Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Story of Our Life...

...even if we didn't write it: the latest from Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, her first non-fiction work. It is amazing hearing the same ideas and motivations as we have been talking about and trying to explain to friends and family; sometimes even almost the exact same words! It is her family's memoir of their move from Tucson to rural Appalachia, why they did it, and how they have been learning to live reconnected to their place and the real world. An excerpt:

"We wanted to live in a place that could feed us: where rain falls, crops grow, and drinking water bubbles right up out of the ground. This might seem an abstract reason for leaving beloved friends and one of the most idyllic destination cities in the United States. But it was real to us."

Monday, July 23, 2007

How can y'all live like this?

I've been working on what will be the built-in bookcases for our dining room. This has had me travelling to my friend's place over in Cannon County, where I can use his assistance, expertise, and fully-equipped wood shop. But this has also entailed travel through and shopping in Murfreesboro. Murf and its surrounding Rutherford County have become the very essence of over-sprawled suburb. With the concentration of all retail in "The Mall" and the Home Despot style Big Chain, there's little escape from this anymore. Cannon County no longer hosts one single adequate lumberyard or retail sawmill. One advantage of living really out in the stix here in Lewis County, where we are not connected to the outside world by any 4-lane highway, is that we still have two pretty good lumberyards, well-equipped hardware stores, and several mom-and-pop and Mennonite sawmills. Not so for my friend over there across the basin in the Eastern Highland Rim. So this leads me to ponder the question that forms my title:

How can y'all live like this??

For me the world embodied by Murfreesboro is an occasional nightmare that I must endure from time to time. But a nightmare it is: parking lots, crowds, exhaust, noise, horrifically cluttered hideously ugly landscapes, traffic all day, waiting through three cycles of every light to get into maze-like parking lots, frustration and annoyance, not finding what you need until the third stop, requiring the navigation of more and more clogged intersections, etc. etc. It boggles my mind that for most people in early 21st Century America this is their every day world, indeed their home. But what astounds me the most is that not only does everyone endure this, most in fact embrace it as The Good Life! The gyrations, convolutions, and tortures that these psyches must have endured at the hands of the Priests of The Church of Consumerist Materialism in order to worship this dungeon from hell as heaven on earth is almost incomprehensible to me.

Once again...

Yes I know this passed tedious months ago.

To answer the questions asked by Sibley et al in the web extra in the current issue of Birding, plus point out a few somewhat misleading statement of theirs:

First, "they" collectively may not have emphasized the the "narrow -- and ambiguous -- black trailing edge," but Bevier as an individual (one of the als in the et al of the letter) certainly has, and Collinson made it a cornerstone of his published analysis. And indeed, in this self same letter they use a portion of the "black trailing edge" argument as the basis for their point number 4. It borders on misleading to suggest that this has not been an important part of the pro-Pileated analyses, even when one just limits oneself to peer-reviewed literature (which it is worthy of note that this "letter to the editor" itself is not).

OK, on the the questions:

1. In the second frame, why is the brightest white far from the body with little white close to the body?

Angle of presentation, perhaps? Outer wing oriented vertically and farther from the shadow of the body, inner wing oriented downwards and closer to the body. There are other frames where the inner wing is brighter than the outer wing, especially when it is oriented vertically and the outer wing is oriendted downwards.

2. How could a bird with white flight feathers largely disappear against a dark background (fourth frame)?

It doesn't. I see it there as clearly as in any other frame, which of course means not very clearly at all. A few pixels that look like a dark body, two small clumps of lighter pixels below this body that could be some white flight feathers, and a dark pixel or two below that, maybe. It looks to me like there are as many light pixels as dark pixels. Whatever, it's another "six pixel bird."

3. Why are the secondaries on the left wing black (fifth frame)?

Claiming that black smudge as the secondaries of the left wing is extremely tenuous. First, comparison of this and the next frame show quite clearly that the wing is NOT fully extended in this frame: note how much bigger the right wing appears in the next frame. Look at high-speed still photos of birds in flight that pull their wings in close to the body on the upstroke. At this stage of the stroke, the inner wing is extended upwards (hence the white bar shown on the right wing) but the outer wing is still folded and in the middle of a rapid rotation from downward to upward. So that black bar could be just about any part of either wing at this instant... if it is even real.

