Sunday, 25 September 2016

In Quieter Times





On the back of my last post about photographing Loch Ness by night, I noted the painting above. It was painted by George Melvin Rennie, a prolific Scottish landscape artist who lived from 1874 to 1953. The work above is entitled "Morning, Loch Ness", though the date of execution is uncertain. One biopic I found says this of him:

George Melvin Rennie (1874-1953) was a Scottish artist whose name at birth was MacDuff. He studied art part time at Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen and became a full-time artist during the WWI. He opened a studio in Braemar in 1924. His favourite subjects were in the Grampians, but he also painted landscapes of Argyll, Ayrshire, Arran and the west coast of Scotland. He was a prolific artist. He is listed in the Dictionary of Scottish Painters.

Now having taken my night time picture of Loch Ness at "The Wall", I wondered if the painting above showed the self same wall? The time difference is perhaps as much as 100 years, the road has undergone redevelopment and allowances also have to be made for "artistic license". Here is a Google StreetView of the same stretch of road.




Well, it may not be that area, but if Rennie was paying attention to his shadow work, then the title of "Morning, Loch Ness" indicates it shows a scene from the south side of the loch where the Wall is. Anyway, the point relates to land sightings of the Loch Ness Monster.

Observe the pastoral scene of a shepherd leading his flock of sheep along the road in a southerly direction towards Inverfarigaig. This was the backdrop for such monster activity. Cars were a rare phenomenon and the road was a much, much less dangerous place for animals (only last week I drove past the fresh corpse of a deer on the same road).

If the area was safe enough for sheep to be herded, it was safe enough for a monster to make its rare excursions onto land - and indeed form the kernel of truth behind the land based Water Horse legends. But those days are gone now. Much of the roadside is fenced off, lined with crash barriers or overgrown with large trees.

The Wall may be one of those stretches where an amphibious creature could get onto land. However, the area on the other side of the road is quite a steep incline into forest interspersed with hard rockface. It is not clear to me what incentive would motivate a large creature to lumber onto this particular stretch.

I also have a postcard from the 1930s which depicts a similar car-less scene, though this is not the same place (it may be near Abriachan). The message is pretty much the same though. 


 

By the way, if you wish to purchase this painting, it is on eBay just now at this link


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com

 


 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

In The Dead of the Night






"As darkness settled over the Great Glen I began to realise what a strange place I had come into. After sunset, Loch Ness is not a water by which to linger. The feeling is hard to define and impossible to explain. But there are reasons for all things and it is true that the soul of man was not forged in a day. Our genes have come down over a million years, from hutments and lake-dwellings, from dark gorges and cold caves. The seat of man's deepest instincts was planted sometime before the Pleistoscene; our subconcious has accumulated many strange impressions and none of these can be gainsaid. After dark I felt that Loch Ness was better left alone."

So said Ted Holiday in his book, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness", over a generation ago in regard to his first expedition to the loch. I was not even born when Holiday arrived there in 1962. But this week I stood along the same stretch of lonely road fifty four years later and took the picture above as a nearly full moon shone upon the loch's wavering waters.

However, the troubled thoughts Ted Holiday had concerning a dark Loch Ness did not really impact me as I stood there at about five thirty in the morning near the end of one of my regular night runs between Inverfarigaig and Dores. The road's official designation is the B852 but I nickname it "Monster Alley" due to its high proportion of reports of Nessie on land.

Of course, when one is on their own in moonlit darkness by the side of a loch with a monstrous reputation, they might feel some unease. There is the evil that lingers from Boleskine House just about a mile away plus nearby stories of necromancers and ghouls assaulting monster hunters. But, I think I was more inclined towards serenity as I scanned the peaceful scene before me and the waves lapping against the stones below what is called "The Wall".

With the dashcam camera attached to the car windscreen, I recorded the whole trip and anything of interest that happened along the way. This nine mile stretch of road just before dawn is the best situation for witnessing a land sighting, though the odds are still very much against anyone being party to such an extraordinary prospect. It is a mystery within a mystery as to why these creatures make these rarest of rare appearances.

