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A steaming pile of Ivory-bill crap (obviously larger then Pileated crap)

August 12, 2007

Ok, so I really didn’t want to dive into the Ivory-bill fray again, but seeing as it’s likely one of the top five birding related issues of the day (and then only if splits and lumps are considered one issue) here goes. A little backstory, on the Birdchat listserve this morning there was a link to a report from the American Ornithologist’s Union, which is having its annual meeting in Wyoming. The folks from Auburn working down in the Choctawhatchee gave a presentation on their field season searching for that damn woodpecker. The short of it is that they didn’t find much, more “interesting” sounds, fleeting glimpses, “intriguing” pictures, status quo really. They did, however, bring up the picture (.pdf) that I mentioned in a previous post. It was this that inspired me to post on this again.

Dr Geoff Hill’s (from Auburn) take on the photo as quoted from Birder’s World‘s website:

Hill said the snag near the center of the picture was what the camera was aimed at. He stopped short of identifying the three blurry birds, saying only that he thought they were flying toward the camera, not away from it, and that they had woodpecker-like long wings, heavy tails, and long bills.

Ok, so let’s move from facts into conjecture here, I’m some guy with a blog so I can do that (chew on that, legitimate newsman!). Hill stopped short of identifying but said the birds have field marks consistent with woodpeckers. This is ridiculous. For starters, the only woodpecker in North America with supposed “long wings” is the Ivory-billed. Long wings are not “woodpecker-like”, neither is a long bill to that end, those are apparently field marks of a very specific woodpecker. If he’s going to throw around terms like long wings, he should be more honest about it, as no one considers long wings to be a field mark on a Pileated or a Downy or any other of the North American woodpeckers. Whew, I’m tired of typing long wings. So Hill thinks these are Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, not surprising I guess.

Let play along with Hill shall we? A quick turn through the old Sibley provides us with the following birds that also fit the “long wings, long bills, heavy tails” criteria, all of which can also be found in the Florida panhandle: Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, American Bittern, Black and Yellow Crowned Night Herons, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, actually most any duck can fit this as you can’t even see a bill in this photo. My point isn’t to find the exact match anyway, I think that’s impossible given the quality of the photo ( I still lean towards Night Heron though), but there is enough there to question why Hill is so sure these must be Ivory-billed Woodpeckers.

Incidentally I think he has the direction the birds are going wrong too, they look to me like they are going away from the camera. Look at the middle (edited to clarify: that’s going down from the top) bird, doesn’t it look like the straight edge of the wing is on the far end? And the curve of the primaries and secondaries is on the close end? Am I crazy? The one thing we can be sure of on all of this is that if you can’t even be sure which direction the birds are flying you certainly can’t tell how “heavy” or “long” the bill or tail is. It’s all just a bunch of speculative crap. Lipstick on a pig.

But the best quote from the article:

Rolek tried to dispel the idea that the kent calls and double-knocks they recorded could have originated with non-animal sources. These, one presumes, would have produced detections at night, he argued, yet the listening stations made no detections in 1,500 hours of nighttime recordings. Both he and Hill also said that there were no puddle ducks in the region. (bold font mine)

This is what really ticks me off about this. No puddle ducks? In the Florida panhandle? In the winter? To use the parlance of the interweb…OMG! LOL! What are they smoking? Too bad there’s nothing that might prove this patently absurd statement wrong. Oh wait, there is. Like say, the Christmas Bird Count numbers on “puddle ducks” for the region for last year. I mean, geez guys, use Google or something.
For Crystal River: Wood Duck-188, Mallard-52, Hooded Merganser-47
For Appalachiola NWR: Gadwall- 18, Wood Duck- 4, Mallard- 6
For Bay County: Wood Duck- 60, Mallard- 85, Blue-winged Teal- 25
For Choctawhatchee Bay: Wood Duck- 6, Mallard- 90, Gadwall- 19, Hooded Merganser- 74

These numbers are admittedly small in some cases, but for all the talk of the research site being so secluded it remains a foolish statement to say that there are no “puddle ducks” in the region when there are many in far more developed areas of the panhandle at the same time. Of course these are the same folks who said it was impossible for Blue Jays to be making Ivory-bill like noises because they weren’t around either. They must truly be in a fortunate area that every possible Ivory-bill confusion species is non-existent. There must not be any Pileated Woodpeckers either, or at least those present must have “long woodpecker-like wings”, maybe that explains the difficulty.

