can attempt ----exceptions perhaps being in years of reduced mast and most arboreal food sources. Pairs with a sentinel however is possible for short visits.

Frank you should be afraid to id yourself...lol

As far as wayward entomologists at Frank's door and the whereabouts of such-----I can't assist. But I do know a Francis in Jersey! I am sure you would let her shine your guns if she showed up. But glad you enjoyed it.

Besides Prarie dog what does this have to do with a few questions from the public after these poor souls have suffered through years of bullocks including page after endless page on scaling.

Scaling in the literature on birds is often about surface area as a percent of the total recently dead bark surface area. This can be reported in area per acre or quantified how he feels fit.

With a large heterogeneously distributed forager/scaler this would be empirical evidence of presence or absence in an area----assuming you have eliminated the possibility of some other mammal doing this seasonally or because of unusual ecological events the conclusion could be ----there are IBs in the area.

Control acreage data would be gathered in the same forest and plant community so you can see if there is statistical significance.

Actual adhesion data wouldn't be bad.

The idea that one can develop a useable guide to ib scaling applicable from one state to another is likely impossible. Even one river drainage to another is likely not plausible as the plant, coleopteran and predator community will vary. It might work if it's all greatly simplified into manageable data sets such as total dead wood---percent dead wood scaled.

Regardless I have no idea why IBs presence in a forest cannot be done acoustical as it is for the great majority of species on Earth. I see many alleged ib reports that say they hear knocks and calls including your own.

Please take control of the situation lol

It's not at all difficult to find many photos of IBWO cogeners foraging on boles close to the ground.















etc., etc.
I have just said that even the much more circumspect cogener Ib will rarely forage near the ground. Other Campephilus were not hunted with guns by terrestrial "predators" and are smaller and much lighter than Ibs meaning they likely visit this microhabitat substantialy more than Ibs.....while still avoiding it as needed.

I and many others have seen tropical Campephilus forage and roost relatively lower than in la selva or deep bosque if they are proximal to development or even a secluded park ranger station. This is likely due to less predation pressure around human habituation or even trails were predator density is reduced.

Looking at your first 5 pictures 3 seem to be near human habituation or in a large city/towns boundaries. The other 2 pictures are indeterminate to exact location. Some tropical Camps in well visited tropical parks can also feel more comfortable approaching the ground.

What approximate percentage of pictures and videos of all Campephilus in deep off the trail forest are on the lower bole? That's what counts.

There is no cogener by the way that has gone through the massive selection pressure that Ibs have.

So to many who believe the ib is still here a cogeners response to seeing people is a moot point and not applicable.
A "live", fresh data point just came in yesterday with their best photo of perhaps the world's largest remaining woodpecker sp.

- a team of birders in a Thailand park, in a matter of hours, saw and were able to only photo it through a spotting scope.

Note that the birds are well up on the tree trunk, are in a group and two of three birds are looking directly back at the lens/person even though they are at least ~ 175 feet away.

That's a live data point of an uncommon, large woodpecker in deeper forest habitat.

It's a Vulnerable species in decline and sometimes missed even though its there.

It fits what some have said here.

HAVING SEARCHED for the Ivory Bill
in two different states, I have
three basic points: Firstly, the
Ivory Bill will either be found or
not found. Secondly, the Project
Coyote Ivory Billed picture cited
on this website looks like the real
thing, and would have gained much
more attention had it not been
preceeded by so many hoaxes; thus
the best place to look is LA
>>Whether or not Ivorybills feed low on the bole or on the ground might be irrelevant for the searcher<<<

This poster (Chris) is oddly missing the entire on-going subject touched upon by Cyberthrush that IS pertinent to searchers and the ivory-billed.

The Lousiana searchers game cams and others have limited distance and resolution capabilities so if they can train them on a close, lower bole they can hopefully get a clearer picture of an Ivory-billed.

They are looking at the nuances of scaling to chose what bole to put the cameras on based on prior alleged Ivory-billed visitation.

IBWO stomachs have been found to have ~59 % plant material. These seeds, nuts and fruits are found mid-story and higher. The remainder of their diet is beetle larvae. IBWO food preferences can be found more efficiently away from the lower bole while concurrently lessening predation pressure.

IBWOs prefer to nest high in trees in areas that are often seasonally flooded; this is some protection from terrestrial predators . High water can kill cerambycid larvae below the flood line and shape the biotic community of the lower bole in riparian corridors. Adult beetles and their eggs can also be killed if they are submerged.

