Friday, January 22, 2010

Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Is the latest report true? or a poorly fabricated hoax?

Ivory-billed Woodpecker by J.J. Audubon.

If you haven't seen it yet, the latest sighting report of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker has come in a most interesting form.  The following post, on an obscure website, came just a couple days ago:

The hopeful people tried to give it some leeway at first. Even a secondary post on the author's website tried to validate the sighting:
However, a simple google search will reveal all.
So who are some of these people?  The answers are below:

First, who is Joe Hepprle?  He's some guy from Iowa who posts totally random, unrelated stuff on his website:  A Google search will tell you more about him.

Who is Daniel Rainsong?   A google search reveals that too. He's a gambler. Known as "The Wizard of Odds."   Does he have any reputation in the birding world? Absolutely not.  Does anyone know him outside the gambling world? nope.  Can anyone other than Joe vouch for his skill in differentiating between an Ivory-bill and a Pileated? NO!   He has no known record in the birding community. No blog posts, no photographs,  he doesn't post on any listserve anywhere in the country, he's not known in outdoorsman/hunting circles, NADA!

Another person mentioned is Rita Goldstein.  The only Rita Goldstein who comes up on google is a neuro-imaging scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

What is Project Indigo?  Who knows whether they have named their own (probably faked) search Project Indigo or not, but, the real Project Indigo is a program to provide a home for homeless children.

So what does Daniel Rainsong know about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker? Apparently just enough to know that it's an ecological mystery as to whether they exist or not.
The Twin Cities Naturalist came up with some interesting info here: 

Radd Icenoggle's blog post is hopeful, but full of skepticism:
You can read my comment on his post.

Here's another question? Does Daniel Rainsong actually exist? Apparently so.  The following excellent compilation was posted to Facebook by Matt Medenhall of Birder's World Magazine. Apparently, Dr. Remsen said that Mr Rainsong had talked to him but did not have the photos ready to show him:

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

(if you're on Facebook, the link is here )

So here's the deal:

  • Two people whom nobody has ever heard of.
  • A press release on an obscure website claiming that someone got identifiable photos of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in an area that was surely searched during Cornell's study a couple years back.
  • No photos have been posted as of yet. IF they even exist.
  • Google searches of names of the people involved links them to everything BUT birding.
  • Both Jerry Jackson and Dr. Remsen have said that they have not at this time seen ANY photos at all.
  • Dr. Jackson said that he had never heard of Daniel Rainsong.
  • We have an ad, supposedly written by Mr Rainsong, indicates something about a $10,000 reward for leading an Ornithologist to a live IBWO.  Apparently Dr. Remsen said he had heard something about a reward like that but didn't know the details.
  • Cornell has, and is offering a $50,000 reward to any person who can provide conclusive and undeniable proof (video or photographic) that at least one Ivory-bill still exists, and/or lead a project scientist to a living Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

So what are we left with??  This whole thing smells fishier than a barrel of Sardines.

If this is a hoax, why would someone go through all this trouble to make sure all his facts were straight (and they are, I checked.) to post this obviously poorly fabricated story?   It's a story that any birder who knows anything about the search for the Ivory-bill could see through without even looking!

But, if this really is true and not a hoax, then why all the secrecy??
Where are the photos?  Why have the leading experts mentioned in the press release denied any knowledge of photos?  Why has nobody ever heard of either person before?

Why haven't Sibley, Kaufman, Ted Floyd, Jon Dunn and other prominent birders been notified, and/or why were they not mentioned in the list of people that they were supposedly going to show the photos to??

If this story really is true, there are a few things that would have to happen before I would even think about trusting either of these people:

#1. I want to see the photos.  They should be crystal clear, incontestable, undeniable and conclusive.
They also better be of a bird in flight! A bird sitting on a tree is far too simple to easily fake.

#2. I want the backing of Dr. Remsen, Dr. Jackson, Kenn Kaufman, David Sibley AND Cornell on this.

#3. I want to know all the details on this supposed search and discovery and why all the secrecy. It's not like anyone is going to claim they found it when it's obvious who did?  right?  Geez.

