Credibility of Pterosaur Sightings

Sightings in the last two weeks or so, of apparent pterosaurs—that’s not the subject, for it requires some time to get a sense of credibility for a particular report. The critical question is this: “Does at least one report of a pterosaur sighting come from an encounter with a modern living pterosaur?” (It matters hardly at all whether or not all reports are of actual living pterosaurs.) Judging accurately the credibility of a sighting report can take time.

2012 Lakewood, California, Sighting

Many times I have spoken with the eyewitness of the “dragon-pterodactyl” that she had encountered in her backyard in June of 2012, just a few miles from Long Beach, California. I have also spoken many times with other members of the household. Many of our communications have been face-to-face. I am convinced that no hoax was involved in this sighting report.

I have also found it difficult to imagine any misidentified bird. The lady insists there were no feather. In addition, she described a long tail and a structure at the tail end that strongly suggests a Rhamphorhynchoid tail flange (or vane). The eyewitness did not see the flying creature only for a moment; she had plenty of time to take in its features. She also saw it from different perspectives:

  • It sat on a cable just above her head
  • It flew away
  • It flew into a tree

Bird Misidentification

Do worldwide reports of pterosaur sightings come from misidentified birds? To really respond to that possibility, we need to examine each report in relation to one or more species of birds that just might have been misidentified. Grossly oversimplified insinuations about sightings in general and birds in general are worthless or worse.

Critic of a Pterosaur Sighting

The other day, a skeptic replied to the Youtube video of the 1944 “pterodactyl” sighting in New Guinea. He proposed that the encounter (west of Finschhafen, New Guinea) was just a misidentification of a bird:

“So this guy saw a large bird and in hindsight thinks it was a long extinct flying reptile?

“Seriously, anyone with two minutes and a computer can see that a Great-billed Heron in flight exactly matches the guys sketch. All the way down to the crest of the head and the fact that they grow quite large and are found in PNG.”

First, Hodgkinson did not see a bird; it was his first impression, in the first moments of his sighting, that a bird was taking off into the air, but he soon realized it was much too big. Second, it was not “hindsight” that relates to his idea that it was a “pterodactyl,” for that word came to him while he was standing there in that clearing in 1944. Third, he did say anything like “long extinct flying reptile.” Fourth, he did not draw any sketch, although he did choose, from among various sketches, the one that was closest to what he had seen (I had mailed to him a questionnaire).

The Great-billed Heron (Ardea sumatrana) has practically no head crest at all, nothing like what was chosen by Hodgkinson in his responses to the detailed questionnaire. Why does this skeptic use the phrase “exactly matches” with what is practically the opposite? Compare the following photos with a screen shot from the Youtube video in question (“Ropen-Pterodactyl American Eyewitness”):

Photo by GregTheBusker - Great-billed Heron

A Great-billed Heron (where is the pterosaur-like head crest?)

photo of a Great-billed Heron, by Jerry Oldenettel

Does the head of this Great-billed Heron look like that of a pterodactyl with a head crest? How imaginative is that skeptic!

Great-billed Herson - Ardea sumatrana - standing in water, probably in or near Singapore

Another Great-billed Heron that lacks a pterosaur head crest

Now from the Youtube video (“ropen-pterodactyl American eyewitness”):

Duane Hodgkinson chose #4 among possible head crest lengths (the longest) for the pterodactyl or ropen he observed

Hodgkinson chose #4 in his survey response for head crest length

The World War II veteran chose the longest length (for the head crest) from among four choices I gave to him in the survey form he returned to me. So why did the skeptic refer to the head crest as if it were an exact match for the head crest of the Great-billed Heron?

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religious/scientific nonfiction paperback: "Searching for Ropens and Finding God" by American author Jonathan D. Whitcomb

Searching for Ropens and Finding God – Walking by faith and working with people of other faiths in a quest for the discovery of modern pterosaurs

From page 205 of this nonfiction book:

“I was having a yard sale, so I was in the driveway at 5 a.m. I saw this huge bird with bat wings, at least a 20 ft wing span, flying towards me. I just turned and ran screaming into the house. The shadow it threw covered the driveway . . . my husband didn’t believe me. . . .”

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Memory Details in Pterosaur Sightings

Traumatic events, those that we immediately realize are important—those create memories that are much more acute, much more precise, and much less prone to decay over time.

Pterosaur Sightings not From Hoaxes

Wingspan estimates from 8-13 feet accounted for 30% (17) of those 57 reports, far too many if any significant number of hoaxers were involved with faking long-tailed pterosaur sightings, for 8-13 feet of wingspan is too big for Rhamphorhynchoid-type pterosaurs.

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