The Ropen and “Hunting Monsters”

Gitmo Pterosaur of Guantanamo Bay Cuba, sighting in 1965

Is the ropen a real animal, a modern living pterosaur? We now look at part of a Kindle book written by Darren Naish: Hunting Monsters – Cryptozoology and the Reality Behind the Myths. I’ve not read the whole book, so I’ll review only part of it, from the paragraph that begins with “moving away from tropical Africa” to slightly beyond the paragraph that ends with “how not to do an interview.” I personally deemed this book not worth purchasing, so I have to be content with reviewing only the portion that I can see on the Google-books page. Fortunately for me, much of the book’s content on living pterosaurs and the ropen seems to be available in Google-books.

I believe this portion of Hunting Monsters is in the fifth chapter, “Mokele-Mbembe, Ropen and Other ‘Prehistoric Survivors.’” If it turns out that significant content on living pterosaurs is in another part of the book then consider that my evaluation might need to be updated or modified. At any rate, this is not a standard book review, only an examination of a small part of this nonfiction by Darren Naish.

And yet this post you have just begun reading, long as it may be, is my response to only part of that small portion of the Kindle book by this paleontologist. Other points must be set aside for other blog posts.

Whitcomb vs Naish on Living Pterosaurs

We need to be clear about one point, something Dr. Naish and I (Jonathan Whitcomb) agree upon: that many varieties of pterosaurs known from fossils are extinct. The ones known to paleontologists outnumber the types known from sightings. We disagree completely, however, on the meaning of eyewitness sightings, for he believes that none of them were the result of a non-extinct pterosaur. I believe that some of them were precisely that: modern living pterosaurs.

Even the most optimistic cryptozoologist, after careful research, should come to realize that many species of pterosaur have probably become extinct. Exactly when they became extinct is open to questions that paleontologists like Naish appear unwilling to ask, yet the long tails with Rhamphorhynchoid-like flanges and the pointed head crests dominate too many eyewitness reports to ignore. Because of the great variety of forms known from fossils and the narrow range of descriptions in many reports of modern flying creatures, it seems obvious: Most species of pterosaurs are surely extinct.

We also agree that not all reports of a modern pterosaur come from encounters with living pterosaurs. This has probably often been overlooked, this point of agreement, perhaps overlooked even by Naish himself. I have found that at least a small portion of accounts appear to be one of the following:

  1. Misidentification of a non-pterosaur
  2. Hoax (including some YouTube videos)
  3. Mental health problem of the one reporting the encounter

Yet Naish and I appear to have taken different routes entirely. I dig into the details to get a better understanding of each report. I have spent well over 10,000 hours on the total sightings, including the many cases appearing to be unrelated to the three types shown above. I doubt that Dr. Naish has spent even 1% as much time on pterosaur sightings, for why would a typical paleontologist spend 100 hours objectively researching something that appears to undermine the foundation of his or her beliefs about when such flying creatures lived on this planet?

Yet we agree on some things. Dr. Naish and I agree to some extent on the quality of interviews of eyewitnesses. He mentioned my name but did not go into details about any particular interview that I conducted (he seemed to have been referring to my evaluation of an interview done by one of my associates when he mentioned “Jonathan Whitcomb”). If he had mentioned the details in my interviews with three young men (Gideon, Mesa, and Wesley), he would have been correct in saying that a number of factors were far from ideal.

But to sweep aside two whole expeditions on Umboi Island in 2004, because of perceived imperfections in interviewing technique in some of the interviews—that appears to be too extreme. I don’t expect Dr. Naish to invent a perfect time machine to take scientists millions of years into the past to prove his theories about ancient pterosaurs; my associates and I should not be expected to kidnap all the wildlife photographers in the world to force them to go with us to Umboi Island to get perfect video footage that proves the ropen is a modern pterosaur. So how often has an witness in a court been given perfectly conducted questioning? We need a practical approach, not an extreme dismissal of everything that might appear imperfect and contradicting our previous assumptions. If a particular interview had serious problems then those particular problems in that interview should be discussed. Dr. Naish appears to prefer to avoid bringing any such details to light.

Beware of jumping to the careless conclusion that a few pages in Hunting Monsters prove that all the expeditions and interviews and research of living-pterosaur investigators over the past 22 years is worthless. And those few pages in HM do not come close to refuting what is found in four scientific papers (three of them published in peer-reviewed journals), articles that are clearly in defense of modern pterosaurs. I see nothing in Naish’s book that even hints that any of those four scientific papers exist.

An Overview of Book Reviews of Hunting Monsters

Seventeen Amazon customer reviews of this new book, as of May 23, 2016, should give us enough to judge its popularity.

