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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Open Letter to a Young Birder

During the summer of 1984, I was about to start my junior year of high school. I had been actively birding and chasing birds for three years, and had been a birdwatcher for several years before that. On August 11, I caught a ride to the Oregon coast with several birders. Of course, since I was a kid birder, I had to catch a ride, which was OK with me, since that got me out with some of the best birders in the state. It was a great time to be a kid birder, and I was starting to experience the rush of finding and documenting rare birds.

Sometime in the mid afternoon, several of us were looking for shorebirds on the edge of Lake Meares, which had been partially drained. I noticed a funny looking bird that I just couldn't place, since it didn't look like anything I knew. At first glance, it looked like a female Brown-headed Cowbird--with buffy edges to the feathers of the wings and back. But it was a shorebird. I only saw it for maybe 20 seconds, and it took me more than half that time to really understand that it was a shorebird, and not a cowbird.

Just as I was about to get someone else to look at it, the bird flushed. As it did, Jeff Gilligan, one of the best birders in the state, and the only one at the time with an Oregon list over 400 species, said excitedly, "did anyone see that shorebird when it flushed--it had really white outter tail feathers."

Of course, as a well-read kid birder, I knew what that meant. And that's when all the pieces came together in my mind. Buffy edges to feathers above, no breast streaks--just a buffy wash, plain face without noticeable supercilium, bright white tail feathers. Temminck's Stint!

I told Jeff and the others what I had seen before the bird flew off, thinking they would be really excited. This would be a first state record! "It was a Temminck's Stint!" I blurted out.

"No it wasn't," said Jeff.

"But I saw it clearly," I said.

"But," said Jeff, and this is what has since been burned into my mind, "you didn't see it long enough. You can't be totally sure of what you saw in that short of time. And you don't have any proof. It might have been something good. But it got away."

I wish I could say that I learned that lesson immediately. But I was a very active birder, with quick eyes, and a lot of skills. And I was seeing lots of rarities with other birders all across the state, especially at Malhuer National Wildlife Refuge during biennial trips to look for vagrants at the end of May and end of September. And I was out all the time, so I saw a lot of birds. And as you know, you don't always get the lingering look that you might want.

There was the female blackbird on the side of the road in Troutdale that had yellow eyes. YELLOW EYES! It HAD to be a Rusty Blackbird. I thought about that one for a long time before I decided, reluctantly, that I couldn't be totally sure of what I saw at 60 miles an hour. There was a Long-toed Stint, a Wood Sandpiper, and a Gray-tailed Tattler that I descovered and reported. Fortunately for me, I left the state eventually to go off to college, cooled off a bit, and Jeff's words of wisdom finally started to sink in to my rarity crazed mind.

Just because you are young, and the hottest birder around, doesn't mean that you can be sure of what you see in quick glimpses, especially when you half expect to see something rare at any moment. If you see something briefly, and it looks like an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, or a vagrant Yellow Wagtail, or a pteranadon--well, you know the pterandadon is a slip of the imagination. But what about the other two?

Quick glimpses of rare birds do not count. Period. Really, they shouldn't even be reported, except to your close friends, but even then as curiosities. What if tales. Fishermen call these "the ones that got away" and love to talk them up. Birders are usually more circumspect. Unfortunately, that means we often don't talk about our mistakes or relish those ones that get away. They don't count, and we don't want people to think we're rarity crazed, so we don't talk about them. If its all in good fun, it should be OK. But for most experienced birders, when they hear someone adamantly state that they were able to make out all the important field marks of a rarity in a split second, or in five seconds (which is often birderspeak for a split second), they just shake their heads. They may be respectfully quiet. But what they're really thinking is that you've lost it, crossed the line, slipped into a rarity-fever induced delirium.

Now I have no idea what's really going on down there in the Choctawhatchee. But when I read about a sighting of a bird flying through the trees for a few seconds, maybe flapping its wings eight times a second, and banking briefly to show the perfect Ivory-billed Woodpecker underwing, or flying quickly off a tree in the rain, the words of a much wiser and more experienced birder than myself come back to me: "You didn't see it long enough. You can't be totally sure of what you saw in that short of time. And you don't have any proof."

I know it isn't polite to say this. I was really ticked off that nobody believed my stint. Six months later I even put it on my state list for awhile. But if I'm thinking it, a hundred other birders better than me are thinking it. You're a bright kid. By all accounts a great birder. You could probably run circles around me on a big day. But do yourself a favor. Next time you see something flash by in the woods, and you think its an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and you don't get a photo. Take a deep breath. Swear if you must. But don't tell a living soul, unless you can laugh it off as "one that got away."

Good luck with your search and your birding. I admire your drive and ambition. You're welcome to crash at my place any time you're in or around Philly. I'd love to go birding with you anytime. You want to be a superbirder, and chances are you will be. But the sooner you learn that your brain is way faster than your eyes really are, the sooner you'll get the trust and respect that you crave.

Be safe out there.


Anonymous said...


This is a nice piece of writing, and I'd love to see it published in print - it might use some tweaking or might even be improved if stripped of its context in the IBWO story ... such as a "letter to a young birder". Either way it is a nice piece of writing.

I wonder if you will be given the favor of a reply?

In some ways though I feel bad for Tyler Hicks and - don't take this as a personal insult, I feel a bit like you are taking the path of least resistance admonishing Tyler without recognizing the context in which he is working.

One almost might have to give him a total pass because well, it just doesn't seem like a birder like Jeff Gilligan was invited to the party.

Why not an open letter to Dr. Hill, or any of the 17 grown men and women who wrote one of Science's most regretted publications: "Ivory Bill Woodpecker Persists in Arkansas"? ... these are people who could have the sober, seasoned stance of Jerry Jackson - the Jeff Gilligan of the Ivory Bill Woodpecker.

Where are Tylers mentors?

They are holding press conferences, seminars at the AOU meeting, running variously slick web sites, all saying that they have seen the Ivory Bill - running this stuff concurrently on NPR the same day it comes out for the scientific community to mull over? All have made the same kinds of claims ... brief sightings all.

It is easy to pick on the kid ... but look how hard it was for Richard Prum when he said the same thing you just said, why Sibley himself had to work for almost a year before he could say what Jeff Gilligan snapped at you without even a split second thought.

So, I agree with you - good advice, but hey, give the kid a break ... look who his role models are!


The Carpinterio Real

Anonymous said...

Thanks for passing along those words of wisdom. Well said.

birdchaser said...

Carpinterio Real:
Thanks and points well taken. I considered changing the title of the post as you suggested, and may still.

I also had considered including Dr. Hill in the letter. You are right. It was probably more irresponsible for Dr. Hill to publish the glimpses and half seen observations like he did. I hope the Florida rare bird records committee sends his report back with a big vote of no confidence.

It is a rather sad story. Thanks for adding your good thoughts on this.

birdchaser said...

Just a quick reminder, after this last innocuous little anonymous post, I do not allow anonymous posts, and am just as likely not to allow pseudonymous posts. This is a sticky subject for lots of people, and I want to keep the conversation as out in the open as possible.

So if you want to say something without using your name, there are several other blogs out there where that would be more appropriate. Thanks for keeping it clean.

Jeff Gyr said...

Hey Rob--

Nice post. The often overheated, content-thin blogosphere is always in need of just this sort of thing--compassionate, thoughful, rational. Well done.

Though I admit to thinking it unlikely, I do hope that Tyler is in fact seeing Ivory-billeds. And I hope he's going to stun us with proof of that. But whether that happens or not, your points will still stand.