All this is based on second-hand quotes so I retain the right to modify my opinion should something more definitive about the presentation come up. This sort of stuff is consistent with what Auburn has been putting out all year though so I expect it’s pretty accurate. I do hope they come up with something down there and prove me wrong, even though I doubt they will. At least they seem slightly more together than the festering boil that is the Arkansas search. If this is the sort of stuff that is still being trotted out as “highly suggestive” though, I got a message for Hill, this ain’t even gonna cut it.

Sorry for the rant reader(s). I’ll try to hit a different divisive birding topic next time. Perhaps I’ll take on Clement’s recent split of Emerald Toucanet. 7 species? Really? What’s the deal with that one?

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39 Comments
  1. cyberthrush permalink
    August 12, 2007 6:47 pm

    yeah, reacting to second-hand quotes may be a bit hasty; I believe Dr. Hill finds the photo in question interesting, but certainly not clearly identifiable — they do have millions of photos to sort through and this is just one that was harder to ID.
    As far the direction of flight, the birds’ bills appear pointed toward the camera, and this as well as overall shape, probably lead most to believe the birds are flying toward the camera (but, yes, that too is open to debate).

  2. August 12, 2007 9:13 pm

    If the photo in question was truly just one that was harder to ID, then Hill should never have brought it out as suggestive at the AOU meeting. The fact that he did just that means that he likely considers it to be bigger than it actually is. A presentation to his peers is no place for what up to then was considered a ID quiz.

    Besides, according to the fellow from Birder’s World there were 315 cameras and 7 million images (again not confirmed, to be fair) of which that pic was only Ivory-billish image.

    As for the direction the birds are going, I believe the pointy bits towards the camera are the legs of a Night Heron. But I agree that it’s up for debate, a point unto itself…

  3. Anonymous permalink
    August 12, 2007 11:50 pm

    Lipstick on a pig is right. They should be ashamed of themselves for showing either the video or the photo. If the Ivory-bill is being detected over and over in the area, the automatic cameras would have gotten some decent images. They didn’t. Hill and crew are dreaming, and more people need to step up and give them the bad news.

  4. Beloved Aunt permalink
    August 13, 2007 2:25 am

    It’s all just a bunch of speculative crap. Lipstick on a pig.

    Yup. It’s been that way since the bird went extinct about 60 years ago.

    The only reason people are still getting excited about the lipstick is that awful Science paper that came out in 2005.

    Hill should be ashamed but as long as he has his apologists and nutty fans (cyberthrush et al.) he’ll keep on preaching to the choir.

    Great article, btw. Keep up the good work.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    August 13, 2007 3:01 am

    I thought the birds in the photo had the right “gestalt” for night heron as well – especially the uppermost bird.

    The really farcical aspect though of a sober man presenting that photo during a discussion of looking for Ivory Billed woodpeckers is … that there are THREE birds in it.

    Of course the three birds also agrees with the gestalt of night heron – but when was the last time you saw THREE woodpeckers just cruising along above the trees?

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen three woodpeckers flying like this. I do from time to time see pileated making its way out in the open between groves of trees, but have you ever seen one with a wingmate? Two wingmates?!!!

    I mean the silliness of taking 7 million photos from an automatic camera and then getting one that looks interesting in a rorschach kind of way … and then suggesting that it looks intersting enough to present in a talk about the search for Ivory Billed … why it only seems to CONFIRM the ability of people to CONVINCE themselves of just about anything – and underscore the necessity of using the standards of evidence and falsifiable experiental methods when studying something you are passionate about.

    I mean, god bless Geoff Hill, but if he can place even a modest probability on this being an Ivory Billed … it is the DUTY of peers at an ornithological association to point out to him that he isn’t thinking like a scientist SHOULD think.

    He is thinking the way those people who see the image of Jesus on a tortilla think.

    From now on, for the benefit of Dr. Hill and the scientific community as a whole, could we please refer to this photo as Hill’s “tortilla image”.

  6. August 13, 2007 9:25 am

    Anon 3:01AM- I absolutely agree re: the 3 birds, off the top of my head the only woodpeckers that even hang around in groups are cooporative breeders like Acorn and Red-cockaded, which, obviously not…

    Very enthusiatic about the tortilla image though. Ecce Campephilus! Extra Woodpecker Nulla Salus!

  7. Greg S permalink
    August 13, 2007 9:53 am

    Your original post and the comments by anonymous are right on target. This “faith based” science should make the faces of the so called “researchers” as red as the crest of……….. the Lord God Campephilus sp.