  • Five Stars: 70%
  • Four Stars: 12%
  • Three Stars: 12%
  • One Star: 6%

Many books on Amazon do worse than getting 70% top ratings from readers. I recommend going over these Amazon customer reviews of Hunting Monsters to learn the details. Before moving on, please be aware that I do not suggest that most potential readers will be disappointed after purchasing this book. Amazon suggests at least 70% will be satisfied with their purchase. But a small part of Hunting Monsters has major weaknesses; I cannot speak for the rest of the book.

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Gitmo Pterosaur of Guantanamo Bay Cuba, sighting in 1965

Sketch by an eyewitness (sighting in Cuba in 1965)

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Quetzalcoatlus and Sightings of Flying Creatures in Texas

Hunting Monsters, in this part of the book, has with a statement about sightings of apparent pterosaurs (ropen or otherwise) in the USA, in particular Texas. But do “most” sightings of apparent pterosaurs actually date to the “1970’s” as Dr. Naish declares? Not necessarily. Closer examination reveals that the actual sightings are spread out over decades.

But what’s so important to Naish about the 1970’s in Texas? It’s the discovery of Quetzalcoatlus fossils, beginning in 1971. The conjecture is hardly new. Other skeptics have also stumbled into this assumption: that news reports either caused or contributed to citizens in Texas believing they had witnessed living pterosaurs when they had actually not. The conjecture fails to include any details about exactly how it takes place, so skeptics can chose which explanation they like:

  1. Foolish Texans see ordinary birds and think they are seeing pterosaurs
  2. Hoaxers want attention, so they give false reports

Naish does not come close to proving either of the above, however, only suggesting that those are proper explanations for pterosaur sightings in Texas soon after the discovery of the Quetzalcoatlus. So where are the details that would give credence to the above two explanations for those sighting reports? Naish gives no detail at all, at least not in this part of his book: No particular sighting report is examined for judging the plausibility of those two explanations. Real science thrives on details and on numbers, but the number of analyzed reports he gives is zero.

Please be aware that I’m not out to make Dr. Naish look foolish. Yet a careless acceptance of his suggestion about reports of flying creatures in Texas—that can make quite a few citizens of Texas appear foolish. I will not use the word fool for anybody, for I have personally qualified for that adjective too many times in my own life. In this case, with eyewitnesses in the southern United States, I take the side of the majority: citizens of Texas versus Darren Naish. But still I prefer avoiding pushing individuals into one of two boxes with labels of fool and non-fool. Let’s just see which point of view is more realistic:

  • At least some Texas eyewitnesses reported sightings reasonably accurately
  • No Texan saw a living pterosaur, for Quetzalcoatlus news tainted their thinking

I submit that the first point of view is far better than the second.

At the end of 2012, I compiled a list of sightings: 128 reports, each of which I deemed more likely than not to have been from an encounter with a living pterosaur (worldwide sightings). I never said that it was close to a complete list, but I personally interviewed or questioned the eyewitnesses in close to 74% of these sightings.

This was more than just a simple listing, however, for the compilation had details like the following, with many of these involving a yes or no answer:

  • Definitely no feathers
  • Only probably no feathers
  • Long tail
  • Tail but not long
  • Head crest
  • Feet
  • Teeth
  • Wingspan
  • Tail straight
  • Tail flange
  • Tail length
  • Head-crest length
  • Total length
  • Clear sky
  • Cloudy sky
  • Clear view of creature
  • Length of sighting in seconds
  • Number of witnesses
  • Height flying (when closest to the ground)
  • Distance from eyewitness to flying creature
  • Any soaring or gliding
  • Any slow flapping
  • Any fast flapping
  • Near swamp or marsh
  • Over water
  • Near water
  • Any change in direction (of flight)
  • Year of sighting
  • Year of interview or year when interviewing began
  • Daylight
  • Night
  • Twilight
  • Country (if not in USA)
  • State (if in USA)
  • Number of creatures
  • Long neck
  • Neck length
  • [plus about a dozen other types of data or questions]

Of those 128 sighting reports, eight were in Texas, with these sighting years:

  • 1976
  • 1976
  • 1976
  • 1982
  • 1983
  • 1986
  • 1995
  • 1995

Please keep in mind that this is hardly a complete listing of sightings in Texas. These are the ones in Texas that attracted my attention and each appeared unlikely to have been from a hoax or misidentification or mental-health issue. Also be aware that I have been involved in sightings worldwide, while the cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard has investigated flying-creature sightings that were mostly in Texas. We’ll soon get to Gerhard’s writings.

Dr. Naish mentions “flaps,” which I interpret as temporary but concentrated interest in a subject of local or regional news. In Hunting Monsters, he says that they usually go away within a few weeks, and this is in the context of sightings of apparent pterosaurs in the state of Texas. But how do news reports of Quetzalcoatlus fossils relate to sighting reports of apparent pterosaurs in Texas? Let’s look at that.