Tree senescent most often starts in the higher, distal parts of trees; these areas are most susceptible to stress but are not immediately lethal to the tree if lost (like the lizards expendable tail phenom). Dying leaves and branches give off stress hydrocarbons that female, egg bearing beetles have evolved to detect. Beetles eons ago developed effective egg laying site selection; predominantly this would be initially in the branches. Beetle larvae have evolved to exploit this simple niche with their dominance of that trophic level. Gradually they will infest more of the tree as it weakens. There are patterns that are pertinent to how the lower bole is gradually effected by decomposition in relation to IBWO .

Lower boles are a much moister and initially denser microhabitat than dying branches which are affected by the high evapotranspiration rate. Beetle larvae have less competition in branches; they often dominate the immediate biotic community. They are specialized for the simple niche found in branches that are recently morbid; their population can explode; there is little competition for the cellulose.

Boles can die very slowly and bark, cambium and heart wood decay is often not homogenous. In moist, lower boles the biodiversity is much greater than branches; it can be dominated very quickly by bacteria, molds, fungus, millipedes, chilopods, isopods, termites, ants, flys and small invertebrates, some of them predaceous on the other organisms. Many of these species are faculative for periodic floods. Some of these invertebrates must return to the soil often due to bacterial gut symbiosis and therefore do not usually extend to far up into the tree bole. Beetles I have found there in low relative numbers include passalidae, tenebrionidae, small elateridae and other less pertinent taxa. In dryer lower boles I have also found the desired IB species such as H. polita and other cerambycids in low concentrations.

The temporal-spatial concentration of beetles in an older dry or moist bole on any day is often very low; it is often over-estimated by the casual observer that tends not to consider that all the Picidae work and larval exit holes they see have accumulated over many years even decades. Most of the holes may have occurred in only a few years of the life of a ten year old dead dry bole especially if the beetle species was multivoltine and had a competitive founder advantage. Dense dry boles are often predominately broken down by bacteria and very small invertebrates rather than macroinvertebrates pertinent to IBWOs.

Moist boles as mentioned have an incremental and gradual loosening of the bark and beetle infestations can occur in these vertical streaks where the xylem has died. But concurrently there is almost always a much higher coleopteran biomass in the higher herbivory. The dying bole is by definition being caused by beetle attacks in the upper canopy (in many cases). For every square foot of beetle infested cambium in the lower bole there can be ~ 20 times that from 10 feet higher in the same tree.

PIWO are taken by accipters in some numbers. There has been agnostic behavior observed between IBWOs and accipters and buteos. IBWO eggs and adults have been found to be missing; there are many species of predators out there. GHOW and to a much lesser extent BAOW are terryfying predators. Birds lives consist of 99% boredom and 1% terror.

Good luck.
I have photos of scalings, low, on trees, and also approx. 20 feet up. The problem is that I have them from areas that are unlikely to have IBWO in them as well as areas where I have seen IBWO as well as others. I have no doubt that these scalings could easily be pileated, but unlikely other smaller woodpeckers. As for staying high in the canopy, two birds were observed by different observers, in the same area, and in both instances were less than 20 feet or so off the ground. I went so far as to intentionally start photographing scalings from different areas so I could later compare them. The large holes in trees seem to be more in IBWO areas, but it appears pileated can make them. I have seen trees with large (20" diameter or so) brought down in a week by woodpeckers. I also have photos of that as well.

Good morning... Well, Fred - let's examine your post above and see what logic lies within.

First, "on multiple pieces of fallen deadwood, a single species was involved (squirrel)" Nice try. In eight years, I have HUNDREDS of game cam photos of other woodpecker species (mostly Pileated, Hairy, and Downy) foraging on fallen deadwood. When we placed the camera on the tree that was being heavily scaled, I remarked that there was very little, if any, sign of insect infestation on the exposed sapwood on the bole. That said, it seemed that as the "scaling" was ongoing, an opportunity (what some would call a "teachable moment") was being presented to find out what, exactly was doing this work. I was a bit disappointed, but not terribly surprised to get the sequence of the squirrel working over the fallen tree. Many "researchers" would have, upon discovery of this, chosen to just let the matter drop. We instead opted to make the finding public, so that anyone else could learn from our experience. So much for being "biased by hope"... Shall we say interested in learning?

You are correct that lower boles have a very "complex ecology" (so does a stump hole for that matter) but you ignore the fact that when considered in terms of biomass per unit volume the lower boles are a much richer place, in terms of available protein than the "high branches"...

You state that, "The accumulation of biotic events over years by scores of potential taxa, each damaging the prior foraging marks, on a low bole which has varying degrees of decay and a confusing heterogeneous pattern of senescence does not lend itself to great precision in IDing what exact species foraged and when."
Once again, you are conflating what we think that IB work may look like with a stub that, much like Plate 11 in Tanner, has been fed on quite likely for years by any number of species. We have always maintained that there is a point where putative IB sign is obliterated by other "taxa" (cute dollar a swaller word there, Freddie)as over time, the dead bole deteriorates due to rot and feeding by other woodpeckers. Just FYI, after looking at hundreds of thousands of game cam images, the only other "taxa" that I have ever seen on these older boles are other woodpecker species. You seem to be saying that everyone is coming by to have a snack.
On another note, look at the species of insect that Tanner found remains of in the nest(s) he examined. Oddly, they all seem to belong to species which are found IN THE SAPWOOD AND UNDER THE BARK ON THE BOLES OF LARGER TREES.

