Thursday, 5 December 2013

Where is that strange sound coming from?

MagpiesI heard the characteristic chattering call of a Magpie and looked up, as I do when I hear one of my favourite birds. On this occasion I could not see it. I was walking along a street lined by terraced houses, so it wasn't surprising. The bird sounded like it was on a roof on one side of the street but there was nothing there. So I looked round in all directions.

Why would I do that, you might ask? Because sounds are strongly reflected by walls and, in my experience, if you can't see the bird straight away, you are probably hearing a reflected sound. That means the bird could be in almost any direction, depending on the layout of the house walls nearby.

I walked further along the street until there was another terrace-lined street leading off to one side. Now the direction of the still-calling bird seemed to change, appearing to be coming from the side street. But a quick look showed that it wasn't there either. Finally, I looked behind me and there was the Magpie. It was on a tall tree, down an alleyway, behind the street I'd been walking along. Now that I could see it, the sound obviously came from the direction of the bird.

The difficulties of locating the origin of a sound in buildings, on ghost vigils for instance, are well known (see here). But, as this incident illustrates, there are also problems outdoors, especially in the vicinity of buildings or rock faces. . When investing anomalous phenomena outside you should consider that, just because you hear a sound from a particular direction, it doesn't necessarily mean its origin is that way. Sometimes odd noises are attributed to something invisible (and possibly paranormal) when, in reality, what you can hear is just not where you think it is.

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