The first fossil discovery of that species of pterosaur was in Texas in 1971. What an excitement that would have caused for paleontologists! Yet not every citizen of Texas is a paleontologist like Dr. Naish. So let’s examine all the pterosaur sighting reports that came out immediately after that exciting fossil discovery . . . well, actually not one sighting report seems to exist for within a few weeks of that discovery, at least not among the reports that I had compiled at the end of 2012.

Yet what if my reports from Texas are too limited? After all, they number only eight. Look at Big Bird – Modern Sightings of Flying Monsters by Ken Gerhard, which was published in 2007. Here are the sighting years for Texas:

  • 1945 to the “present”
  • Pre-1958
  • 1970
  • 1971 (Harlingen)
  • 1975 (Robstown)
  • 1975 (Rio Grande City)
  • 1975 (San Benito)
  • 1975 (near Los Fresnos)
  • 1976 (five miles south of Harlingen)
  • 1976 (two police officers see “white bird with 15′ wingspan”)
  • 1976 (near Brownsville)
  • 1976 (ranch north of Poteet)
  • 1976 (Raymondville: wingspan=10-12 feet; leathery featherless skin)
  • 1976 (Loredo)
  • 1976 (northeast of Brownsville: resembled “Pteranodon“)
  • 1976 (near Olmito)
  • 1976 (San Benito)
  • 1976 (Del Rio)
  • Late 1970’s (Brownsville and Edinburg)
  • 1976 (near San Antonio: three eyewitnesses)
  • 1976 (Montalba)
  • 1976 (Bethel)
  • 1981-1983 (Houston)
  • 1983 (east of Los Fresnos)
  • 1983 (Hondo)
  • 1990’s (Rangerville)

Of the above twenty-six Texas sighting reports listed in pages 77-79 of Gerhard’s book, which ones might have been caused by 1971 news reports of the Quetzalcoatlus? Well, maybe one, and that one is questionable. On page 77, it says, “unusual, brown bird.” That sounds like a puny “flap” to me. Why should anybody assume that news of a fossil discovery would cause that one eyewitness to think that an unusual-looking brown bird would be a non-extinct pterosaur? And even if it did, it would not explain the many other sighting reports.

I’m not saying that Dr. Naish is 100% wrong about news reports having a relationship to eyewitness accounts of apparent living pterosaurs, but I see a better suggestion about how it works.

What would citizens of Texas see in those news reports in 1971? Scientists found some fossil bones of a pterodactyl. How could anybody conclude from that news report that such flying creatures might still be alive? Suggesting such a conclusion appears to me to be insulting Texans. Perhaps one person might find a bone somewhere and wonder if it might be from that flying creature in the news, but even that possibility is questionable. To think that a newspaper or television news story would cause a considerable number of Texans to see ordinary birds and think they were “pterodactyls”—that strikes me as ridiculous.

I see a better explanation for any correlations that may become apparent between news reports of the Quetzalcoatlus fossil discovery and eyewitness accounts: News professionals are much more likely to publish reports of pterosaur sightings when such flying creatures are, or have recently been, in the news. Its the job of newspaper reporters to get relevant, timely news into their papers, so they are much more likely to publish stories about encounters with possible live pterosaurs when the that kind of flying creature has recently been in the news. In other words, the statistics of those sightings indicate they may happen in any year and in any decade, but they are published and brought into public attention much more when news professionals see timely news and then publish the encounters.

Indeed there may have been more news reports published and presented on television in the mid-1970’s in Texas, regarding the Quetzalcoatlus discoveries, for more fossils were found in 1972 and 1974. As I understand, Douglas A. Lawson published something about these discoveries in the journal Science in 1975. This is perfectly in harmony with the idea that an increased number of living-pterosaur sighting articles in Texas came from an increased awareness by news professionals, not from any increase in the number encounters themselves.

Something else may have completely passed by the attention of Darren Naish. Valid eyewitness encounters with actual living pterosaurs may not have increased after the Quetzalcoatlus fossil discoveries but the eyewitnesses themselves may have been more likely to recognize the significance of what they had seen after they read about those fossils in the newspapers. In other words, actual sightings of non-extinct pterosaurs could have been reported much more frequently when the fossil discoveries were in the news, but the numbers of actual encounters did not change.

Before leaving this examination of sighting reports in Texas, let’s consider a brief Google search that I conducted on May 23, 2016. The following phrase was used: pterosaur sightings in Texas. Of the ten results on the first page, one was for images, but the other nine revealed some interesting facts on the years of reported sightings of living pterosaurs:

Six were in 1976 and eight were in other years, as follows:

  • 1982
  • 1982
  • 1986
  • 2007
  • 2008
  • 2008
  • 2011
  • 2013

In other words, most of the sighting years do not appear to correlate closely with discoveries of Quetzalcoatlus fossils, and even if they did, it could easily be explained by an increased openness of news professionals to publish those sightings when the fossil discoveries of such flying creatures were already being published in newspapers and presented in television news broadcasts.