Maybe all that gambling has made him paranoid. lol


Anonymous said...

I too searched Google for these folks and there is a Rita Goldstein who shows up as a new member of the Sarasota Audubon Society in their newsletter. Just because someone is a neuro-scientist, doesn't mean they may not be an excellent birder. Not trying to add any undue validity to the claim, but we can all hope.

Chris W said...

Thanks for your extra input. Of course, good point, I neglected to add that possibility to my post.
Based on the report I have heard, it all seems too simple to be a hoax. It's not believable enough. Therefore, I suspect what we have here is a case of mis-identification.

I'd love to believe that there are still IBWOs out there, but until I see photographic proof, it's all just another hoax or mis-ID.

Btw, I would appreciate it if everyone would leave their names by signing in or leaving a signature.

Thanks. --Chris W, blog admin.

cyberthrush said...

you've touched on the highlights to this story... just haven't dug into the low lights (and got the wrong R. Goldstein)... this story is going positively nowhere

Chris W said...

Ok..... that wasn't the world's most positive comment, however, I wasn't saying that that was THE Rita Goldstein mentioned, merely that that was the most prominent hit. I didn't delve super deep into google's archives. If I had done so, I would've mentioned it.

The purpose of the post was also to point out the highlights that have been mentioned so far. It wasn't intended to be an all out comprehensive study of the report.


Tucker L said...

Nice write up on this. Only time will tell if this is true or a hoax.

Bill Pulliam said...

Some background on Hepperle and Rainsong at my blog:

Strong indications that Daniel Rainsong is actually Daniel Dean Hepperle, who has a less-than-stellar history with macaws.

Anonymous said...


Good report.. better than Cyberthrush insights ..then again Cyber feels his blog is the main source of Ivory-billed Woodpecker updates. Cyber is just protecting his territory that all IBWO news should be funneled to his blog only! I hope the news of this sighting or photos is just a hoax then people like Cyber can go away..

Regardless if this is hoax or not I am going to be open minded and see what photos will be posted on the internet. If the photos in my own opinion look to be inaccurate then I will shake my head and go on but if the photos look good then I'll be happy that the species is still alive. Pure and simple.. I am not going to breakdown the photos on my blog like some forensic officer at some crime scene to give reasons why it is not not a IBWO. Of course there are people who should like Remsen and Jackson and orgs like AOU and the Texas State Records Committee.

Other thoughts:

Sure every state has one of them birders that people will question or choose to ignore when he/she reveals some odd bird sighting on the listserv and then there are some birders that get attacked for no good reasons when they post or reveal a rare bird sighting..just like you did on Mex/Arizona listserv with all your sightings you posted last spring/summer.

I guess its common nature to always second guess someones bird sightings if they are new to the birding community ( like you in AZ )

So I am going to sit back and see what proof this guy reveals to the public.

You know in past topics on most state listserv new birders will occasionally post how mean people can be on that listserv when they get a backlash for their sightings they posted... Then the reaction from most birders is that their is small segment in the birding community that are always critical of anyone's bird sightings and you must ignore them as they do not represent the whole birding community.

This is no different is it? A new unknown guy reveals he seen a IBWO and has photos.. and of course the small segment of birders are saying this is a hoax without meeting this guy or seeing his photos.

The best approach is to sit and wait and see what is revealed.

I am not saying I believe Rainsong sighting but I am also not saying its a hoax either. I am sitting on the fence waiting like many many birders are.

All I know this news is doing wonders for blogs like Cyber and Bill's .. they probably are happy that this is happening as their blogs are getting more traffic these days..


Bill Pulliam said...

So Mike, instead of trashing the hoaxers you decide instead to trash the people who are actually doing investigation to actively determine if it is likely a hoax?

I don't give a damn how much traffic my blog gets. If it gets a bump in hits I want that to be because people are discussing positive new things, or at least REAL happenings, not because we are having to debunk scammers and huxters who are just trying to fraudulently collect reward money.

Such a short memory you have, too. Just a few months ago we were all giving Steve Sheridan the benefit of the doubt because he was such a nice guy, but his photo still turned out to be phoney. Now you are saying we always doubt everything from everyone.