Any chance you'll be at DVOC tonight?


Anonymous said...

Quit being so scared of anonymous posts. If you think about it, they add much more to blogs than they take away. Many people that you want to hear from can not post any other way. That's just a fact.

Don't fear them, just moderate them.

Anonymous said...

I was once at the Headquarters of Malheur NWR in Oregon when Jeff Gilligan glimpsed a bird in a tree of the right color and size to be an Ovenbird...and then it flew to trees at the other end of the open area. He thought the bird was an Ovenbird--just from a glimpse--and sure enough, after running to where it had flown, we found it again. He was right on, and we all appreciated what his experience informed him of a mere glimpse. Seems odd that so many are seeing a woodpecker over and over again in the same place that has a heckuva lot of white, particularly when they are seeing Pileated Woodpeckers on a daily basis for comparison. People with experience. People with the courage to put their reputations on their line. I appreciate their efforts to find and photograph the bird and hope they succeed. And if a dozen other people later saw your shorebird briefly but well enough to be convicted they had seen a Temminick's might have had a bigger dilemma on your hands.

Anonymous said...

I am very dissapointed at your flip-flopping and purposeful misrepresentation of the facts.

A few weeks ago I noticed you saying there must be robust sightings. You get one and what do you do....move the goalline. Well to you this must be the scientific method.

Then you conveniently omit the facts that Tyler's report was accompanied with his hearing kents/knocks.

More important to the scientific process of assessing this evidence/ event/sighting is the independant verification of the vocalizations and knocks by a Dr. and his wife.

What an absolute disgrace. The presumption that someone involved in such promising field work would take a second to answer you or even become aware of this self-important blog through any busy peer is making me ROTFLMAO.

birdchaser said...

Scott A.,
Your comment suggests that you have no idea what a "robust sighting" would actually consist of. A quick glimpse of a bird is not a robust sighting. That others involved heard sounds that they think sounded like vocalizations and knocks is irrelevent. Nobody has shown that the types of "kent" calls that Auburn is hearing or recording matches the historically recorded IBWO calls. And there are no IBWO recorded double-knocks, and other woodpeckers can make those sounds.

So what you got is a whole lot of nothing at all. Crappy look, plus unknown sounds, does not equal a "robust sighting". If anything is robust, its the confusion about what actually makes a good sighting.

The Christmas Eve 2006 "encounter" doesn't raise to that level.

John L. Trapp said...


This is an excellent essay that deserves broader distribution.

Big egos and self-assuredness are desirable attributes of top-notch field birders, but they need to be tempered with a healthy bit of humility.

I would also add that all young birders should be educated to the fact that, if they are confident of their sighting of a rare, out-of-range, or out-of-season bird sighting, then they owe it to the birding and ornithological community to submit a detailed description of your sighting to the relevant State bird record committee for review. Even a published account of a rarity achieves greater veracity if the author(s) can cite acceptance of the record by a recognized bird record committee.

Sadly, none of the many reported encounters with IBWOs in recent years have received the independent peer review that they deserve. And I will add my personal opinion that the Arkansas Bird Records Committee failed to provide an adequate review of the Luneau video. In fact, in the sparse accounts that I've seen, they didn't even rule publicly on the validity of the identification of the IBWO purportedly present in the Luneau video, merely concluding that the IBWO was still "present" in the State.

Anonymous said...


Yes I should have anticipated your different definition than the modern expert of large woodpecker ecology (see below) who considered 5 recent sightings robust and the other person who has discovered a few new speices in his day.

Also Hill's defintion is obvoiusly different than yours.

Also I guess I must accept the inferred fact you had a stop watch on Tyler Hicks as he viewed the bird. Also where is it said by anyone on this planet that an IBWO perched 50 feet away needs X amount of seconds before the sighting is robust unless more than ~ 3 seconds? By the way is it the same scale for different people? Is there any corrolary between age, eyesight, experience with woodpeckers that woulds perhaps fairly allow everyone to have a unique robust time thresshold etc.

All of this must be considered if one is to make the definition according to your rules of robust, time linked rather than linked to field marks seen. We await your model and standards. Most of us will stick to what was actually claimed to be seen by the observer and their detailed write up...before we prejudge sighting as not being robust.

A robust sighting is determined by what field marks are seen and which are not and the pertinent importance of those that are missed in the relation to similiar species.

Although I might agree, after being in the field with you a few minutes to a few hours, that you require many more seconds than a superb field person to mentally and accurately record the necessary field marks of a bird.

I might come to a much shoter time standard for someone of Hicks caliber.

Nothing may in fact be the greatest human on earth...almost always right too (haa). Disclaimer: this only pertains to comparative field ability of Chaser and the presumptious assumptions that time is a great standard of judging robust sightings in and of itself. I do not call him any terrible names....above.

Tks Scott A>>>>From Mar 2004 through Apr 2005 we conducted intensive searches for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in e. Arkansas. The impetuous for our search was a single confirmed sighting of the species; however, we had no information about numbers of individuals or the bird’s local ecology and behavior. Our 225,000-ha search zone consisted of dense, and often flooded, bottomland hardwood forest that was difficult to access and impossible to search systematically using typical avian survey methods. During more than 20,000 h of searching we used a variety of techniques, including extended watches, cavity inventories, GPS enabled grid searching, autonomous recording units, audio playbacks, and decoys. Our techniques produced 5 robust sightings and 14 lesser encounters that merit scrutiny. We hope that experience gained during our search will inform and improve the efficacy of future searches for the Ivory-bill and other ultra rare species such as Bachman’s Warbler.

Anonymous said...

I've been content to sit on the sidelines, but I felt the need to comment on Scott A's posts.

More important to the scientific process of assessing this evidence/ event/sighting is the independant verification of the vocalizations and knocks by a Dr. and his wife.

True. And in that regard the calls have fallen completely flat. They simply don't match any known Ivory-billed call. They don't appear in fairly rapid sequence as they were know to in Ivory-billed.

You should learn a bit about the problems with the sound evidence. Please go to Tom Nelson's blog. A recent thread can be found here. There are multiple posts on the fact that the kents don't match known Ivory-billed Woodpecker recordings, plus a link to a great analysis by Louis Bevier.

The double knocks are a mechanically made sound, so independent verification is probably close to impossible without visual verification of the source. That does not mean a brief look at a bird and then hearing double knocks some time later. It means watching the bird make double knocks, at which point the double knocks are secondary evidence of the bird's existence.

Then you conveniently omit the facts that Tyler's report was accompanied with his hearing kents/knocks.

"Accompanied"? What does that mean? Did he see the bird making those sounds? No. So how does he know the sounds were coming from that bird? If the kents he heard match all of the recordings, his sighting was "accompanied" by calls that are not known to belong to Ivory-billed. That's not what I'd call strong supporting evidence.

Is it possible that the call notes are unknown to science, and the known call notes do not exist in Florida birds? Certainly, but that has to be proven. Calls as evidence are meaningless until either some are finally found that match known Ivory-billeds, or the calls they are getting are proven to be Ivory-billeds.

Also Hill's defintion is obvoiusly different than yours.

Obviously. Several are so bad that if you didn't know the context, you would have no idea what family was involved. I'm actually surprised he even published them. All of these last, at best, for single digit seconds. None involve leisurely study through binoculars.

