Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Of birds and OBEs

WaxwingI heard a Waxwing the other day. Regular readers will be aware that these beautiful birds (pic right) are rare in the UK. I went to see some a few weeks back as there has been an influx this winter. But the bird I heard more recently was in an area where none have been reported, so far as I know. I looked for, but could not see, the bird though I did only have a limited view of the scene.

So how did I know it was a Waxwing without seeing it? Well, the call is reasonably recognizable (although Redpolls have a similar call but I didn't see one of those either). However, there is another possible reason why I heard that call which doesn't involve the presence of a Waxwing (or even a Redpoll). There were a lot of Starlings around at the time. And Starlings are excellent mimics, regularly imitating the calls of birds they've met. I've been deceived by their mimicry before! So it's entirely possible that the Starlings have seen Waxwings in the area when I haven't!

So, WDTHDWP? Well, only a fairly experienced birder would have considered Starlings as an explanation for this otherwise puzzling occurrence. As paranormal investigators, we cannot be experts in every subject that might have a bearing on understanding an anomalous report. It is always worth consulting specialists before deciding that a phenomenon really is unexplained.

While we're on birds, I saw an owl perched on a chimney pot recently. Thinking it highly unlikely, I was somewhat relieved when a different angle revealed that it was really two Woodpigeons huddled together! Ever since my brain started letting me see its first guess at things I can't see well (misperception), I have seen some truly bizarre stuff! Most people, most of the time, don't see or don't notice these 'first guesses' but those who do may well report them as paranormal occurrences.

Meanwhile this week's New Scientist reports that scientists have come closer to finally understanding how OBEs work. Work by Olaf Blanke of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 2011 induced some participants to experience watching their own body from above, the classic OBE (see here). And once again, temporoparietal junction (TPJ) part of the brain has been implicated in producing the experience. This looks like one weird experience that will soon be seen as normal.

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