It may appear, on the surface, that the year 1976 may be significant, with all those reported encounters with apparent pterosaurs in Texas, yet it’s not likely anything close to what Dr. Naish declared in his book: He said that the “flaps” die down after a few weeks. In reality, reports of living pterosaurs in Texas not only do not die down within a few weeks, but they continue for years. In addition, they are seen to have arisen even before the first discovery of a Quetzalcoatlus fossil in 1971, according to Ken Gerhard’s research.

In Defense of the Ropen

One more detail on which Dr. Naish and I agree: The ropen is not a Quetzalcoatlus. In fact, the descriptions of the modern long-tailed flying creature correlate with the features of a Rhamphorhynchoid (“basal”) pterosaur, not a Pterodactyloid short-tailed pterosaur.

From the end-of-2012 compilations of data from the more-credible sighting reports, we learn that the ratio of long-tail to no-long-tail is close to twenty-to-one (41% to 2%). That’s a clearly significant statistical fact, for the 41% is for the entire 128 sightings. So why do so many eyewitnesses, worldwide, report long-tailed pterosaurs when the media and fiction films and television science fiction shows have so many short-tailed pterosaurs? The long-tailed ropen is the dominant type of pterosaur now living on this planet.

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The Long Tail of the Ropen

The Fiery Flying Serpent of the Bible may have been a long-tailed Rhamphorhynchoid, related to the modern-day ropen.

Pterosaur Sightings Data for the USA

This includes the sightings in Texas, but also it has many other states, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, etc.

Fossils are Evidence of Life, not Extinction

The Mesozoic Objection for live pterosaurs and Darren Naish (a paleontologist)

Ropen Sighting

Peter Beach and Milt Marcy, both of the Portland area of Oregon, led an expedition in Papua New Guinea, in March and April of 2015, searching for a living pterosaur . . .

Ropen in Texas and in New Mexico

. . . modern pterosaurs in the United States, in spite of extinction dogma. Marvel at eyewitness accounts in many of the states: California, Texas, New Mexico, Florida, and in other states.

Pterosaur Sighting in South Carolina

Susan Wooten, of Greenville, South Carolina,  was driving from home to Florence (about  1989) when she saw a giant creature glide  over the highway in front of the car.

Marfa Lights in Texas – a Ropen?

A few American cryptozoologists, including the Californians Jonathan Whitcomb  and Garth Guessman, and the Texan Paul Nation, have searched for nocturnal  bioluminescent flying creatures described like Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaurs. . . .

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Misidentification? Look at the Whole Chess Board.

Lake Pung on Umboi Island in Papua New Guinea

I plan to bring up the misidentification interpretation in the appendix of my upcoming nonfiction book Searching for Ropens and Finding God, but let’s take a brief look at it now. When I give somebody a chess lesson, I might say, “look at the whole board.” Beginners often overlook a good move when they see one piece and one move for it, and they make that move before considering many other possible moves. I don’t suggest we try to imitate a chess computer program, evaluating every possible move, yet we need to expand our view and see the broader perspective.

If only one or two persons had reported a living pterosaur, in recent years and in one part of the world, we could be excused for thinking of misidentification and dismissing two reports. Consider the reality. Many persons, from various countries and of various cultures and beliefs, have seen long-tailed apparently-featherless flying creatures. Some persons reported a long neck and a horn-like appendage coming out of the back of the head, if fact each of those two characteristics is common. Consider now some of the critical sightings that cannot reasonably be dismissed as misidentified birds or bats.

In clear daylight, seven native boys, on Umboi Island around 1994, saw a gigantic featherless creature fly over Lake Pung. This was not a fruit bat mostly obscured in dense vegetation in the dark of night—a long-tailed creature in clear daylight over a lake. Somebody from a Western country might dismiss a report from a native who estimated the tail was seven meters long, but how would that skeptic respond to a comparison between that sighting and one to the south, a sighting in 1944 by an American soldier who estimated the tail length of the “pterodactyl” at “at least ten or fifteen feet?” Nobody would think of Duane Hodgkinson as a superstitious native; he’s a clear-thinking plane pilot and flight instructor. Yet why assume that Gideon Koro, Wesley Koro, and Mesa Agustin are superstitious natives who saw only a bird or a bat? Their descriptions may not match up closely to any known fossil of a pterosaur, but why should a particular modern pterosaur correspond to any particular known fossil? The creature they encountered is far more like a Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur than it is like any known bird or bat, and it appears to have been closely related to the “pterodactyl” seen many years earlier by Hodgkinson and his army buddy on the mainland of New Guinea.