My definition of a "robust" is probably close to Rob's. It is viewing the bird clearly for an extended period of observation while observing all known field marks. Simply put, a robust sighting is one that is long enough and good enough that it allows you to stand there and discuss the field marks at length as you are looking at them, as well as describe the bird's behavior as it occurs. None of the Florida sighting have been remotely close to that, even if you speak as fast as the guy in the old Fed-Ex commercials.

I might come to a much shoter time standard for someone of Hicks caliber.

This entire line of "reasoning" is attempting to create a constant metric for the ability of a specific birder to identify a specific species. This is a fool's errand. Ask any experienced birder if they've snap identified dozens of individuals of a species correctly, only to make a bad mistake at some point. The answer will be yes. The standard you look for does not exist.

Your posts seem to speak of a large degree of inexperience with the fallibility of even the best and most experienced observers, so let me make this very simple. Even the best and most experienced observers make mistakes, and the chance of a mistake rises with expectations of outcome (e.g. "knowing" that Ivory-billed Woodpeckers are in the area). Sit around with a group of highly experienced birders and bring up the subject of bad calls. You'll get an earful.

I have sat on Pennsylvania's state records committee and currently sit on New Jersey's. A several second sight reporting of a bird thought to be extinct would never make through either committee. Ever. That is because these committees are made up of experienced birders who have learned caution through experience. I'd be willing to bet that every member has had a brief sighting that they thought was something good, but didn't submit it because they understood their limitations as human beings.

One final note. For myself, I will not believe until the photos and/or video show up. A "robust" sighting won't cut it. Emotions are running extremely high on this subject, and that increases the chance of observer fallibility. And like virtually every birder in North America, I am hoping that evidence will one day be obtained.

-Paul G.

Anonymous said...

I mentioned the calls and KNOCKs were indepedantly IDed by three people as putative IBWO on 12/24.

PG then says:

>>True. And in that regard the calls have fallen completely flat. They simply don't match any known Ivory-billed call. They don't appear in fairly rapid sequence as they were know to in Ivory-billed.<<

The literature has descriptions of at least two categories of calls or call types that have not been taped (until some now, putatively). It is known that some of these other types of calls are similar to what AU describes as existing in literature accounts of calls.

The species is far from described as a monosylabic vocalizer by multitudes of esteemed authors. Almost all describe some variation around a main quality; that call quality is by no means violated by the AU tapes or description of calls.

There is nothing in the direct literature or that can be deduced in the wide range of the Mcauley Lab 11 minute tape that indicates what AU has is not an IBWO on its tapes.

To throw data out because it doesn't fit anything on tape....historical tapes which we all know are not nearly a comprehensive collection of this species vocalizations is antithetical to our ability to review literature and hear the new tapes and hypothecate what a non-stressed IBWO would sound like. They would sound like a softer toned IBWO than from Singer.....thats what we have. Granted this is not in itself enough evidence of the birds existance but this is far from the only evidence gathered. committees review all the evidence from a sighting not partial. Darn I bet 99% of the approvals you granted did not even include an audio tape...and some of these first state records. All this added layers of need because of an erroneous assumption of extinction was applied to this species. Wrongs perpetuating wrongs.

If we examine all known calls of local birds they most closely match some of these older IBWO tapes in certain variables. Also the new tapes fit nicely literature descriptions.

You combine this with hearing by 3 people, kents and DOUBLE knocks (DBs which you noticeable and conveniently left out to avoid the collapse of your point) in the sequence of evidence.....and then combine it with a sighting of multiple marks....

We are approaching some individuals standards (these targets move around more on the skeptic side than an IBWO does in the woods) of the past that we need multiple observations of the same bird and/or multiple people hearing of the knocks or vocalizations and the sighting must be of all the major field marks.

You then say >>This entire line of "reasoning" is attempting to create a constant metric for the ability of a specific birder to identify a specific species. This is a fool's errand. <<<

It is bird chaser that wants the metric to include time and i just pointed out that would lead to a metric to be fair,..I too think its a fools errand, because of all the variables I mentioned. I believe there is an intrinsic time underlying anyone seeing all the marks that are needed to elimintate all other possible species...........I can agree that this does take well over 2 seconds on more elaborate IDS. Whether a perched IBWO demands more than 3 seconds to see all marks well is debatable. We are not looking for giss of a distant pelagic or primary extensions or undertail coverts, etc.

Then you come to the typical bad call by all birders escape hatch............I will be your straight man and ask you to tell us of one of these alleged very committee birder calls...out of the millions of calls, where this great birder heard a bird or assumed bird do two types of sounds repeatedley for ~ 20 minutes, while one or more birders also heard these sounds concurrently, and then one found a perched bird over 10 inches ( I agve you a bone)which has some level of comparable field identification probleme as the subject taxa..................and then it was later found out to all be a terrible call of both the vocalizations and the sightings. It indeed was the other species...and they were all wrong for a minute, day or years...whatever time...lets hear about it.

Although you might not like the exact nuances of the question you must admit you have tens of millions of raw data points to draw from and all these alleged bad calls that were produced..... we always hear about these vague occurances... now you have an introduction and a platform.

tks all sa

John said...

Look what you started!

I think your open letter to Tyler showed generosity of spirit, and I hope he takes it in that spirit.

Unless I am mistaken, so far the only public source of information about Tyler Hicks' sighting is the search update by Geoff Hill. So we haven't really heard from Tyler. What we do have is a second-hand account in the form of a press release. In the update it describes the time that the bird was observed perched to be "just a second." Then it goes on to say that he tried to photograph it in "the couple of seconds the bird was in front of him." So it appears that he had a view of about 2 seconds, during which he was trying to focus a camera? And we don't know if the bird was first viewed with binoculars or naked eye, but try juggling camera and binoculars in a two second window of opportunity... add to that it was raining at the time and the camera wasn't focusing on the bird...

Some people have argued from false alternatives, saying that there are only two possibilities - either it was an Ivory-billed Woodpecker, or Tyler Hicks is a liar. But from the details that are reported, and the pertinent details that are omitted, a mistake would seem more likely.

Everybody, even the best, make mistakes. Part of what makes the best the best is that they are willing to admit to error and falability. It's all part of the game. Sometimes even a "good" look leads to a bad ID, but brief glimpses need to be taken for what they are.

The basic point of your open letter to Tyler is a good one for all birders - too bad it's getting lost in the IBWO debate.

Anonymous said...

This has been an interesting exchange. Legitimate ideas expressed on both sides – and I hope that Chaser is getting some useful input for his essay. Thanks for moderating this, Chaser.

I have two thoughts to share, one on this idea of “robust sighting”, for which I think Scott A makes a valid point and the Chaser has wandered into intellectually weak territory in his essay – by arguing that Hick’s sightings aren’t “robust” … or because they are quick, they don’t really count.

The second concerns why discussing the Ivory-billed Woodpecker as a “rarity” and discussing this as a matter of “bird ID” – and not population ecology is a problem. It is also why the behavior of the “adults” in this story deserves public criticism – because it isn’t just a matter of “what was seen” it is a matter of broader scientific claims about the world.

Hick’s sighting is as “robust” as they come. It doesn’t make it accurate, it just makes it “robust” – go read all the field marks he says he saw. Now, one can give the guy an out by arguing that conditions weren’t optimal, but it doesn’t change the testimony of what he says he saw.

I think one of the most important lines in “A Letter” is this: “Of course, as a well-read kid birder, I knew what that meant. And that's when all the pieces came together in my mind.”