Anonymous said...


I am not accusing you of anything and also I was not around in the blogs to know about your comments about Sheridan or anyone elses comments about Sheridan sighting or photos he posted. I do not even recall even seeing the photos.. then again maybe I did. I just do not remember.

All my message said was " sit back, wait for the photos to be release and then make your judgements "

Bill you some how took my message as though I was personally attacking you and I wasn't. If you like analyzing IBWO photos and like to stay on top of the latest news about IBWO then so be it but I wasn't attacking you for doing so. Hell I wasn't even attacking Chris since Chris is leading some of my festival trips at Sax-Zim Bog in a few weeks.

I just do not see the rush of judgement on this guy or his photos till we see the photos PERIOD! A lot of state record committees as you know base a lot of judgement on birders submissions based on their credibility or what they heard from other birders in the community even before they read the record or see the photos. Is that fair?

I do not care what I heard about him or what others say about him.. I just hope the photos will be revealed to the public because I want to see what the photos reveal. As far as his gambling past and other stuff about him, that to me doesn't matter.. its the photos he took that matter to me.

Till then I am going to sit on the fence and wait for the photos.

Bill on the other hand, you already decided that its a hoax without even seeing the photos. If that is your style then so be it but I think the best approach is to wait and see till the photos are revealed to the public.

Anything less is not fair.

PS: You gotta love that your blog is taking on few hits because what would this IBWO latest news be like without you and Cyber. LOL

Take it easy

cyberthrush said...

Mike, hoaxes need to be blown out of the water as quickly as possible, because of the potential damage they do to any thread of hope remaining for the IBWO, and also to discourage future hoaxers. A story like this spreads virally on the 'Net, and so if there are serious doubts those need to be spread equally virally, not wait around for photo-analysis, which could take awhile.
I suspect if someone wrote on the Web, 'the Sax-Zim Bog Festival is just a farce created as a cash-cow for its organizers,' you wouldn't be saying, 'well let's wait around and see what evidence the guy has; you'd be out there trying to get the truth out.

Bill Pulliam said...

As for wait and see...

We are never going to see any photos. Remember "Mad Bill" a.k.a. "Guppyman?" Photos never surfaced. Same thing will happen here. The Hepperle boys (pointless to continue pretending that they are not a matched pair plucked from the same family tree) will storm off in a pretended huff of indignation at their harsh and unfair treatment and never make the photos available in public. They are only after the reward money, and once they realize that to collect they would actually have to show a real wildlife biologist a live bird in the wild they'll give up and go home... unless they go plant someone in the woods playing the Tanner recordings and knocking on trees, as one hunting lodge in Arkansas was suspected of doing.

Mike, I've never noticed that civility, patience, respect, and giving the bozos the benefit of the doubt have been a major part of your schtick before; what's up this time? Hmmm... Iowa and Minnesota do share a border...

Anonymous said...


First I like to apologize to Chris for commenting on his blog and I had no idea my opinions would spark and hit a nerve to Bill and Cyber. I had no idea my sensible approach of wait and see was so damn wrong!

You mean I should shoot first and ask questions later? That is how I should approach bird reports from non-birders? Sort of how Bill question some guy in Tennessee if he actually heard or saw a Audubon Warbler in his yard on the Tenn listserv.

My approach is the right and sensible approach and cyber you are comparing apples to oranges.

SZ Festival vs. Ivory-billed Woodpecker sighting. First the IBWO has a reward offer and the festival doesn't.

"I suspect if someone wrote on the Web, 'the Sax-Zim Bog Festival is just a farce created as a cash-cow for its organizers,' you wouldn't be saying, 'well let's wait around and see what evidence the guy has; you'd be out there trying to get the truth out."

The festival isn't a farce because in the last 2 years we had 400 people take part in the festival and last year we had 15 Tenn birders there!

When some guy like Daniel Rainsong or whoever comes out of the wood work and claims he has photos its not up to Bill Pulliam nor Cyber to be the judge and jury with regards if the guy saw one or not -- the judgment comes from the people who put up the reward and its up to them to decide. If Bill and Cyber are just helping or adding some in put to the claim.. that is fine with me BUT this sense of shoot and ask questions later approach rubs me the wrong way.