Of course some birds and bats, in certain conditions, can be misidentified by certain eyewitnesses and reported as living pterosaurs . . . theoretically. But many critical sightings, actual reports, cannot be dismissed with the word “misidentification.”

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Lake Pung on Umboi Island in Papua New Guinea
Lake Pung, Umboi Island, Papua New Guinea, where the ropen sometimes flies

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Woodpeckers, Flintstones, and Long-Tailed Pterosaurs

Perosaur Sketch by Eskin Kuhn

Reply to a Post by Dale A. Drinnon: “Cuban Pterosaurs?”

How far some skeptics will go to find a non-pterosaur explanation for pterosaur sightings! Featherless long-tailed flying creatures with long bony head crests are not misidentifications of woodpeckers, but there is more. Dale Drinnon has made some apparently accurate generalizations about the two main groups of those featherless pterosaurs; unfortunately he looked no deeper. It’s true that many fossils can be divided into “basal” and Pterodactyloid types:

  1. long-tailed ones without a head crest
  2. short-tailed ones with a head crest

But that is a generalization, and real progress in science often requires careful examination of exceptions. In this case, there is a long-tailed pterosaur, known from fossils, that did indeed have a head crest, contrary to the general assumption proclaimed as if universal by Mr. Drinnon.

Even more to the point, that particular species was reported still living just a few centuries ago: non-extinct. John Goertzen wrote a paper for the 1998 International Conference on Creation, held in Geneva, Pennsylvania. The name of that scientific paper is “The Rhamphorhynchoid Pterosaur Scaphognathus crassirostris: A ‘Living Fossil’ Until the 17th Century.”

I will not quote from it here, but the point is simple: One species, known from fossils, had both a long tail and a head crest, and if one exception existed, one long-tailed pterosaur with a head crest, living a few centuries ago in the Eastern Hemisphere, why should we be shocked at another exception, a long-tailed “pterodactyl” with a head crest, living a few decades ago in Cuba?

At least one investigator seems to have found significant evidence that the Scaphognathus crassirostris lived up until the 1600’s in and around the Mediterranean. Many eyewitness have seen long-tailed pterosaurs with head crests in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, in various parts of the world; I’ve interviewed many of them myself. Eyewitnesses continue to accumulate, so I suggest that Mr. Drinnon get used to this concept.

Flintstones Cartoons in Detail

Before getting into the woodpecker interpretation of pterosaur sightings in Cuba, consider what Drinnon has declared in his post “Cuban Pterosaurs.”

The mixed-trait Pterosaurs do not exist in Paleontology but they DO occur commonly in popular cartoons such as The Flintstones in the 1960s.

We have already seen that some pterosaurs with what Drinnon calls “mixed-trait” characteristics do indeed exist in paleontology. Now let’s look at the Flintstones, with an eye for any appearance of a pterosaur with that combination of long tail and head crest.

The standard opening of at least some of those cartoons includes a couple of dinosaurs but no pterosaurs.

Season #1, episode #18 has a large bird with feathers, nothing suggesting a pterosaur.

“A Man Called Flintstone,” Part One, at 01:31 (one minute and thirty-one seconds from the beginning), has a pterosaur in the mid-ground WITH NO TAIL. At 1:37, that same flying creature appears much clearer because it’s much closer, filling most of the vertical and about half of the horizontal portion of the screen, again with NO TAIL. I scanned the fifteen minutes of Part One, without seeing any other pterosaur.

I then looked at Season #3, episode #14 (“Dial ‘S’ For Suspicion,” Part 1). At 5:20 a bird with feathers has a beak that is used as a letter opener; the bird has no head crest and no tail and nothing that would suggest it is anything other than a bird with feathers. At 8:00, Fred uses the beak of a small bird as a writing tool; that bird has a small head crest that appears like it is feathered; the tail also appears like the tail of feathered birds, in fact at 8:11 the tail is seen more clearly and it is definitely a feathered bird tail, nothing like any tail of any pterosaur. At 10:26, a writing-tool bird appears with even more obvious feathers on both head and tail, even more obviously a bird. At 11:39 that same feathered bird appears, with that same appearance.

Now consider an episode that was aired on October 1, 1961, “The Rock Quarry Story.” I saw nothing in the first ten minutes of that episode that had any flying creature of any kind.

What about season #3, episode #6, “Here’s Snow in Your Eyes,” Part One? I also did a quick scan of that episode (on Youtube, like the others). I saw no flying creature at all.

In no Flintstones cartoon did I see anything remotely like what the skeptic declares exists. I have no desire to continue scanning through those old animations, but I see another problem with the Flintstones conjecture.

