Something Fishy In Arkansas; Fowl Play Suspected

In 2007 I wrote a post about Charles Fort, a dogged and eloquent eccentric who spent his life in the pursuit of what he called “damned facts” — eyewitness accounts of inexplicable phenomena that had been cast aside and swept into the incinerator by smug Victorian science. In four immensely engaging books — I can assure you that you’ve never read anything like them — he presented, in incomparable style, thousands and thousands of such accounts, culled from news sources all over the world, dating back, in some cases, hundreds of years.

The phenomena in question included UFO sightings (many from before the invention of powered flight), poltergeists, sudden or unexplained disappearances, spontaneous combustion, teleportation, bizarre artifacts, and much more. One area to which he gave much attention was the falling of things from the sky: strange organic materials, flat sheets of ice, and animals such as fishes and frogs, often of unknown species, and often, for no apparent reason whatsoever, only a single species.

Mr. Fort would, I think, have been keenly interested to learn of recent events in Arkansas, where something very strange is afoot. It seems that thousands of red-winged blackbirds (and as far as I can tell, only red-winged blackbirds) fell dead from the sky on New Year’s Eve in the area around the town of Beebe: victims, apparently, of some “massive trauma”. The cause is as yet unspecified; those who abhor such explanatory vacua, and must fill them, have suggested that “a loud noise” might have been to blame.

A loud noise? It’s a dandy explanation, of course, and ought to settle the question — but as I head for the door I find myself turning back again, troubled, Columbo-style, by a nagging little detail. You see, the thing is that I have been around a lot of very loud noises in my day, and have even caused quite a few myself — and it strikes me that on no occasion did any of them, not even the very loudest, cause thousands of birds, of a single species, to drop lifeless from the firmament. So I wonder.

But wait: there’s more. It appears that fish are dying too, in the Arkansas River, where 100,000 or so of them have inexplicably gone to their reward, such as it may be, en masse. Once again the slaughter appears to be confined to a single species: in this case Aplodinotus grunniens, the freshwater drum. Does this seem odd to you, particularly in light of recent actuarial data for Agelaius phoeniceus? Well, it does to me too.

I seem to recall that there was yet another curious manifestation down there in the “Natural State” the other day, perhaps involving earthworms — but not having the tenacity of a Charles Fort, I’ll leave it to readers to dig that one up on their own. Worms or no worms, though, it’s a queer business, and wants looking into.

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  1. JK says

    Wormageddon didn’t actually happen “a few days ago” it was on last year’s first full day of Spring – strangely enough perhaps coincidentally, were one to draw a line splitting Arkansas at the mid-point north to south – the eastern portion was covered in a foot of snow while the western was covered in worms:

    Recall my squealing like a little girl [well ya’ll would’ve only heard me in a virtual sense] on New Year’s Eve morning about being awakened by a tornado siren?

    The westernmost red dot denotes a tornado touchdown and again perhaps coincidentally – the northernmost point at which the fishkill occurred (I think it extended for some 20 miles).

    Here’s the latest on the birds and the fish – but I’d call attention to a specific comment on the thread here in the offchance one stops with the Arkansas Fish and Game release:

    “The theory of hail does not explain the fact that these birds fell over a few hours starting Friday evening and lasting until Saturday. Since the birds all fell within a one mile area the extended time frame cannot be explained. Did the hail area stay put over a few hours so the birds could fly into it?”

    I’ve heard of some other “anomalies” but until I can obtain reliable confirmation(s) I’ll just leave it at that.

    Posted January 3, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Ah yes — well, we all know that the red-winged blackbird is particularly sensitive to hail (especially hail that fell about ten hours previously), and of course the freshwater drum is considered by most other fish to be a pushover for tornadoes.

    So there’s your answer.

    Posted January 3, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Permalink
  3. JK says

    And don’t forget – the “acute trauma” was sustained primarily in the area of the breasts of the birds. And since red-winged blackbirds are notorious for flying through previous hailstorms upside down…

    Except…except… that weather map doesn’t show any reports of hail in the area of Beebe. Of course the radar logs from Little Rock AFB contain hints of extreme weather.

    As far as the drum, you’re probably right – the only things I know about the species is how to spell the name and they ain’t much sought for by anglers.