It would be like if Tenn records committee shot down a record by Bill because Bill is known in some birding circles in Tenn. as a head case and makes wild claims of birds he sees on his mother's property. The records committee didn't even bother to look at the photos or read the document but based everything on character of the birder vs. what proof he has in photos or drawings/written description.

So far with Daniel Rainsong the public has so far see nothing as far as photos/written descriptions. How can anyone at this point make a judgment on Daniel's claim?? Because he's a gambler or a macaw thief ( LOL ). I know the chances are slim here but come on -- show some patience and see what Dan reveals. If nothing is revealed -- then the story dies.

Cyber: As long as there is a reward out there on the IBWO .. there is always going to be scammers who want to cash in on the reward. Daniel Rainsong story isn't going to stop the scammers because there will always be another scammer around the corner.. and if you and Bill are going to be the volunteer IBWO cops then congrats.. keep up the good work.

As for me, I am going to stick to my approach of bird sightings or reports and use the wait and see approach vs. shoot it down first and ask questions later.

Bill: If your little remark about Minn. & Iowa share borders is some weird approach that I know this guy or support this guy because we share borders... well Bill you are off base on that because again I am taking the sensible approach of wait and see. Hell this guy could live in Kentucky and I would still take the same approach.

By the way "guppy man" first announced he saw a IBWO and then he revealed a photo.. I made my judgment on his sighting after I saw the photos. Of course I laughed when I saw the photos but before hand I ignored his comments and waited to see the photos. Mike Collins -- same thing.. I heard and read about his IBWO discovery. I attacked him because his photos were all the same = blurry and impossible to identify. Even his videos are dark and impossible to identify.

My approach has always been consistent and that is to wait and see rather than shoot first ask questions later.


Bill Pulliam said...

Sorry, Mike, but what in the world are you talking about? That "some guy in Tennessee" who posted about his Audubon's Warbler is a member of the state records committee, he and I know each other, and all I was commenting on was in general that the difference in vocalizations between myrtle and audubons is useful for picking them out. Where do you think I was somehow questioning him? Seems you've just decided that every word I say is somehow an attack on someone. Since you ARE attacking me now, here's what I wrote:

"In the west where both forms are common the wintering hoards of butterbutts are often sorted by their call notes. In places like TN where the Audubon's is rare it can be helpful to alert you to the presence of something different in the flock. The same is true of eastern/pacific forms of Winter Wren; if we do have any Pacifics here listening for the difference in call would be a good way to find them (and probably an essential part of confirming the birds identity)."

Show me one word of that where I questioned or doubted anything anyone had said in any way? Now you are just making crap up and slinging it around.

Oh, yeah, the IA/MN border thing was a JOKE.

And I haven't forgotten that a comment YOU posted on my blog got ME threatened with legal action by the person YOU attacked, so don't get all high-and-mighty-and-pure-as-the-driven-snow on ME, bub. At least I support my character assassinations with facts.

Are we done yet, or do you want to go after my dog and my wife, too?

Owlman said...

and in the blue corner weighing in at ........ Let's get ready to RUMBLE!

Anonymous said...


And I haven't forgotten that a comment YOU posted on my blog got ME threatened with legal action by the person YOU attacked, so don't get all high-and-mighty-and-pure-as-the-driven-snow on ME, bub. At least I support my character assassinations with facts.

Are we done yet, or do you want to go after my dog and my wife, too?

OH now we are going back about 2+ years ago.. Ok here are the facts to this story. The guy from Florida that you mention is someone who I guided in Minnesota several years ago before the IBWO sighting in Arkansas with his wife.

The Florida birder was ripping someone on Bird Forum and I recognized his user name and exposed him on Bird Forum. Then I mentioned this on my old blog. He got mad and called me at home and talked to my wife and threaten lawsuits against me. So I called him at home right away and we talked for a very long time. I learned his wife passed away and he was very sick and not doing well. We had a great conversation and we worked out things peacefully since I knew him fairly well since we had many email exchanges about Fall Jaeger movements on the Great Lakes and he was sharing his observations off the Florida coast.