Another Flintstones-Cartoon Problem

Mr. Drinnon has brought up those cartoons as one possible source of the idea of long-tailed pterosaurs with head crests, and he said, about the eyewitness reports, “they are reporting accurate portrayals of fantasies.” I suggest Mr. Drinnon has allowed his own imagination to run away with his reasoning, concerning the Flintstones cartoons.

Even if those characteristics of a “mixed-trait” pterosaur were portrayed commonly in those cartoons, that would not likely cause two separate eyewitnesses to report those details in large flying creatures at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1965 and in 1971; Drinnon fails to provide any clear reason why that strange mental image-transport would happen.

Think about this: Have you ever read about or heard about anything in a Flintstones cartoon coming up in anything like a hallucination or confirmed misidentification, with two eyewitnesses of something similar that was seen in the same location?

To be more precise, have you ever seen anything in your neighborhood park that looked like something from a Flintstones cartoon? Did that encounter cause you to report that thing as if it were real? Did you later learn that somebody else had seen that same Flintstones image in that same park and also reported it as a real object? How ridiculous! Cartoons do not cause two eyewitnesses to see something that appears very similar but that is far different from what was actually there.

I find it astonishing that somebody would suggest such an idea while declaring that other persons, namely eyewitnesses, have been involved in a fantasy. I declare that the Flintstones conjecture is a fantasy.

Knocking on Wood for Woodpeckers

Drinnon pins far too much weight onto the wings of a bird. His post includes a link to the Wikipedia page “Cuban Ivory-billed Woodpecker,” where it says that this bird is (or was, if extinct) “smaller” than the American Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Now let’s leave Wikipedia and go back to Drinnon’s post.

Drinnon appears to try to connect a “Giant Hornbill” with a ropen with a “20 foot wingspan.” In the very next sentence, he refers to a “known giant bird,” and in the sentence after that, he says that bird is the “Cuban ivory-billed woodpecker.” But immediately after that sentence we see that link to Wikipedia, that page that tells us that the Cuban variety (or species) is slightly smaller than the American woodpecker.

I don’t know where he gets the wingspan of “20 foot” for a “ropen.” If he refers to the two “pterodactyls” observed by Eskin Kuhn in 1971, that wingspan appears too large; if he refers to the larger ropens reported in Papua New Guinea, that wingspan appears too small. Drinnon gives no explanation for why he mentioned the number twenty.

But regardless of the existence or non-existence of a giant Hornbill bird with a wingspan of twenty feet, that size has no relevance to Ivory-billed woodpeckers, Cuban or American, presently extinct or not.

Pterosaur Eyewitness Eskin Kuhn

For eastern Cuba, in and around Guantanamo Bay at least, we have two shotguns for shooting down woodpeckers. The first eyewitness who came forward with a report of a living “pterodactyl” in eastern Cuba was U.S. Marine Eskin C. Kuhn. Here is the sketch that he drew within minutes of his encounter with two huge flying creatures:

Perosaur Sketch by Eskin Kuhn
Kuhn saw two pterosaurs in Cuba, in 1971

I know that a camera in his hands could have provided a more objective image of those two flying creatures observed by that U.S. Marine in 1971. But Mr. Kuhn put his artistic talents to good use, and it seems very unlikely to me that he would have been greatly mistaken in many ways. But he was not alone. Another shotgun obliterates the woodpecker conjecture.

Pterosaur Eyewitness Patty Carson

Eskin Kuhn reported his sighting of two “pterodactyls” decades ago, with his sketch. Patty Carson saw what appears to have been the same species of flying creature, about six years earlier. She immediately reported the encounter to her father on the base of Guantanamo Bay, but none of the adults believed her, so she stopped telling people about it.

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Gitmo Pterosaur of Guantanamo Bay Cuba, sighting in 1965

Patty Carson saw this creature in the same area of Cuba, around 1965

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Patty Carson saw one “dinosaur,” compared with the two “pterodactyls” seen by Eskin Kuhn, and she was a child at the time, walking home with her younger brother, but Kuhn was an adult. But notwithstanding differences in descriptions, significant resemblances in the two reports are striking.

Carson sent me an email in April of 2011, soon after she had googled “Pterodactyl in Cuba” and found Kuhn’s sighting report. We had extensive email interview sessions through mid-2011, and she drew a sketch of the creature she had seen. Fortunately she too is a talented artist.

One critical point about Patty’s report is this: She is sure of the many small teeth in the mouth of the flying creature. And woodpeckers, no matter how large, and whether extinct or not, have no teeth.

Misidentification Possibility, in Conclusion

We always need to be alert to the possibility of a misidentification when we first encounter a sighting report of an apparent pterosaur. But this two-sighting case at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in the mid-twentieth century, appears unlikely to ever be seriously challenged with any misidentification conjecture, be it a giant woodpecker or any other bird, with teeth or without. This two-sighting case for living pterosaurs in eastern Cuba is just too tight for a woodpecker to squeeze into, notwithstanding how strange some persons may think it is to have a long-tailed head-crested pterosaur living in modern times.