Which, it is highly questionable if it is. According to Bold Mistatement #1, "These patterns are repeated consistently in each wingbeat cycle through the video." This particular feature in fact occurs clearly only in this one frame on this wingbeat; at similar stages of other wingbeats these conspicuous "black secondaries" are not to be found. This suggests that these "black secondaries" are as likely to be an imaging artifact as anything else.

4. How could the partially white wingtip of an Ivory-bill produce the broad black band shown curving around the wingtip in the sixth frame?

It didn't. The image compression process produced this broad back band (see my extensive posts below for details). It is not a plumage feature of the bird.

5. How could the all-white secondaries of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker produce this image showing no white on the left wing (seventh frame)?

There is no left wing at all in this frame to my eyes. We might as well ask, how could the mostly black flight feathers of a Pileated have disappeared completely? In fact, even better, we should ask: How could the prominent "black secondaries" from the fifth frame have disappeared entirely by the seventh frame if they were real? Both black and white are resolved against the background (black body, white underwing) in other frames. Rather than inferring field marks from an invisibe wing, it seems better to conclude that a rapidly moving, out of focus wing viewed nearly edge-on disappears no matter what color it is.

Synopsis: for Pileated field marks we have gradations of shading on a strongly angled underwing, an invisible six pixel bird, a black smudge in one frame that does not appear consistently in other comparable frames, an image compression artifact, and an invisible, motion-blurred wing viewed edge-on.

And we conclude with Bold Mistatement #1 as mentioned above: "These patterns are repeated consistently in each wingbeat cycle through the video." Actually, items 1 and 4 appear more clearly in this wingbeat than in the others, and item #3 appears only in this one frame of this one wingbeat. They are not consistent; most are contradicted in other frames and other wingbeats within the video.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Dual standards

Not to be confused with double standards.

A fair bit of the shouting in the Ivorybill arguments stems from a failure to comprehend that there is not just one single evidentiary standard, nor one single important question, involved. There are in fact two fundamentally different ones.

The first, and the one that the vast majority of birders seem to feel constitutes the only important question, is "Has the species been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to still exist?" This is the question applied whenever a rare bird record is being evaluated for inclusion on a regional checklist, one's own life list, etc. The standard here is "when in doubt, leave it out." If there is a reasonable doubt (which means a doubt for which one can give explicit, logical reasons, not just a gut reaction) about the matter, then the occurence has not been proven and should be left off the list. Obviously, this is the question that birders snap to, being in general rather obsessed with maintaining lists. In this situation, data that are suggestive but not conclusive have no value. And a "body of evidence" is only as strong as its single strongest piece; it is not an additive process.

The second question, which birders are disinclined to even consider valid but conservationists must keep foremost, is, "Is there evidence that provides a reasonable suspicion that the species might exist?" Again, "reasonable" means that explicit, logical reasons can be given, not just hope, wishful thinking, or gut instincts. The standard here is very different, and might be termed the "course of least regret." This is a much more complex and subjective process, where the multifaceted tradeoffs between various choices have to be evaluated in an impossible N-dimensional matrix. Scenarios such as "A. We do nothing, even though the bird was not extinct, and miss the final opportunity to have saved it" versus "B. We reallocate resources from other projects to look for a bird that is actually extinct, possibly causing harm in other areas" have to be weighed. In this case, when there is doubt, your task is not to throw the record out, but to try to remove (or at least reduce) the doubt; in other words, go find out more to see if you can figure out what is really going on. In this situation, there is some additive value to a "body of evidence," especially early on in the process.

Ultimately, both standards and both questions should lead to the same answer, but this can take a great deal of time. This does not make people "wrong," "fraudulent," or "unscientific" in the meantime.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Bevier speaks.

