Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Coot cylinder

CootThis magnificent bird (right) is a Coot! As people (nearly) always say with anomalous photos, I noticed something really odd when I looked at the photo after taking it. There was nothing obviously strange visible at the time of exposure.

If you look closely, you'll see two curious light brown tall thin objects in the photo. One is behind the bird about half way across the shot. The other is more central, in front of the Coot. So what are they? Some kind of flying rod, perhaps? Let's call them rods, for the sake of simplicity. Most flying rods have some sort of 'appendage' which these objects lack. But it might still be some sort of variation on the theme. So let's look at the clues in the photo.

Firstly, when viewed close up (pic below right), the objects strongly resemble cylinders. There is an obvious white vertical streak just left of centre. This suggests a highlight, as if from a reflective cylindrical object, like the capsules used to contain drugs. The sharp streak suggests that the objects are in focus.

The ends of the rod are rounded, like a gas cylinder. The rods are, apart from the streak, uniformly shaded and, crucially, somewhat blurred. Note, particularly, the transparent top and bottom of the cylinder, The rod shown below is the foreground object. It looks brighter, but the same colour as, the background object. Other than that, the objects look identical.

Coot rodCould the 'rods' be some sort of vegetation? The photo is one a series and none show any vegetation in front of the bird. Furthermore, there is no plant visibly attached to the 'rods'.

The key clue is that the objects are slightly blurred. This is not because they are out of focus. Therefore it must be motion blur. The obvious conclusion is that the rods are small falling objects. This is confirmed by the fact that the top and bottom of the cylinder are transparent. That's because all of the rod consists of overlapping images of the falling object (hence the uniform colour) except the top and bottom where there is no overlap (hence the transparency).

The rods are, in fact, falling seeds! The seeds came from a bird feeder directly above the Coot. Smaller birds were using the feeder and spilling some seeds onto the ground. And the Coot was eating the fallen seeds. There are two such seeds actually on the back of the Coot in a later photo in the series, as well as many others visible on the ground.

Falling objects could explain some UFO photos. It is always difficult to judge the size of an object that is not in physical contact with anything else in a photo. Using clues like those described here, it should be possible to detect such falling objects in photos.

PS: No April fool jokes here! In our field, it's difficult enough already to decide what is real and what isn't!

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