The basics of such cases were laid out in this article, but since 1960 there has been only thirteen claimed land reports. That is about one every four years for the entire perimeter of the loch. Clearly, one should not bet the house on having such an experience even with the best intentions and preparation.

That said, the raison d'etre behind these night runs is not just monstrous. I have been conducting deer studies as I plow these dark miles and now have a better understanding of the behaviour of deer in regard to the sceptical use of them in such monster cases. I will use these in future articles.

A video of the same scene is below (though the uploaded video is never as good a quality as the original). More on my recent trip to Loch Ness will follow.


video


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com




Thursday, 15 September 2016

It's Getting Crazy at Loch Ness - Time to Visit!

I will be driving off to Loch Ness soon as I take a few days break. With the recent photographs of dorsal fins and strange looking water disturbances, I feel a bit more stoked than usual as I think through the activities that will be done. That is also set against messages I am getting that some new and potentially better photographs will soon be published. I haven't seen them, so it's really a matter of wait and see.

In fact, another photograph hit the news as I was typing this article and it produced a very weird looking "animal". It was taken halfway between Dores and Inverfarigaig last Saturday afternoon by an Ian Bremner who claimed he did not notice it until he reviewed his images later. The original story can be found here.



Now when I zoomed in on the head, my first thought was "seal". But, of course, the rest of a seal does not normally look like what followed. A classic head and two humps or three seals swimming in a line? The mind began to boggle ... first the dorsal fin of a dolphin and now three seals chasing each other. Loch Ness is getting crazy these days.

But I recalled what fellow monster hunter, Gordon Holmes, said to me only five days ago from his base at Loch Ness:

I went down to the shore next to the new floating jetty at 8.43pm. Then immediately saw the outline of a small, say 17 inch wide domed dark head which seemed to be aware of my presence and just sank within less than one second. This was at the very extreme dregs of daylight. Too dark to confirm additional sightings ... 65% percent certain, it was a seal.

Looks like your powers of observation could be correct, Gordon. But three seals? Not likely, but possible. In fact, when I saw the picture, it reminded me of this photo I clipped a while back from Whipsnade Zoo in 1955.


And how could we forget that amusing manatee cartoon!




But, if these are three seals, it is still a remarkable picture. However, like the dorsal fin, I would expect some confirmatory pictures. After all, three seals in Loch Ness, should not be so easily hidden. Perhaps I will spot them myself as I head up to the loch this weekend.

Meanwhile, the weather forecast for Loch Ness doesn't look too bad and so I hope to do my usual routines plus some new stuff. I also intend to be at the "Monster Masterclass" run by Jacobite Cruises on the 18th September which will include Nessie stalwarts Steve Feltham, Gary Campbell and Willie Cameron. You can find out more details at this link.

Meantime, I leave you with this video I put together recently.  It is one of my dawn runs by car up "Monster Alley". This is the stretch of road between Inverfarigaig and Dores where the monster has been most reported coming onto land. What better way to relax than drive up this road as darkness is beginning to recede with the possibility of running into a nocturnal Nessie fleeing from the light like some aquatic vampire?!

Okay, that's a bit tongue in cheek as land reports of the monster are even rarer than water sightings and the odds of one being near the creature in such a scenario is very small. But still, I do this run every trip with my dashcam camera attach to the car window ... just in case.

The stillness of the night and the complete absence of anyone else does focus the mind a bit more. I am also not quite certain what my strategy should be if a 30 foot long creature does emerge from the forest to the loch? Run it down and solve the mystery forever or get as much recorded data as possible and let it go? I think the answer is obvious. But who knows? Perhaps I will film a "huddle" of three seals crossing the road!

You can play the 25 minute video at this link.



