Sunday, July 31, 2005

That's my kind of priest.

So, I went to church today to thank the Great Birder in the Sky for saving me from another serious car crash (I have been in one minor fender bender and just missed three serious crashes in the last month...more on that later). There was a missionary priest at Holy Name Cathedral today --anyone who regularly attends a Catholic Church in Chicago knows that once a year every parish brings in some missionary, usually from some place you've never heard of and would never want to go to -- to ask for donations for their mission work.

Today, it was an Indian missionary who has worked inPapua New Guinea for ten years. (Note to self: How bad off is your country if India is sending you missionaries?) Anyway, this priest is telling how he has gotten malaria four times in the last ten years, has to travel in a dugout canoe, all the great work they have done building schools, medical clinics, yada yada yada, when he starts to explain the design on his vestments (aka "priest outfit") ears really perked up because he started talking about PNG's national bird, which is apparently one of the Birds of Paradise. Then I notice that this guy has a freakin' Bird of Paradise on his cool is that? Some missionary is talking about Birds of Paradise at Holy Name Cathedral -- I don't care if that guy is teaching cannibals how to boil water, if he's wearing birds on his clothes during Mass, I'm giving him some cold, hard cash. Kinda makes the malaria thing worthwhile...

Saturday, July 30, 2005

20 Questions with Bill Murphy, author of "A Birdwatchers' Guide to Trinidad & Tobago"

1. Who are you?

Bill Murphy

2. Where do you live?

Indianapolis, Indiana

3. What do you do for a living?

I'm a software quality assurance specialist with the Department of Defense.

4. When did you start birding?

Around age 5, although I distinctly remember creeping up on a Least Bittern when (I'm told) I wasn't yet 3.

5. Are you a member of any birding clubs or ornithological societies? Which ones?

Yes. American Birding Association, Indiana Audubon Society, Amos W. Butler Audubon Society, Ohio Ornithological Society, Trinidad & Tobago Field Naturalists' Club

6. What do you think about the re-discovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker? Do you have any doubts about the id?

I actually wept with joy when I learned the news the day before the public announcement. I would call my belief level 'guarded'. Having served on three rare bird committees, I have seen incorrect identifications made by extremely seasoned birders who were hoping to find a particular species. Although personally I consider that doubtful in this case, as a scientist I think that incontrovertable evidence is still needed.

7. What is your favorite birding "local patch"?

Ritchey Woods Park, in Fishers, IN, less than a mile northeast of Indianapolis.

8. Do you have a web site?

Yes. I maintain "Trinidad Birding" at . I also created and maintain "Birding Indiana" at to keep regional birders informed of birding activities in in Indiana and surrounding areas.

9. What prompted you to make your first visit to Trinidad & Tobago (T&T)?

My mentor, Dr. Donald Messersmith, of Silver Spring, Maryland, offered me an opportunity to escort one of his World Nature Tour trips to T&T as a novel wedding present, and I accepted his offer.

10. Why is T&T such a great place to bird?

Many factors combine to make it so. As a former British colony, the infrastructure is sound - modern highways and traffic devices, safe drinking water and food, a stable government, dependable electricity and transportation, absence of tropical diseases such as yellow fever and malaria, and a highly literate English-speaking population. The climate on both islands is tolerable to most people and in the mountains approaches ideal for almost everyone. T&T's natural history has been extensively studied for more than a century by such notable people as Theodore Roosevelt and William Beebe. As a result, the avifauna is well known and an excellent field guide is available. Local expert bird guides such as Jogie Ramlal (Trinidad) and Adolphus James (Tobago) have assisted visiting naturalists for years. A new generation of even more knowledgable guides is emerging that with luck will not emigrate, as did many of the excellent local guides from 1980 until recently. As for birding, it is said that more species can be found per unit area in Trinidad than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere, if not on earth, including many large, colorful species such as parrots and Scarlet Ibis.

11. Why did you decide to write a book about birding in T&T?

When my wife and I decided to have a child, I thought that my traveling days were over. It seemed a shame to let my extensive knowledge of T&T evaporate, so for six weeks I wrote down everything I could glean from my notes and from memory. I then made a solo trip to T&T to visit the most productive areas, measure distances, verify directions and landmarks, and interview local birders. I then spent a year scouring the literature for references to Trinidad and Tobago. Roger Clapp at the U.S. Museum of Natural History contributed a bibliography that supplemented that in ffrench's field guide to the birds of T&T. The most difficult part was creating the bar charts of seasonal distribution with the noncomputerized tools available back then - an X-Acto knife, art supplies, and many rolls of sticky tape with lines of different styles and widths. When the manuscript was complete I offered it to Jim Lane, who pioneered the birders' guide concept. He and Harold Holt turned it down, expressing their feeling that the market wasn't there for such a book, so I produced and marketed the first two editions myself. Fulfillment took me so much time over the years that I was glad when Prion Ltd. asked me to sell them the rights to the book.