The operative idea here is “came together in my mind”. We all know how this happens, the Chaser goes on to relate other times this has happened to him, and I think the “wisdom” of Chaser’s piece comes in understanding when It happens to us. That is why I think Chaser has a piece that stands independent of Hicks and what he says he saw on Christmas Eve. I also think Chaser has wandered into the wilderness trying to parse the idea of “robust”.

This brings me to my second point, and one that I think is more important. It seems this discussion is taking place in the context that birders mean when they talk about “rarities”.

This is not a “rare bird sighting” – this is the claim that “science has discovered a population" of a "rare species” and this is why I think that that the claims of Fitzpatrick, and now Hill are so “incredible”. By definition, these men are claiming that have found “populations” of Ivory Bill Woodpecker.

At this point science has to document, not a bird, but a population of birds. I guess you could argue that this starts with documenting one bird. The real problem with Ivory-Billed Woodpecker sightings is that at this point you have to explain where they came from, and doing this requires "evidence” (the video and the knockysounds) and "testimony" - beyond what would be controversial to a “rare bird committee”.

Perhaps nothing is more irresponsible than the claim that Fitzpatrick et. al. made in choosing the title for their Science paper … “Ivory-billed Woodpecker PERSIST”. If these birds are anything, persistent they are not.

For Hill and Fitzpatrick, men both schooled in POPULATION ecology, to be dealing with this bird at the level of the individual bird – really is an abdication of responsible ecological science – which they ARE expert in. It is one thing to see an out of range bird, but to claim to see a bird that no nesting breeding records exist since Tanner is to claim that you have discovered a POPULATON of the species.

Since we are talking about a POPULATION of Ivory-Bill Woodpeckers I think it is legitimate to agree that there are distinguishing characteristics of a population of Ivory Billed Woodpeckers that are distinct from the fieldmarks alone.

A population of birds is a group of birds interacting with each other, and their habitat. The fact that a group of bird population scientists are having an ID level discussion as if they had just seen “a vagrant Yellow Wagtail” is really the problem with the IBWO “discussion” itself.

Looking forward to hearing if you think this is a valid way to think about this ... or if it changes anything at all.


The Carpinterio Real

birdchaser said...

There are several points to be made here, and I thank all for bringing them up.

First, as to "robust" sightings. Robust has as much to do with the nature of the sighting (length of sighting, distance to bird, number of observers, reliability of the observer, etc.). There are several reasons to say that the IBWO sightings are not robust--they happen very quickly by single observers who are perhaps desperate to see an IBWO. Under those circumstances, the conditions of their sightings do not outweigh the potential for mistaken IDs. Even if the observers are otherwise knowledgeable and experienced. That's why Paul G. and others who routinely review bird sightings find these IBWO reports unreliable.

Second, and playing into this is the debate about the IBWO vocalizations. Other species have been documented as giving double knocks (Pileateds, Red-headed, etc.). So it doesn't mean anything to say that someone hears a double knock. The recorded Kent calls do not match known recordings. So that means we can't confirm them as IBWO calls. The best that can be said for them is that they may sound like a written description of unrecorded IBWO calls, or that we don't have enough historic IBWO calls to judge how well the new recordings match. Either way, we can't prove that the calls people are hearing now are from IBWOs. So unless and until someone can record the calls coming from an IBWO in sight, they are worthless. Let me emphasize that:
WORTHLESS. They cannot be used in this debate, because they don't mean anything at all.

So, sight records are sketchy at best--even those that claim multiple field marks are brief and under conditions that are potentially error-prone. Double knocks don't mean anything. Kent calls are unidentified sounds at this point.

So, from a rare bird records perspective, we don't have anything that most reviewers would consider conclusive, let alone, compelling evidence for any IBWOs. Let alone a population.

As for the argument that we are dealing with different mindsets--rare bird reviewers vs. population ecologists. If your evidence for even one IBWO is not sufficient to document that even one bird exists, how can you build an argument that there is a persisting population?

No, the simplest explanation, and this is important, is that lots of people with a desire to believe are grasping at straws of brief sightings unknown sounds in the swamp to support their belief in persisting individuals or populations of IBWO.

More people have seen the Virgin Mary appear in recent years than have seen IBWOs. If IBWO sightings, like Virgin Mary sightings are just a matter of faith, then that's OK. We live in a free country and people are free to believe whatever they want--be it in the Mother of God or the Lord God Bird. However, that is what we have right now--the faith-based ornithology that Jackson has decried.

Real ornithology and population ecologists have to do with real birds. As far as IBWOs go, Cornell, Auburn, and others haven't proven that they are dealing with more than their imaginations at this point.

The initial essay here that has sparked these comments was merely a common-sense suggestion that we have to recognize the limitations of brief sightings in bird identification. Yes, we all make quick IDs. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they aren't. When a bird sticks around, you can double check and figure out if your snap ID was good or not. So far, nobody has been able to do that for the IBWO claims.

Anonymous said...

Scott A... First, you are asking for a case comparable to something that doesn't exist in Florida. You try to use unidentified sounds that may or may not have come from the bird reported, or even a bird at all, as supporting evidence. We're not talking about a Winter Wren's song here. The sounds reported are short and simple. The posts I sent you to point out that the best sonogram match for a Florida call has been with a deer, and even Cornell thought some of their double raps were likely gunshots.

Second, you ignore that I pointedly stated the following: I'd be willing to bet that every member has had a brief sighting that they thought was something good, but didn't submit it because they understood their limitations as human beings.

Note the term "didn't submit". You are asking that I provide undocumented information. The observers I refered to wouldn't report a sighting of a few seconds as a definitve encounter. That's the point. Either they tracked it down to confirm their belief, or they viewed it as one that got away (like Rob's Temminck's Stint example).

Now if you want cases where multiple observors with time to look got it wrong, here's a few:
- An Osprey (photo taken) reported as a Swainson's Hawk at a world famous hawk watching site.
- An immature Red-throated Loon misidentified as a Pacific Loon in New York.
- A Snowy Plover (photo taken) misidentified as a Mongolian Plover in California.
- A Black-legged Kittiwake misidentified by a top seabirder and other experienced birders as an immature Sabine's Gull (a flying field mark if there ever was one).

I am not saying that Tyler Hicks did not see an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I'm saying his observation is prone to error for all the reasons Rob pointed out. That is why committees generally vote to "not accept". It means that the evidence presented isn't strong enough, not that the observer was wrong. To date, I have only voted on one record where a photo proved the bird reported was definitely a different species.

It sounds like his sighting is good enough to convince you, and that's fine. Perhaps this discussion will make you more circumspect about unidentified sounds of unknown origin, but perhaps not.

Now that I've pointed out the holes in your request, maybe you'll entertain mine. Name one other bird (local populations allowed ... that opens it way up) that were the target of an organized search, reportedly seen a dozen times by multiple observers, reportedly recorded hundreds of times, isn't a skulker like Yellow Rail, and required multiple years of searching to prove its existence.

-Paul G.

Anonymous said...

As for the argument that we are dealing with different mindsets--rare bird reviewers vs. population ecologists. If your evidence for even one IBWO is not sufficient to document that even one bird exists, how can you build an argument that there is a persisting population?

Amigo, why you asking me this, you know how it happened - don't pretend you don't.

It was because, "robust" isn't something you can parse into objective degrees that you and I can scratch our chins and say, yes, aren't we wise and learn-ed.

