[This is from Robert Kline's excellent blog, Global Warming and Terraforming Terra]
I received the following witness account today (Monday):
New Kent is basically a swamp with islands of high ground. Because of the terrain, housing properties are kind of jammed together on "high ground" with lots and lots of alternating hill/steep ravine wooded land of the swampy kind between. We have all kinds of big birds in our area: Bald Eagles, ospreys, herons, turkey vultures, all kinds of hawks, wild turkeys, several kinds of geese, etc. so SEEING a bird in the road~no real surprise.
What made me stop the car 12 ft away from it was the fact the dang thing's head was taller than my hood! I could feel myself starting to grin that grin we do when we just CAN NOT BELIEVE what we are seeing and suspect a joke~ when it opened it's wings. I won't tell you what I said, then (you just use yer imagination).
I was on a 2 lane country road with gravel shoulders. This thing's wingtips were TOUCHING gravel on both sides!!! With two slow motion swoops (my window was down, radio off, and I actually HEARD it's wings pushing the air~it DID make a slow "ssshhwooop" sound), it was up and blotting out EVERYTHING ELSE in my windshield, banked left on a wingtip (LITERALLY completely vertical with a full view with the whole back of it's body) and glided into the woods between the trees. I remember craning my head over the steering wheel and up to see all of it as it banked.
I have NO IDEA how long I sat there in the middle of the road with my mouth open, totally blank, mentally, feeling like I had been slapped silly. The only word that surfaced was "Thunderbird!" Now, like most American kids, I had HEARD of Thunderbirds, but honestly, I had never given a single thought as to what they would look like. But that was the word that surfaced. I supposed, if you had asked me before that day, I would have drawn a Micmac totem pole style thing. THIS was not THAT.
When I finally cruised past where it had cut through the woods, you can BELIEVE I was looking for it. No sign. I immediately called my Man, feeling silly and NOT mentioning what I thought it was, and asked what bird in VA had a 15 ft wingspan (I wasn't brave enough to tell him it was more like 20 ft). He said none. The CA condor, but none here. To his credit, he didn't try to tell me I hadn't seen what I was describing, merely suggested that it may have seemed bigger than it really was due to proximity.
But here's the thing....my Beloved Grandfather was a Mountain man, a lifelong hunter and naturalist. He would take us camping my whole childhood, teaching us about wildlife from up close. He taught me how to estimate an animal's size from surrounding markers. And you can't GET more specific than a road-span. So...what the HECK did I see????
It was dark colored, looked a dark charcoal color while on the road, but it's feathers were a rusty red-brown when it launched into the sunlight. It's tail was a long triangle (with a very slight point on the end/center), like a hawks, it's wings..............................it's wings. Let me just say, it's wings were just unbelievable. I had a hard time looking at both at the same time, I had to look from one to the other. They weren't shaped like a hawk's, more like a sea gulls, if you can picture it. It's body was torpedo shaped, no neck to speak of and a flat head. Due to the angle, I didn't see it's face or beak and when I could see it bank, I was honestly trying to take in the wings and couldn't tell you anything about the shape of the head in flight. Though, I think if it HAD a long neck and extended it in flight, I would've noticed. The impression I got of the legs were "short and stubby" I didn't see the feet.
It's been sitting there, in the back of my mind, bugging the Hell out of me. What was it?? I've been trying to talk myself out of having seen it. I didn't try to look it up, because that would make it "real"...does that make sense? Tonight, I finally decided to try a search on line. "Largest bird in VA", "Wing spans of VA birds"~kind of searches. Nothing to match. The Man, always direct and honest, finally said "Search Thunderbird". Feeling sheepish, I did. Every description of "modern" Thunderbird sightings sounds like what I saw. Go ahead. Laugh. I don't blame you. You weren't there. A week ago, I would have done the same.