1/20/06 update--I think this article is chock-full of good information. Here are a few notable items (the bold font is mine):
...There is also an error in the online supplementary material that accompanies Fitzpatrick et al. (2005a). Figure S5A is likely a branch stub (J. Fitzpatrick pers. comm., 29 July 2005), rather than a perched Ivory-billed Woodpecker as suggested by Fitzpatrick et al. (2005b). That error was still in the online material through mid-December 2005.Above, Jackson reports John Fitzpatrick's admission that the so-called "six-pixel bird" is likely not a bird.
...Jackson also notes that Brazilian ornithologists A. Nemesio and M. Rodrigues have published a note with this translated title: "Rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker: Where is the scientific method?"; Atualidades Ornitológicas 125:14.
I had seen several photographs of Pileated Woodpeckers with aberrant white on the wings and, indeed, within a week of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker announcement, I received such a photo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the sender asking, “Why isn’t this an Ivory-bill?”
Prum, Robbins, Brett Benz, and I remain steadfast in our belief that the bird in the Luneau video is a normal Pileated Woodpecker. Others have independently come to the same conclusion, and publication of independent analyses may be forthcoming.
For scientists to label sight reports and questionable photographs as “proof” of such an extraordinary record is delving into “faith-based” ornithology and doing a disservice to science.
...for an individual to be able to say that an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in flight, at 100 meters, is much larger than a Pileated Woodpecker implies an ability to easily distinguish between a meter stick and a yard stick down the length of a football field.
Are we really dealing with a species that has become reclusive and silent within the past century, as some have suggested? I do not think so. While game animals often become wary as a result of hunting pressure, I know of no evidence that suggests anything more than individual wariness as a result of negative interaction with humans. I believe that the integrity of the social system of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, as evidenced by numerous historical reports of movement in pairs and family groups, vocal chatter, and exchange of double raps, would remain if the species has survived.
I thank J. Zickefoose, D. Sibley, J. Acorn, N. Snyder, W. E. Davis, J. Kricher, C. Elphick, L. Bevier, N. Tanner, and my wife, Bette, for helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.
This abberant pileated thing is getting very frustrating. STILL no photos. Everyone says they have seen them, but no one actually produces them! Why do we have to just keep hearing descriptions of these photos but not actually be allowed to see them?! Same for the Harrison video. It is all getting most annoying. And this whole question of the two interpretations of the Luneau video, especially the point of what part of the bird all that white is on. This should not be a matter of the opinions of ornithologists watching the video. There must be hundreds of specialists in image analysis who could just determine from the video and the movement of the "object" when we are seeing upperwing and when we are seeing underwing, and correct for the white bleed and black halo effects, and just TELL us what part of the bird is white rather than us sitting around arguing about what it looks like to each of us! It's like two people looking at a bunch of numbers and one saying "I'd guess the average is 23" and another saying "You're wrong, the average is clearly 19." Well just CALCULATE the $%#$% average and stop arguing about it, will ya? The kinetics of bird flight are not so poorly known that someone can't fit a digital model to the bird in the video and just answer the dang questions.
I was hoping when the first reanalysis and rebuttal paper was published it would have some new analysis or new data in it. Oh well...
I have to agree wholeheartedly with his conclusion, that regardless of what one thinks of the Arkansas reports and recordings, let's get back in the woods and let's get the woods back.
If there were ever a "bright line", to borrow a phrase from the legal world, ever drawn in the sand (also mixing metaphors), this is it. This is an excellent recap of the evidence to date. It spells out where each side falls on it.
It also knocks in the head the "jizz" argument. I get an even bigger laugh out now of my mental image of one poster's description of his whirling dervish routine. The jig was prompted by his epiphany that the video'd bird's "jizz" confirmed it to be a IBWO. Mind you, the poster presumably had never actually SEEN the IBWO in flight, which made his invocation of "jizz" even more puzzling. When two people (Audubon & Tanner) who saw LOTS of IBWOs unequivocally stated that there was little, if any, difference in flight styles, etc., the "jizz" dance looks even more sad & misguided.
Something I think that is missed is the differentiation between "mature" hardwoods, the existence of which the believers cite as evidence of the possibility of IBWOs, and what sounds almost like "old growth" trees, which were apparently what IBWOs focused upon. "Mature" trees, which are bearing fruit, nuts, etc., are a far cry from "old growth".
This also addresses the issue of the bird being "missed" there for so many years. Apparently, the state/fed employees in that area HAD been seeing birds that superficially might have appeared to be IBWOs. These employees, however, ultimately realized that the birds in questions were Pils. I've frequently joked about the # of requests that Audubon probably received from individuals wanting to organize a CBC centering on the suspect IBWO sighting locations. After all, how many would have gotten some satisfaction from having been on the first CBC in the 21st century to "count" a IBWO? Now we know that there were - what, 4 decades? - of CBCs in that area that never found IBWOs. And the timeframe in which they were held was one in which IBWO sightings would have gotten at least a little more credence than those in the late 20th century.