The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com



Tuesday, 13 September 2016

A Little Known Nessie Sighting

I got an email from Phil, who follows this blog and sent me some scans from Lea MacNally's 1968 book, "Highland Year". Lea MacNally was an expert in Highland wildlife, with the emphasis on deer as he was a deer stalker. However, it turns out he was also a believer in the Loch Ness Monster and has a sighting to tell off in his book which I reproduce below. I don't think this report made it into the "records".




Loch Ness has the distinction, perhaps not altogether enviable, of being known throughout Britain as the home of `the monster'. To me, the fact that its banks afford shelter to a rich variety of wild life is much more of an attraction than any monster. The existence of 'something' in Loch Ness was held as a matter of course by the old folk of the district, and one veteran ex-stalker told me that it was never referred to as 'the monster' then but simply as 'the big beast'!  The fact that it was seen on occasion was accepted without fuss or publicity until the newspapers got hold of it and it became a cause for country-wide speculation.

I myself, though I was born near Loch Ness and have spent most of my life overlooking it, have never seen the monster. But my wife, not a native of the district, has — and this only a year after she came to live here, a sighting which she has never publicized, and indeed has told to no one but myself. She saw it on a clear sunny June afternoon as she walked down the road from our house with Loch Ness, still as a millpond, before her. An object, as she later described to me, like the dark-coloured head and neck of a giraffe broke the calm, still surface of the loch and proceeded at speed across it, leaving a V-shaped ripple behind it. As suddenly as it had appeared so did it submerge, and within moments the loch was like a mirror again. I envy my wife this sighting, and though I have never seen the monster myself I am convinced that there is something strange in Loch Ness. Many reputable people of my acquaintance have seen 'something'; too many for me to presume to deny its existence.

Admittedly, there is not much to go on as it is not a detailed report. However, it was MacNally's own thoughts on the phenomenon that were equally as interesting. He tells us that the "big beast", as it was known, was an accepted part of the loch before 1933. Note no publicity pursued it in those earlier days which is consistent with the small number of reports we have in 19th century media. 

Finally, too many people had seen "something" to deny its existence. MacNally would have been a frequent observer of the loch. His knowledge of those waters as well as his knowledge of deer and other wildlife clearly did not lead him to think there were "normal" explanations for what was going on at Loch Ness.

Mr. MacNally, Fellow of the Edinburgh Zoological Society and the National Trust for Scotland’s first ranger ecologist, I can only agree with you!

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com






Friday, 9 September 2016

Yet Another Mysterious Picture





No sooner has the discussion about the strange dorsal fin at Loch Ness photo began to subside than another one appears in the Daily Mirror today. This photo appears to show two large objects, each  estimated at 10 metres long, making their way along the loch and was taken the day before our aforementioned fin photo and was in the same area of the loch, opposite Inverfarigaig, where Kate Powell photographed that mysterious dorsal fin.



My first reaction was to check for anything indicative of a dorsal fin, but since the picture was taken at a distance of 400 metres, it is too far to make out such detail. Something barely breaks the surface on the two objects, but who knows what they are indicative of.

The article mentions the possibility of two flippers visible in the picture propelling the object, and one can see two water disturbances either side of the object to the right. However, I cannot ascertain if that is the words of the witness, Ian Campbell, or the editor's words.

Whether this has anything to do with the recent dorsal fin picture is hard to say. But two dolphins? This loch is beginning to get a bit too crowded, so I'll suspend judgement on this picture, let the usual waves, logs and birds explanations have their say and move on.

Original account:

It's the creature that's terrorised the water's of one of the UK's deepest lakes for decades - but now it turns out Loch Ness could actually be hiding TWO monsters.

A new photograph snapped at the Scottish loch has revealed what looks like a duo of swimming animals in its depths side by side. Ian Campbell was on a bicycle ride with his son and a family friend when he spotted two big 'creatures' apparently swimming across the Loch together. The 56-year-old, who says he is not a man 'given to flights of fancy' is convinced that what he saw and pictured from around 400 metres away were both around ten metres in length.