12. What is the toughest species (endemic or near-endemic) to see on T&T?

The only endemic species on T&T is the Trinidad Piping-Guan, which some regard as a race of the Common Piping-Guan of South America. Its large size and excellent flavor have rendered it very scarce and extremely wary. A birder has little chance of finding one except at a fairly dependable site in Trinidad that is three hours off the beaten path. Other species that are difficult to see are simply reclusive (some of the nightjars, Striped Owl, Boat-billed Heron), pass through during a narrow window of time (Swallow-Tanager), or are found only in very low densities (Black Hawk-Eagle).

13. How many tours have you led to T&T?

My upcoming tour there in January 2006 will be my 53rd. In addition I've made six visits by myself or with one other person.

14. How many species have you seen in T&T?

As of today, 330.

15. Who is the best field birder you've ever birded with?

Without a doubt that would be Chandler S. Robbins (Laurel, MD). Not only can (or could) he identify all of the chip notes of migrating birds at night, I think he is the most accomplished at identifying birds by jizz. For identifying raptors, I thought that Frank Nicoletti (now in Duluth) had no equal. He could identify and figure out the gender of incoming hawks before the rest of us could even locate the distant specks.

16. Have you ever been arrested or otherwise detained while birding?

No. The only weird incident that comes to mind was what happened when I rested my old metallic binoculars atop a taut section of fence wire at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in the 1970s to stabilize them. I didn't realize it was an electric fence, and when I put my eyes up to them, the shock was intense. It provided a lot of amusement for the other members of my birding party.

17. What is your favorite birding spot in the U.S.?

Cape May, New Jersey

18. What is your favorite foreign birding spot (outside of T&T)?

The area around Monteverde, Costa Rica

19. What is your "most-wanted" bird?

Boreal Owl

20. Where will you go on your next birding trip?

Cape May, New Jersey


Thanks to Bill Murphy for being such a great sport! If anyone is interested in taking a birding trip to Trinidad & T0bago, check out Bill's excellent web site,

More original content on the way!!!!

This blog will feature the input of many different birders, especially over the next few weeks, when I will be out of town a bit and will have a couple of major projects due at work.

In the next couple of days we will have some posts on shorebirding in the Chicago area, hopefully a post or two on birding in Florida, and we will start what will hopefully be a series of "20 Questions" interviews with birders from around the world. Our first "victim" will be Bill Murphy, a FOBINAC (Friend Of Birding Is Not A Crime) who is also the author of a great Lane-type guide entitled "A Birderwatchers' Guide to Trinidad & Tobago." T&T is a special place for me, as it was my first true birding trip to the tropics, and is a great destination for anyone looking to head south for a bit of birding fun. Many thanks to Bill for answering our first-ever 20 Questions.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Have you been kicked out of your favorite birding spot by some rent-a-cop? If so, let us know!!!!

As Chicago-area birders already know, there are many places that are now off-limits to birders due to alleged security concerns. For example, the idiots at the MWRD, lead by Board President Terry "The Lyin' King" O'Brien, think that birdwatchers are part of a global conspiracy to blow up Chicago's valuable and seemingly inexhaustible supply of sewage sludge. (Question: How do you know when a Chicago Machine politician is lying to you? Answer: His lips are moving!) Anyway, we here at BINAC are preparing to turn up the heat on the MWRD, and on the world in general, in a defense of the Bill of Rights and of our "Right to Bird."

We are working on several stories, and would like to hear from any of our readers that have been affected by security issues at the 130th Street sludge pits or at the O'Hare Ponds. We would also be interested in hearing from any birders in other parts of the country who have had similar problems. Now, I'm not talking about common-sense precautions, like barring strangers from visiting water filtration plants or nuclear facilities, I'm talking about the really stupid stuff...sewage sludge pits, post office parking lots, closing down bathrooms at the local dump, etc etc. Post a comment or e-mail me at

In case you're wondering what you actually do if you're lucky enough to be elected as a Commissioner of the MWRD, here's a hint (taken from

Every 2 years, while a flock of obscure politicians battle tempestuously for the posts -- which pay $45,000 annually, have a large office staff, require attendance at two meetings per month, and oversee an annual budget of $750 million -- the voting public pays scant attention. In these Democratic primaries, it's the blind leading the blind. Voters have no idea who they're voting for, so "random factors" like ballot position, gender, race, ethnicity and election day palm card endorsements usually trump qualifications, media endorsements, incumbency or being slated by the county Democratic organization. Also, an Irish surname is especially helpful.

Why all this interest in an obscure job? The district employs 2,400 people to manage its water treatment operations, but most are covered by civil service, so commissioners cannot build a precinct army. But there are nearly 100 summer jobs, dozens of temporary jobs and gigantic helpings of contractual pork. The "Deep Tunnel" project, to alleviate water pollution and prevent flooding, has a price tag of $3.2 billion, and it is the president and general superintendent who decide which contractors get picked. And those contractors are expected to donate liberally to Mayor Rich Daley and his anointed Democratic candidates. The current president, Terry O'Brien, and the current superintendent, Jack Farnan, are Daley loyalists. In fact, Farnan grew up in Bridgeport, in Daley's 11th Ward.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Dog owners unite!

