Monday, May 07, 2007

Birders and Ornithologists Lambasted by Ivory-billed Woodpecker Investigator

Mike Collins, perhaps better known to people on both sides of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker dispute as FishCrow, has conducted a personal search of Louisiana's Pearl River Basin for the past two winters. He claims several personal sightings of Ivory-bills in the Pearl, including one purportedly documented with video footage.

Mike is famous for his blunt statements, which give evidence of apparently having never learned the fine art of tactful diplomacy. Collins truly has a strange way of ingratiating himself to the people he is most trying to impress, as illustrated by two recent comments in his day-to-day log of the 2007 search season (which has extended from September 2006 to May 2007).

On 5/5/07, Collins criticized “top birders” and bird record committees:
I started reading Geoff Hill's book last night. With all the excitement in the air two years ago, I had to read Tim Gallagher's book in one sitting. Geoff's book is every bit as hard to put down, especially to someone who has spent time in the Choctawhatchee. I agree with many of Geoff's opinions, but not when it comes to birders. I don't understand why a professional ornithologist would submit a report to a records committee, but Cornell did so in Arkansas, and Geoff also thinks it's a good idea. It seems unusual for professionals to submit their findings to amateurs for their approval. I do believe that amateurs have an important role to play in ornithology, but the birding community blew a golden opportunity to do this by failing for decades to document a species that occurs in several states. Over the years, ivorybill reports were repeatedly dismissed and ridiculed by the types of people that Geoff refers to as "top birders." My definition of a "top birder" would have gotten out in the field after Cornell's announcement two years ago and found ivorybills at new sites (like Geoff did in the Choctawhatchee), but none of the so-called "top birders" has even managed to see an ivorybill at one of the sites where hard evidence has already been obtained. Geoff mentions experience as a guide as one of the criteria for being a "top birder." Working as a guide may enhance the reputation (and ego) of a "top birder," but it's not the most effective way to learn about birds. Geoff mentions the ability of "top birders" to analyze video. After interacting with some of these "dudes who own video cameras," I found that they don't have a basic understanding of geometry, probability, interpolation, sampling, and other concepts that are essential in video analysis.
On 5/6/07 he criticized ornithologists:
I spoke my mind yesterday about so-called "top birders." I'm going to speak my mind today about ornithologists. I don't give a damn what either group thinks of me. I have the strongest evidence that has been obtained yet for the existence of the ivorybill. If anyone wants to challenge that claim, then go here and try to refute the twenty reasons I have given why the bird in the Pearl video is an ivorybill. I recently found a frame that shows every detail of the left wing, including the white trailing edge, the black leading edge, the black primaries, and the boundary between black and white where the wing is attached to the body. I haven't been able to publish this data, which is stronger than the Arkansas and Florida data. I apparently can't publish in ornithology journals because I'm not one of them. I'm not in their league. I take that as an honor because, in the realm of science, ornithologists are little leaguers.
Collins is apparently frustrated because he has been unable to convince birders and ornithologists that his video footage provides undisputable evidence of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker. But with rantings like this, is it any wonder that he has not been afforded the degree of respect that he thinks he deserves?

Collins laid out his claim for the existence of at least one Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the Pearl River here. What do you think? Is his evidence convincing? Are birders and ornithologists guilty of some sort of conspiracy against Collins and his Ivory-billed Woodpecker claims?

In the interest of full disclosure (if not objectivity), I should point out that the FishCrow video was perceived by 506 people who responded to an Internet survey (.pdf: 484 K) to be the weakest evidence presented to date (cf. Luneau video, double-knocks, kent calls, and sightings) for the existence of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Collins' evidence is far from convincing. His videos are faint blurs. There are no photos just his written reports. His complaints about top birders and ornithologists are not without merit; his arguments however are sweeping generalizations wrought with emotion. Never a good sign.

To me it boils down to this: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. No one (Collins, Cornell, the team in Florida, etc...) has yet produced any extraordinary evidence just extraordinary claims.

I do however, fully support his quest, Quixotian though it may be.

May 07, 2007 11:14 PM  
Blogger John B. said...

The Collins video is not clear enough to be useful. It could be what he claims, or it could be something else. The color being washed out adds to the problem.

My understanding of the local records committees is that they are not so much about approval as about maintaining local species checklists and distribution data. That is something that experienced amateurs are qualified to do.

May 08, 2007 10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fishcrow is the greatest practical joker of all time. Taking him seriously is exactly what he wants. But that doesn't make him the fool. It makes us the fool.

May 08, 2007 2:48 PM  
Blogger Larry said...

-I find it entertaining to have people in the world that spew out bold or harsh opinions.-I don't think I'd want to be at the butt of it though.

May 08, 2007 7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recall a fight he had with the VA records committee years ago, in which he reported a McGillivray's Warbler. When asked for a description, he said something to the effect of "It looked like a McGillivray's Warbler." He was furious with them for refusing to accept his record. Of course, there are confirmed occurrences of McGillivray's in Virginia - one was banded at Kiptopeke a couple of years ago. The guy is a highly respected scientist in his own field, but curiously has no respect for the standards of science in other fields. Some of his excuses are real groaners, e.g., afraid to drop the camera in the water. Um, spend a couple hundred bucks and get a dry bag.

May 17, 2007 11:46 AM  

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