In one of the pictures it appears that whatever was in the water was propelling itself along using its two flippers, one at each side of its body. If what Mr Campbell pictured was a type of hitherto undiscovered creature, then it could mean that the Loch Ness monster has been breeding - or, on the day he saw it, swimming around with an offspring or mate.

Mr Campbell was around five miles south of the village of Drumnadrochit on the western shores of Loch Ness while on a 40-mile bicycle ride between Fort Augustus and Inverness on hill tracks on August 21 with his son Fraser, 13, and family friend Mrs Karen MacPhee, 54, when the two shapes appeared in the water.

Mr Campbell's son also saw the 'creatures' but Mrs MacPhee was cycling some way behind and did not get a good look. Mr Campbell says they watched for around 30 seconds before losing sight of the objects but he managed to take a photograph using the camera on his phone.

He says: "At the time we saw it we had stopped for a rest and to admire the view. It seemed to appear suddenly from nowhere. "I said to my son: 'What is that in the water?' He said to me that it looked like a big animal. "I said 'I think you're right' and grabbed my camera phone to take a picture.

"We watched for around 30 seconds before it disappeared from view and by that time Karen had caught up and she saw it for around five seconds. "We talked about it afterwards obviously and we just had no idea what it could be. I would estimate they were ten metres in length and I took the picture from around 400 metres away.

"I was saying to my son that we had just seen the Loch Ness monster and he was saying 'Yes, right'." Mr Campbell, of Taynuilt, Argyll, who works as an environmental health regulatory officer for Argyll and Bute Council, said he knew the area well. It was a calm day and he had never seen anything like that before.

"I am convinced that what I saw was two creatures,' he said.



The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com



Wednesday, 7 September 2016

That Dorsal Fin Photograph





It is now over two weeks since a photo of a mysterious fin like object was taken at Loch Ness. The picture was published in the Daily Mail the following week, and one week on from that there has been debate but no unanimous conclusion as to what is in the picture.

The opinions vary from a live dolphin swimming in Loch Ness, a hoax fabricated by digital manipulation software (usually referred to as "photoshopping"), a gull flying low over the water, debris, a predator bird struggling to rise from the water with its prey and, finally, some attempts to see a long neck of the Loch Ness Monster from a view of  forced perspective.

Now, it is often opined that we do not get clear enough images from Loch Ness. Well, we have one now, but still people can't agree as to what they are looking at!  My own definition of a "clear image" is one that you don't need an "expert" to tell you what you are looking at and I think that applies here. My guidance on this is simple - if this picture was taken in the nearby coastal areas where we know dolphins and porpoises swim, I suspect there would be near unanimity that it showed a dorsal fin. However, it was taken at Loch Ness and so a different mindset kicks in and some near Orwellian attempts to tell you what you are "really" looking at have ensued.

So, to restate my own opinion, it's a dorsal fin. The only argument is whether it is a real dorsal fin or a fake dorsal fin. A fake one could be someone swimming with a model fin on their back, but that is a theory I don't think anyone is taking seriously. The other is a digitally manipulated image.


PHOTOSHOPPING?

Having been granted access to the original image, I ran it through some tests in order to find any signs of manipulation as well as consulting a photographic expert (with thanks). For those of you interested in that sort of thing , the device was a Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone with a 16mp camera, using the equivalent of a 31mm focal length and shutter speed of 1/1100 of a second (therefore motion blur unlikely).  Some experiments taking shots outside suggested a one foot high object would be 160 metres from the observer.

I ran the original image through a suite of analysis functions available at fotoforensics.com. The first was an ELA or Error Level Analysis. This works on the principle that a JPEG image should uniformly and roughly have the same level of data compression (JPEG is a process which compresses the original image to a smaller file size but usually with the loss of information). Any differences in compression rate in an image is suggestive of digital modification.