We here at BINAC focus much of our attention on birds, but we love animals of all sorts...squirrels, feral cats, and especially unleashed dogs that playfully frolic on Chicago's delightfully clean and shorebird-free beaches.

So from time to time we will offer advice that will be of interest to the legions of dog-, cat-, and squirrel-owners that are reading this blog.

Today's tip is designed to help dog owners fight a new proposed City of Chicago permit fee. It is important that all dog owners unite behind this cause! The City (at the prompting of Cook County) is planning on forcing our dog-loving friends to make sure that their pets actually have all of their shots before cavorting in one of Chicago's lovely and fresh-smelling dog parks. This is outrageous, and discriminates against both rabid dogs and rabid dog-owners! Why, if every person in the City that runs their dog at Montrose Beach has to pay the $35 permit fee, there will be destitute Lincoln Parkers wandering the streets with their sad and pitiful dogs. Literally thousands of Jettas will fall into disrepair, due to lack of funds for maintenance and cleaning.

Even worse, John Barleycorn might go out of business!

So if you live in Chicago, and own a dog --especially if you let that dog playfully run free at some of the City's underused natural areas! -- here is what you can do if you're unhappy about the new fee: Take your dog --make sure it's leashed!--, walk outside, and tie the other end of your dog's leash to the bumper of the next truck headed out-of-town.

This public service message has been brought to you by BINAC.

Please feel free to copy this advice and pass it out to the owner of the next unleashed dog you see at Montrose Beach or Northerly Island.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Sibley Questions IBWO Evidence.

Well, this is getting really interesting now. Apparently quite a few folks felt that they should not publicly question the evidence presented by the Cornell team, but now that the dam has broken, more doubts are being raised publicly. The following story is from the New York Times:

Mystery Woodpecker Upends a Bird Lover's Life

Published: July 24, 2005
HUNTSVILLE, Ala., July 23 - In the church of birds, where passions run high and prophets emerge from swamps and thickets with revelations, nothing can ruin a reputation like admitting that you have seen an ivory-billed woodpecker.

Bobby Harrison says he has seen ivory bills.

Bobby Harrison, a large, gentle man with thinning hair and a soft Alabama drawl, knows this and can recite the casualties. Consider John V. Dennis, one of Mr. Harrison's heroes. He took the last accepted photograph of an ivory bill in Cuba in 1948. But when he testified to seeing one in the Big Thicket area of southeast Texas in 1966, he was ridiculed.

Even worse, at a 1971 meeting of ornithologists, George H. Lowery Jr., head of the Louisiana State Museum of Natural Science, presented what he was convinced were photographs of an ivory bill, taken by an acquaintance he would not name at a location he would not specify.
"Look at what happened to him," Mr. Harrison said, sitting in his office here at Oakwood College, where he teaches photography. "He was just ostracized by the ornithological community for the rest of his life."

Mr. Harrison is willing to take the risk. He has had a major part in the most recent report that the ivory bill lives and now, after a period of acceptance and celebration, some scientists and birders are questioning the strength of the evidence: a videotape of a bird and eyewitness accounts. What the critics want is an absolutely clear photograph and a bird that can be seen repeatedly by a variety of observers.

It is 17 months since the day - Feb. 27, 2004 - when he and Tim Gallagher of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology were paddling a canoe in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Arkansas, bumping into cypress trees and searching tall tupelos for some hint of an ivory bill.
They were following up on the report of Gene Sparlin, a kayaker who had seen some sort of bird but was not sure what it was. "We knew what we were looking for," Mr. Harrison said.
Then a bird appeared in the distance and he and Mr. Gallagher watched its flight, wondering what it was. "As soon as it broke over the bayou and tipped, I knew what it was," Mr. Harrison said.

When it flew over land, they tried to chase it through the swamp, running over the wet ground, carrying binoculars and notebooks.

Finally they stopped, he said, and he wept. Recalling the moment in an interview, he choked up again.

Like other birders, Mr. Harrison developed his passion early in life. He has been looking for an ivory bill since 1972, when he was 17. He is a particular species of birder; he has always had a single-minded dedication to one bird. It is no surprise that he picked the ivory bill. It was - or is - the largest American woodpecker and has long haunted the imaginations of birders because of its elegance and its disappearance.

He took a video of another ivory bill sighting, one that has not been widely released, that he has provided to the Cornell Lab. The video, played at normal speed, shows about a quarter-of-a-second glimpse of something fast flying by a tree where he had placed a decoy bird. Shown in slow motion after some technical manipulation to separate each frame, the video shows a black and white bird.

This is not what he wants. He wants to get a photograph that nobody can argue with, the kind that does not need an expert to interpret it, so that the average person can clearly see the bird.
He will be back in the swamp in Arkansas in August and this fall, and in other swamps after that. He knows he has seen the bird. "I've waited all my life for this," he said. "Still haven't got that photograph I want."