  8. Anonymous permalink
    August 13, 2007 11:18 am

    The Choctawhatchee riparian corridor has very few puddle ducks away from the actual river at any time of the year and at certain times of the year none away from the river surface unless they want to be alligator food.

    During 30 to 80 mile paddles/hikes I have taken you will get 50 to 200 Wood Ducks on the river and during drier stretches the ducks, 95% Wood and 5% Mallard, are forced to the river.

    The Choc is not good or even marginably acceptable habitat for puddle ducks wintering, migrant or resident. There is little appropriate wetland cover accept for the Salix thickets on the river edge and a few oxbow marshes with resident alligators.

    It has minimal (less than .05% in area) emergent wetland habitat with standing water with no trees and even that small amount dries up in the corridor at certain times of the year accept right along the river.

    Comparing density of paddling ducks of the Choctaw to coastal emergent wetland areas of thousands of contiguous acres is………you choose the word that relates a wrong assumption from someone who has definitely never visited the Choctaw or the panhandle.

    DKs, if even weak imitations of any Campephilus’ resonant DKs are much rarer than the hz of DKs reported by Auburn IMHO. A blog bogged birder, marginally experienced (like most of them are), might have a problem in differentiating a duck wing DK from a Campephilus but certainly good birders can’t make that mistake.

    There never seems be a pair/group of puddle ducks seen flying away or found in the Choctaw or elsewhere after investigating the source of a resonant and powerful Dks, sometimes coming from an above grade angle in a forested area….never.

    There have also been reports at least from AR of ducks responding to one another with Dks…now thats a knock knock joke.

    SFTV

  9. Beloved Aunt permalink
    August 13, 2007 12:08 pm

    A blog bogged birder, marginally experienced (like most of them are), might have a problem in differentiating a duck wing DK from a Campephilus but certainly good birders can’t make that mistake.

    I love it. It’s the “no good birder” defense to ivory bill chicanery. “No good birder” could mistake a duck for an ivory bill woodpecker … therefore we need to take all the self-described “good birders” who saw an ivory bill seriously.

    Sorry, but that train left the station and went over the bridge two years ago. We know now that “good birders” will “see” and “say” anything they want if it helps them sell books, secure funding, and/or “keep hope alive.”

    Do you understand? We know that. Who is “we”? “We” is the non-ornithologist non-birder part of the world that has refused to drink the IBWO kool-aid some members of that community have been ladeling out persistently for the past two to three years.

    End it.

  10. August 13, 2007 12:23 pm

    The Choctawhatchee riparian corridor has very few puddle ducks away from the actual river at any time of the year and at certain times of the year none away from the river surface unless they want to be alligator food.

    Alligators and ducks coexist all over Florida. I refuse to believe that alligators affect duck populations any more there than anywhere else.

    Comparing density of paddling ducks of the Choctaw to coastal emergent wetland areas of thousands of contiguous acres is…you choose the word that relates a wrong assumption from someone who has definitely never visited the Choctaw or the panhandle.

    I assume it’s the same word that relates to one who knowingly tries to pass off an awful photo as suggestive of an Ivory-bill.

    It’s a terrible argument, “you can’t know, you haven’t been there”. Facts are facts regardless of where someone has or hasn’t been. Auburn said no ducks, CBC data says not so fast. The statement is sketchy, that’s all. I’ve done a fair amount of birding in the panhandle, incidentally.

    A blog bogged birder, marginally experienced (like most of them are), might have a problem in differentiating a duck wing DK from a Campephilus but certainly good birders can’t make that mistake.

    Yes yes, because all bloggers live in our parent’s basements. Blog because we can’t do, right? Good birders can make all kinds of mistakes, better birders realize this and learn from it.