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 12:40 am | Permalink
  4. Kevin Kim says

    My wild-eyed theory: CO2 eruption, like the one described here. Why only one species of bird or fish affected? I think that, upon closer examination, people will discover it’s not really just one species of each creature. Either that, or they’ll conclude that those particular species were affected because the phenomenon occurred in their habitat.

    The Snopes article I linked to involves a famous case in Africa, in which hundreds of people died when carbon dioxide suddenly erupted out of a lake bed in Cameroon in 1986. Amazingly, all the people who died were black Africans. Why? For the very mundane reason that they happened to live close to the deadly lake. The Snopes article also notes that many head of cattle perished. In all, the African incident points both to the idea that particular species might be affected, and to the idea that not only one single species might be affected. I also find the gas-eruption theory attractive because, in the African incident, the gas rose through water and into the air. A similar phenomenon in Arkansas could conceivably target birds and fish, even if it’s not carbon dioxide that’s to blame.

    But as I said, it’s just my wild-eyed theory.

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 2:04 am | Permalink
  5. Kevin Kim says

    I noticed that one of JK’s linked articles did indeed refer to “acute physical trauma” in the chest/breast area for the birds, but didn’t specify whether it was impact trauma. So again– eruption of something extremely poisonous that produced an insult to the birds’ circulatory and respiratory systems…?

    Just thinking aloud.

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 2:19 am | Permalink
  6. Kevin Kim says

    Strike that. This CNN report specifically says “acute physical trauma.” I take this to mean impact trauma, though I suppose there’s still some notional wiggle room, as a sufficiently powerful poison can cause its own form of “acute physical trauma.”

    The birds met a flock of leprechauns with shillelaghs, perhaps?

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 2:36 am | Permalink
  7. Personally, I consider these mass deaths to be unsuccessful instances of “sudden jihadi syndrome.” The fish and fowl decided to be neither fish nor fowl any longer and set out to inflict death upon the infidel. As with many such suicidal attacks since 9/11, the results have not been especially damaging in the West . . . but is Arkansas the ‘West’?

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 3:37 am | Permalink
  8. JK says

    Indeed Kevin, your onto something (yes “impact trauma” is in the necopsy reports).

    The Windwood subdivision was the site where a 1999 tornado impacted destroying several houses, the debris subsequently buried on-site. Later demolished buildings were then buried. For a short time ‘the area’ was used as a general purpose landfill. In 2001, the area was levelled over and houses began to be built.

    In 2002 the area was flooded and while “many of the affected residents returned, a sizeable minority chose never to return.”

    Here’s where I think you may’ve nailed it Kevin – the Windwood subdivision is built on land the EPA has designated a Superfund site.

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  9. JK says

    That would be, “you’re” – ( only checked because it suddenly occurred post-publish) Jeff’s theory cannot be dismissed out of hand.

    I’m not supposed to tell – but an anonymous innkeeper advises me, several geeky looking types are checking into rooms and paying with checks emblazoned with the logo – Department of Homeland Security.

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink
  10. JK says

    “I’ve heard of some other “anomalies” but until I can obtain reliable confirmation(s) I’ll just leave it at that.”

    Same species apparently…

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 10:58 am | Permalink
  11. JK says

    Malcolm, I almost wish you hadn’t posted all this stuff – you’ve opened the floodgates.

    Then again, I’m thinking maybe when Arkansas replaced all it’s Democrats with Republicans a plan was set in motion designed to thwart Obama’s DOJ taking actions similar to what happened when Arizona passed the anti-immigration law. We’ll only know for certain if the armadillos suddenly begin to croak.

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  12. JK says

    Unless somebody directs a question to me – this’ll be my final comment and link – I promise (well, on this thread anyway).

    Fairly recently, a pretty big natural gas deposit was discovered centered primarily near a town called “Guy” – because the gas is contained in shale, the drilling method being employed is the oft’ maligned so-called and ‘fraccing method’. I only mention “Guy” because as you’ll note, the town’s obscured by… well.

    Note the proximity to Beebe.

    Up to now I haven’t really thought much about the fish – but drum, as I understand it are ‘bottom feeders’ and the gasfield is called “The Fayettville Shale Deposits.” Fayettville being in the NW of the state – and located very near to the Arkansas River.

