Monday, August 01, 2005

More on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker controversy: Controversy no more? "Astounding" audio recordings of two IBWOs convince skeptics???

From the New York Times (America's Birding Newspaper?):


Recordings Convince Skeptics That Ivory Bills Are Not Extinct

Published: August 1, 2005

The phoenix had nothing on the ivory-billed woodpecker.
It is hard to keep track of how many times this near-mythic bird, the largest American woodpecker and a poignant symbol of extinction and disappearing forests, has been lost and then found. Now it is found again.

Even the most skeptical ornithologists now agree. More important, even the skeptics now say that newly presented recordings shows that at least two of the birds are living in Arkansas.

Richard Prum, an ornithologist at Yale University, one of several scientists who had challenged evidence in the most recent rediscovery of the ivory bill, said in an interview that he was now "strongly convinced that there is at least a pair of ivory bills out there."

Mark Robbins, an ornithologist at the University of Kansas, and also a critic, listened to the same recordings with a graduate student and said, "We were absolutely stunned."

He said the recordings, provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, were "astounding."

Of a critical paper that he and Dr. Prum and another scientist had submitted to the Public Library of Science, he said, "It's all moot at this point; the bird's here."

That was what the Cornell lab said last April, when it announced that an ivory bill had been sighted in February 2004 in the Cache River Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas.

In May 2005, a group of scientists published a paper in the journal Science on the rediscovery, with a heavily analyzed but blurry video. After widespread euphoria, three skeptics - Dr. Prum, Dr. Robbins and Jeremy Jackson, a zoologist at Florida Gulf Coast University - prepared their criticism. Prominent experts like David Sibley and Kenn Kaufman, both authors of bird guides, agreed that the evidence in the Science paper was not conclusive.

But while the skeptics' paper was still in the works, the Cornell team provided several audio recordings to Dr. Prum and Dr. Robbins. Dr. Jackson, who was out of the country, had not had a chance to listen to the recordings, Dr. Prum said.

The evidence was so convincing - the characteristic nasal "kent" call and double raps on a tree - that Dr. Prum and Dr. Robbins withdrew their critical challenge.

"The thrilling new sound recordings provide clear and convincing evidence that the ivory-billed woodpecker is not extinct," Dr. Prum said in a statement.

The snippet of videotape that until now was the strongest individual piece of evidence showed only one bird. But the sound recordings, made over many months in the White River refuge, just south of Cache River, provided vital signs that a potential breeding population persisted, according to experts and officials involved with the search.

"We felt all along that the White River was probably the core of the bird's habitat and it was dispersing out," said Sam Hamilton, the Southeast region director of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and the chairman of a panel that is overseeing drafting of the federal recovery plan for the bird.

The scientific consensus on the strength of the sound recordings from that region was "very, very exciting," he said. "It gives you chill bumps to think about that vast bottomland hardwood being certainly home to more than one bird."

Dr. Prum said the double raps appeared to be from a pair of ivory bills communicating with each other, one close and one far away. He continued, "I'm thinking about when I should head down to Arkansas."

John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and a primary author of the Science paper that announced the bird's survival, said, "The birds are there, which we knew." But he said he was happy that a scientific battle in print had been avoided.

"We sent them the sounds. I wish we'd done that earlier," he said. But he noted that the process was "science in action at its messy best."

The manager of the 160,000-acre White River refuge, Larry E. Mallard, said the boggy woodlands there have been actively logged for generations in a way that takes care to protect areas friendly to wildlife. As a result, Mr. Mallard said, one rare species after another has returned, including bald eagles and swallow-tailed kites.

The ivory bill topped it all, he said, adding, "Now Elvis has come along and said: 'I'm the rock star. Look at me.' "

Scott Simon, head of the Nature Conservancy in Arkansas, said: "The work is not done. we still need to save another 200,000 acres at least, for the ducks the bears and the ivory-billed woodpeckers."

In a telephone interview today, Bobby Harrison of Huntsville, Ala., one of the first people to see the ivory bill in the Cache River, said he was never worried about the criticism. He added that he figured that the bird had come north to the Cache River only because there was no room in the White River refuge.

"It's already got ivory bills in it," he said.


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