In fact Bill, we had one last email exchange before he died the next day. We talked about birds other than IBWOs and I was sadden to hear he died so suddenly since I really liked this birder.

To bad you could not worked things out with him because he was really a great guy and really knew his birds.

No I am not going to attack your wife or your dog.. LOL

I believe emailing is dangerous and there is no face or emotion behind the words.. so in saying that, I truly believe if we ever met in person we would probably hit it off really good since I gotten to be friends with a lot of Tenn. birders. I have to say Tenn. birders are very much like Minn. birders == very easy going people.

I have no hard issues with you and I would love to visit your small town and view your gardens/hobby farm. I am a huge gardener myself and thinking seriously about getting chickens too. I am just looking for the right coop design.


Alf said...

15 essay length comments on a birding blog. please people, let's get to the bottom of the actual problem--the alleged hoax/sighting.

Brendon said...

Chris, I for one miss you and your sighting reports in AZ.

I've met a lot of birders here in AZ and can't say I've met one of them that wasn't nice as heck. So I found the comments on your post puzzling and possibly similar to how some people can get in a car and all of a sudden become road raging maniacs. Pst. Look a bird! Get outside and find peace peeps.


Anonymous said...

I have seen the two photos. They are of an IBWO or a faked version of one. It is definitely not a PIWO. or a skunk, or a RHWO. The photos are small and not sharp. The "bird" is high in a tree. The photos were taken about three minutes apart. I am not sure that one would have time to climb a tree that quickly to change the position of the "bird". Small dead limbs below the "bird" do not appear disturbed by a climber.
The photos are not of high enough quality to be certain confirmation. I have published books on bird identification and distribution, and serve as a member of a state records committee.

cyberthrush said...

yes, the "bird" has some markings of IBWO (it also has some disparities from an IBWO); that has NOT been the issue; but you have raised one of the big ones: the shots are taken 3 MINS. APART, not the 5 seconds apart that Rainsong initially insisted on, and ALL the other accompanying and intermittent shots are missing (discarded) so far as I know. Nor was the bird caught on videotape that was taken at the time, by Rainsong's "partner."

Anonymous said...

I've seen the photos too. There is no bird. There is a shiny plastic dummy hanging sideways in a tree. The two pics are from different angles to make it look like the dummy moved. There is good reason the pics are being kept secret. They are lousy fakes.

Chris W said...

To those who comment anonymously,

As the blog admin, I must ask that if you are going to post a comment, please include your name and/or blogger account with your comment.

I say this only in the interest that if you are going to put your opinion out there, it should be something that you are willing to tag your name to as well.

Trust me, it will make you think twice about what you post out there for everyone to read.

Thanks. --Chris W, blog admin

Chris W said...

To "anonymous" and Cyberthrush,

Would it be possible for us "normal" non-special, non "in-the-loop" people to see these said photos??

I would really love to make my own determination rather than have to listen to your opinions on something that I haven't yet seen.

As one of my friends says "photos or it didn't happen."

Thanks. --Chris

cyberthrush said...

As I've stated elsewhere Chris, I would love to have the photos publicly disclosed, but they are legally owned by Dan Rainsong and only he can determine where they are presented (and, oddly, he seems unwilling to release them). Your beef is not with those of us trying to get the story OUT, but with the Hepperles.
I have NOT seen the photos of the 'bird figures' themselves -- I have only seen VERY closely-related material, and also been given quite specific verbal descriptions of the birds in the photos.

Bill Pulliam said...

When the fake Sheridan photo was first circulated, we who saw it were under a gag order not to reveal this fact or discuss the matter in public; this went on for about a year. One might expect the same thing applies here. Big difference, though, is that during that year of secrecy the existence of the Sheridan photo remained unknown to the world at large hence there was no chatter, speculation, or argument. But this time the progenitors of the photos chose to let everyone know of their existence, which was a flat-out invitation to exactly the sort of treatment they have since received.