Monday, 4 February 2013

Far away is close at hand

CrowI looked out of the window of the London underground train, as you do, and saw a Raven hopping across the adjacent tracks. I knew it was a Raven because it was like a crow, only much larger!

We all have embarrassing memories like this one. For some reason I still squirm when I recall taking a photo with the flash pointing backwards. It wasn't some attempt at bouncing flash, I just got avoiding red eye all wrong and ended up with a hopelessly dark photo. The people whose photo I was taking looked at me in puzzlement, as well they might. They probably forgot the incident in minutes but it has stayed with me ever since!

Anyway, anyone who knows anything about birds in the UK will quickly realise that, outside of the Tower, you don't Ravens in London! And Ravens are not just big crows, they are different in a number of obvious ways. But I didn't know that all those many years ago, before I took up birding!

So what made me think this bird was a Raven in the first place? I think it was mainly the size - it looked so big. I had, of course, seen crows many times but they were never that big. The reason this particular crow looked so huge was that I was unusually close to it. Crows are wary birds, rarely allowing humans to approach closely. However, they are used to trains, which they soon learn pose no threat unless you get right in front of one, so they approach them quite closely on occasion. So there you have it - I thought it was a Raven because I'd never seen a crow so close up before and had not realised just how big they are.

The point of all this is that many reports of apparently anomalous phenomena involve people reporting things that only ever seen before in quite different circumstances. In particular, on seeing something up close for the first time, it can often look rather different to your previous impressions. So much so that you may think it is something quite different! Take the photo here (above) - do you recognise the bird? It's just the usual common crow seen over most of the UK. But, up close, it doesn't look too familiar to most non-birders. Unbelievably, I've heard other people (non-birders) admit that they've seen 'Ravens' in areas of the country where they definitely never occur. Unlike migratory birds, Ravens hardly ever leave their territories so it's highly unlikely they were just wandering about!

A witness may say something like 'it definitely wasn't a plane' or 'it definitely wasn't a crow'. In the case of such statements, it is important to discover just what their experience of the thing that it 'definitely wasn't', actually is. If I'd been interviewed just after my 'Raven' sighting I would have said it 'definitely wasn't' a crow! But I'd have been wrong! I've come across many Ravens since and, once seen, they are unmistakable.

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