Saturday, September 30, 2006

Pileated thoughts

Paying particular attention to the Pileateds around here recently, especially birds seen in flight under less-than ideal conditions. Some quick notes:

When seen flying in latteral view, the black trailing edge behind the white underwing is quite evident, even in brief views (< 1 sec) at considerable distances (several hundred meters through optics, well over 50 meters with the naked eye), and in poor light (overcast, pre-dawn, forest, rain, fog, etc.). The white markings on the face are also very prominent and hard to miss; indeed the impression of the head is more red-and-white than red-and-black.

The flight of a PIWO is in no way, even remotely, even vaguely, even momentarily, reminiscent of a loon or duck.

(I'll be out today; any comments will be reviewed later)


At 1:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, but when you are in the MYSTERIOUS SWAMP and your BLOOD IS UP and you have ivory-bills in your brain and you BELIEVE (Can you say, amen, Bill?), the pileated will grow white secondaries, its crest will fade to black, its wings will elongate, and its flight will become oh so duck-like. In the MYSTERIOUS SWAMP the pileated becomes a magical ivory-bill mimic and only the most bestest, top-of-the-line ID EXPERT can be trusted to make the call, not some silly old scientist. What hilarity.

At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill, The Carpinterio is with the Martin on this one ... we've all made bad calls, right? Calls that in hindsight were so laughable and so bad that we joke about them.

Instead of giving reasons for why it is so hard to mistake an PIWO for an IBWO ... shouldn't we be asking ourselves why these birds are so impossible to locate? Even with dedicated focused effort?

Besides, you are discussing a view of the bird that NO ONE gets ... because according to Dr. Hill, this bird has learned to fly AWAY from people. (this quote comes close to the end of the interview).

Soggy Bill you have to do Dr. Hill a solid and STOP him with this publicity spiral.

The BOB RIVERS show just confirmed that Fitzcrow has just eternally screwed Dr. Hill ... nothing like this interview was ever visited opon the LAB ...

Whether you are a beliver or a skeptic you owe it to Dr. Hill to STOP him ... or at advise him least cover his butt by NEVER mentioning the IBWO without calling it the "Cornell Rediscovered Ivorybill" ...

At 4:45 AM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Carpintero, if that post is really from Dave Martin, I can assure you it is 110% sarcastic.

At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Martin is saying that there is no way these guys are wrong?

I mean you have the Fitz Crow Science paper, you have gone though it frame by frame - and you and I agree that (for instance) 33.3 is NOT what they say it is ...


now you want to BELIVE that they could make a mistake on something as considered and concrete as this, but NOT make a bad call on a bird seen for seconds in the field?

My point here is that we have all made really bad calls in the field.

You (and I gather Sr. D sand Martin) seem to be saying that you don't see how these eye-witness accounts could in fact be wrong.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Well I think Dave is just doing a spoof on the folks who say there is no way these people could be RIGHT, no matter what they say they saw.

I'm only talking about the few circumstances where people noted something very specifically and clearly Ivory-billed-ish, such as a mostly or entirely dark appearing head, flight that was strongly "duck-" or "loon-like," and especially the underwing pattern on a bird seen from the side. I find it unsatisfactory to just blythely dismiss all sightings as in error, suspect, results of wishful thinking and delusion. I particularly find it hard to see how you manufacture a clear view of the white-black-white underwing from a PIWO when my experience shows that with almost any sort of view, even a bad one at a distance for only a few wingbeats, the pileated black-white pattern is really awful damn obvious. I am not talking about silhouetted glimpses, birds fleeing at high speed, "it wasn't an Anhinga," etc. Some of the sightings have actually been birds seen pretty well, albeit in flight and not at arms length. It is disingenuous to dismiss these out of hand. It smacks of the old joke: "When the data conflict with your hypothesis, they must be discarded." There's just too much of that going around from ALL sides.

This isn't all or none. You can be wrong about some things and still be right about others. And vice versa.

But frankly, having recently been confronted with imaginary disputants, inflexible dogmatic minds, and threats of libel lawsuits, I'm about ready to find another hobby.

At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are on the mark, Bill, and I do not intend to engage with people who persist in anonymous name-calling yet seem to think they should be taken seriously. There is a time and place for BS and armchair philosophizing but those who care about conservation know when to cut the crap. If people think they are so clever and entertaining maybe they should tell us who they are. I am not impressed. I urge you to stick to your policy of denying anonymous comments.

At 4:19 PM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

I've actually had very few anonymous comments to deny, anyway. I did decide to accept comments from well-known pseudonyms, since even though I don't know who they are, they are at least connected to an established persona, have a least a teeny bit of accountability for what they say, and you can keep track of who is saying what.

At 2:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The carpinterio has said it before, in this space and he'll say it again. You make us all better skeptics.

In fact the carpinterio feels strongly that people like you who are following this in a serious way need to stay in a dialog with the skeptics ... I told Nelson as much.

Now the carpinterio has been following this a long time and he has been out front tweaking the nose of Ftizcrow et al since before they found the IBWO in his moustache ... and no one is more surprised by the turn of events than the carpinterio.

The carpinterio doesn't offer up a blythe dismissal from these eyewitnesses. He freely admits that the people who have said they have seen this bird are CONVINCED that they have seen this bird.

That conviction, however, in this case should not stand in as evidence of their existance.

It is simply a fact that people often say they saw something that they didn't see. See here for a compelling example. Or read some of the literature on "eyewitness testimony" ... furthermore the level of "conviction" that they claim to have in their accuracy is not reliable either.

Martin may be purple in the face over the idea that they could have made a mistake, but given the total lack of physical evidence shouldn't we keep that as our most likely explaination of these extra ordinary claims?