What I was looking for was the object's ELA to stand out more from the rest of the surrounding image. The result was pretty inconclusive, mainly because the object occupies a very small portion of the image. In fact, it only occupies 0.01% of the image which I do not think lends itself to accurate metrics (screen grabs shown below).




However, as a comparison, I ran a photograph of the derelict pier at Dores Bay through the ELA as well. I picked this because the dark, distant posts in the picture offer similar dimensions and tones. The result was pretty much similar to the fin picture, so I conclude there is nothing suspicious from the ELA point of view. The top picture below is the relevant portion of the original photo.




The second analysis tool is JPEG Quality. Each time an image file is opened in a graphics editor and resaved, there is a potential loss of image quality (this depends on the quality level selected). The loss of quality can be estimated and compared to other images. The JPEG quality came out as 96% which is pretty high and suggestive of a lack of image editing. The comparison photo from Dores came out at a lower percentage.



Each digital picture is accompanied by a metafile called the Exif file which contains information about the picture. On examining this, the date and time was set to 14:04:10 on the 22nd August 2016, which is consistent with the report. Steve Feltham said he examined the image the day after and he confirmed that the Daily Mail's "lady in the tea room" who saw it on the day it was taken was the Waterfall Cafe at Foyers. These facts are consistent with the image not being tampered with.

The other point regarding digital manipulation is that some have observed an area around the fin which it is claimed points to the image being added to the picture. You can see this above the fin in the zoomed in picture below.




What I would say is that this blurriness occurs elsewhere on the picture and may be there in combination with possible spray from the blowhole of the dolphin as the pictures below show. By the time the blowhole has submerged in the picture, the water droplets are dropping around the dorsal fin.

Another possibility (perhaps in combination with the first) is that the smudging is a result of the approximation of the data or noise reduction. Of course, the analysis could be more thorough and we could be up against a master photoshopper, but I doubt that.





 
BIRDS

A quick word on the idea that we are looking at the back of an osprey here. These birds of prey have dark backs and a whiter head. This loose connection with the white tip on this dark fin as a whole has been overegged to present us with the opinion that it is such a bird trying to drag a fish out of water. I compare two images here.



 

Now one could spend ages finding the best fitting image for these, but they are not the same creature to me. There are no detail of feathers or colour changes on the Loch Ness image; indeed the object in the loch looks too dark to be an osprey. The only reason for this osprey interpretation appears to be that part of the osprey's head is white.

If one claims that the light levels were too low, the uncropped picture shows a sunny day with blue skies and some cloud while an analysis of where the sun was on that day gives us the yellow line on the chart below indicating that the observer was between the object and the sun suggesting that there was plenty of sunlight to illuminate detail such as plumage and tones. We see none and the colours are more consistent with that of a dolphin's drab dorsal fin.


 

SO WHAT IS IT?

It's a dorsal fin. I know one cannot state such things with 100% certainty, and perhaps all that you have just read is "McScience" as some critics claim of this blog. But I would rate this interpretation higher than strange birds or curiously shaped debris. The problem is of course evident (and why some have forced other interpretations upon the picture); dolphins do not live in Loch Ness and all would agree it is exceedingly difficult for one to get into Loch Ness. I emailed the Lighthouse Field Station which is a base for research and training in marine ecology in the Cromarty Firth near Inverness and got this reply:

Would need convincing this isn’t photoshopped – and even then am not convinced it’s even a bottlenose dolphin – certainly not one we know.

That email made me wonder what I was looking at if even a local expert was not convinced it was a local dolphin or even a bottlenose. The other issue is lack of corroboration. A dolphin should be active enough on the surface to be seen again and hopefully recorded. So far, no more images have turned up. I say that with the proviso that I have no idea how long a saltwater beast like the dolphin can survive in the colder, freshwater environment of Loch Ness. For all I know, it could be dead by now and at the bottom of the loch.

The dolphins proposed in 1979 by Robert Rines of the Academy of Applied Science (shown below) to hunt Nessie were trained by being acclimatised to the loch's colder waters and would only have been released for a few hours a day. Today's dolphin (if indeed that is what it is) has no such advantage.