Mr. Harrison said he always called the people who had seen ivory bills "the chosen few."
"And I was one of the chosen," he said. "It's a moment I waited for most of my adult life. And it happened. Never thought it would really happen."

The sighting that day was the beginning of a major - and secret - search, by a team of experts from the Cornell Lab and other groups. It culminated last April in a public announcement and a paper by a gaggle of experts in the June 3 issue of Science. The ivory-billed woodpecker, the group reported, was alive.

Unlike reports of past sightings, this one seemed so solid that it provoked only elation, a public sigh of relief and wonder. The re-discoverers floated on the almost palpable gratitude of birders and others who treated the news as a sign of hope.

Until now.

Three scientists have a paper in the works at the Public Library of Science challenging the report in Science. No details have been released, but there are other signs of doubt.
David Allen Sibley, the prominent American birder and the author of popular field guides, said Thursday that he had concluded that in the Science paper, "the evidence they've presented falls short of proof."

Mr. Sibley said he decided this independently of the three scientists who wrote the rebuttal, although he had been in contact with them.

Kenn Kaufman, another major birding author, also said in an interview that he was not satisfied with the evidence. Although he said he believed the sighting was real, he did not think the re-discoverers had proved their case.

Mr. Harrison said that he could not comment on an unpublished paper, but that he was confident in the finding, and welcomed a scientific discussion.

"I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner," Mr. Harrison said.

Nor do the critics question his integrity or that of Mr. Gallagher or of the other authors of the Science paper.

"The people who originally announced this thoroughly believe they got an ivory-billed woodpecker," said Mark B. Robbins of the University of Kansas, one of the three scientists preparing the challenge to the Science report. "They believe one thing, we believe another. This is how science plays out, the fabric of science getting at the truth."

Except that with the ivory bill, nothing is ever business as usual. Even when it was common, the bird had a certain majesty and mystery. For the last 50 years it has been a symbol of loss, and of human failure. Most people were afraid to hope.

So the report in Science, reviewed by other researchers, with multiple sightings over the course of a year by respected observers, and a blurry videotape that was exhaustively analyzed, was greeted with almost religious fervor.

Mr. Kaufman described the initial reaction as: "The bird is back from the grave. Eureka! We're saved."

Pete Dunne, vice president of the New Jersey Audubon Society and a prolific author on birds, said he was one of many who thought the ivory bill was gone for good.

"If someone had said to me, what was more likely, the rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker or the Second Coming, unhesitantly I would have gone to the latter."
He is now a firm believer. "The credentials of the people who saw this are stellar," he said.

Usually, scientists and birders are skeptical. In fact, Mr. Kaufman said, "I've actually been shocked that virtually everyone has been embracing this."

He added, "I do in fact believe that there was a bird there last year, but it hasn't been proven and we could have a more honest discussion if people accept the fact that we don't have proof."

Mr. Sibley is unconvinced. At first, he, too, was elated, and went down to Arkansas for 10 days to look for the ivory bill without success. It was only when he returned, he said, that he began to think critically about the Science report. "It's really crushing to come to the conclusion that it might not be true, that there is room for some reasonable doubt."

He has been reluctant to speak publicly about his doubts, and described doubters as being treated as "heretics" in online discussions. The reason he is speaking out now, he said, is that he worried that money might be diverted from other conservation efforts.

What he said he wanted, for proof, was "redundancy. Repeated sightings by independent observers of birds really well seen."

This is what Mr. Harrison wants, more than anything. And he understands the skeptics, because he has been one. But this time, he and his colleagues are following in the long tradition of Mr. Dennis and the late Dr. Lowery. "I know the bird is there," he said.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Birder Tech: Review of BirdPod Software.

I can highly recommend the software available from Every field birder in Eastern North America that uses bird calls in the field could benefit from this useful and time-saving (but expensive) software.

A bit of background information: Last week I finally broke down and bought an iPod. It broke before I could even use it, so I had to bring it back to the store and get a replacement. The software still doesn't seem to work quite right, but at least the thing is operational. As soon as I got the thing working, I wanted to find out what my options were for using my iPod as a birding tool.

From a birding perspective, I, like a lot of other birders, have been using a Sony Minidisc player for many years. The Minidiscs are pretty rugged, but they use technology that is 10 or more years old. One reason that many birders still use the Minidisc is because it allows you to record bird songs in the field, something you cannot do with an iPod or most (any?) mp3 players. I do find it difficult to cut and edit bird calls on the Sony SonicStage software, although to be fair I haven't found any software that makes the process easy.

So, along comes a company called Mighty Pods, and their first product is something called birdpod. (Or ibirdpod. Or birdpodmaker. Or something like that.) Anyway, what birdpod does is takes the three Stokes Eastern cds and edits them into a birder-friendly format for use on your iPod. For example, the software cuts off the spoken words on the cd (so you don't have to turn down the volume at the beginning of each track in the field to minizie the annoying "voice" telling you what species is on that track), and cuts each track so that you can play it directly in the field. The software also creates a number of different playlists that will be extremely useful in the field. For example, there is a playlist which lists all songs alphabetically by species, there are playlists for different habitat types, and there are other playlist for categories of birds like "sparrows" and "nocturnal birds."