Sure it sounds great when you write this sage advice in a letter to a twenty year old wiz-kid birder with an earing and a soul patch on his chin, but it sounds a bit tinny and small when you address it to the guy in the corner office overlooking Sapsucker Woods and who gets his calls returned right away by Don Kennedy at AAAS and by the Secretary of the Interior.

Robust means you convinced the authorities,
Robust simply means "you really believe" not "you think" - and you are able to make the case to someone with authority. Be they the voices in your head, or in some position of power outside, like John Fitzpatrick.

Once powerful people were sure that there saw one, they simply assumed that there was a population - even though they must have known that there had to have been a population, failing to document a population, did not hinder the argument that there must be one, based on their "documentation" of one.

Because so much of "birding" (all?) is about identifying birds - people who really should be thinking about conservation biology, focus on the question of whether or not this bird has been seen and documented to the satisfaction of the "authorites" - and not asking where is the population of these birds?

Your last post seems to have hardened your position around defining the idea of "robust"

I think part of the problem is that we are both saying the same thing - I'm just trying to get you to improve your argument by not suggesting that it is ultimately useful to define degrees of robustness, because of the self evident difficulty of agreeing on what constitutes robust. For most people, your boss included, robust meant, "John Fitzpatrick said it, I believe it".

My opinion is that, sane, experienced people are convinced that they have seen Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers, and they have convinced a lot of sane, experienced people of this. In otherwords - in reality a robust sighting is one made by a credible person in a credible way.

This case, in all its glory is the MOTHER of all ID squabbles. Never again will such giants take the field to bicker over a bird ID. We have lived, as Homer, in an heroic time.

I'm also not feeling the love on this idea - which I think is a position that was originally held by the Cornell team - but later abandoned in favor of defending themselves on the ID itself, that the important aspect of this was to protect the "population" of Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers that had survived and managed to escape detection all these years.

I may be pollyanna about this, but it seems reasonable to take the position that at this point science can not accept the existance of ONE Ivory-Bill - if you are going to claim you've seen Ivory-Bills you have to document them as a population.

Is it that this position forcloses the hope that there might really be just ONE left, or just ONE PAIR left ... or something like that??

Is it really because we accept that this is a referendum about hope?


The Carpinterio Real.

Anonymous said...

To Paul G, Scott A here,

Long and good day in the field yesterday.

Lets summarize from my view:
I asked you to give me an example of something comparable to what occurred on 12/24 by Hicks and 2 others and having it all fall apart as a mistake. All 3 people reported Double knocks together with kents and Hicks described multiple field marks. The length of Hick’s sighting and exact field notes of all three in the field are not in our hands.

You then temporarily avoided giving an example and made some assumptions that the incoming angle of the 12/24 IBWO sounds were detected at an incoming horizontal angle.. I have a personal communication that some double knocks and kents have come from an incoming raised angle perhaps eliminating the deer hypothesis. I also have personal communication on hundreds of hours in the Choctawhatchee that young deer bleeps you refer to are very rare at this time of year and are discernable in the field as deer when they occur. Sonograms are not always representative of what humans can easily distinguish on their own, e.g. humans can differentiate accurately different sounds that sonograms appear to show as very similar.

In addition when these bleets are more common they are detected in a random pattern in the Choctaw and have never been detected sympatrically with double knocks. In addition deer are found while bleeting occasionally but this has never occurred in the Choctaw (look for source of putative IBWO kent and find deer). The case against these sounds being deer are substantial. Also if the calls are something other than a relatively rare animal there has to be a plausible explanation, again plausible, why these calls in both AR and FL seem not to be random spaced but always seem to have been in 2 small areas in AR in 2005 and 1 area in FL in 2006. If you use as a source of a sound a common taxon, you must explain why there is not a random distribution of these sounds but a skewed spatial distribution. Possible explanations that do not meet the field data are not really explanations…these explanations are very poor science and one of the reasons that USFWS seems to favor the extant hypothesis and AR RBC accepted and had not reversed its IBWO is extant decision.

Same general line of reasoning for using Blue jay calls as an acceptable alternate hypothesis ……if you say an aberrant blue jay call you must have some normal calls mixed in yet that is not what is found. All blue jays that have had a note or two that sounded very like an IBWO kent also in very short order blurted out other normal notes. Blue jay is common………I know of no Blue jay tape in a 5 minute context that not was easily distinguishable as blue jay. I have of course seen a few attempts to mislead by only presenting a blue jay kent here and not presenting the other 4 minutes on the tape that have the same bird clearly revealing itself as a jay.

You then again fail to address my synergistic main point that Campephilus double knocks are well accepted as being highly indicative of , well, a Campephilus Woodpecker. I would like to hear once any skeptic say for each of the sightings accompanied by some audio evidence in the same area and same day the exact explanation of all contemporaneously occurring events from AR and FL. EG on 12/24 the 10 double knocks none of which were heard with any single knocks were made by (X? species), the fact that all three people also heard kent-like calls coming from 20 degrees above horizontal is because of X species was doing this X. The reason none of the three observers saw the X species doing that was because (fill in the blank). The hick’s sighting was of this species because of this______.

If we see this for all single day events in AR and FL and these alternate scenarios sound less than preposterous we should discard each respective event. I have seen nothing that comes close to explaining via “single state” theory what happened on 12/24.

A committee must review all the evidence given to it, they also must read the nuances of literature descriptions of the many unrecorded by machine calls of the species. For 12/24 you must consider the fact that 3 people heard the calls and double knocks. You will be able to read their descriptions………maybe someone from the hypothetical committee can break down and call these people directly and separately and see if all adds up to something very unpileated-like. You must also become familiar with deer ecology. You then have to lay over all that a stunning description of the marks by one observer. Then you vote.

I think we would all be interested in why audio evidence has become even needed by a committee. You haven’t spoken to the issue I brought up. Your committees routinely and prevalently receive reports with no, (NONE, NOTHING) as far as audio evidence. You routinely I believe accept reports without pictures and accept these one viewer, no pics, no audio and approve these as official records. I don’t know but there are rampant inconsistencies out and about.

IBWO is not a first state record in AR, FL etc. FL FWWS White Paper ( Miller) states several post 1950 “possible reliable reports” and even lists Jim Stevenson’s report with (alleged feathers somewhere according to JS) of 1978 or 84. FL committee has never reported IBWO extinct in FL. Why are some in PA, NJ and other states intent on letting others believe that AR (accepted there) and the FL (allegedly being submitted) committees have dome something wrong or will in FL do something potentially wrong with a Yes record vote.
You say you wouldn’t accept FL IBWO submittal but the record clearly shows committees have routinely accepted records, first state records with evidence sets that do not nearly approach what AU should be able to deliver by 1/07.

You listed some actual mis ids as follows:
1) An Osprey (photo taken) reported as a Swainson's Hawk at a world famous hawk watching site.
2) - An immature Red-throated Loon misidentified as a Pacific Loon in New York.
3)- A Snowy Plover (photo taken) misidentified as a Mongolian Plover in California.
4)- A Black-legged Kittiwake misidentified by a top seabirder and other experienced

birders as an immature Sabine's Gull (a flying field mark if there ever was one).

There is no audio evidence in these accounts? Its obvious I was asking for that. I also believe these were quickly cleared up over a beer or development of the picture!

