LOOK OUT BELOW!
Birds, soy, fireballs, poo and a leech: fortean falls have been in the news
BYE BYE BLACKBIRDS
On 7 February, a security camera in Cuauhtémoc City, Mexico, captured a startling video of hundreds of yellow-headed blackbirds falling to the ground, leaving dozens dead or dying in the street while the rest flew off. Initial reactions included a local vet suggesting the incident could have been caused by high levels of pollution from wood-burning heaters, or agrochemicals, concentrated close to the ground by cold weather in the area, while others suggested the birds could have been electrocuted by sitting on power lines; there were also the usual conspiracy theories blaming 5G technology. The video does, however, seem to show the birds actively flying into the ground rather than simply falling so it is probable, at least in this case, that the conclusion drawn by Dr Richard Broughton, an ecologist with the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology is likely to be correct. “This looks like a raptor… has been chasing a flock, like they do with murmurating starlings, and [the birds] have crashed as the flock was forced low,” he said. “You can see that they act like a wave at the beginning, as if they are being flushed from above.” theguardian.com, 14 Feb 2022.
LEECH FOR THE SKY
While working in his garden near Daventry in Northamptonshire during Storm Eunice, one of the recent succession of storms to hit the UK, Byron Potter, 38, was surprised to be hit on the shoulder by a leech that fell from the sky. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. I suspected it might be a leech, so I picked it up with pliers and took it to a jar of water. I thought that if it was a worm, it would just die, but if it was a leech it would start wriggling – and sure enough it did.” His sons, aged 11 and 13, were fascinated by the six-inch (15cm) creature, but his wife less so, so he tipped it down a storm drain. “It was a total freak occurrence. There were no birds to drop it so it must have been the wind,” added Potter. He believes the leech had been carried from a nearby lake by the storm’s 90mph (145km/h) winds. “I’m not too freaked out because we have reptiles as pets, but for someone else it could have been traumatic,” he said. Sun, 21 Feb 2022.
In Las Vegas, Nevada, residents of a neighbourhood in the east of the city were baffled by a rain of black and brown droplets that frequently fell on their properties over a period of three to four weeks, coating everything, including cars, homes and a basketball court, with sticky goo. “It could be grease? Oil? I don’t know,” said local resident Marcos Cervantes “It’s very hard to maintain my vehicles. It’s very, very difficult to be outside in my backyard knowing that I can’t even cook or barbecue or anything like that because of droplets on my food.” Concerns were raised about the neighbourhood’s proximity to Nellis Airforce Base. Analysis subsequently identified the substance as bee fæces, but no explanation was given as to why such a large quantity had fallen, or why it was concentrated in one small area. kntv.com, 12 Feb; reviewjournal.com, 4 Mar 2022.
Hamilton, Ontario, residents woke up in late December 2021 to find it raining small white crystals that swiftly coated part of the town. On closer examination, the crystals turned out to be fragments of soya bean husk discharged by the local soya processing plant after a filter malfunction. The manager apologised, saying “we understand the residue was an annoyance for our neighbours”. 12 Jan 2022.
In Johnsonburg, Pennsylvania, the problem is somewhat larger, with local resident Bill Boylan complaining: “Recently, since we lived on the other side of the bypass, we’ve had 25 deer jump to their death in a populated area.” The animals have been
Byron Potter was surprised to be hit by a leech that fell from the sky
leaping to their deaths from the US-219 bypass running through the town, leaving the ground below littered with their corpses. Locals are confused as to what might be causing the deer to hurl themselves off the bridge, but the state’s department of transport has promised to look into the problem to determine whether there is anything that can be done to prevent the continuing carnage. The strange compulsion driving deer to throw themselves off the bridge recalls the mysterious phenomenon associated with Overtoun Bridge near Dumbarton in Scotland ( FT196:4, 331:22). Since the 1950s more than 600 dogs have thrown themselves off that bridge, with more than 50 dying, earning it the reputation as the “Dog Suicide Bridge”. Despite several investigations, no conclusive reason for the dogs’ compulsion to leap has been found, and they continue to jump. A similar case of kamikaze canines was reported from Vancouver in 2014 ( FT326:20). thenationaldesk.com, 18 Mar 2022.
General confusion about things in the sky – whether they fell, and if they did fall, what they were – was prevalent in the region of Maharashtra, India, in early April. There, locals reported light bulb-like objects moving parallel to the horizon, leaving a “blazing trail” across the sky and reported a metal ring falling and landing on some open ground and a sphere crashing into a pond some miles away. Physicist and meteorologist Professor Kiran Kumar Johre said that the three incidents were completely unrelated, suggesting that the falling items were probably space junk, “but they never came with the light balls that were seen moving upward in skies across Vidarbha.” He then confused matters further by saying “lightning bulbs moving parallel to the horizon are ball lightning produced due to the extremely dry conditions,” adding that “in such cases, people see a ball-like object in the night emitting different colours and travelling sideways” – which, nonetheless, sounds very different to examples of ball lightning experienced elsewhere. Professor Johre further muddied the waters by comparing the light balls to fireballs seen in Uttar Pradesh in 2002.
This was hardly helpful, as those sightings caused a major regional panic, with people reporting being attacked by a strange, brightly lit object that appeared at night, flew sideways and left victims with scratches on their faces. The entity responsible got dubbed “muhnochwa”, which means “face scratching thing”, with descriptions varying from it being a glowing football, to more like a glowing, floating, tortoise (see FT163:7, 164:6). As rumours of its attacks spread, large crowds gathered to demand the authorities capture the entity. This led to deaths when police fired shots into a 10,000 strong angry crowd in Sitapur, killing one person, and in Barabanaki, where a second person was killed under similar circumstances, which in turn led to rumours that the Munochwa had begun killing people. People stopped sleeping outdoors despite the intense summer heat and vigilante squads were set up to patrol towns, beating drums and shouting slogans. After finding insects they didn’t recognise, police spokesman KP Singh said, “It is a three-and-a-halfinch-long winged insect that leaves rashes and superficial wounds,” while other official sources claimed it was an extraterrestrial and another said it was a robot that glowed red from the front and blue from its rear, brought into Uttar Pradesh by foreign attackers. However, Dr Ravindra Arora of the Indian Institute of Technology said it was ball lightning hitting people’s faces, as this glowed and could cause rashes and a burning sensation on contact with the skin. He also said the problem would cease when rain arrived, also claiming ball lightning was a frequent product of dry weather, which also contradicts reports elsewhere, where it is a highly elusive phenomenon and seems to need at least an imminent thunderstorm to be generated. indiatimes.com, 5 Apr 2022; smh.com.au, 21 Aug 2002.