You can buy an iPod with all of the songs and playlists already loaded onto it, or, if you already own an iPod like I do, you can buy just the birdpod software, or the birdpod software and the Stokes cds. (You need to have both the Stokes cds and the birdpod software for everything to work properly.) The whole package is a bit pricey (I paid about $100 for the software and the Stokes cds), and I suppose that some birders could edit the tracks and create similar playlists on their own. However, that would take forever, and from personal experience, I can tell you that it would be a frustrating experience.

I had two minor glitches in the software, and I had to download a Windows optional update that I really didn't want (annoying) in order for the birdpod software to work. However, even with those minor problems it only took about half an hour to download everything and load it onto my iPod.

Thanks to the birdpod software, I think that my iPod(with external speakers, of course) will now be an essential birding tool, especially for things like CBCs, SBCs, Big Days, breeding bird surveys, owling, etc. No more spending hours editing songs onto a cd or tape, and no more fumbling with different tapes or cds at 4:00 in the morning on a CBC when it's 3 degrees below zero. Since my iPod now has every Eastern bird call on it, I don't have to think about which tapes I need on any particular day of birding (different tapes might be needed for different times of year, different locations, different habitats, etc.), I can just put the slim iPod into my pocket and start birding. I even tried playing it using just the tiny little iPod headphones as speakers yesterday and I did get a response from birds that were within about 10 feet.

I don't know how much of a market is really out there for this type of software, but I hope that Mighty Pods will offer more birding products in the future. If they can expand their offerings to include Western N.A. birds calls, and then start on the tropics, it would be extremely helpful.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Welcome to the blog...y'all come back soon!

The Birding Blog with the Weather God! Posted by Picasa

Jerome A. Jackson Questions Re-discovery of Ivory-Billed Woodpecker!!!!!

As hinted at here a few days ago, one of the world's foremost experts on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Jerome A. Jackson, has gone public with his doubts about the Arkansas sightings. Here is the story from the NY Times:

3 Biologists Question Evidence in Sighting of Rare Woodpecker

Published: July 21, 2005

Three biologists are questioning the evidence used by a team of bird experts who made the electrifying claim in April that they had sighted an ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird presumed to have vanished from the United States more than 60 years ago, in the swampy forests of southeast Arkansas.

If the challenge holds up, it would undermine not only a scientific triumph - the rediscovery of a resplendent bird that had been exhaustively sought for years - but also significant new conservation expenditures in the region.

The paper questioning the discovery has been provisionally accepted by a peer-reviewed journal, which could post the analysis online within a few weeks. But the paper will be accompanied by a fierce rebuttal by the team that announced the discovery, and a response to that rebuttal by the challengers.

The expected publication of the paper and the rebuttal was confirmed in interviews and e-mail exchanges with two authors of the challenge, Richard O. Prum and Mark B. Robbins, ornithologists at Yale and the University of Kansas, as well as with two members of the team that reported finding the woodpecker.

The third author of the new paper is Jerome A. Jackson, a zoologist at Florida Gulf Coast University and the author of the book, "In Search of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker," published in 2004.

"In my opinion," Mr. Jackson wrote in an e-mail message on Wednesday, "the data presented thus far do no more than suggest the possibility of the presence of an ivory-billed woodpecker. I am most certainly not saying that ivory-billed woodpeckers are not out there. I truly hope that the birds do exist in Arkansas or elsewhere and have been championing this idea for a long time."

Both groups of scientists declined to name the journal or to discuss the details of the challenge and the response until they were published.

But they made it clear that the debate revolves around four seconds of fuzzy videotape that, by chance, captured a bird with sweeping white-and-black wings as it darted from its perch on the far side of a tupelo tree in April 2004 and flicked over swampy waters before vanishing in the trees 11 wing beats later.

That video clip was just one piece in a pile of drawings, recordings and other evidence collected in more than a year of searching and deploying cameras and listening devices across the vast swampy reaches of the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge.

Altogether, the original research team, led by scientists from Cornell University and the Nature Conservancy, compiled seven sightings, including the video, as well as recordings of a "double knock" sound typical of the ivory-billed bird.

But only the video was potentially solid enough to confirm for the wider ornithological community the existence of the bird, the authors said in various statements at the time.
Everyone agrees that the bird that appears on the tape is either an ivory-billed woodpecker or a pileated woodpecker, a slightly smaller bird that is relatively common. Both species have a mix of white and black plumage. However, the ivory-billed woodpecker has a white trailing edge to its wings while the pileated woodpecker has a black trailing edge.

The team that conducted the original search for the bird ran extensive tests, including recreating the scene captured in video using flapping, hand-held models of the two types of woodpecker. They concluded that the plumage patterns seen in the grainy image could only be that of the ivory-billed woodpecker.

The authors of the new paper disagree.