Steve Feltham told me that there were two reports by locals who witnessed something that could have been the same object. However, what was really desired was more footage of the animal photographed by other tourists. These may exist and it requires the owners to take a closer look at their footage. The best hope here may be someone getting in touch with the Daily Mail.

But, is it really that difficult to spot a dolphin in Loch Ness? Without another case to compare with, we don't know. The best comparison would be seals which occasionally get into the loch. Studies of a seal which entered the loch in 1983 concluded it would be very difficult to spot it unless you spent many hours close to the water. Even then, the seal under study confined itself mainly to the quieter south side of the loch away from tourist boats.

CONCLUSION

Something was swimming about in Loch Ness in late August. The photograph suggests a dolphin, but even that particular identification has been questioned by a local wildlife expert. This photo has been treated a bit like photos of Nessie and challenged because dolphins simply cannot get into Loch Ness under their own steam. Hence the reason why Steve Feltham suggested a rogue fishing boat dumped the animal there.

It's a theory that resolves a conundrum, but no one has come forward with a confession (if they were that bold). One could semi-seriously suggest the cetacean got in via the notorious underwater channel attributed to the Loch Ness Monster, but that is explaining one mystery with another.

Could it be our monster after all? As explained in my previous article on the Adams/Lee picture, reports of fin-like objects tend to be of the triangular variety and are assumed to be humps. That interpretation could be wrong, but no one I am aware of has reported a thin fin.

Ultimately, this episode has proved to be no more than another opportunity for debate and a chance to exercise some photo analysis tools. Unless more information is forthcoming, we know a dolphin from beyond the Moray Firth somehow got into Loch Ness and will likely makes its grave there.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com


Saturday, 3 September 2016

Whatever Happened to Alastair Boyd?

In between discussing the latest news, theories and old stories from Loch Ness, this photograph was emailed to me by eBay as part of the auto-search I have set up with them. It is a photograph of monster hunter, Alastair Boyd, taken in 1985. As the title says, what happened to this great stalwart of the Nessie hunt from the 1970s and beyond?





Alastair is perhaps best known for his co-authored work on the expose of the Surgeon's Photograph, published in the 1990s which sent ripples through the cryptozoological community. However, what some may not know is that Boyd was an ardent believer in the monster, despite this expose. He had his own sighting of the creature back in July 30th 1979 as he related in the 1999 documentary, "The Beast of Loch Ness":

NARRATOR: Boyd's experiment shows that a one-foot model can produce an image much like the surgeon's photo. The picture might be a hoax, but Boyd has no doubt that the creature in the Loch is real.

BOYD: I know that the thing I saw was not a log or an otter or a wave or anything like that. It was a large animal, it came heaving out of the water, something like a whale. I mean the part that was actually on the surface when it stopped rolling through was at least 20 feet long. It was totally extraordinary. It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen in my life. And if I could afford to spend the rest of my life up here looking for another glimpse of it, I would.

The pictures below are sketches of what he saw (with thanks to Scott Mardis) as well as a picture of Alastair and his wife, Sue.






From this we see there were two types of monster hunters who came out of the 1960s and 1970s. Those who saw the Loch Ness Monster and those who did not. Some of the latter came out of that era frustrated. That frustration begat disappointment which begat anger which begat contempt and even hatred for those who still dare to hold to the "old ways".

And that includes those in the former category, who are neither sceptic or believer, but I would more liken unto "knowers". To that exclusive band we include the likes of veterans Alastair Boyd, Roy Mackal and so on. They saw it and that is all that matters.

Where Alastair is now is unclear to me. I have an inkling as to towns and so on, but if he has an Internet presence, he keeps it well hidden. Like other researchers of old, he has tended to step back in these days of online social media. Whatever the reasons, Alastair, if you're able, drop me a line. I'd love to hear from you!

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com