My guess is that "true believers" will seize upon Jackson's account of the USFWS email with a photo and the question of (I don't recall the precise phrasing), "why can't this be an IBWO?" Jackson may have dropped the ball by not elaborating on the context of the email. Was the sender's intent to say, "hey, could this be an IBWO, too?" Or, was it, "I'm pretty sure this is a Pils; based on what's being said, couldn't someone use this incorrectly as evidence of an IBWO?"
Lack of photos: one reason that Jackson didn't print them may be a copyright issue. Jackson may not have them. Moreover, Cornell, et.al., may not have released unqualified permission to reproduce them in printed media. If the believer camp won't allow them to be reproduced in forums in which the skeptics are making a case, the skeptics are in a tight spot to graphically dismantle them.
Interesting to note that this was published as "Perspectives in Ornithology" rather than a regular manuscript. This column is for commentary and opinion about timely or controversial issues.
Restatement of the author's well-known opinions. Call for conservation of bottomland forests regardless of the presence or absence of any particular species. Nothing new here.
Nothing new? Did you actually read the article?
Every word of it. It was a good compilation of the criticisms, but there was no new information there if you have been reading the blogs and keeping up with his public alks and appearances. Oh, except for he letter found under the Ivorybill skin, that was something I had never heard before.
There's a common misconception in any discussion of this nature. People tend to get stuck thinking that if someone disagrees with them, then they must not have heard the arguments, or perhaps they did not understand the arguments. In most cases, in fact, they have heard and understood the arguments, they simply do no agree with them. For those who have been keeping up with this discussion, Jackson's paper does not really add anything new. It is, however, the first clear and comprehensive statement of these issues published in the scientific literature, and as such it is very important. I have been saying that scientific debate should have as its primary venue the scientific meetings and scientific literature. The Auk article finally acomplishes this, and ensures that these issues are properly raised and recorded there. It may introduce a significant number of people to this controversy for the first time, though I suspect much of the Auk readership is already aware at least of the existence of the disagreements.
Now if we could just see (a) the photos of the abnormal pileateds, and (b) some of these aditional independent video analyses
I too read the article and he makes the case that the NWR preserve has been birded and hunted and searched for many years. Tanner also visited this area while IBWOs were in the Singer Tract, but found no birds. The refuge has been protected since 1935.
This is a link to the area which is
described as 3-10 miles wide and 90 miles long. It is 160,000 acres.
Or 250 square miles. If it's 90 miles long then the average width is
still <= 3 miles wide. Though in
places it's 10 miles wide.
Paul Sutera, New Paltz, NY
Um... I just grabbed a handy copy of a CBC issue of American Birds (2000-2001), and flipped to the White River CBC. 4 observers, one party, 9.5 party hours, two pileateds, five redbellies, no hairies, no redheadeds. If this is typical, this is hardly evidence of the woodpecker habitat being well-birded and well-covered. In fact, it is evidence that the woodpecker habitat was hardly visited at all. Even if you multiply this by 35 years, that's not much coverage.
Actually, that isn't typical coverage--you can look at detailed year-by-year results by starting at this link .
I see CBC records there going back until at least the late '50s, with many years having 10-20 or more participants. It looks like they recorded literally thousands of woodpeckers over the years, but no Ivory-bills.
I see a total of 522 (give or take a few, my fingers probably slipped) Pileateds for the WRNWR CBC over the years. Considering I personally heard or saw 25 Pileateds in just 12 hours in Dagmar and WRNWR last December, that's not such an awe-inspring total. It's about the same as one observer spending a day or two each winter in the woods. Exhaustive coverage? Some other interesting totals for all those years... 5 gray catbirds, 2 american tree sparrows, 2 lark sparrows, 3 harris' sparrows, 1 rose-breasted grosbeak, 2 rough-legged hawks, 1 merlin. These more ordinary and predictable rarities for a southern Arkansas CBC were found no more than a few times each over all that time.
Breeding bird atlas -- I haven't been able to find the specifics online, but if Arkansas used the same scheme as most southern states (one of six blocks covered, lucky to get much more than 10 observer hours per block), then a 250 square mile area would probably have had about 4 blocks in it, for 40 observer hours. Again, hardly exhaustive.
As for general birding coverage, I just read through three issues of field reports from North American Birds and found not one single report of anything from the WRNWR, nor Dagmar WMA, nor Cache RNWR. In contrast, numerous other NWRs get frequent mention. Once again, no evidence that this area has been well-covered by birders. Reports from that general area are mostly of waterfowl and shorebirds and are not credited to the refuge. Most likely these are in the massive fields and mudpuddles outside of the refuges. The refuge staff may spend many hours afield, but they don't seem to report what they find.
Well-birded? Does not seem so.
Why do you say that?
It wasn't me that said "excellent paper," but I like it because it makes so many good points about the shortcomings of the Cornell Paper, including some of the same points that this blog has made; chief among them being that a collection of weak evidence does not constitute scientific proof, especially for such a claim.