Only extended scientific discussion - or new pictures of the bird from additional searches - will determine whose view will prevail. Another intensive scientific search of the region is scheduled to begin in November, Cornell officials said.

"The people who originally announced this thoroughly believe they got an ivory-billed woodpecker," Dr. Robbins said in an interview. Determining if a species has crossed the threshold of extinction often requires decades of observation to ensure that no stray individuals have found a reclusive hideaway.

Supposedly extinct species have been rediscovered with some frequency over the last century. One famed example is the coelacanth, a huge fish known only from fossils for generations but then caught by African anglers.

In the case of the ivory-billed woodpecker, a magnificent bird with a 30-inch wingspan and a red crest, determining that it has not become extinct has proved equally daunting. Individual birds were widely dispersed, and the woodpecker shared habits and habitat with the pileated woodpecker.

Van Remsen of Louisiana State University, an expert on the woodpecker and a member of the team that reported finding the ivory-billed species, said he remained confident of the discovery.
"We can counter everything," he said. "We stick to our guns."

The announcement of the bird's apparent discovery came on April 28, when the scientists' findings were published in the online version of the journal Science.

The announcement thrilled conservationists, who saw the bird as the perfect symbol around which to build an invigorated protection plan for woodland habitat in the Southeast, which harbors a rich array of wildlife and plants.

The Bush administration used the reported sightings in Arkansas to promote its "cooperative conservation" philosophy. The day the rediscovery was publicized, the administration announced a variety of initiatives, including a plan to pay more than $13 million to landowners within the region's floodplains who plant and maintain forests.

John W. Fitzpatrick, the co-leader of the search for the bird and director of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, said it was normal for scientists to disagree about evidence of this sort, especially because in this case the video in question was "pretty crummy."
But he said that extensive analysis was done and redone to eliminate the possibility that the bird was a pileated woodpecker.

Dr. Fitzpatrick added that there was "significant additional evidence right now" that would be published in coming months.

He declined to comment on the challengers' assertions, saying any discussion could jeopardize publication of the exchange of papers on the video.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

New Shorebirds Mailing List.

I just found mention of a new mailing list devoted to shorebirds and waders:


Greetings, Shorebirders!

We are pleased to announce the formation of a new Listserve, hosted by the University of Georgia, that also hosts Georgia Birds, and Pelagics-SE. Shorebirds (or Waders, if you prefer) are a unique and fascinating group of birds, because of their wide ranges throughout the world, and some of the most impressive migrations of all birds, flying from the Arctic tundra all the way to southern South America, Africa and Australia and back again, with vagrant species turning up in many unexpected locations. They can be confoundingly difficult to identify, with many similar species and overlapping characteristics. And due to habitat loss of wetlands in breeding, migration stopover and wintering grounds, many species are facing severe ecological pressures and population losses. The focus of this listserve is to create a worldwide forum for reporting the observation of seasonal migration in differing areas, discovery of rarities, discussion of identification problems, and for promotion of knowledge of conservation issues concerning shorebirds.

As with other lists, please keep posts on the topic of shorebirds. Off topic posts, such as general political comments, religion, flaming, etc, are not allowed. Commercial topics are not encouraged, unless they are announcements concerning upcoming events that feature Shorebirds. Please use discretion as you would with other lists.

To Subscribe, send an email to the following type in the body of the message: subscribe SHOREBIRDS FIRSTNAME LASTNAME (for example: subscribe SHOREBIRDS ROBERT WALLACE) Please leave the Subject line of the email blank.

Frequently asked questions will be answered in a following email. Attachments (such as photos) are not currently possible. Links to photos for discussion should be posted in the email, and we hope to be able to set up a site to download photos to. We look forward to reading of sightings and shorebird movements from all over the world, and learning more about these fascinating birds. Thank you to Steve Holzman of FWS and Sara Schweitzer of UGA for their efforts to set up this service. Best regards and good birding! R.D. (Bob) Wallace Alachua FL, USA

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Birder Tech: ibirdpod.

I just bought a new iPod, and stumbled upon a very interesting site:

I would be intersted in hearing if anyone has used their software. It sounds like it would be a neat product for any birder who, like me, lacks the patience to edit and cut the standard bird song cds onto a portable player. I think this means I am finally giving up on my Sony MiniDisc, which has served me well over the years, but is practically ancient technology compared to the average MP3 player.

The First 48 Hours...and what comes next.

Well, the first two days of this blog have been very interesting. We have had visitors from eleven different states, plus Canada, Mexico, and the U.K..

In the coming weeks, we will hopefully be adding more original content, including guest bloggers, 20 questions with birders from around the world, Birder Tech, CBC preparation, and who knows what else.

I guess if I had to describe the spirit of this blog, it would be "Birding With An Attitude." Too often birders are made to feel like they should be guilty or ashamed to be birders. I don't know if this happens in the U.K. as much as it does in the U.S., but it seems like every time a rare bird shows up in certain states, some overwraught pseudo-birder whines that people shouldn't go see the bird. You won't find any of that hand-wringing on this site. We might be just a bit overzealous at times, and rub some people the wrong way, but that's life.