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink
  13. Kevin Kim says

    I must’ve been really tired when I wrote my 2:36AM comment, which flip-flops on the meaning of “acute physical trauma”: does the phrase, or does it not, refer to impact trauma? I appear to have been of two minds about it. But yeah, impact trauma seems the most likely interpretation of the news.

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Hi all,

    JK, I liked the hydro-fracking idea at first, but water is incompressible. Why would a fracking “event” affect only bottom-feeders?

    Anyway, there are lots of things slithering around at the bottom of the Arkansas River; it wouldn’t surprise me if there were a catfish or two, for example, that should have been whacked when fracked.

    Kevin, I do remember the Lake Nyos event very well indeed. But that lake sat on top of a magma chamber, which was where it got its carbon-dioxide. Anyway, CO2 outgassings hug the ground, and kill everything that breathes, and as far as I know it’s only red-winged blackbirds that have perished here. JK informs me that the area is a karst landscape, and of course dissolving limestone could produce CO2 (though not, I shouldn’t think, in anything like the quantities released in Cameroon, which happened when the whole CO2-saturated lake essentially “flipped over”), but has anyone reported a lethal gas emission in the area? And why just blackbirds?

    So far I think Jeffery’s theory is in the lead.

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink
  15. bob koepp says

    Blackbirds don’t normally fly at night. But, hey, it was New Year’s Eve, so why not be a bit flighty? Well, as might be expected, if you’ve got a bunch of birds flying blind (it’s dark, after all, and these are blackbirds), there are going to be a lot of mid-air collisions.
    Oh, and the fish died just to demonstrate solidarity with the birds.

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink
  16. JK says

    Well Malcolm, I’ve shifted hypotheses (I’m mainly working the birds rather than the fish) but while pointing out I’m no chemist or biologist, if it was a gas affecting the fish – perhaps such were it’s properties that it’s solubility and density confined it to the bottommost regions.

    Yet – there’s that “species specific thing” which is most perplexing.

    A curious coincidence regarding both the Arkansas and the Louisiana birdkills – both occurred on the 91st meridian, albeit some 48 hours apart (and although reports out of Louisiana mention a few starlings were affected as well, I’ve seen no photographic evidence in support).

    If I could travel back in time, I’d make one change. But it’d have nothing to do with birds or fish – rather the number of people who have my email address.

    I’d caution any of your readers who might normally be wagering on football games – a week ago I myself would have been laying down wads that Ohio State would cream my beloved Arkansas Razorbacks this evening – I think I’ll be keeping any betting to matchsticks. (Which in whatever case, will remain unstruck.)

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink
  17. JK says

    Louisiana Update:

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 4:31 pm | Permalink
  18. Very interesting, but all flocked up, I believe.

    One of the only guys who could make this stuff happen is Moses, who made swarms of locust come out of the woodwork and smite only first-born Egyptians. But Moses is long gone.

    The other guy, of course, is Dubya.

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink
  19. JK says

    Well TheBigHenry, you did notice my comment above where I posited “…when Arkansas replaced all it’s Democrats with Republicans…?”

    But I don’t think Dubya would be a likely candidate, Laura puts out bird feeders. Now Dick on the other hand…

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Permalink
  20. You mean he of the loose cannon and slippery shotgun fame? That Dick?

    Posted January 4, 2011 at 7:09 pm | Permalink
  21. JK says

    Well, it seemed like a pretty good explanation at the time – but I’ve reason to believe something else “may” have played a part. But obtaining proper data would likely prove time-consuming. The one I’m linking to is located in Arkansas – but there’s another in Pueblo Colorado, straddling the Arkansas River.

    Posted January 5, 2011 at 1:49 am | Permalink
  22. JK says

    I do wish I’d read the comments in reply to the above link first, since I mentioned earlier I was gonna be watching a football game. I am not “HawgsFan.”

    Well I was a Hog’s fan until Ryan Mallet threw that interception inside the ten with 38 seconds remaining and five points behind. I almost wish certain Michigan fans woulda done more protesting when he was considering his transfer.

    It probably wouldn’t have been so bad had I not been sitting in the living room of a couple who both graduated from Ohio State.

    Posted January 5, 2011 at 2:07 am | Permalink