As to the few intriguing images collected over the years, the vast majority were in spots where the cams were aimed at cavities - not at feeding sign. Once again, you conflate two very different search modalities. For a long time, I was dismissive of being able to identify potential IB feeding sign, but as Mark has refined his hypothesis over the years, I have come to think that a percentage of IB work is quite identifiable. Unfortunately, the work that can best be examined is that that is low on the boles of dead/dying trees - when I grow wings, I'll fly up and let you know what I find up high.

As an aside - believe what you will - I have had three sightings where what I am personally sure was an Ivory-billed Woodpecker was doing SOMETHING, the observations were too brief to be sure exactly what, on or very near the ground.
See also, FWIW, J. Gilsdorf's comment above.

I assume that "John" is not you, Freddie, so I'll say this about the Flicker paper: while it was an interesting read, the study was conducted in open grassland, not mature southern forest. The only predation noted was aerial - i.e. Cooper's Hawk, etc. In a mature forest, while I have no hard data to back this up, my anecdotal only, observations of other woodpecker species seems to indicate that they prefer to forage at mid to lower levels. This is entirely logical. Birds feeding on dead/dying branches in the canopy (once again in a mature southern forest) are far more vulnerable to predation from hawks. I would suggest, once again based on observation of several incidents, that Red-shouldered Hawks are the most likely predator upon woodpeckers. Any reasonably alert, healthy woodpecker can without question escape a predator attacking from under the canopy - in fact, I have watched this happen a number of times. The only "predator" that can reasonably hope to score a kill on a woodpecker feeding below the canopy is a very stealthy human, armed with a shotgun. With the penalties in place for killing even common woodpeckers, the hunters I know aren't willing (as a rule - there are assholes who'll shoot any damn thing) to risk the sanctions - and specimens for collections have no market now, unlike a hundred years ago. Beyond this, nest predation, from snakes, squirrels, raccoons, and even competition from wood ducks for cavities may play a role - but one that has no bearing on feeding behavior.

"IBWOs prefer to nest high in trees in areas that are often seasonally flooded; this is some protection from terrestrial predators . High water can kill cerambycid larvae below the flood line and shape the biotic community of the lower bole in riparian corridors. Adult beetles and their eggs can also be killed if they are submerged." Interesting... Can you source that first sentence? And in southern forests, about which, Freddie, you know very little, flooding is seldom "seasonal" (except in large river bottoms), instead is often short term and related to random heavy rainfall events, which can occur at any time of year. Also, there is some data from Louisiana in the 30's that indicates that IB's tended to nest in trees that were located at slightly higher elevations than the "normal flood line"... But, time will tell...

Much speculation has been done (ad nauseum) over the years as to how much hunting contributed to the evolution of the modern IB. I would speculate, but as a hunter I have observed the behavior of many animals in response to light and heavy hunting pressure, and I believe, based on my experiences that a. Hunting pressure contributed to modern IB's less vocal and gregarious behavior, and b. that it also contributed to what some refer to as "hyper wariness" in the species (which, incidentally, based on my few sightings of IB, my thought is that they are only slightly more wary than a Wild Turkey (bird - not beverage). If a reliable method of calling (not just eliciting a response as in playback and ADKs) them could be worked out, believe the success rate would, depending on the skill of the caller, be about the same as that when calling a Turkey...

I find myself growing tired of typing - It amuses me that people are critical of our methodology, which is based not on "faith" - but on trial and error. The hypotheses are constantly being examined and revised. (If I remember my high-school general science teacher correctly this is what is called "The Scientific Method." If anyone can suggest a more productive approach - Hell, I'm all ears...

Bless your heart...
Hello Frank and All,

Yes the article is about Flickers and I know they are feed in open areas. As I mentioned the predation conclusions seemed pertinent.

They are medium sized woodpeckers and there was good evidence that they do not always forage in the best area due to predation concerns.

Good going to all searchers.

Hi, John...

I found the Flicker paper percipient in that it shows that predation will change feeding preferences - and in fact i would agree with that view. I was merely pointing out that for open field Flickers, as opposed to deep forest woodpeckers, the predation paradigm is radically different.

Clearly, different predation paradigms are going to lead to feeding behaviors that are based upon minimizing exposure to most likely source of the predation.
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