  11. Anonymous permalink
    August 13, 2007 1:22 pm

    N8 says
    >>>Alligators and ducks coexist all over Florida. I refuse to believe that alligators affect duck populations any more there than anywhere else.< << First stay on subject…DKS in deep forests. There are no puddle ducks in the area where almost all of the Dks are coming from. Yes ducks exist and rare and unconvincing Campephilus DKs come from them in some rare or mysterious rate…but guess what….not from deep forests at angles above grade. Pls address that instead of arguing about alligator densities from places you have never been. To humor you ..we are talking about small disjunct wetlands in the Choc with receding water concentrating alligators in pools, ponds, small oxbows vs expansive marshes and wetlands in areas with less drop than the sloping and narrow forests of the Chocataw. And some of the areas you mentioned as having more puddle ducks in FL may have a salinity or deep depth not preferred by alligators due to tidal influences…again resulting in less predation on ducks and hence more ducks there. Duck predation rates by alligators is a complex subject not made for blogs…DKs coming from where there are no dabblers is not as complex….to many but not all evidently. >>>It’s a terrible argument, “you can’t know, you haven’t been there”.< << Son there is no experience like being in the exact field habitat and corridor being discussed. I have surveyed that river for birds. Of course if you are an experienced ecologist, without the great advantage of a visit and study the topo and vegetative community and drop of the river and aerials…maybe you would know the relative faunal occurance of certain taxa. Sir I have met Humboldt and I dare say you are no Humboldt. sftv

  12. Beloved Aunt permalink
    August 13, 2007 1:36 pm

    Anon/svtv:

    Pls address that instead of arguing about alligator densities

    You’re the one who brought up alligators in the first place.

    Duck predation rates by alligators is a complex subject not made for blogs

    Again: you brought the alligators up in the first place.

    there is no experience like being in the exact field habitat and corridor being discussed.

    What’s this? A peddler of “viable hope” for the IBWO who claims that we should listen to him because he’s an “expert” but who refuses to reveal his identity so we can confirm how reliable his “expert” statements have been in the past?

    I’m shocked. Shocked!

    Really, anon/svtv, get a clue. We’re not stupid. At this late late stage in the game, it’s those of us who know the IBWO is extinct who are “experienced.” Specifically, we’re experienced at recognizing charlatanism on behalf of folks like you.

    You need to try harder or give up. I suggest trying harder, as that will provide the rest of us with the most amusement.

  13. August 13, 2007 1:42 pm

    First stay on subject…Pls address that instead of arguing about alligator densities from places you have never been.

    Ugh, the fact that alligator densities and knock sonographs are what passes for debate about Ivory-bills is evidence of how far off-topic this has come.

    Sir I have met Humboldt and I dare say you are no Humboldt

    Of course I’m not. I’m just some guy with a blog and an opinion. How seriously you take either of them is up to you.

  14. Anonymous permalink
    August 13, 2007 2:17 pm

    “There are no puddle ducks in the area where almost all of the Dks are coming from”

    I would, without hesitation, bet my life that more puddle ducks visit the area than Ivory-billed woodpeckers. Puddle ducks are just one of the many sources of “double knocks” anyway.

    Give it up sftv. Reality trumps theory. I don’t buy that the Ivory-billed woodpecker can be the subject of the most intense searching in the history of birding, and can be repeatedly seen without one good photograph being taken. How is it that the IBWO can always be on the opposite side of the tree from all those automatic cameras?

    How is it with a handful of birds in the Singer Tract and giant crude cameras and a small budget and a small crew and no automatic cameras and without a GPS in the world they managed to get lots of great photos and film? I’ll tell you how, the bird was still alive.

    100% of the Ivory-bills cannot avoid being conclusively documented 100% of the time for 6 decades.

  15. Mark VanderVen permalink
    August 13, 2007 4:24 pm

    If it helps to provide a clearer picture of the Anseriform life in the Choctawhatchee system, I offer this. Either “side” can do what they’d like with this information.

    I was on Geoff’s Auburn team this winter and spring and probably spent a total of 125 full days on the river and in its back channels.

    Wood Ducks were ubiquitous throughout the season. I’d reckon that I saw or heard Wood Ducks on an average of once every two hours.

    I saw Hooded Mergansers once or twice in the winter.

    I saw Blue-winged Teals twice during spring migration.

    I don’t recall having seen any other Anseriformes in our study area.

    I didn’t arrive into the study area until early January. I didn’t see any night herons until late February. By mid-March, Yellow-crowneds were one of the most common aquatic birds to be seen in the system. The only waders besides Great-blue Herons I saw in early January were one or two small groups of White Ibises and a single Great Egret. By mid-January, these had disappeared, and didn’t return until late February. Presumably, they were still around in Novemeber when the Reconyx image was captured.

    Debate raged throughout the season as to whether or not Black-crowneds were in the Choctwhatchee valley at all. A skilled but somewhat careless birder purported to have heard one from his tent in mid-February, though to my knowledge this was never corroborated by a visual encounter.

