Monday, 3 November 2014

The bird vanishes

RobinThe recent unseasonably warm weather is finally over. So when I was out the other day it was cold, wet and windy. I noticed, up ahead of me, a small bird fluttering down in the stiff breeze. It landed on a path and briefly pecked at something on the ground. Though the bird looked dark in the grey light and rain it resembled a Robin (right). But then it did something extraordinary. It simply collapsed out of existence - it crumpled downwards from a solid object to nothing.

I kept the spot where the bird had vanished in constant sight as I moved closer. Finally, I was just a metre or so away and could see clearly that it was actually a wet leaf. It certainly had me convinced for a few seconds as there was no real reason to think it wasn't a bird. It 'behaved' just like one. So, how had a leaf appeared as a bird?

Firstly, the low lighting and rain made for poor viewing conditions. Many objects looked dark, like the leaf, and a real bird would have looked much the same in those conditions. Secondly, I think the rain caused part of the senescent leaf to stick to the wet ground while the rest was held vertical, temporarily, by the stiff breeze. Thirdly, I think the 'pecking' motion reflected the wind as it rose and fell. Once the wind dropped, so did the leaf and it subsequently remained stuck to the ground. Fourthly, as mentioned recently, as a birder, I am always alert to birds and more likely to misperceive inanimate objects as them. This means that I tend to see most birds in any given location while occasionally noticing one or two that are not real. Non-birders, by contrast, will probably notice few, if any, of the birds in any given location but are also probably less likely to misperceive an inanimate object as one.

On another subject, we recorded our over half a million hits on the ASSAP website, for the first time, in each of the last three months. The highest number was in October with a total of 594103. I think interest in the Seriously Spooked ghost conference was partly responsible.

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