Thursday, 18 September 2014

Why I didn't see a stoat

Apparent foxAs an amateur naturalist, I am always on the lookout for animals. I mention this because when people look at this photo there's a good chance they're going to say 'what fox?'. Yes, when I saw the scene pictured (right) with the naked eye I thought the object just to right the bush was a fox. To me, the animal was sitting in the grass, facing right.

The 'fox' was a misperception. I have discovered that it is possible to photograph misperceptions (see here) so some people may indeed see a fox in the picture, just as I did at the time.

After noticing the 'fox', I then looked at it in greater detail. It soon stopped being a fox but it wasn't obvious what it really was. The 'head', though broadly the right shape, looked too small for a fox. Indeed, the whole 'fox' looked too small. In fact, the object more closely resembled a stoat or even an otter. While a fox would have been entirely possible at the photo location, a stoat would have been unlikely and an otter incredibly unlikely.

Apparent foxSo why didn't I see a stoat at the time? Well, misperception uses visual memory. I see foxes fairly frequently, maybe once or twice a week. Stoats I hardly ever see. So I saw something I remembered much better. Some people might have seen a more exotic animal, maybe even a cryptid.

So what was the 'fox' in reality? I have a closer photo (right) but I wish now I'd got a better one. It is clearly a pile of sticks and senescent leaves but I couldn't say how it came into being without a better look. The second photo was taken from a different angle and the object doesn't obviously resemble an animal any more.

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