  16. August 13, 2007 5:05 pm

    Mark-

    Thanks for commenting. Your insight is much appreciated. I still think Hill was mistaken to consider the photo suggestive of anything, Ivory-bills notwithstanding.

    My issue with the ducks stems from the statement attributed to Rolek and Hill that there are no puddle ducks in the area. At the very least the CBC data proves that untrue. Ducks may be uncommon in the specific region but they were certainly there enough to be identified, which is more than one can say for a certain woodpecker.

  17. Anonymous permalink
    August 13, 2007 5:17 pm

    Sorry auntie fanny and others I really had to pay attention to some pressing issues. Please just keep working your regular jobs and paying taxes…money needed for various studies on various species and some of that trickles our way.

    And no, as exciting and musical sounding as my name may be, I will remain anon. to some…some not so. Besides you already know my name.

    As fas as Camp. DKS they are distinctive and unmistakable….the trick with them is you have to get in the field and birding on the way through the Panhandle on the way to Disneyworld from fannies in W NC doesn’t count!

    The Singer birds were found at a nest/roost….there has never been a pix of an IBWO outside a nest or roost tree/area (other than Luneau’s IBWO).

    They also had a caretaker there and no hunting for at least ten years. the caretaker was able to distiguish real DKs from those fake ones and knew from direct field knowledge the past nesting habits and locations of the species for years.

    Before Singer most thought the bird extinct also and weren’t open minded. After Singer all were surprised. And the Singer birds were not easy to find and were not tame…see Mrs. Tanners comments.

    315 cameras…care to take a gander on what % of the total forest holes those cameras covered or % of the forest trees. .001% And lets not discuss the now 10 excellent sightings, 50 lesser in the last several years of every imaginable field mark (some at all once!). Duck DKs and alligators are a safer topic for you all.

    Were you around in “86 when Cuban word came in and if so doesn’t it seem a bit odd that with Cuba habitat going downhill in the last 60 years and the US habiat of perhaps 5o times the size of Cuba’s habitat coming back that the bird was there in the late 80s BUT GONE HERE in the 80s?

    Peace…I am off to the SE to look for that rare double knocking, forest dwelling Anatidae and other piebald PIWOs, bleating airborne canopy deer and other things that only DKs in areas where there were also kent calls. The odds are bad but hey the skeptics say its so…no pixs just their opinion.

    sftv

  18. Beloved Aunt permalink
    August 13, 2007 5:21 pm

    there has never been a pix of an IBWO outside a nest or roost tree/area (other than Luneau’s IBWO)

    Other than the fact that the IBWO is extinct, what makes you think that the bird in Luneau’s video wasn’t in “a nest or roost/tree area”?

    Answer: don’t bother. I’m just pointing out that for all your self-described “expertise” you are completely full of it.

  19. Mark VanderVen permalink
    August 13, 2007 5:22 pm

    N8,

    I don’t know what to make of the Reconyx images, either. I’m guessing they are of Wood Ducks or some type of wader.

    I guess that there are some who don’t consider Wood Ducks to be “puddle ducks” because they are not in the Anas genus. (???) Wood Ducks are almost everywhere in the system, and I even saw them away from the main stems of Choctawhatchee, Old Creek, and the larger back channels when the forest was flooded.

    I don’t believe that Gadwall wingbeats were the sources of the “double-knocks” reported in the Choctawhatchee. Of the dozen or so of us compiling a list of birds seen in the system, none of us reported Gadwall.

  20. Beloved Aunt permalink
    August 13, 2007 5:32 pm

    315 cameras…care to take a gander on what % of the total forest holes those cameras covered or % of the forest trees. .001%

    LOL, now you sound like Bill Pulliam. If only we had 3 million cameras, then the IBWO wouldn’t be able to hide from us so easily.

    Before Singer most thought the bird extinct also and weren’t open minded. After Singer all were surprised.

    So some people were surprised 60+ years ago to discover that a handful of IBWO were still alive? Did anyone refer to that “rediscovery” as “an ornithological miracle”?

    Please let us know. I’m sure it won’t take you long to provide us with the information since you’re “the expert” on the subject.

    Also, you should definitely let us know: for how many years prior to the “surprising” discovery 60+ years ago were people conducting fruitless searches for these large, noisy woodpeckers? Twenty? Sixty? One hundred? That number would seem very relevant to your “argument”. So what is the number?

