At the risk of giving credibility to a possible hoax, here's what we know about the latest report of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker sighting.
If Daniel Rainsong has photos of a living Ivory-billed Woodpecker, as this press release claims, he has not yet shown them to two leading Ivory-bill experts.
Van Remsen, curator of birds at Louisiana State University's Museum of Natural Science and an adjunct professor of biological sciences at LSU, told me today that Rainsong visited him in Baton Rouge, "but he would not show me his photographic evidence. He said he had to develop them."
The comment suggested that Rainsong used a film camera. "I'll believe it when I see it," Remsen added. "I won't comment until I see the evidence."
Jerry Jackson, a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University and a co-author of the 2007 Draft Recovery Plan for the Ivory-bill, told me yesterday that he hadn't heard of Rainsong or seen his photos.
"I look forward to seeing them, but his approach already has me wondering," he said. "This seems to be the standard 'IB obsession' approach, similar to the last report we got with photos, which were of a Photoshopped Pileated."
Remsen and Jackson are among the handful of ornithologists who are regularly called upon to evaluate possible Ivory-bill sightings.
Remsen is a member of the American Ornithologists' Union's Committees on Classification and Nomenclature for North America and South America. Jackson wrote the account on the Ivory-bill (No. 711) in the Birds of North America reference series, and he is the author of In Search of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker (Smithsonian Books, 2004). Following a search for Ivory-bills in 2002, Jackson wrote "The Truth Is Out There" for the June 2002 issue of Birder's World.
Bloggers in the birding community have been skeptical of Rainsong's claims.
Cyberthrush, the author of Ivory-bills Live, says he places "NO conceivable credibility whatsoever in this story/report. NADA... ZIPPO... ZILCH!!!!!! (hope I'm making myself clear)."
Radd Icenoggle, author of Birds in Place: A Habitat-based Field Guide to Birds of the Northern Rockies (Far Country Press, 2003), notes that Rainsong "has, rather strangely, not released the images citing some obscure 'right of discovery.' Does he intend to patent the damn bird?"
Icenoggle and others have noted that Rainsong's name appears on a lot of gambling websites. Googling his name also turned up bits of an ad that has since been deleted from Craigslist having to do with a "wildlife research expedition." Kudos to Kirk Mona at Twin Cities Naturalist for piecing together most of the ad.
The ad refers to a $10,000 reward, supposedly for finding Ivory-bills. I'm not aware of a $10,000 reward, but the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has posted a reward that would pay $50,000 to anyone who could provide "video, photographic, or other compelling information and lead a project scientist to a living wild Ivory-billed Woodpecker." (Thanks Mike Duchek for the tip!)
"Obviously he's a long way from that," Remsen said. --Matt Mendenhall, Associate Editor
Art: Ivory-billed Woodpecker by John James Audubon
Read all the stories we've published, on paper and online, about recent searches for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
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Great synopsis, Matt. I think the facts starting to turn this "observation" into a fabrication, unfortunately.
I just heard from Laura Erickson at the Cornell Lab. She said no one there has seen the photos, either.