Well, ok, he writes. Louis Bevier has posted his overview of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker situation. For those who have lost track, he is one of the Als in Siblet et al. Disappointingly, his article consists of nothing but a rehash of old arguments. Some of these have been agressively rebutted, a point he seems to find unimportant. In specific reference to the Luneau video, he still claims that the video shows conclusive features that identify the bird as a Pileated. He repeats the same, pervasive error of interpreting video compression artifacts as plumage features. He dismisses the possibility casually without actually addressing it. His argument that the black wedge should be visible on the underwing does not hold up either. When you subtract out the edge artifacts, there is neither black wedge nor black trailing edge resolved. Since the bird must have one or the other, the absence of either means that no conclusion can be drawn about the underwing pattern from these frames. In the frames (350 and 467) he claims show black secondaries on the left wing, the bird's wings are in fact not yet fully extended, remaining partially folded (compare apparent wing size with the following frames). Only one of these two frames shows clear black to the left of the white field; the other shows the black to the right of the white field. Interpreting where the black comes from on a partially folded wing is very tricky. In both cases, on the following frame where the wing actually is extended, the "black secondaries" have vanished; indeed the left wing is hardly visible at all.

For flight dynamics, once again he focuses exclusively on wingbeat rate. He does not even mention the more detailed flight mechanics and wing postures, which in the Luneau bird are a poor match for a Pileated. I would actually love to see his Pileated videos to have more material for comparison. If he's got a vid of a Pileated launching that has flight mechanics similar to the Luneau bird, then that will change everything from my perspective. But his own description reads "Deinterlaced video fields match precisely launch sequence from Arkansas in terms of timing of wing movement and reduced or blurred out black trailing edge to underwing." This seems to specifically exclude the other aspects of flight mechanics, which is where the Luneau bird is most sharply different from the Pileateds in all videos I have yet seen.

In his defense, he only references papers published in peer-reviewed literature and the video artifact and flight dynamics analyses haven't made it to publication yet; however, as he participates in multiple online fora he can hardly be unaware of them.

Same arguments, same faults, same failure to address fundamental criticisms.

And now, as I revisit the pages, many of the images are missing. Curious...

The beginning...

...of the end of the drought? A magnificent 3.01", 45 minute downpour yesterday was the best rain we've had in years. It's a testimony to the intensity of the drought that a half hour after the rain stopped all the puddles were gone, and the creeks hardly responded at all. We're still way down on soil moisture deficit, but it's a step in the right direction. Our synoptic weather has shifted a bit so that we're at least getting scattered summer-type thunderstorms occasionally again. If we can even get back to a pattern of a half inch or an inch every week or so, we'll hold the line for the rest of the summer with little further damage.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Late-stage development of fruit in Rubus alleghaniensis

Documented photographically on our farm:

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Comments, yet again...

Moderating comments over a slow dialup connection is kind of tedious, so I'm making yet another adjustment. As seems to be the common practice on blogger, I'm turning off moderation but restricting comments to users who are logged on with a blogger profile. For a couple of you, this will mean that you will need to create a blogger user account, which isn't a very big deal. If you already have a google account, I think you can just use that.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

One more woodpecker post...

...while I'm on the topic.

A question for all the "kent" hearers:

What the f--- are you folks hearing??? I mean it. I have spent tons of time in bottomland hardwood /cypress / tupelo swamps within the "historical range." I mean many months worth of time if you add it all up. All the supposed alternative sources for "kent-like sounds" have been available -- fawns, fauns, tree squeeks, blue jays, nuthatches, brakes, etc. etc. etc. Yet I have never once for a second thought I have heard an intriguing "kent" sound. Not once. Not ever. From 1974 to the present. And my hearing and expertise at bird call ID are just fine; significantly above average by most indications. So along come all you folks who stroll out into exactly the same sorts of swamps, and you start hearing "kents." All over the place. But not one of you has ever laid eyes on the source of the sound. So, really, what the hell are y'all hearing? If it's some ordinary thing, not some rare bird that only occurs in a couple of places, why haven't I ever heard it anywhere? But if it is some rare bird, why the hell haven't ANY of you ever been able to see the source? And at least some of y'all are highly experienced folks with impeccable reputations. It does not make one single bit of sense. Nobody's arguments, from "it's an Ivorybill" to "it's elvis" to "it's a tree frog" to "it's the light from venus refracted by some swamp gas" to "it's a bunch of inexperienced birders who aren't very good at discriminating natural sounds" hold water.

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