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2021…Strange Days

Strange days are coming… strange days are here. It might have been the Doors singing that about 50 years back, but it sure does seem like it applies more than ever now, doesn’t it? If you’re not convinced, take a look at a couple of news stories that you might have escaped your attention this week while you were making rather merry.

First, let’s go to Illinois. The heartland. The farm belt. Think Illinois and you might think of the Sears Tower, Wrigley Field and a lot of corn farms. Making it more surprising that a sasquatch was reported there recently. According to the Chicago Tribune, University of Illinois and others, an engineer recently reported one crossing the road not far from Springfield a few nights back. The man said he was driving out of Cass County, near the state capital, around 10:30 PM when “I saw a large animal jump into the road about 40 yards ahead. When it hit the road, I could see the large legs spread wide and …large swinging, hairy arms. The arms swung back and forth, close to the ground as its body was leaning forward. It leaped across the road in two jumps… I said to myself, out loud, ‘F***ing bigfoot!” . It was about two seconds before it disappeared into the darkness. He described it as a tall as his car windshield, even when hunched over and big enough to block out the lights of an oncoming car.

A photo published from Google Earth from the area he said it occurred looked… Midwestern. There is a woodlot, but the scene is dominated by a large farm field. However (there’s always a “however”), as one local radio station posted up there “if you know any engineers, you know it’s highly likely this is a highly educated guy.” And, a look at a satellite map does show an extensive band of forest only a couple of miles away. More surprising yet, a search shows that Illinois has sightings of Sasquatch almost annually, with another “good” visual sighting in a state forest near the Kentucky border this summer. There was even a report near Chicago in 2010, a daytime report which prompted a woman to stop her car on a busy road and follow the creature into the forest, noting its “musky wet dog odor.” Again, a large area of forest lay nearby.

When I think of “bigfoot”, I usually think the dense, huge rainforests of the Pacific northwest … Oregon, Washington, British Columbia. Not the land of wheat and Cubs hats. But, I know from personal contacts that stories of them abound from the southern Appalachians, with many locals claiming to have seen and heard them. As I’ve said before, it’s frustrating there isn’t any concrete evidence of the species…but where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. And there seems to be some smoke over Illinois even. Let’s hope some people got dash cams for Christmas there! Strange days…

Critters which we think probably exist but have no proof of. Which leads us to the second item. NASA, that great scientific division of the U.S. Government that explores space and puts men on the moon (“if you believe…”) has recently hired 24 noted theologians, including a British bishop, to “assess how the world’s major religions would react to the existence of life beyond earth,” or as other reports put it, “to prepare humanity for alien contact.” The team includes a noted rabbi and Islamic imam as well, and initial reports are “”Christian, Jewish and Islamic teaching would not be affected by the discovery of alien life.” NASA spokesman Carl Pilken went as far as to suggest the idea we were alone in the universe is “just inconceivable. When there are 100 billion stars in this galaxy, and over 100 billion galaxies…”. Quite a long way removed from the famous military Project Blue Book, which basically declared all UFOs were either swamp gas or hippies on acid trips seeing things and aliens only exist in bad Hollywood films, isn’t it? By the way, the Vatican has studied the topic itself and in 2008 declared “no conflict between believing in God and the possibility of extraterrestrial brothers” exists.

Strange days… Those two stories of hypothetical species makes the third one more of a head-scratcher. And actually sparks some conspiracy theories in the ornithology world. The US Fish & Wildlife Service recently declared over 20 species extinct, with little notice. Those included two American birds, the Bachman’s Warbler and the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

Both species were known to inhabit the dense, flooded swamplands of the southeast. The warbler, a little yellow bird with an inconspicuous song, was last recorded in the 1960s. The woodpecker however, is a different story.