  21. August 13, 2007 5:48 pm

    SFTV-
    I don’t really know what you’re talking about. I don’t live in W NC and one can do some excellent birding on the way to Disneyworld. If you want to argue about the Luneau video or Tanner anything not directly related to the AOU presentation, go do it somewhere else. From this point on those messages won’t make it to this site, son. That goes for everybody.

    Mark-
    Agree that the term “puddle ducks” is misleading. I still have a hard time believing that if the interesting noises are as prevalent as we’ve been led to believe, there’s nothing more than audio snippits. I still hold out hope for the photo, though like many I suppose it’s fading. I have no quarrel with real objectivity and guarded optimism though.

  22. Mark VanderVen permalink
    August 13, 2007 5:58 pm

    N8,

    There are plenty of other sources from which the double-knocks might come, though I’m not going to get into that now!

    I still hold out hope for the photo,

    I think you’re more optimistic than I am at this point. But if I were still “hopeful,” I’d want a series of reports and descriptions of *lengthy* observations of practically every diagnostic field mark possible from *multiple* birders in a small geographic extent over a fairly short period of time. Enough already of fleeting glimpses accompanied by slapdash process of elimination!

  23. Greg S permalink
    August 13, 2007 6:07 pm

    Mark VanderVen said…
    “Debate raged throughout the season as to whether or not Black-crowneds were in the Choctwhatchee.”

    Thank you Mark and N8 for trying to steer this discussion back into the realm of scientific inquiry.

    “Science is simply common sense at its best that is, rigidly accurate in observation, and merciless to fallacy in logic.”
    Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95) English biologist.

    Let’s continue to see science based inquiry, and not faith based conjecture here.

  24. August 13, 2007 6:08 pm

    I think you’re more optimistic than I am at this point.

    I don’t know about that. Hope’s a funny thing. I hope the Ivory-bill is extant in perhaps the same way I hope that I’ll be a professional baseball player. An acceptance that neither is gonna happen. : )

    Enough already of fleeting glimpses accompanied by slapdash process of elimination!

    Agreed and well said.

  25. Patrick Coin permalink
    August 13, 2007 9:37 pm

    sftv said: The Singer birds were found at a nest/roost….there has never been a pix of an IBWO outside a nest or roost tree/area (other than Luneau’s IBWO).
    Not so. Cornell has identifiable photos of the IBWO taken with (apparently) amateur camera equipment in Cuba–see here. One is at a roost (?) hole and one is feeding on a very thin branch.

    Though just a speck, the IBWO as photographed feeding on a fire-killed pine in Florida by Arthur Allen (I think), in the 1930’s–Auk Article.

    Apparently taken with amateur equipment from the 1930’s or 1940’s, no camouflage worn, no ultra-stealthy techniques.

  26. August 13, 2007 10:26 pm

    I should point out why I allowed the previous comment despite stating that rehashing old arguments was commenta non grata…

    1) Not anonymous
    2) The picture is pretty cool
    3) He didn’t call me “son”. Man, that really stuck in my craw.

    I don’t ask for much, just a picture of an Ivory-bill, isn’t that what we all want?

  27. Anonymous permalink
    August 14, 2007 12:02 am

    Sorry, I didn’t read your previous post on “no rehashing” carefully enough–I promise no more rehashing. Certainly enough of that has been done on Nelson’s and Cyberthrush’s blogs, some of it even by me.

    I enjoyed your comments–I’ll probably run into you out birding sometime, as I’m in Durham, just up the road from you. Seems to be a lot of IBWO interest in the Triangle–must be just the concentration of birders.

  28. Anonymous permalink
    August 14, 2007 12:51 am

    Thanks for commenting. Your insight is much appreciated. I still think Hill was mistaken to consider the photo suggestive of anything, Ivory-bills notwithstanding.

    again what about three birds flying together (this seems to be one settled point about the photo) is suggestive of Ivory-Billed?

    How many birds would have been in the group for him to “rule out” Ivory Billed? 5 birds? Would 4 have pushed credulity? Since we can’t be certian what these birds are (or even thier orientation) we should be able to assign the probabilty that these three birds are Ivory-Billed? Based soley on the incontrovertable aspects of the image – ie 3 birds.

    Yet Hill seems to have some reason to discuss the aspects of this photo that “suggest” that this tortilla is a miracle.

    It would be a miracle given all the other facts we have about the situation that three ivory bills flew over the area.

    If i wasn’t hearing grown, scientifically trained people talk this way I would not for a second belive it.

