Thursday, September 28, 2006

Here We Go Again...

Lately the blogoshere has been all a-twitter with hints and rumors of a new Ivory-billed Woodpecker discovery. Some of the true believers smugly opined that the impending announcement would finally prove the skeptics wrong, and the eating of crow would soon commence. Mary Scott's web site went so far as to proclaim that as many as NINE pairs of IBWOs had been found at some undisclosed location!

Well the wait is over. This week it was announced that a group from Auburn University had found Ivory-billed Woodpeckers along the Choctawhatchee River in the Florida Panhandle (quick, get out your maps!). Details can be viewed here and here.

So are the skeptics enjoying their meal of crow? Not quite...

Apparently the prediction of nine pairs was based on rumor or speculation (Mary Scott has since removed that claim from her web site). The evidence presented so far is tantalizing but less than totally convincing. At least that's how a naying naysayer such as myself would describe it.

Once again we have auditory and physical evidence that is suggestive, but does not rise to the level of proof. To their credit the Auburn team admits this. As with the Arkansas disappointment all of the reported observations were brief and involved birds in flight, many viewed without the aid of binoculars. I find this troubling. Of the 14 sightings that they documented not once was the bird seen perched or at rest?! Of course this raises the possibility that some or all of the sightings were erroneous. On the positive side they have some intriguing field notes and sketches, numerous recordings of double knocks and kent calls, and an abundance of physical evidence in the form of peculiar bark scaling and extra-large tree cavities. Now if they can just get one good photo...

It's too bad that neither the Cornell or Auburn teams recorded and quantifed their misidentifications, if any. It would be interesting to know how often (if ever) Pileated Woodpeckers were initially identified as IBWOs.

Yesterday morning I saw a few mildly interesting birds while walking around my yard - neotropical migrants included White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireos, a Northern Parula, and Summer Tanager. Heard a Pileated Woodpecker. No raptor migration was detected, although conditions appeared to be right for that sort of thing.


At 10:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great synopsis! Well done, even handed.

Next it's Arvin's turn, huh? I betcha that dude is going to be one cautious fellow after this last blow-up.

May he have the luck of Sitting Bull and the balls of Custer!


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