Wednesday, February 22, 2006

What the heck?

Ted Eubanks of Galveston, Texas recently posted to TEXBIRD that the World Birding Center and Houston Audubon intend to search for the ESKIMO CURLEW. This, itself, is pretty interesting news. But what presently interests me more is the link he provided to the only known color photograph of the species taken by Don Bleitz in 1961 or 1962.

When I clicked to display a larger version, something about the picture didn’t look quite right to me. For one, the depth of field seemed a little odd – I noticed that the bush behind the bird seems to be in as good of focus as the bird itself. There is also something a little suspicious and unnatural looking about the contrast and lighting differential between the bird and the background.

I decided to google search on "Don Bleitz" and came up with a link that took me to the Texas Bird Record Committee website showing several black-and-white photographs of Eskimo Curlews (two birds?), including a black-and-white version of the above color image. After studying the images, something about the top and bottom pictures caught my eye, so I loaded both images into Photoshop to scrutinize them in detail.

I horizontally flipped the top image and resized the other image so the curlew was exactly the same pixel width in both images. Using the angle of one of the bird’s legs as a guide, I slightly rotated the bottom image clock-wise. Using the select tool, I cropped each image from the bird’s eye to what appears to be a stick near the ground or the bird’s hallux on the trailing leg. This rendered a very curious result to my eye – the birds in the two cropped images bear an uncanny resemblance. Look at the plumage patterns, lighting angle and how every mark matches perfectly.

I’ll concede there are some subtle differences, such as the curve of the bird’s bill, the leg width varies a little in places and the tail comes to more of a point in the bottom picture. I don’t know what kind of image manipulation technology was available in 1962, and I’m not questioning the authenticity of the top three images. But I am very curious about the bottom image, and additionally the colorized version of it.

The only thing I am certain of is that if they are indeed different pictures of the same bird (but what about that bill?), then one of them was flipped horizontally because there is undeniably no question in my mind that it is the same side of the bird upon close inspection of the plumage patterns.

Perhaps this is old news and the picture is known to be manipulated, but then what is it doing on a records committee website? Also, why fake an image for a records committee if you already have a couple other authentic ones? Unless for some peculiar reason it was necessary to put the curlew in the specific background we see in the bottom (and color) image.

What do you think? Am I completely off my rocker on this? Hmmm. Maybe you shouldn’t answer that.

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