    This story really is about the nature of rational inquiry.

    N8, Great comments and original post by the way. Your writing is well crafted.

    Regards,

    from europe

  29. Anonymous permalink
    August 14, 2007 1:57 am

    Hello P. Coin and all, the Lamb pictures you mention were associated with at least a roost.

    The birds were probably not just located for the picture without using these holes to get a starting point on the birds daily morning and eventual dusk locations. Besides Cuba was being decimated at the time and was more impacted as far as tolerable habitat than the US was, hence very exposed birds.

    From your Cornell source
    >>The two spent weeks camping out before finding any ivory-bills. They had a number of sightings and found a roost hole, but ultimately did not locate any nests.< << The same holds true for the Allen pixs in ~1924, those pixs were of “holed up” birds where the birds were followed from the holes to get those pixs. Its noted the low quality of pixs you will accept when trying to prove your point though. I hope you will be so generous in the future. I assume you find the Fielding pixs worse than these in some variable and the VIREO pixs? thanks all, J. Stevenson

  30. August 14, 2007 7:14 am

    I’ll probably run into you out birding sometime

    Likely so, I go out with Doug and the Chapel Hill Bird Club fairly often once they start up with the trips again. Though I’ve been slacking with the heat.

    I’ll probably declare a moratorium on Ivory-bill posts at least on my end after all this. At least until Birding explains why they published the Choctawhatchee photo. ; )

  31. August 14, 2007 7:59 am

    J. Stevenson-
    I assume you find the Fielding pixs worse than these in some variable and the VIREO pixs?

    Fielding arguments can be found elsewhere. Seems to me though, like something of a rorschach for Ivory-bill lore. My only opinion on them is that it’s fishy that
    a) Fielding never admitted where the photos were taken
    b) you can’t see the beak (obviously we’d like to see the beak) that may or may not stand up as an argument but I think it would’ve gone a long way towards credibility.

    what about three birds flying together is suggestive of Ivory-Billed?

    Absolutely, three birds is just weird for woodpeckers period.

  32. Mark VanderVen permalink
    August 14, 2007 1:53 pm

    I want to stress in the most emphatic terms possible that I don’t claim to think that the birds in the photos are IBWOs.

    I think that Geoff’s intepretation, though, is based on fairly ample evidence that IBWOs moved about in larger social groups than most woodpecker species. Several reports have 3 or more IBWOs foraging on the same tree or in the same cluster of trees.

    That being said, I haven’t read anything about woodpeckers of any stripe, patch, or spot flying as a pack the way the photo suggests the subjects are doing. I’ve spent a fair amount of time looking at Acorn Woodpeckers on the Monterey Peninsula and in SW Oregon, and though they may end up on the same tree I’ve never seen them arrive in a pack together.

  33. August 14, 2007 2:31 pm

    Mark-
    fairly ample evidence that IBWOs moved about in larger social groups than most woodpecker species.

    I’d actually worried that my prior comment might be interpreted that way. It’s my fault, I should have clarified a bit.

    While family groups among woodpeckers isn’t unusual, especially for Acorn and Red-cockaded off the top of my head, what I meant by weird for woodpeckers was that I agreed it was weird for them to be cruising over the canopy in a group like that.

    I suspect that Hill thinks that because Ivory-bills historically hung out in small social groups, and these birds are in a small social group, that means the picture is suggestive of Ivory-bill behavior when that’s not the case.

    He had already decided that these birds were “woodpecker-like” because of the “long wings” (code for IBWO), so he’s arguing that the apparent behavior (birds in small social group) is evidence of his pre-determined conclusion (birds are Ivory-bills). He’s making the very thing that should preclude Ivory-billed Woodpecker evidence of Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

    This is all guesswork, I don’t know what’s in his head. Nor do I harbor any ill will against him, I just think he’s sorely mistaken here. But that’s how I think it went down.

  34. Mark VanderVen permalink
    August 14, 2007 3:24 pm

    Hey, I think we agree here!

    I’m a bit sorry that the photo was identified with the Choctawhatchee when it was published. If Ted and Geoff had wanted truly unbiased interpretation, a simple “What do you see here?”, sans geographic association, would have been much better.

    I’m afraid that since 99.99% of birders outside the states of Florida and Alabama only know of the Choc through the IBWO controversy, the bias was too strong from the get-go for practically everyone who looked at the photo.