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker is perhaps the most fabled of all American birds. The largest woodpecker on the continent, bigger than a crow, and very showy. The cartoon Woody Woodpecker was apparently based on its look. But unlike Woody, the Ivory-billeds are also very shy, by all accounts. It eats beetles in dead trees, and occasionally wild fruit, and was hunted by the natives. It was hunted more by settlers. By the 1910s, it was declared extinct. Then in 1939, a respected scientist and his team found a family in Louisiana and studied them around a nest, taking the only good photos and movie footage existing of them. Unfortunately, Singer sewing machines owned the land, and when they found that rare birds lived on it, they doubled down on cutting down the forest in case the government tried to turn it into a wildlife preserve. It wasn’t long before they were declared extinct yet again.

But, that notwithstanding, almost annually, reports came in of them, from the dense swamps of the Florida panhandle, and southern Louisiana. Occasionally elsewhere from the South. Good photos were taken of one in 1971; scientists scoffed and suggested it might have been an antique specimen nailed to trees high up. Later computer study showed the bird was actually in different positions in the two photos, making that all the more unlikely, but illustrating the Catch 22 with the bird. Get a good photo of one, and people say it’s staged and fake, get a bad photo or video clip of one, as has happened recently, and people say “inconclusive.”

The bird lives in dense woods, where some say you can’t see more than 75 feet in any direction due to the vegetation. Poisonous Cottonmouth snakes abound, as do alligators frequently, and more bugs than you can shake a stick at. And the birds are notoriously shy after centuries of being hunted by humans. Not many people, even serious birders, go looking for them where they are likely to occur. Yet a few do, and from time to time, they find Ivory-billeds. A group found at least one in Arkansas in 2004; they got decent enough video to be accepted by the scientific community. The Ivory-billed lives!

Since then, there’ve been a number of other good sightings, in Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi, with a few photos to show for it. Rather pixelated ones, alas, distant shots from a trail cam in woods; video of one flying through a swamp in Florida taken from a kayak. I recently read the book Taunting Extinction, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, in which the author goes to great lengths to analyze and prove a photo taken in 2009 was in fact one of the rare birds. It’s convincing, but not helped by things like his use of beer cans to visually demonstrate comparative neck lengths of different birds. It makes the point, but loses points among the professor crowd when you’re evidence is that the bird in the photo has a neck like a full tallboy beer can and the closest type of bird has a neck less than half a beer can long! (I do note, he offers more scientific data than just that and was a professional scientist himself).

So with apparent evidence of the bird still existing only 10 years or so back, and with a confirmed history of “coming back from extinction “ – an impossibility if one thinks about it – why is the government so quick to declare the bird gone? All the more odd – a species which is similarly rare, the Eskimo Curlew, has not been labeled extinct, despite not being seen since 1963, and not in the U.S. since one landed in Galveston in 1962. This was a bird which migrated right over the Great Plains from its arctic home and liked to spend time standing in grassy fields. How hard would it be to see one of them, a bird standing over a foot-tall with a long bill, if they landed…especially near a large city like Houston or Omaha which used to have them? But the government has yet to consider it extinct. It makes you wonder. But as Fox Mulder used to say, “the truth is out there.”

So to summarize, a big species we think exists keeps showing up and reports are being taken seriously; species from outer-space that until recently authorities refused to acknowledge as even being possible are being looked at by focus groups sponsored by the government, but a well-loved bird which is highly elusive but keeps showing up is suddenly declared officially gone. Strange days indeed!

May your 2022 be full of wonder and mystery and times as happy as a mosquito-bit kayaker taping an “extinct” bird!

11 Replies to “2021…Strange Days”

  1. Very interesting post Dave. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker’s story is amazing. I’m glad they survived and yea…I have to wonder why they are still marked as extinct? I still hold out hope that on some remote island…maybe Gilligan’s! The Dodo bird still lives somewhere.

    I looked up that Woodpecker on youtube…really interesting and beautiful birds.

    You are right about the dashcams… maybe…just maybe they will catch one of the big guys…or girls.

