Monday, January 16, 2006

A comment about the ivorybill "controversy"

UPDATE: Tom is again approving my comments for his blog. Indeed, he seems to have given me automatic approval. This is appreciated.

UPDATE AGAIN: That was short-lived. Mr. Nelson is back to picking and chosing which dissenting views he will allow. Like the one that follows.

General policy: I dislike unsigned anonymous comments. I will not delete the ones already posted, but I will begin deleting new ones. You need not sign an actual legal name, but sign something so I can keep straight which comments are from different people. Thank you.

Original posting...

I am a birder. I am not an ornithologist. I have been a birder since I was 12 years old, for the last 32 years. We birders, we do what we do with our eyes and our ears. We birders, we have spent a lifetime training our eyes and ears to detect what is actually there, not what we wish to be there. Oh how much I would have strained to hear an Ivorybill "kent" in my teenage years, how hard I would have tried to make that sound emerge from the infinite variety of sounds in the natural world. Oh, how I would have tried to add white to every pileated I saw if I could do it, to make it into an Ivorybill. I have spent most of my life in Pileated country. That is a yard bird for me now, something I see and hear everyday while going about my business. My ears and eyes have been filled with the sounds and sights of the southern forests for decades on end.

But, in all this time, I have never heard a "kent" call. No sound uttered by the countless blue jays, nuthatches, geese, frogs, and all the other creatures has ever set off this alarm. My eager brain has never been able to morph any collection of sound waves into a match for this voice, the voice I imprinted in my head as an adolescent, programmed in by listening to the Singer tract recordings over and over. And indeed, only one other birder I have personally known has ever heard a "kent." His is listed as one of the possibly credible reports by Jackson. All the other hundreds of us I have known seem to have never heard this sound either. Until last summer, that is. Then, I heard it again. Coming out of my radio. On an NPR story on the White River ARU results. Never before had I heard that voice but on the old recordings. Never. No nuthatch, no blue jay had ever produced it for my ears. But there it was.

In all that time, I have never seen a big black and white woodpecker that flew like a loon or a duck. I have never seen a big black woodpecker with white trailing edges. Whatever that bird is flying off that tree in the Luneau video, I have never seen it before. No matter how hard I wanted to, I have never seen any of those things. In most of a lifetime around pileateds, I have never seen these things.

In just a couple of years, other people, who I have no reason to think are any less astute and experienced tham I am, have seen and heard all these things. We train ourselves not to hear and see things that are not there; we train ourselves rigorously in this. And yet, they heard and saw these things.

We are not casual observers. We are birders, we have dedicated much of our lives to seeing the reality of the natural world in front of us, to supressing wishful thinking and analyzing our own senses critically. I have never seen or heard these things, inspite of a million opportunities to imagine that I had. They did, those fortunate few in Arkansas. Not just one of them, several of them. And at least two electronic recording devices did as well. This is not faith or wishful thinking or groupthink. This is observation; careful, skilled obervation.

That is what we birders do. It is what we stake everything on. It strains credulity to claim that all of our tribe who heard and saw these things in Arkansas were mistaken.


At 7:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see a post under your name on Tom Nelson's blog from January 17. Is that you or someone posting under your name?

At 8:31 AM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Yup that was me, he did allow a comment or two recently but he routinely dumps 90% of what I send, including the message above. Don't see where there's anything personally offensive in what I wrote there. He had gone way beyond just locking out abusive posts or spammers, and has begun routinely blocking comments from people who just disagree too strongly with him. Ironic, considering how he protests having been dumped from bird forum. Allowing only a few critical comments while deleting most of them seems deceptive to me, giving the impression he is being even-handed while in fact he is not. But it's his blog.

At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"All the other hundreds of us I have known seem to have never heard this sound either."

Let me get this straight--you're seriously saying you know HUNDREDS of birders, and NONE of them have EVER heard a kent-like call?!?!

Did you actually ask all of the hundreds of birders that you know, or did you just assume?

Another Hopeful Skeptic

At 5:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

---It strains credulity to claim that all of our tribe who heard and saw these things in Arkansas were mistaken.---

Dude--are you saying you can't have doubts if youre a member of your so-called birder "tribe"? Aren't Sibley and Kaufman both birders *and* skeptics???? LOL!

Aren't there many examples of hordes of birders relocating a reported "rarity", all misidentifying it because they believed one initial incorrect report?!!! LOL!!

Another Hopeful Skeptic

At 7:59 PM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Family squabbles...

No real ground to be gained by our continuing to restate the ideas that have already been discussed ad nauseum. I stated my own opinion, as have many others stated theirs. There it is.


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