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Live Pterosaurs Versus Extinct Woodpeckers

According to Huntington, eyewitness accounts of featherless flying creatures with head crests and long tails, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are not from the imaginations of persons who had watched too many Flintstones cartoons. He suggests that the most modern insights into pterosaur fossils allow for the possibility that a large long-tailed pterosaur species with a head crest might very well have lived, and might still be living.

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California Ropens – Are They Woodpeckers?

I am actually grateful that one skeptic brought up a woodpecker interpretation for sightings of apparent pterosaurs on the west coast of the United States . . . sort of. It kicked me off my comfortable couch, to search for more information about woodpeckers and other birds, and to learn about pterosaurs that perch and birds that do not perch.

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Pterosaurs not Extinct

Live “pterodactyls?” In the United States? Many scientists have long assumed all pterosaurs died millions of years ago. Now take a whirlwind tour of many years of investigations in cryptozoology, and prepare for a shock: At least two species of pterosaurs have survived, uncommon, not so much rare as widely, thinly distributed.

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California Ropens – Are They Woodpeckers?

color illustration of three Imperial Woodpeckers in a forest

I am actually grateful that one skeptic brought up a woodpecker interpretation for sightings of apparent pterosaurs on the west coast of the United States . . . sort of. It kicked me off my comfortable couch, to search for more information about woodpeckers and other birds, and to learn about pterosaurs that perch and birds that do not perch. Thank you for that.

But the problems with that misidentified-bird conjecture are enormous. In fact, a careful examination of details is so damaging to the woodpecker interpretation that I will not even mention that skeptic’s name in this post; I have no desire to appear to insult any person.

So many skeptics have allowed themselves to be blinded! When referring to the sighting of an apparent pterosaur southeast of Griffith Park (May 13, 2013), one skeptic said, “This sounds like possibly another series of sightings of an outsized woodpecker similar to the Ivory-billed woodpecker.” But that remark appears to be a hasty response, without reference to the critical sighting of three “dragons” just ten weeks earlier and just a mile and a half to the north.

Since the skeptic said “series of sightings,” we will take this encounter in context, examining details in other sighting reports in California. But first consider this May 13th encounter and see if a woodpecker is responsible.

Pterosaur Sighting by Devin Rhodriquez, May 13, 2013

Compare these images chosen by Devin Rhodriquez to a large sketch of the Imperial Woodpecker wing shown further below:

Devin Rhodriquez chose these six images as similar to the "pterosaur" she observed flying just east of Griffith Park, Los Angeles, on May 13, 2013

The above six silhouettes were chosen from about three dozen images of birds, bats, and pterosaurs. That is the same survey page that was used by Garth Guessman and David Woetzel, in their Umboi Island ropen expedition in 2004 (a few weeks after my own expedition there). Please take note: In that expedition, only two natives, of those natives on Umboi Island who had been given the survey, had a clear view of the shape of the ropen: Jonathan Ragu and Jonah Jim. Both of them chose #13, the Sordes pilosus, a long-tailed pterosaur.

This #13 is one of the images chosen by the American eyewitness Devin Rhodriquez (May 13, 2013, sighting near Griffith Park). Each of these six silhouettes is of a pterosaur; no bird image was chosen by this eyewitness.

Now let’s compare this encounter with the one ten weeks earlier, only about 1.5 miles to the north, also near Griffith Park. By the way, I choose these reports to be considered together because both eyewitnesses contacted me by email within weeks of each other and the locations were so close.

March 3, 2013, Pterosaur Sighting

Two months before Rhodriquez’s sighting of a “pterosaur,” another lady was driving on the I-5 Freeway in Los Angeles, also in a northbound lane. She observed three “dragons” gliding or soaring over that freeway, just east of Griffith Park and also near the Los Angeles River. The ratio of  head, body, and tail length “was certainly not that of a bird. Their wings were long, angular and pointed and their tails had triangular points.”

That eyewitness was given the same survey form, and she said, “I would say #13 except their heads were bigger.” The Sordes pilosus was one of the six chosen by Rhodriquez and by the two eyewitnesses on Umboi Island. Is it a coincidence that all of those eyewitnesses chose that long-tailed pterosaur as having a similar wing-shape to what they had seen? No. Could everybody be observing woodpeckers that look like long-tailed pterosaurs? No. Where is even one sighting report of an apparent pterosaur that turned out to have been from a woodpecker?

It’s also no coincidence that so many Southern California pterosaur sightings are near storm channels or near the Los Angeles River (which is actually a giant storm channel). The creatures are nocturnal but on occasion a disturbance in daylight will awaken one of them, causing a daylight flight, resulting in a sighting.