Birders bird. Thats' what we do. Birders, twitchers, listers -- it doesn't matter what you call us, we all still have that same *something* inside of us that makes us want to chase that bird. And that's what we're going to talk about here.

I hope you enjoy what will follow.

Hurricane Emily heads towards Texas.

Hurricane Emily is now headed towards Texas. If the current projected track of this storm holds, it should make landfall south of the border. This could set up a fallout of pelagic species along the lower Texas Coast. Since this storm went right over the Yucatan, there is a chance -- albeit a slim one -- that some Mexican land birds might be pushed across the Gulf and into Texas. Hopefully everyone in South Texas and adjacent areas in Mexico will stay safe and dry, and find some good birds as soon as the storm passes.

Monday, July 18, 2005

America's Birdiest City/County 2005 Results!

Courtesy of Phil Pryde of San Diego Audubon, here are the results from this year's ABC/C contest. Chicago did pretty well, Cook County did not, maybe next year the person organizing things for Chicago/Cook Co. will do a better job! All comments below are from Phil:

Results of the America’s Birdiest City and County Competition for 2005!

Here are the results of the 2005 competition for the title of America’s Birdiest City and America’s Birdiest County. Congratulations to the top tallyers in each category!

Category City/County Species identified:

Large Coastal City Corpus Christi, TX 237
Large Inland City Chicago, IL 163
Small Coastal City Dauphin Island, AL 188
Small Inland City Duluth, MN 166
Inland Eastern County St. Louis County, MN 202
Inland Western County Kern County, CA 224
Coastal Gulf Coast County Nueces County, TX 237
Coastal Atlantic County Kings County, NY 169
Coastal Pacific County Monterey, CA 250
Coastal Pacific County San Diego, CA 251

A note of explanation is perhaps needed for listing two California coastal counties in the Coastal County category. As you can see, the results were extremely close, but more significantly, Monterey County elects to use stricter criteria for listing their species for the competition than is required by the ABC/C rules. Their desire to do so is respected, but it seems reasonable to assume that had they used the latter rules, they would have achieved at least one additional species, perhaps more, thereby finishing ahead of San Diego. Thus, it was felt fair to acknowledge Monterey as the Birdiest County in the “stricter rules” category. A tip of the hat is also due Los Angeles County, which finished a very close third at 247. We would especially like to point out and congratulate new entrant Dauphin Island, Alabama, the birdiest small city in America for 2005! And now that you’ve returned from a quick trip to your Atlas to find out where Dauphin Island is located, you also know that it’s a great place to find trans-Gulf migrants in spring. Dauphin Island Chamber of Commerce, get ready! And we’d like to acknowledge two other first time entrants who finished high in their category. Oceanside, CA took second place in the Small Coastal City category, and Washington County, ME (our first Maine entrant) came in third in the Atlantic Coastal County division. And again we salute North Bay, Ontario, once again our Canadian champion at 154 species! We know that many entrants combine this competition with a fund-raising effort on behalf of local birding or nature study programs, and we hope you all realized great success in those efforts as well. Also, we hope that you all can use your results to help promote habitat conservation activities in your local communities.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Hurricane birds.

I have always been fascinated by "storm birds," pelagic species that get blown inland by hurricanes or tropical storms and end up in odd places, like Missouri or Indianapolis. There was a nice selection of pelagic birds in Kentucky and Tennessee last week, and there is currently a Royal Tern in Missouri. There have also been at least two Sooty Terns found in downstate Illinois, one dead bird near Nashville, and one live Sooty at Carlyle Lake. I couldn't drive down to try for the Sooty this weekend, but it was re-located by a few birders today. An active hurricane season, combined with the tendency of many herons/waders (especially juvenile birds) to wander after breeding, could make this an interesting summer in Illinois. Wood Stork, Black Skimmer, and Brown Pelican are just a few of the species that might be found.

Hurricane Emily, which is currently bearing down on Cozumel and the Yucatan, could pose problems for the endemic Cozumel Thrasher, which many folks thought had been wiped out (or nearly wiped out) after a hurricane a few years ago. Even if there is still a sustainable population of Cozumel Thrashers left on the island, their numbers are probably so low that another major storm like Emily could be disastrous. I birded Cozumel and the Yucatan last August, which is certainly not the best time to visit for birders. Found some interesting breeding species, but missed quite a few of the endemics. Maybe I'll post some of the more unusual sightings at a later date.

In the meantime, if anyone has new information about the current status of the Cozumel Thrasher or any other Cozumel endemics/near endemics, pre- and post-Emily, please feel free to contact me and I will post anything that seems relevant to a wider audience.

Postscript: As of the afternoon of July 18, the Sooty Tern was still being reported at Carlyle Lake. Let's see if Emily dumps any pelagic species into Texas.

Birding Northerly Island.