Besides I see nothing by definition of evidence gathered as being comparable to the 12/24 IBWO data (pending publication). I find 1 to admittedly be a monstrous ID but you give no details of the distance and duration of the sighting. 2 and 3 are more difficult ID problems to PIWO/IBWO with basic plumage being involved in both examples. 3. I think you may have gotten your species mixed up meaning a Greater Sand plover but you might be talking about something else. Regardless wintering Charadrius field problems are an order of difficulty more confusing than the IBWO/PIWO when one considers the accidentals which one must but doesn’t always. When you see a PIWO or IBWO you consider the other like, maybe 100% of the time…right?.

4 sabines kittiwake mistake seems to have some minimal merit. Would like to hear a bit more.

Whether you accept the audio evidence from FL was not the point….you are still able to shop around for a good ID argument with audio and sight reports….but then the ID all fell apart after careful review. I guess there isn’t any such story because those type of good reports were all accepted by the committees. There are not examples and reports whether in preparation or submitted that fell apart with audio and witnesses……like the IBWO case and like you assert and that was my point: Where putative audio of a species exists, multiple sight reports exists, then an approved record exists…..except it seems in the IBWO case…?.

I was asking if you had any formal, informal, unpublished, published , , info here that is anything like the 12/24 scenario and it turned out a mistaken ID. I say nothing like that exists because there was no events that were centered around a mistake like this and all those type of reports with audio and eye witness descriptions were accepted .

You then ask for me to provide a similar situation where a bird was allegedly seen and heard by many but no evidence was gathered. Wow…what a gift and I have the closest example possible followed by many more to be researched.

My example includes the late Ted Parker and Jerome Jackson and the same genus. The Cuban Ivory-billed a different species (2006) was chased by some great field birder teams and not only couldn’t they get a picture but for some reason didn’t record the species but did write of the calls and knocks. There you go… better analogy can possibly exist. Are committee members a little curious why these esteemed researchers couldn’t get the evidence? Bit of coincidence don’t you think CUBAN IBWO accepted by the world from Cuba………no evidence. Were these bad birders? No. was the species exceedingly wary? Evidently yes,. Any evidence? No. Were Cuban records generally accepted despite brief encounters, no tape, no pic? Yes. I am requesting consistency somewhere…anywhere.


Other examples of rediscoveries where birds existed but nothing could be proven for years is as follows. By the way some of these maybe without pictures/proof still to this day……………not sure. There are more examples but gotta go.

Madagascar Pochard 1 in ’91 7 in 2006
Takahe (last recorded 1900-rediscovered 1948) NZ
Maui Parrotbill (1892-1950) Hawaii
Campbell Island Teal (?-1975) NZ
Chatham Island Taiko (1867-1978) NZ
Crested Honeycreeper (1907-1980) Hawaii
Jerdon's Courser (1900-1986) India
Cebu Flowerpecker (1906-1992) Phillipines
Forest Owlet (1884-1997) India
Campbell Island Snipe (1840-1997) NZ
Damar Flycatcher ( 1898-2001) Indonesia
Golden-crowned manakin ( 1957-2002) Brazil
Long-legged warbler ( 1894-2003) Fiji
Gurney's Pitta ( 1914-2003) Myanmar
Cozumel Thrasher ( 1995-2004) Mexico
Rusty-Throated Wren Babbler (1947-2004) India
New Zealand Storm-petrel (1905-2006) NZ

Some of these birds have been rediscovered in tiny relict habitats, or after devastating weather episodes, or massive predation by introduced predators, which should have wiped them out. Some were re-discovered after intense specific searches-some by pure chance.

>>>Hello all,

Exciting news from Madagascar: the Madagascar Pochard, Aythya innotata,
has been rediscovered. Both adults and young were observed. This
critically endangered species was last seen in 1991 (a single bird) and
has been widely presumed extinct. Multiple individuals have not been
observed since 1960. Full story and a photograph at:

Anonymous said...

Scott A: I'll take one more try. Your examples really show that you don't quite understand the point I'm trying to make. Here's what I asked for:

Name one other bird (local populations allowed ... that opens it way up) that were the target of an organized search, reportedly seen a dozen times by multiple observers, reportedly recorded hundreds of times, isn't a skulker like Yellow Rail, and required multiple years of searching to prove its existence.

None of your examples come remotely close to the standard I requested, which is the same as the case in Florida. Actually, your examples prove my case. The New Zealand Storm-Petrel was rediscovered on a general pelagic trip, not even an organized search for the species. For others, it was the organized searches that obtained proof positive of at least some of these birds in your list. Which of these efforts had thousands of man-hours before finding the bird? Plus multiple sightings? Which used ARUs? Which lasted multiple field seasons?

I understand there are birds that have been rediscovered. I asked for an example with multiple sightings, hundreds of sound recordings, and an organized search that couldn't turn up the bird in question, but later found the bird in the search area. I asked for the sounds since you place a huge emphasis on them, despite analysis by multiple parties showing they don't match known Ivory-billed ... including the double knocks per Ken Rosenberg who said the recorded double knocks don't fully match the traits of Campephilus woodpeckers.

Let's look, in particular, at your case of the the Cuban Ivory-billed. According to the Nature Conservancy site, here's what we have:

1968: Cuban biologist Orlando Garrido reports seeing the ivory-billed woodpecker.

1986: Several Cuban and international scientists report brief glimpses of the ivory-billed woodpecker in Cuba, but they fail to obtain photographs or sound recordings.

1987: Cuban scientists report seeing a female ivory-bill in the mountains of Cuba. It is the last certain sighting of the Cuban subspecies.

No photos. No video. No sound recordings. They say "certain sighting", but what are the details of the sighting? Since "scientists" is plural, maybe I can assume it was at least seen simultaneously by more than one observer? Was it multiple? How long did they see it? Were they able to take notes and make sketches as they watched it? If so, that one sighting is vastly better than anything reported in Florida. I might even call it "robust".

As you can see, that's a pretty awful example of what I requested.

But I'll give you this. I admit I don't know of a single case where a bird was reported with multiple single observer sightings, all lasting just seconds, that was backed up with sound evidence that when analyzed didn't match any known recordings of the species reported, and then ended up being another species ... or even the species reported. In that, this case is pretty unique. Disturbingly so.

Once they prove that the recorded calls and/or knocks are from Ivory-billeds (rather than assuming they are as you do), they can try to use them to try to determine thing about populations and movement, but as the famous saying goes, "you have to crawl before you can learn to walk."

-Paul G.

Anonymous said...

Hey Paul I can do better than a bird that has been seen and heard but never photographed to show that the iBWO case is not that strange.......a species that is 2,000 times aaslarge, the Rhino of borneo (link below).

The species has been seen on and off for a hundred years and heard, then after no pictures could be had they set up some cameras and finally got the first picture in 2006. What is more intuitively harder to photo..... a large, half blind rhino that moves in a two dimesional forest habitat or a bird with eyes, hearing and olfactory of top accuity moving in a three dimensional world in river bottoms and swamps.

In addtion the bird can completey dissappear even in the day into roost holes or sleep in late like Tanner said it did. Maybe the Rhino was using giant roost holes in trees and suddenly came out in 2006. The rhino was seen and heard for many many years before being captured but only on a remote camera. No photo exists where the camera had a man attached to it.

I have bird examples coming also.

On the Cuban record....I have personnly communicated with people on these expeditions and there are four publications... none on the net. J. Jackson and others had one extremely brief view of the Cuban IBWO. They heard the birds a few times. JJ does not claim proof was provided yet you seem to accept this record as do most.

