Friday, January 20, 2006

Paid IBWO searchers in Texas?

Someone just emailed me a link to this post from the Texas Birding List (the bold font is mine):
I received the news earlier this week that my proposal to seek Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in Texas had been funded - not quite fully funded, but with enough to start the chase. My reaction was elation laced with a certain amount of misgivings, and also with a sense of awesome responsibility. I have been entrusted with a considerable sum of public money, your money, to look for something that may not exist...

One of the first steps we will take will be to make reconnaissance flights over the search areas, which are the corridors of bottomland forest along the lower Trinity, Neches, and Sabine Rivers in southeastern Texas. From the air we will identify those areas that appear to have large, intact tracts of mature forest so that they can marked for priority ground searches. At the same time we will be watching for the birds themselves. A flying Ivory-billed Woodpecker,viewed from above, should be quite conspicuous from a low, slow-flying aircraft.
I wonder why there is no mention of using existing aerial photography to screen potential search areas?


Anonymous said...

I hope they're more conspicuous from an airplane than they are from the ground.

Anonymous said...

From the search and rescue standpoint, observers in airplanes in flight have a tough enough time finding people & downed aircraft on the ground. All of these would be much larger than an IBWO. For the most part, they're also much less cryptically colored, too. The idea that an airborne observer has some sort of edge over a ground-based observer in detecting a black, flying bird against dark-color, no-contrast backgrounds (tree canopy, water, etc.) is ludicrous. Does the writer really mean to suggest that, if an aerial observer detected the IBWO, the pilot could successfully turn the plane out of the search pattern and then ascertain where the bird landed? After all, the IBWO isn't going to fly tandem - what if it's flying in the opposite direction? Really, this is a joke, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like an episode of MacGyver to me.

It's a little bit overblown. No need for all this "Mission Impossible" stuff.

Who knows they may wind up finding Bin Laden in Texas. LOL!

Anonymous said...

Simple. It's more fun to fly. Between Google Earth, proprietary software (Maptech Terrain Pro., etc.), and perhaps some county tax assessors' aerial photos/GIS data (possibly available on the web), they could sit in an office and survey to their hearts' desire & on the cheap. But airplanes are soooo much more "National Geographic". Ahh, the romance of it all... Who knew science could be so thrilling?

The poster doesn't cite legitimate bases to support an assertion that IBWOs are in TX. Instead, he waxes eloquent about a "charismatic symbol of Americana Lost", the "visceral reaction" IBWOs provoke, how he "had fantasized about the bird", and his discovery of fellow "dreamers... who have been fixated with the Ivory-bill for the greater portions of their lives". Guys, this ain't about science. This person needs Sancho Panza to show up - quick.

OTOH, the researcher may have so little experience in regard to habitat assessment that an airplane was the only solution that came to mind. If true, it would beg the question of how quickly the gov't will spend $$$ on anything with "Ivory Billed" in the title.

Observations that correlate with that question:
1) the author already acknowledged that the grant application was "dashed" off, indicative that it might not have been as sound as grant applications should be under other circumstances. Yet, the grant was approved at least in part;
2)"all this is quite new and we are still scrambling to work out the details" - in other words, the poster would have had a difficult time articulating in the grant application the protocols to be observed, the plan of operation, etc. - because, if he doesn't know them by now, he sure didn't know them then, either;
3) the poster acknowledges that an aerial habitat survey is needed right now. In other words, the poster couldn't have objectively quantified the amount of probable habitat in the grant application. He didn't know where it was in the first place. He knows only that there's supposed to be some good habitat out there SOMEwhere;
4) some grant reviewer out there, if he/she really knew anything about IBWOs in the first place, authorized funding even though the grant writer himself acknowledges that there may be insufficient time for a productive survey within the 2006 timeframe set in the grant. Once his search "spins up", the canopy will have begun to close, greatly handicapping the search. By default, whomever gave the grant said, in effect, "well, you probably don't have the time to effectively spend the money, but take some cash anyway."

Good grief, how long will this go on? How many more grant recipients are readying themselves to chase their "Dulcinea" on our dime?

Anonymous said...

That's a lot of meanness given just a little information.

Anonymous said...

H.L Stoddard reported an Ivorybill seen "clearly" from a low-flying small plane in Georgia in the 1950's. The idea is not pulled out of thin air without precedent. There are multiple historical accounts that the species frequently flew above the canopy. Additionally, there is abundant information that can be gotten from a low-altitude visual flyover that cannot be gotten from aerial photos, such as species composition and snag density.

The previous posters demonstrates a lack of knowledge of both history and methodology.

Anonymous said...

Those areas of east Texas have always been on the "Ivorybill Radar," both because of the nature of the habitat and the history of unconfirmed sightings there.

Anonymous said...

Why on earth should they do that? No one has yet published a detailed rebuttal with actual data or analysis, just a bunch of opinions. When it comes to real analytical, data-containing, published manuscripts, the score still stands Cornell 1, Rebuttals 0. Jackson's paper was a data-free opinion piece, nothing more.

Anonymous said...

Score? I didn't know anyone was keeping score.

I still find it quite compelling that not a single piece of incontrovertable evidence has been found. And if some is found, I believe Tom will still have been objectively correct in most of his posts. It may still be there, there's currently no proof (evidence is not the same as proof).

Anonymous said...

When it comes to real analytical, data-containing, published manuscripts, the score still stands Cornell 1, Rebuttals 0.

And it's Hwang's Stem Cell Papers 1/Rebuttals 0, too.

There'll be plenty of rebuttal before all is said and done.

Anonymous said...

Aerial surveys specifically to seek birds - the point shouldn't be that there's ONE anecdote that an IBWO can be seen from an airplane; instead, it's that LOTS of IBWOs were missed from airplanes in other instances "back in the day." For that matter, are using another questionable (1950's Georgia) "sighting" to justify equally questionable technique?

Surveying for habitat - shouldn't the grant writer have known the nature and quality of the habitat BEFORE he told the grantor that IBWOs might be found there? Whether by airplane, snowmobile or llama, it should have been already surveyed before the project was funded. The place could be a kudzu patch by now.

"When it comes to real analytical, data-containing, published manuscripts, the score still stands Cornell 1, Rebuttals 0" - what's the data? "We saw a bird"? A blurry videotape? A recap of the Singer work plus the unconfirmed sightings? Where's the beef?

"That's a lot of meanness given just a little information" - hey, Occam's razor has a sharp edge. It ain't mean if you're telling the truth.

Anonymous said...

I think skepticism is healthy in this debate. I will defend aerial surveys. I'm a general aviation and ultralight pilot. There are planes and then there are planes...I can spot Gila Woodpeckers from my ultralight (here in Arizona) quite easily (whey they are in flight) & of course they are considerably smaller than an IBW. On the flip side, the habitat here is quite open.