Thus, although I have problems with the idea of thunderbirds with wingspans of six or seven metres, I would not rule them out, and so would classify them as a cryptozoological mystery. However, the accounts you are about to read contain additional elements of weirdness which lead me to record them in the current blog. You be the judge.
We will start with the experience of Ted Phillips, a researcher for the Mutual UFO Network, whose field of study, UFO traces, led him to a multi-year investigation of a region of mind-boggling weirdness in a remote part of Missouri, which he calls Marley Woods. On the night of 15 January 2010 he had set himself up in a shed, along with monitoring equipment, having placed some tarpaulin over the open door and the two sides which consisted of just wire screen. About a quarter past nine, after he had made a video sweep and shut down the camcorders, he heard "an extremely loud sound like air being forced through an almost-closed valve" approach and pass by the shed.
Just as he was regaining his composure, his ears were assailed with what sounded like the flapping of gigantic wings. It lasted about 20 seconds, after which he ran outside, but could see nothing.
Next, there came the crashing of something huge through the brushwork, and the intruder stood by the doorway, fiddling with the tarp about eight feet [2½ metres] from the ground. Mr Phillips positioned himself in front of propane lantern, so that his form, brandishing a 9 mm automatic pistol, would have stood out in silhouette, and perhaps that was the reason the intruder departed. It left no tracks.
Reference: Ted Phillips (Dec 2010), 'Close encounters: New mysteries focus on tarps, lights, and a really big bird', MUFON UFO Journal 512: 14-15
Later in the year, a huge bird appeared at South Greensburg, Pennsylvania. It was about 8.10 pm on the evening of 26 August 2010, just after dark. No reference was made to the lighting in the area, but four people were preparing a barbecue when suddenly they heard a loud swoosh, and saw a gigantic bird flying above a tree 30 - 40 feet [9-12 m] overhead, before heading down the road. I shall now quote the account by the researcher, Stan Gordon:
When first observed, the massive wings of the creature were in an upward position and were beginning to drop slowly, almost as if they were rolling to the bottom. The swoosh sound could be heard when the wings were moving. The powerful bird had flown about 125 yards down the road, at which time the wings were coming back up. The creature was observed as it continued to move steadily down the road, passing just above the roof top of a house with its wings flapping slowly and steadily about 3-4 times until it reached a group of trees about ¼ mile [400 m] away, where it was lost from sight. It took about 20 seconds to go the ¼ mile distance.Let us dissect this report. One assumes that the researcher checked out the distances involved. Witnesses' estimates of time tend to err considerably on the high side ie it was probably in view for a lot less than 20 seconds. However, if their estimate is accurate, then its speed was 45 mph or 72 kph. This is quite reasonable for a bird that size, or even for many smaller birds.
I interviewed two of the witnesses at the scene and they were able to provide a detailed description of the giant flying creature. As it passed over, it appeared as though it was peering below, with its head and beak positioned downward. It was estimated that if the bird was on the ground it would stand between 4 ½ to 5 feet [1.2 - 1.5 m] tall. The entire body was the same dark color, either darkish brown or black. The body width was about 25-30 inches [63 - 76 cm] wide. One witness said the body, “was very bulky and husky.”
The head was oval shaped, and the beak was short for the size of the animal, about 8-10 inches [20-25 cm] long. The tail was about 2 feet [61 cm] long and came out wide to a point. It was the size of the wingspan of the creature that impressed the witnesses, which they estimated at 10 feet [3 m] or more in length.
The size of a bird seen against the sky is difficult to estimate, but it is a different matter when it is close overhead to trees and a road. Of course, we should the quoted dimensions as guesswork only. However, to put them in perspective, you might like to spread a tape measure against yourself. As for me, I am six feet tall, and 18-19 inches across the shoulders. In other words, the witnesses gained the impression that its body was as big as a man's torso. As for a wingspan of 10 feet, I can only assume that they meant each individual wing, which would be the minimum for something as big as that.
Of course, Pennsylvania is well-known for "thunderbird" sightings, and there is nothing in the above story which implies anything by a flesh and blood animal. The same cannot easily be said for the next account.
Reference: I originally saw this quoted in Phillips' report referenced above. Phillips cited Albert Rosales' Journal of Humanoid Studies, vol. 1, no. 6. Fortunately, this can now be downloaded in PDF form from Rosales' own website. The account is on pages 7-8. However, Rosales took it from the website of the researcher, Stan Gordon. Scroll down to the date of August 26. 2010. And while you are at it, pause to read about the even weirder creature at March 18, 2011. See also his report in the Salem News.
Now let us go across the Pacific and across the years. Here in Australia we have two ufologists whose expertise, intelligence, and persistence are head and shoulders above the rest: Keith Basterfield and Bill Chalker. It was Bill Chalker who, in 1985, received a 19-page letter from an old man called Cecil McGann, about events that took place in 1927, when he was just ten years old. Apparently, it had been four years in the writing, at the urging of one of his sisters, called Dorothy. Bill was able to interview both of them personally in 1986.
The events took place over a period of a few weeks at their small dairy farm in a district called Fernvale. The nearest large town is Murwillumbah, not far from the Queensland border, on the New South Wales side. Since Chalker's account can be read in full in the reference cited below, I shall merely summarise what took place:
- UFO sightings - nocturnal lights, with one close encounter of the second kind. Some neighbours saw them too. This was 20 years before anyone had ever heard of flying saucers.
- Cows terrified, and some of them died.
- Pigs gone missing, and some dead with puncture wounds.
- An intruder making loud noises and leaving footprints around the house. There was a strong smell of poultry in the air, and in the morning Cecil discovered two "speckly" feathers two to three feet [60 - 90 cm] long, from an unrecognizable species.
- A "man in white"
Most significantly for our story, as Cecil was going to school, he saw a bird well over five feet [150 cm] high standing motionless and upright like a penguin on a dead tree near the school, its plumage shining in the morning sun. He ran and told the teacher, but by the time they had come out to look, it had disappeared. When he informed his parents, they dropped a bombshell. He remembered how a neighbour had previously sought refuge in their house one night because he had seen an "apparition". Now they told him that the apparition had been a huge bird on the ground which had flapped its wings at him.
Another time, Cecil and one of his brothers were walking around in broad daylight when they heard what sounded like "talking and laughing". It turned out to being made by two birds gliding overhead - and they appeared to be two or three times as large as a wedge-tailed eagle (the largest flying bird in the area and, indeed, in the country). Also, another sister and one of their parents had gone out on the veranda one evening, and had seen a huge bird hopping down the hill, flapping its wings.
That was 88 years ago. Somehow, I don't think there is a breeding population of gigantic birds out there now.
Reference: Bill Chalker (2001), 'Strange creatures on the Antipodean UFO trail', Myths and Monsters 2001 Conference (Sydney), pp 21-37. It can be downloaded in PDF form here.