Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ivory-billed Woodpecker claimed in Florida!! No photo!

Well, my scoop obviously spooked them. They published a sanitised version of the story, that removed any reference to the slaying of the last remaining pair. Frankly, I preferred my version. So, if you've been on Mars the last few days... the paper can be found at with a pdf of the field notes at

Lots of glimpses of what look like Ivory-bills, usually flying off at speed, lots of 'kent' calls that as sonagrams don't absolutely match anything, but are closest to IBWO, and some enormous cavities in trees, many of which are bigger than previously recorded for Pileated, and some bigger than ever recorded for IBWO! Blimey! No photo!

There's a large amount of evidence, and I think you would have to be NUTS to dismiss the possibility that Ivory-bills are holding on. Looking through the field notes, in some ways these are very honest descriptions of the sorts of views you get of fast-moving birds in dense tropical woods. But I think we also have to acknowledge that eyes and memory play tricks, and the naked eye views, silhouettes, blurry binculars (! yes really, you couldn't make it up!) and brief glimpses don't really hold water as acceptable records. In fact there's only two that, if they honestly describe what was seen, come close to being nail-ons. The first is Tyler Hicks 'shopping list' sketch (jelly, oatmeal, skim milk, Dr Pepper, Ivory-billed Woodpecker - couldn't be more American if it tried) where at last someone has seen another field mark... the white dorsal stripes. Presumably a slip, but in the text it mentions them going onto the flanks. If these really were seen as described, and are not an honest mistake, it's an IBWO. The second stonewall sighting it Brian Rolek's 'sketch 92'. IF, again, the sketch describes what was seen, which is a bird flying vertically upward to the tree trunk with the upperwing showing that clearly, then it really has to be IBWO. In fact this is the only rear angle where i really believe the difference from Pileated is clear.

Good on them! Good work.

Things that still confuse me....

A grad student desperate to go to Arkansas to find IWBOs, picks a spot on the map in Florida and finds IBWO within an hour. I know it's Florida, but we aren't actually in f***ing Disneyland are we?

Bad science. It's fine for birding to be bad science - we do that all the time... but it's not fine for science to be bad science. That was my gripe with Fitzpatrick et al. and it still is. Soooo... the most likely explanation for the double knocks is a large woodpecker, and the kent calls, though heavily degraded and difficult to work with are most like IBWO. So why not do a control... few hundred hours of audio analysis in a wet North American wood out of IBWO range, but still full of hunters, canoes, Blue Jays, nuthatches, baby pigeons, and show that the 'kents' and double knocks don't occur. Do Pileateds knock harder when the bark is tight on the tree?

So many holes, so little getting up to them and rummaging about in the litter at the bottom.

Why are they so often identified after being seen badly, flying away at speed? We saw after Arkansas that THIS is the angle where you can mistake Pileateds for Ivory-billed.

Don't you guys even carry binoculars?!!! :-) Or a camera. My granny could have done better!!! :-)

Anyway, I guess it's moot. If these IBWOs are real there will be a photo this winter.

I still think my truth was funnier. Actually, Ii think it's pretty ironic that although we are now virtually certain that the Arkansas video was spurious... the whole episode has kicked off the research programme that might tell us the true status of Ivory-bills in N America. Maybe not classically ironic, before someone jumps on me, but I don't know a better word.

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