I am not faulitng you for accepting this record but am faulting you for not knopwing the double standard exists ( you still think the Cuban sightings were somehow more than what was presented in FL with the nice paper AU had 10/06 with multiple data sets of adhesion, roosts, audio and multiple eyewitness reports, two observers and two birds at once. There is even bad film of the two birds...not seen by you. Some data sets with control data.

I recommnend reading the Lester Short 1986 paper for Cuba. Suprisingly his title is similar to the CLO title The IBWO lives on in Cuba.

JJs short, 1 or 2 second view of a flying bird is a good sighting to me even though no proof and its much less than was had recently in Florida.

good day Scott A

rhinon link

Anonymous said...

On the Cuban record... There is no other large black and white woodpecker in Cuba to confuse with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The next largest species is the Cuban Flicker.

On the Rhino...It lives in extremly remote virgin rainforests in an area not often visited by westerners. But they still got a picture in the FIRST field season. It shouldn't have to be repeated that the IBWO lives in the UNITED STATES(!). Mennill from the Auburn search team wrote this week in his blog that his plan was to have dogs and hunters flush the birds to him. Hardly remote. You cannot compare the discovery of an animal in a largely undeveloped country like Indonesia to an animal in the US. You've consistently shown no ability or no interest in addressing the arguments against your case. You have to be just picking a fight now.

Anonymous said...

The next largest species is the Cuban Flicker

Sorry, Fernandina's Flicker is the bird. Point still stands though...

Anonymous said...

Well, Nathan nailed the rhino issue. The only thing I can add is that as far as I know, the natural history of rhinos in Indonesia doesn't include serial uttering of loud calls, drumming from favorite perches, or continually traveling to and from a nest hole to feed young. Most would consider these to be things that made finding an animal easier.

As to the Ivory-billed in Cuba, you assume that I accept the record. In actuality, I've never reviewed the evidence of the Cuban bird. I accept people believe it persisted, but I also accepted Cornell's initial assessment that the Ivory-billed persisted in Arkansas. Then I saw the video and reviewed the published evidence. Now I believe that the bird in the video is a normal Pileated and that the sightings are likely (though not definitely) mistakes.

And again, thanks to Nathan for bringing up the confusing species issue that does not exist in Cuba.

-Paul G.

Bill Pulliam said...

As for the Luneau bird being a normal Pileated (wow this thread has gone far afield from Tyler Hicks...), if you've not seen it before you might be interested to read my take on that issue, summarized here, even if you disagree 100%:

Anonymous said...

PG, Nathan

Yes I am looking for an avian example that Paul staged but haven't alot of time.

LeTS NOT LOSE SIGHT THAT THERE has only been a few field seasons and the species (IBWO) range encompasses millions of acres of habitat. Seems everyone is a bit impatient. You act like if there is no picture the other evidence just dissappears....well it doesn't. PG has carefully avoided all the inconsisatcies in past acceptance by various committees he may or may not have voted on that had no audia and no video.

Please do not pick some difficult task for me to accomplish, eg bird pop. seen heard but not photoed as such an indicator that the species existant has not been accompamied by SUSTANTIAL BOdy of evidence.

Besides the Cuban IBWO fits perfect....there is no photo and at elast Nathan likes the sighting and the bird was chased around for years.

The rhino search and placement of the cameras was proceeded by many years of reports by people, some with cameras, reporting the species. Do not make it seem like cameras on Borneo were just recently discovered. I know many private trips and some university linked where groups chased around in Rhino areas with cameras and no luck for over twenty years.

The animals are quite elusive have had some level of hunting and are noisy as are tapirs crashing through the understory. Rhinoes have been heard and seen for years so there is some rough analogy to the IBWO situation.

On the cuban record I wish the standards didn't change from skeptic to skeptic or from IBWO researcher to IBWO researcher. At least PG (if he reviews the Cuban sightings a bit more) can remain consistant by rejecting Cuba and Fl and AR.

I remain consistant since I accept Cuba with no real physical evidence as a valid record and easily FL with the multiple data sets and at least 16 sighting by ~ 9 different people and multiple eyewitness reports and tapes. More evidently coming.

Now Nathan............. with some position sliding by PG on PG's prior need for robust sightings....PG seems to no longer demand robust sightings and is developing a caviat.

Nathan is not yelling out leucistic this species or that, or a bad call of one of many species including Anhinga, cormorant, parrot or this Corvid, grackle or size is not a good field mark especially when flying.
Nothing from the blogger either when he hasn't missed a step in critizing every simlar aspect especillay size in the FL, AR situation that is found in spades in the 80s Cuba study. Nathan were were you when size was called such a bad field mark over and over by Feungunson.

There seems to be a juxtaposition of when to use what set of skeptic logic. ALL SIGHTING IN ALL places must be robust, correct?. I mean the bird had no pics from '48 with Dennis saying its almost extinct. You have no tapes from the 80s, no pixs, no feathers. Whats more likley some leucistic corvid or grackle or unusually plummaged Buteo, a group think mistake, a psychological explanation that Rob always seems to love...... or an extinct bird.

How were all these other possiblities eliminated in Cuba ? Seems inconsistant for you may be thrown out of the skeptic club to allow Cuba.

Amazing also is that Lester Short a good friend of JJackson was able to title his article so similar to what CLO did (Cuba IBWO lives.)

Never heard JJ say anything about his friend's straying a bit away from the standards he now professes. (I goota find all those 4 articles from lester and JJ..........hold on its all in this stack....

crap it all fell over) I think the old lady moved it into the garage. How is it that all my crap is crap and winds up in the garage and all her stuff that is really crap winds up in the cellar. I will return after some marital blogging.

see ya..I am looking SA

Besides I think Hicks can tell the difference from 40 feet of a perched bird, like almost all of us (not including blog owner) from that incredibly not-similar smallest subspecies of Pileated. Is it harder to call ID flying IBWO in cuba through the trees in 1/2 to 2 secs or easier to see a peched bird with its side to you and bill from 40 feet away for 2 to 4 secs in FL?

Oh by the way the Cuban IBWO, bairdi is/was a good bit smaller than C. p. p. Rob get on this.....this size thing is your bag.

>>>> On the Cuban record... There is no other large black and white woodpecker in Cuba to confuse with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The next largest species is the Cuban Flicker. <<<< wrong on the species

Anonymous said...

Hello The Carpinterio Real:

You are right in that the more important centric point is the population. To lay down criticism that certain scientists are claiming pops is not true. They are claiming at least one bird in AR and in FL htye presented evidence that tow birds suggesting IBWO have been seen.

A non sequitor in a presentation that depicts finding even one bird as meaningless as far as population implications is the great statistical odds against finding the last bird during surveys. Please see mathamatician Tim Sparhs calculation in running into a moving IBWO in a large area like the Apalachicola.

Finding one bird in basic pop demographics indicates the very very high chance of there being more. Vis a vis the increased searches now FOR AT LEAST A FEW YEARS if unsuccesful in finding none to one bird will tell us that the species is perhasp extinct or functional extinct and no longer meeting replacment numbers despite improving habitat. ( I do have a confidential report of 2006 fledging).

The other thing you wrote perhaps ambiguously rather than wrong is how can we claim a pop from a finding a bird in AR or FL since there has been no confirmed breeding since Tanner. If we have found/find a bird in 2004-7 it surely indicates post 1940's breeding.


Anonymous said...

To PG et al . Here is a pop that may meet your demands and one that I ran into Jim Fowler in the Corcovado 20 years ago in relation to.