At 2:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also bill, the carpinterio is sincerely interested in your thoughts on this "putative" kent that is in menills bucket of sounds.

do you hear sandhill crane in this recording?

Since your audience is not being filtered for the alligence to the skeptical party line - but is a truely independant ear, I'm curious if you don't hear what I hear. Sandhill Cranes way off in the distance ...

At 5:24 AM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

Re: Sandhill Cranes -- no, I don't really hear that. I don't pick up the rolling character. If the sound is actually very distant (rather than intrinsically faint), though, attenuation of the higher harmonics and blurring of the time resolution could do a lot. If I had to give a by-ear-best-non-IBWO-match for it, I'd say Red-breasted Nuthatch or Snow Goose. Possibly Whooping Crane, but those are all tracked and it would be easy to determine if there were one in the area. By ear it's not a bad fit to IBWO, either. Their ARU sounds are quite variable, as I've said before. The faint ones like that, who knows. The louder ones, well Dave has had a lot to say on them and I find what he says quite reasonable.

Sightings -- there is a vast gulf between "conclusive evidence" and "no evidence." I've been trying, both as thought experiments and looking at real PIWOs in real woods, to reproduce the IBWO sightings. Or, at least, see how a skilled but overly-eager birder might generate IBWO field marks than are not there. I singled out the three that appear to me to be very difficult to fabricate, even with a whole lot of wishful thinking. How strong is this? That decision will come from the community as a whole, not you or me. There is in fact a lot of disingenuous (and downright ignorant) dismissal going on amongst the 4 or 5 or so people who are commenting regularly on Tom's blog. Male Anhingas? Guy needs to get his fuckin' head out of his ass.

As for eye-witness testimony -- individual people can learn to become much more accurate eye-witnesses. In the ornithological world, we call these people "good birders." 100% infallible, of course not. But that hasn't been the standard of scientific or ornithological proof for many generations. Or, I might add, legal proof either. Reasonable doubt. Give me a REASON to think Hicks might have imagined the dark head and IBWO underwing pattern on that bird, a specific reason relevent to the actual circumstances and descriptions. Don't just say "well, anyone can make a mistake."

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

I should add that when I say a "reason" I don't ean general principles of psychology and subjective seeing. I an discounting the possibilities of hallucination or fabrication. I mean an optical illusion, misinterpretation of the arrangement of the birds anatomy, etc., something tangible that can lead to this sort of mistaken impression. Things such as reflections, transluscence, mistaking dorsal versus ventral, etc. I haven't seen a reasonable hypothesis as to how effects like these would create an illusion that an experienced but overeager mind could then turn into an IBWO underwing

At 12:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well bill fair enough, fair enough.

I'm not sure if the literature applies to people that we would call "good birders" ... it is an interesting question, and it could be tested.

Instead we only have the example that you and I are familiar with were people who qualify as "good birders" claim that 33.3 is a bird perched on a tree, when you and I know it is an underwing of a bird.

So here is a question to you, does this guy look like a "ghood birder with his 7 x 30 low end bins? ...

as for your thoughts one 4 putative kents ... I am humbled. I hear a roll on the second one for sure ... how much time have you spent in the company of sandhills?

Do you feel like you know sandhills as well as anyone or have you heard them a few times?


the carpinterio

At 1:33 PM, Blogger Bill Pulliam said...

On the third one, there is something multisyllabic about it; the others sound one-syllabled to me. That third one sounds more like "choking" than "rolling," Haaaaank-ak-ak. Bill the Cat, maybe? They are just awfully faint, though. The quality sounds nasallish. Yes, I have heard Sandhills more times than I can count. Those sound more goosy than crany to me.

By the way, I don't know if you read or remember my comment on audio on Tom's blog just before he shit-canned me. I basically said that audio is and will remain secondary evidence: what the audio tells you is to go there and find out what is actually making the sounds.

I've known lousy birders with high-end optics who still couldn't tell a sanderling from a dunlin, and lifelong dirty-poor bird freaks who've done just fine with something that says "Tasco" on the side. Optics snobbery has nothing to do with birding ability. It's learning to understand what you are seeing that makes the difference. Birding skill is learned and earned, not bought.

At 11:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The carpinterio walked into that one ... indeed the carpinterio has known very good birders who use less than top of the line optics. It is true, but rare.

Fair enough.

Again you make us all better skeptics.

However this guy kyle swinson in the photo ... do you REALLY think he is one of those eccentrics?

Let the carpinterio refine his critique to be less snobbish. Does Kyle Swinson's binocular strap look it belongs to a "good birder" or to a natural resouces grad student who can't tell a phobe from a kingbird and is using the binoculars that are owned by the universtiy because he doesn't go birding - so he doesn't need to own binoculars?

As for your views on the audio - overall I agree with your position - but it adds to the carpinterio's frustration, and therefore ire, that Hill and Menill feel it is OK to go back into the swamp and do the same thing cornell did in 04 - 05 ... no birds, just sounds, and testimony -

It all comes down to the carpinterio's view that these birds are what they are, loud, conspicuous and social - and we are being told to forget that fact and believe that they are "super skulkers" because ... well because look at ALL THE EVIDENCE that they are skulkers ...

Thanks for giving an ear to the sounds ... I appreciate your views, you make us all better skeptics.


the carpinterio.

At 6:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must admit that I have not listened to most of the "kent" recordings yet, but about:
do you hear sandhill crane in this recording?

No, I do not hear a Sandhill Crane in this one. I hear a parid, probably a Tufted Titmouse, and a seemingly very distant sound that could be the emphasized final note of a Northern Cardinal song. And, of course, an insect buzz near the end of the file. Any entomolgists care to ID that one?



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