For those of you outside the Chicago area, Northerly Island is located on the Lake Michigan lakefront just off of Lake Shore Drive on the Museum Campus, right near downtown. Northerly Island was built for the 1933 World's Fair, but for many years it was used as an airport called Miegs Field.

A few years ago, Chicago's bird-loving (I'm not kidding) Mayor Daley decided he wanted to turn the airport into a park. The prompted heated objections and a few lawsuits from the State of Illinois, private pilots, etc, but since the City actually owned the land undeneath the airport, when the airport's lease expired, Da Mare locked the gates and plowed up the runways with bulldozers. (Well, he didn't personally drive a backhoe, but you get the idea.)

So now NI is pretty much empty until the City gets the money to develop it into a formal park. In the meantime, the Park District has planted a few trees and a bunch of "pretty" grasses, and NI has developed into a great birding location, especially during sparrow migration. You usually don't see a lot of people (or dogs!) when you bird out there, and this spring there were goodies such as Upland Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl, and Northern Mockingbird (a good bird for Chicago) that briefly stopped at NI on their way north.

A few months ago, the Park District, in its desperate search for new funds, decided to lease the northern portion of NI for a "temporary" concert venue. This plan was formulated without any public input, and many people suspect that the bid process was somehow rigged, since the company that everntually was awarded the bid (Clear Channel) was advertising this new Northerly Island Pavilion concert venue before the bid was actually awarded. Adding insult to injury, local promoter Jam Productions, one of Clear Channel's few remaining competitors, was aced out of the contract, even though they were the ones that came up with the idea in the first place. I'm hoping that Jam sues CC and the Park District so we can get to the bottom of the whole bid award fiasco (Jam has already sued Clear Channel on a separate issue and received a mega-verdict in federal court), but that has not happened yet.

Anyway, all of the conservation and birding groups were asleep at the wheel on this one, so there was no opposition to the concert venue proposal from any conservation group, and now we're stuck with this "temporary" concert venue for at least five years.

I attended my first show at NI Pavilion last night, and it is a very interesting place. The capacity is supposedly 7,500, but to my eyes it looked like it was in the 8-10,000 range. Maybe next time I go back I'll do a seat count. The sound was ok, but the sight lines were horrible. The center sections are ok, but there is no slope, so unless you stand up you might not have a great view of the stage. The side sections are a joke. From most of the side sections, you can barely see the stage, you can't see the drummer, and can't even see the rest of the performers unless they're near the front of the stage. Security was pretty lax, and parking/traffic was awful. Whoever at the Park District decided that a sold-out soccer game with 60,000+ fans should end at the same time a sold-out concert with 7,000+ fans was scheduled to begin deserves a special place in Hell.

And it is amazing how many people, and how much equipment, it takes to run even a relatively small "temporary" concert venue. The acres of asphalt and steel seem pretty permanent to me, but if CC and the Park District say this venue is "temporary," well then I guess it must be true.

On to the birds...had 8 Black-crowned Night Herons fly by NI last night, this morning I birded the area again and had at least 9 Savannah Sparrow territories, and at least 7 hunting American Kestrels. I don't think I've ever seen 7 kestrels hunt the same field before, it was pretty amazing to see this with the City skyline in the background. Also had a funky sparrow that I think was an immature Lark Sparrow, which would be a pretty big find (not sure there are any recent summer records of Lark Sparrow in Chicago or Cook County), but I still have some questions about the id of this bird.

Also saw in the Tribune this morning that my friend Robbie Hunsinger and her crew at the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors ( are very close to getting a temporary bird rehab facility located at the NI terminal building to help with their efforts to rescue stunned and injured birds that hit glass in the Loop during migration. (For a nice story on this subject, see: This is great news, and I'll continue to talk about NI and the window-kill issue in future entries.

Ivory-billed Woodpecker Questions...

I have been fascinated by the "re-discovery" of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, and have been reading everything I can about that species, and the recent search in Arkansas.

But I do have some questions...

1) Has the search team found a nest cavity? If they have, would they tell anyone?

2)Have any birders gone to search for this bird in Arkansas? I have only found a handful of people who have been willing to say that they have looked for the bird.

3) Have there been any additional sightings, by the search team or by any independent birders, since the April announcement?

4) Why are people spreading rumors that there are doubts about the identity of the bird that has been spotted in Arkansas? Are there any serious birders or professional ornithologists who have (or will) question the identification of "Elvis"? And why was Jerome A. Jackson, arguably the world's foremost expert on the Ivory-bill, not involved in the search or recovery team? Has he made any public comments since the species was re-discovered?

Welcome to a blog by birders, for birders!

Well, I have finally decided to make the jump to blogging. This blog will discuss birds, birding, birders, and all related subjects. This is not an environmental blog, although those issues may creep up in time. Eventually my other interests -- politics, music, Salma Hayek, or whatever -- may pop up, but right now it's birds. Since I live in Chicago, that will be my initial focus, but birding anywhere in the world is fair game. I hope to create discussion, even a controversy now and then, but the great thing about blogging is that if you don't want to hear what I have to say (and many of you won't!), you don't have to visit my blog...