    With aliens…yea the chances are they are out there. Why though is it always assumed that they are light years ahead of us science wise? They might be still in the medieval times compared to us…but it’s not as fun that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Max. Re the aliens, it’d be no surprise if there were less advanced types out there, maybe like prehistoric man or dinosaurs, who knows? But only ones likely to contact us would have to be ahead of us scientifically to travel between galaxies. Although I have wondered if conventional wisdom is correct, why they fly from other planets yet can’t navigate the New Mexico desert in a rainstorm?
      I’d love to see an Ivory-billed, believe they are still out there here& there through South but not likely to go kayaking thru flooded woods miles from anywhere dodging gators, bee swarms & hunters to look…which is why they so seldom are documented, I would expect.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “why they fly from other planets yet can’t navigate the New Mexico desert in a rainstorm?” Dave you gave me the best laugh I had of the day!!!!
        Oh I NEVER thought of that before….the dinosaur part! You are right….or they could be pretty much parallel to us.

        Certain birds really get my attention….Woodpeckers, Owls, and Humming Birds…they are all a little different. They all interest me.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. those families of birds are high on my list too; I like all birds but some types like those, also hawks, jays, more than many.
        Woodpeckers are very cool, and such a range. The little Downy Woodpeckers that often come into yards are so tame, for a bird, I’ve actually fed them from my hand and handled a couple of them … one seemed dazed or something and was sitting on our porch for quite a time, just sitting, so I picked it up and was going to put it in a quiet box for a bit but it flew out of my hand into a tree (so I guess it was alright) and another somehow – Houdini bird – got itself stuck INSIDE a feeder. I had to take feeder down and open it, reach in and rescue the little gaffer! Neither one tried to peck me or seemed overly afraid.

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      3. We rescued a bird last year I think. I wrote a post about it….Martha picked the poor bird up that I guess fell to of it’s nest…took it to the widelife center and they took care of it. Martha never hurt the bird…she was really gentle.

        That would be COOL to feed a woodpecker from your hand. I don’t see how their brains withstand all of the banging. We have one that comes near in the mornings at times…it has a tree that it goes off on…but….I’ve never seen one close up…I would love to.

        We had an Owl fly into our window and dazed it. It was a Barn Owl…knocked it out cold for a good hour. We called the Wildlife place but it woke up before they came and flew off.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I remember that post you did about the little bird- gnatcatcher I think it was. Hope it was let back out into the woods later on by the wildlife rehab place. It was a good story.
        Glad the owl was OK too! Barn owl, how neat! I’ve seen all of two of those in my life… one in Ontario (where it was I think only the third record for our county… had an older experienced birder with me when we saw it fly over as we were putting away stuff from an evening presentation), and one here that landed on a roof across from my mother-in-laws one day at sunset. Supposed to be fairly common here but they hide well!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I went outside and look over it. We have 6 foot windows in front of our house and I’m surprised it didn’t bust it. The Owl was huge. I didn’t get too close because they are intimidating… I was about to go out again and I saw it get to it’s feet and take off to a nearby tree. It was in the day which was weird for an Owl.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. some owls do fly by day, mostly the arctic ones (where they would have no choice I guess in summer, with the long days up there) but not usually those or the other ones down here in the south. did see a big one sitting up on power lines near a local Walmart mid-afternoon a couple of weeks back though which was unusual but neat.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I do remember I was afraid of handling it…they could do some damage if provoked…plus I didn’t know what I was doing. It apparently rang it’s bell and he/she went down for the count…but it seemed fine afterward…I felt sorry for it…once in a blue moon I’ll will see one in a tree…in the day.

        One bird…it could be an owl…sounds like a woman screaming…I think that is the Barn Owl. Jen and I were on the back porch it was was as loud as hell…it made both of us jump. It sounded like it was next to us.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. yeah, that would be the Barn Owl… scary sounding! The little Screech owl, by comparison, has a fairly soft little whistle that’s nothing like a “screech” despite its name. I went out to see an owl-banding program one time about 30 or so years back… they put up nets near a woodlot during the migration and banded owls they caught (before releasing them back obviously). It was quite interesting but I was just observing.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. My first thought at the time was a Screech Owl but then I looked them up…no it was the Barn Owl…and it was scary.

        That would have been really cool to watch.

        Liked by 1 person

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