I was thinking last year that the IBWO should not be compared to a skulker which although hard to see can be surrounded by a group and waited out....whether that takes hours or a still can be waited out and a pix had.

The few IBWO left are arboreal skulkers with great senses and a large flush distance. Still with enough searchers one should accidently see one flying from another search group that flushed it from 800 yards away for example. This would give search teams chances of flight views. Well gee,,,thats what we have in AR and in FL.

The answer to PGs question on similar situation will not lie in skulkers which he infers...they can always be found with patience in my mind because they are relatively sedentary species,. IBWO is vagile...hence look at rare, hunted raptor pops for the homolog.

Therefore back to Corcovado.....I have been loosely following the Harpy Eagle situation in Osa for years after running into a film crew there.
I have not heavily researched this but believe the species was being claimed to be seen and heard for years and visitors and various trip leaders, Fowler, were always looking for this wanted species......then finally near the luna lodge in 2002? a pix was had.

The OSA is a fraction of the habitat we have in the US...but still a great place.

Another similar but NOT PERFECT example is the Cozumel Thrasher-- numerous unconfirmed eyewitness reports and hearing but no bird now or yet since 95. In 95 the last one was found in a net...prior to 95 there had been ~ a few years with no proof but sighting I recall.

Point is there are numerous species that are seen poorly for years, we will call this the chase phase, and then a pix is had or a bird is trapped. In the IBWO case we have just entered the chase phase in half force in 2007.........they are not netting so the pix may take a bit longer.

Anyway like I have said...committees have accepted numerous first state records with no audio and no pixs. That means these committees accepted birds with no pics, one observer (sometimes) no audio for a species never seen in ~ 100-200+ years. IBWO is not a first state record with confirmed reports into the 30s and the Agey '67 sightings and many other reports for many years.

Again I see a double what I say not what we do. No Consistancy. The bird was never with reason declared extinct in FL....period.

Cozumel Thrasher

# Last definitive scientific record: June 1995, bird captured in mist net

Reference: Macouzet F., T., and P. Escalante Pliego. 2001. Registros del Cuitlacoche de Cozumel Toxostoma guttatum posteriores al Huracán Gilberto. Cotinga 15: 32-33

# Most recent credible sight record: April 2006, unconfirmed glimpse of single bird, at Cozumel Golf Club

# Other recent sightings:

* July 2004: single bird seen flying across primary highway north of Occidental Grand Cozumel resort and south of Playa San Francisco beach club

* June 2004: four sightings of what was believed to be a single bird, in general vicinity of San Gervasio ruins

* April 2004: unconfirmed sighting of single bird, in general vicinity of San Gervasio ruins

* December 2003: sighting of single bird, at Cozumel Golf Club; documented by video, but digital video file subsequently lost

* September 2003: unconfirmed sighting of single bird

Reference: North American Birds 58(1):154

* November 2001: unconfirmed sighting of single bird

Reference: North American Birds 56(1):114

* December 1998: confirmed sighting of single bird

Reference: North American Birds 56(1):114


Anonymous said...

Soggy Bill, Chaser, ScottA, nice to see you here. Nelson's Skeptic Blog has become hostile to the kind of thought provoking dialog that we are seeing here, and I appreciate these thoughts ... ScottA you would have made a great officer in the 7th cavalry.

The idea that the IBWO is an "arboreal" skulker" is the kind of belief that makes for Little Big Horns.

Chaser, at this point I'd like to ask a favor. Would you "reset" this discussion, perhaps by distilling the points into some set of ideas that we can get our heads around.

Specifically, I'd really like to discuss what the population implications are for seeing ONE bird.

Everyone seems to agree that we aren't looking at the "last" IBWO, Scott A says he's getting reports of a "fledgling" ...

could we get some discussion of how many birds there would have to be for there to be one ... or are we left with the idea that we have arrived here and there is only one breeding pair?

Anonymous said...

Sigh. And on and on it goes. The problems with your statements mount exponentially, your examples are horrible (and island endemic that lives in deep scrub?) and I have work to do, but there is one statement that I just can't let go unchallenged due to it being repeated over and over without any scientific evidence to back it up.

The few IBWO left are arboreal skulkers with great senses and a large flush distance.

That statement is based on ... what exactly?

Oh, I see. We can't get good looks, so therefore it must be because the bird's behavior has completely changed. That allows us to conveniently dismiss what was known of its natural history 60 years ago. We'd have better sightings if it still behaved like all the other Campephilus woodpeckers in the world, but we don't have better sightings so it must behave completely differently now.

Sounds like more supposition and less science. Or perhaps, as Jerome Jackson put it, "faith-based ornithology."

Maybe one day evidence will be presented that will satisfy everybody. In the meantime you will continue to believe and I will continue to wait.

-Paul G.

Anonymous said...

Mounting exponentially……sounds like the good old college days. It only hurts when you are on the receiving end of the mounting. A complete read of the literature, no walk in the park, will quickly reveal that this species was often not easily found or approached from 1900 onwards even though we can assume there were hundreds of birds.

JJ Kuhn acclimated the birds to visitors at Singer hence the oft repeated misconception, again seen here tonight that the birds were approachable. The only times this species was approachable was when egg/hatchling fidelity was too strong to keep the birds away or one came acroos the normal ratio of more tame birds in a population.

Please read Bent, he compiles the behavioral info that BNA Jackson tries to summate in a page. A quick few points……Tanner: birds very quiet and I did not know I had been near the nest for 2 days before finding . Allen and Kellogg: nest or roost tree abandonment was documented sometime after one to four visits. Once a nest was found and the birds stayed they did calm down over days. Other authors "they seem to be able to keep just out of gun range".

Animal behavior and natural selection (Darwin) or survival of the fittest (wallace) both are at play when a non-stochastic event…..heavy hunting/collecting is used to bludgeon a species with a crashing population. Indeed the literature notes a range of behaviors and is that variability that must be there for selection to have worked. Certainly any sychophant of the written words of the infamous will see that the iBWO did not fit a rigid behavioral model. Are we to believe that a pop with a normal gaussian curve in relation to individual flush distance.........became less wary or more wary in the distribution of flush distances after ~ 500 to ? individuals were collected.

There are also multiple mechanisms that do not even need to call upon evolution to explain a slight to more than slight increase in wariness…..that manifests in an increased flush distance. The manifestation of complex behavior, such as excessive wariness in highly vagile animals like birds, is especially likely to be governed by complex genetic-environmental interactions. For every genotype, phenotypic trait, and environmental variable, a different norm of reaction can exist; leading to myriad of possible responses from even one animal let alone a population. Enormous potentiality can exist in the synergism between genetic and environmental factors in determining traits. These norms of reaction can lead to the same imdividual or population being approachable under some conditions while with some disturbances, even if stochastic, for example a year later these individual(s) react more warily to the same stimuli. © in prep by associate

I too am very busy.......if we are going to get ahead we can't have ideas from a hack like Bucky sketic...who has no knowledge of basic genetics and animal behavior and has never heard of norms of reaction and never will.


Anonymous said...

Scott A, I have to say thanks. I don't think you could have made my point more obvious if you tried. With an air of superiority, you just went into great detail about what COULD happen to support your previous statement about what HAS happened. You replaced scientific observation with supposition. You took a hypothesis and called it fact.

That really is the basis for the vast majority of skepticism and frustration. Some are just too quick to make the leap from "could be" to "is".

BTW, you might find this link about the Florida records committee on the skeptic site to be of interest ... or not.

-Paul G.

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