  35. August 14, 2007 3:55 pm

    I absolutely agree, and I touched on the photo as ID quiz on a previous post.

    I’m interested to see how the ABA spins that and in fact, what their intention was to even mention the location in the first place. They had to know what people would immediately jump to and all ID attempts will start with Ivory-bill, whether to say why the birds are or why they aren’t. There’s really no way to be certain of any ID as far as I’m concerned. And if ID quizzes are a teaching aid, I can’t imagine what we’re supposed to learn from it.

  36. Anonymous permalink
    August 15, 2007 3:13 am

    I’d like to amplify the difference between birding and science, and this isn’t a knock about birding, but it is interesting in the context of the overall discussion about the events surrounding IBWO – and it echo’s the point the bevier makes on his homepage.

    While Fitz and Hill ARE scientists, they have doggedly refused to ACT like scientists (in this case).

    The way this photo is being discussed, and the luneau video are discussed – though wrapped in scientific lingo, are prime examples.

    A scientist would approach this photo by deciding what about it is known and unknown, what other facts we know about the photo and then use this to inform understanding about what can and can’t be said from it.

    I mean, of course woodpeckers have families – but no one, I dare say, can produce ANY photo of three of them in wingtip formation flying above the trees.

    There is nothing wrong with identifying the location of the photo, further obfusacation of the facts do not help us reach a better conclusion – it only shows how observer expenctancy bias works in real life. If you can simply tell people that you have a photo and it is “intersting” and it was taken in the Choc. – their mind will try very hard to fit the facts to what they expect.

    Scientific thinking is what we use to combat these kinds of errors.

    Science isn’t just being able to convince others that they are right it is dealing reasonable with all the facts and probablites by setting up falsifiable conditions beforehand.

    Hill seems to think he is acting in a scientific way by bringing more fuzzy non conclusive “evidence” … this is great for birding, but it isn’t science.

  37. Mark VanderVen permalink
    August 15, 2007 12:47 pm

    Anonymous,

    In Geoff’s defense, he has an entire chapter in his book where he distinguishes between searching for evidence and science, and pretty much avers, “this isn’t science.” He reiterated this sentiment to us in meetings, stressing that the “science” wouldn’t begin until a population was found.

    I will acknowledge, however, that his credentials as a scientist may lend undue validity to the suggestion that the IBWO exists in the Choctawhatchee, and that he’s used his position as a scientist as a platform to promote his findings. But if you read his book and talk to him you’ll see that he still has a very clear and grounded understanding of what science is and isn’t!

  38. August 15, 2007 2:16 pm

    this is great for birding, but it isn’t science.

    I don’t even know if it’s that great for birding. This whole exercise, especially the comments in the last couple days have really inspired me to think about what birding is and what it isn’t, especially in the way we’ve always thrown around the term “citizen science” to describe what input birders have with regard to “real” science, based in the scientific method and all. I mean, all birders really do is collect population data, what individual birders get out of that on a personal level doesn’t affect what folks do with that data in the least. I guess that’s what Hill and others mean when they say the Science (big S) won’t begin until the bird is found.

    Where we are now is where science and birding intersect to some extent. As birders we’re all aware of the impact of observer expectation bias, and those with more experience try hard to prevent that from influencing how we report birds. Who among us hasn’t seen the sun glint off the bill of a Common Loon and think Yellow-billed just for that second before sense takes hold. As a birder, our reputation is on the line with every rare report, and a reputation is really all we have. Birding on an individual level is a meritocracy, those that put the work in to become good get the reward that comes with respect from peers. I’ve been in the field with some people I consider to be very good birders, and with regards to rare birds there’s a tendency to be conservative, and rightly so when your personal reputation is on the line.

    As an amateur scientist, it does bother me that Hill doesn’t at least seem to consider the ramifications of his IBWO bias. But especially as a birder, and one who has worked hard to develop field skills (and one who has been guilty of observer expectation bias), it really bugs me that he treats this sort of thing so cavalierly. Using his position as a scientist to continue to push what is really bad birding is a little insulting. I have no doubt that Hill has a grounded understanding of what science is, he certainly wouldn’t be able to get where he is if he hadn’t. I don’t know if he understands completely the birding aspect. The Ivory-bill issue is is some weird amalgamation of both birding and science, but I think right now it’s more of the first.

    Hmm, this response is long and probably could be it’s own post.

  39. August 15, 2007 2:22 pm

    I’ve done just that, discussion can continue here

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