Humans see poorly in the dark sky of night, so the many nocturnal flyovers go mostly unseen or unnoticed, especially when the creatures are flying at night through storm channels. And those flying creatures might indeed become extinct if they were foolish enough to avoid those channels where rats and possums and other yummy animals could be easily captured.

The March 3rd sighting, near Griffith Park, was almost at night: 6:10 a.m., but there was plenty of light for the eyewitness to see the strange appearance of three large long-tailed non-woodpeckers gliding over the freeway—without wing flapping.

June 19, 2012, Pterosaur Sighting: Lakewood, California

An earlier sighting in Los Angeles County, northeast of Long Beach—this might be partially what caused the skeptic to mention perching, but he gives few details about what he is referring to regarding perching. I have tied this Lakewood sighting to the two encounters near Griffith Park, so I assume the skeptic took notice of that.

The lady was observing the creature in her backyard as she was standing less than eighteen feet below it, as it perched on a telephone cable over a storm channel. The lady said that the creature “had [a triangle] on his tail, like a dragon.” She thought the tail was at least four feet long, maybe five feet. Keep in mind that the end of that tail was only about eighteen feet from the end of the lady’s nose, before the creature flew away from its perch. That was no woodpecker.

Irving, California, Pterosaur Sighting

Take the above in context with another encounter, this one southeast of Los Angeles County. The eyewitness told me that the creature he saw flying not far above the road on which he was driving was the same length as the width of that road. That means the apparent ropen was thirty feet long, for I later measured the width of that road myself, pacing it off with my own feet. No woodpecker, extinct or still living, ever attained a length of 30 feet, not even in the imagination of a skeptic.

When did the skeptic in question ever mention the estimated sizes of what eyewitnesses have reported to me? I don’t recall reading any of his comments in which he mentioned size, perhaps because of the sighting close to the University of California at Irvine in the summer of 2007. No woodpecker could have been misidentified with a size estimate like that. In addition, the eyewitness described the tail as about half that length, or about 15 feet. That was no woodpecker.

Perching Pterosaurs and Non-Perching Woodpeckers

Immediately after mentioning the woodpecker interpretation of pterosaur sightings in California, the skeptic said, “The creature which is reported as a pterosaur perches upright, which no kind of a pterosaur could do.” Well, that old generalization no longer applies, for we now know that one type of pterosaur could indeed perch upright, and that long-tailed variety just happens to be . . . yes, the same general type observed perching upright on a telephone line in Lakewood, California, on June 19, 2012: the long-tailed variety.

I believe woodpeckers are not perching birds, unless I have seriously mistaken what I have been reading lately about birds. I suggest the skeptic has failed to look deeply enough into this subject, but I accept correction if I have misunderstood woodpeckers.

In other words, the kind of bird the skeptic offers to us cannot perch but the Rhamphorhynchoid pterosaur observed perching last year in Lakewood is the type of pterosaur that could perch, according to fossils that show the opposing toe-digit on the foot. If that were not damaging enough to the proclamations of that skeptic, the main context of his blog post is regarding a sighting southeast of Griffith Park, on May 13, 2013, in which the creature was gliding or soaring over a freeway, not perching.

Woodpeckers in California

None of the eyewitnesses that I have interviewed, over the past ten years, to the best of my recollection, described the coloring of what they had seen as anything at all similar to the Imperial Woodpecker or the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. It seems to me that the skeptic who has suggested woodpeckers has ignored critical details that eliminate that bird and has distorted, in his own imagination, the head-crest concept.

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sketch of one wing of the Imperial Woodpecker bird

Wing of the Imperial Woodpecker

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color illustration of three Imperial Woodpeckers in a forest

The Imperial Woodpecker

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Photo of Ivory Billed woodpecker by Nathan Dappen

Ivory Billed Woodpecker

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Eskin Kuhn drew this sketch one of the two pterosaurs he saw flying in Cuba

“Pterodactyl” drawn by the eyewitness Eskin C. Kuhn (Gitmo Pterosaur of Cuba)

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Gitmo Pterosaur of Guantanamo Bay Cuba, sighting in 1965

Sketch by the eyewitness Patty Carson (another Gitmo Pterosaur of Cuba)

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Dragons Around Griffith Park in Los Angeles

Both observations involved a lady alone in a vehicle in a northbound lane of the Interstate-5 Freeway between Griffith Park and Glendale. Both eyewitnesses sent me an email soon after a sighting. Both believed no bird misidentification was involved.

Dragon Pterosaurs in Southern California

The eyewitness of the “Griffith Park dragons” first thought she was observing three non-living things flying over her car (she was driving north on the I-5 at about 6:10 a.m. on a Sunday). She assumed it was some kind of stunt, perhaps with kites, for the three “dragons” looked nothing like birds. When she saw the tails move slightly, she realized that they were alive.

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