Since Jackson has clearly believed there has been hope all along, the old "you've got to be more open-minded" can't really be trotted out to be used against him. Also I like it because he's considered the foremost living expert on Ivory-bills. (Instead of a mean, unknown Minnesota birder, who appears to be slowly proven right as time passes.)
This "abberant pileated" question can be solved in fairly prompt order. Someone get the appropriate permissions to shoot some of the Pils. Study skins are about as concrete as you can get. Since the believers are so convinced that they can be distinguished from IBWOs, there shouldn't be any challenges raised on the premise that an IBWO might get accidentally whacked.
"It's about the same as one observer spending a day or two each winter in the woods."
Except it was often around 10 or even 20 observers.
Note that we already know the actual number of participants for each Christmas Bird Count. I don't see the logic in using 12 hours of your personal data to calculate a theoretical level of observer coverage that is an order of magnitude lower...
I said "in the woods." Much of the CBC circle is not wooded. I'm on par skill-wise with a typical CBC party leader, and have lead CBC parties in the past; why are my data from last December in the mature bottomland forest of the WRNWR any less valid than anyone else's? The party hours per count ranged from less than 10 to over 40, typically 20-30. That is about 3 parties, all day. Pileated abundances indicate that in a typical year the equivalent of one or two of those parties spent that day in the prime woodpecker habitat. A party of four birders does not detect 4 times as many birds as a party of one. It detects a few more birds, yes; but (again my own experience here) not even double that of a single observer.
I'm attempting to address the question of how well-birded that area has been by looking at evidence and reported data, not just opinion. Is there something wrong with this approach? I use the resources I have in front of me with the time I have in between coats of paint. Someone who wants to make a more extensive analysis, plese do so. But anecdotal and qualitative opinions clarify nothing.
Jackson mentioned CBC, birder visits, refuge staff, and BBA as reasons the area was not an un-birded backwater. I tried to look at each of these with what I have available, rather than just say "well, he's just wrong about that." I repeat, is there something wrong with this approach?
How about this way to distill the "efforts debate":
Right now there is probably hundreds of times the effort in the nation in looking for Ivory-bills compared to the early 40's, resulting in infinitely less solid proof.
That article is an Op-Ed piece, nothing more.
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is extinct. I wish it weren't so. But it is. Sorry.
I've been skipping around the edges of this thing since the announcement, have had personal contacts and discussions with David Luneau and Tim Gallagher, and attended a presentation for professionals on the subject at Cornel. I also just finished both Gallagher's book and the Auk article, and a few things jump out. While reading Jackson's piece I found myself wondering when healthy skepticism becomes cynicism, and objective criticisms become cheap shots. Here’s the problem: Jackson’s article employs unproved assertions and limited information to accuse Fitzpatrick, Gallagher and company of employing limited information and unproved assertions. The article does nothing to disprove or even seriously challenge the conclusions of the Arkansas team. It is not an objective review, or even a call for restraint; just a clear attempt at condemnation, and a thinly argued one at that. In more than one instance, Jackson equates the Arkansas sighting with other periodic reports over the last 80 years or so and implies or openly states that there is no difference between them. This reaches the level of a cheap shot on page 5 at the top of the second column, where he not only says that the Arkansas reports are no more credible than the “almost annual handful of sightings with descriptions that cannot be readily dismissed as “certainly a pileated”, but goes so far as to say that the only difference between recent and historical sightings, even those reported by individuals with no credentials, is the hype and “attendant publicity and aura of authority”. This is wildly speculative and simply not consistent with the facts. There are obvious differences in the quality of the Arkansas discovery and prior events, namely, unambiguous certainty on the part of multiple, qualified observers, a video which to my knowledge still has more supporters than detractors, and some pretty damn convincing sound recordings. The people at Cornel are not hacks-one visit to their bioacoustics laboratory should convince any fair-minded critic to lend this crew the benefit of the doubt. This is not case of a single, uncorroborated report by a graduate student or a former boxing commissioner from Louisiana, and to imply that it is simply unfair and unprofessional. Jackson criticizes the research protocols and standards of proof used by the Arkansas team, but doesn’t propose any of his own. What is the universally accepted standard of proof that confirms the sighting of a rare species? I submit that in the hands of a cynic, there isn’t one, and that there is such a thing as professional deference, even in science. Both the Cornel Laboratory of Ornithology and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as hordes of the most qualified ornithologists in the world have examined the evidence from Arkansas and concluded that the ivory-billed woodpecker has been rediscovered. At best, Jackson’s paper asks the reader to doubt these authorities in favor of his own poorly supported arguments. At worst, it asks us to believe that they are dishonest or delusional. Read Tim Gallagher’s book, read as much unbiased material on the history of the ivory-billed as you can lay your hands on, and then read Jackson’s article again with a critical eye. I think you will find it as unconvincing as I do.
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