Jun 19, 2006 — Pat Grether is a skeptical person.
The 53-year-old mother and grandmother doesn't believe in ghosts or goblins or monsters or UFOs or aliens or Bigfoot. As far as she's concerned Elvis is dead, and the Loch Ness Monster, infamous legend of her native Scotland, is a myth.
She's not crazy, nor does she drink or partake in the kinds of substances that would result in a person seeing a huge, scary bird in her backyard.
Which happened last Monday morning, she said.
Her dog, a 6-month-old chow named Bear, was in the backyard of her home on Leaf Street in Brandywine Crossing in Manchester Township. Beyond the fence is a grassy hill, home to a bunch of groundhogs. She has no neighbors to the back of her house.
It was about 10 when she heard Bear yelping and barking and generally carrying on like a bird large enough to carry her away had landed just on the other side of the fence.
Grether went outside to see what the problem was. It sounded like something had frightened Bear, she said, something big, scary and weird.
Pat saw it as soon as she walked out the door. At first, she thought it was one of those big kites kids sometimes fly in the field. But it wasn't.
It was a bird.
A huge bird.
"It looked like a Cadillac," she said.
If that's so, it was the avian equivalent of an Escalade.
Huge doesn't do it justice.
It was black, except for white feathers on the tips of its wings and what appeared to be a white ring around its neck. It didn't look like any bird she knew. She knows what eagles look like, and it wasn't an eagle. She knows what vultures look like, and it wasn't that either. "Vultures have that turkey face," she said. "It didn't have a turkey face."
Most striking was the bird's size.
By her estimation, the bird had a wingspan of 18 to 20 feet.
Considering that California condors - the largest bird in North America, which, of course, is not native to this region - has a wingspan that approaches 10 feet, that's a lot of bird.
The huge bird perched in the field, just beyond her fence.
"I was shaking," Grether said. "I was scared to move. It takes a lot to scare me. Nothing scares me. But this did."
Bear, brave creature that he is, crouched behind her. "Bear was scared to death," she said. "And chows aren't scared of anything. They hunt lions."
Had it been a lion behind her house, she would have been all set and would have been able to sic Bear on it, or at least she wouldn't have been as upset as she was by the sight of a bird of prehistoric proportions. (It didn't appear prehistoric, Grether said.)
"If it had been a lion, I would have said, a lion, OK," she said. "But this ..."
She froze, and after what seemed like a long time, the bird took to wing and flew off toward the south, toward York.
Then, she went inside and called her husband, Glenn, to tell him that she wasn't crazy, but she had just seen a huge bird behind their house. Her husband didn't think she was crazy. If she said she saw it, she saw it.
She and her husband later checked the Internet and couldn't find any birds that resembled the one she says she saw. She has her video camera charged and ready to go in her kitchen in case it comes back.
"I know it sounds crazy," she said. "But I'm not crazy. I know what I saw."
And it was huge bird, bigger than any bird native to these parts.
Francis Velazquez, a naturalist at York County's Nixon Park, said he'd never heard of a bird that big. He said it could have been an immature eagle or a vulture, but neither of them have wingspans of 18 to 20 feet. A full-grown eagle, he said, may reach 9 feet, but that's about as big as it gets. He said sometimes, particularly with people not familiar with birds, it's difficult to judge a bird's size and wingspan.
But 18 to 20 feet? "I don't know of anything that big," he said. "That's monster-sized."
It wasn't a monster, Grether said. It was a bird.
And she hopes someone else saw it.
"It's impossible for a bird that size to be around and nobody else see it," she said. "I just want to know if anybody else saw it."
She hopes it won't become the York County version of the Loch Ness Monster.
Which she doesn't believe in anyway.
MIKE ARGENTO, June 23, 2006
York Daily Recorder
Jun 23, 2006 — There have been several reported sightings - maybe - of the giant bird that scared the ------ out of Pat Grether's chow puppy Bear a couple of weeks ago in Manchester Township - which, maybe, clear up the mystery of the avian monster, or perhaps cloud the situation even further.
But, as you will see, there apparently is a huge bird, or pair of huge birds, or something of the like, terrorizing the dogs of York County.
OK, maybe not terrorizing.
Or it could all be an appearance of a mythical creature, sort of a Big Foot of the sky, which I'll get to.
Before that, it bears reporting that about a dozen people called and e-mailed to report that they, too, may have seen the giant bird that Grether reported seeing just beyond the fence of her backyard. The reports place the bird anywhere from northern York County to the Nashville area to York city and points between.
Don Julius, a retired computer repairman who lives on his family's farm in Washington Township, near the Conewago Creek, said a few weeks ago, he was outside when he saw a huge shadow moving across the ground. He glanced up and saw a large bird.
"I never saw anything like it before," he said.
He said it was mostly black with some white markings. He thought maybe it was a seabird, a petrel of some kind. "I looked up at it, and it kind of circled me, like it was checking me out," he said.
Joann Bollinger of Dover Township was taking her husband for a drive around his old stomping grounds in Nashville, off Route 116 toward the Lincoln Stone Quarry in Thomasville, when she topped a hill and spotted two huge birds in a field.
"I stopped the car and backed up to get a better look at them," she said. "They were huge."
She said they were bigger than eagles or turkeys or just about any bird she's ever seen. She said they were about the size of a 25-pound turkey "spread out."
"I've had 25-pound turkeys in my oven, and these things were at least that big," she said.
Juanita Hall of Manchester Township, a little north of where Grether lives, saw the huge bird from her kitchen window. It sat in the field behind her house and took to wing as she watched. At first, she thought it was a vulture, but it didn't look like a vulture.
"I'm a birder, and it's not something I've ever seen in Pennsylvania," she said. "Whatever it was, that bird was not where it's supposed to be."
John Vacero of Windsor Township was driving on Mount Zion Road a couple of weekends ago, stopped at the traffic light at Sherman Street, when out of the corner of his eye he saw something swooping down on a piece of roadkill.
"I jumped initially, due to the sheer size of the object, and when I looked over to where it had landed, I saw the - hands down - biggest bird I've ever seen," he wrote in an e-mail. "There was no question in my mind, as I know I have never seen anything close to its size."
The bird's wingspan, he reported, was "easily 10-12, maybe 15 feet."
The various descriptions of the bird set its wingspan at anywhere between 8 feet to 20 feet. One thing is constant - they all describe the bird as black, with white markings, and looking like no other bird they've ever seen.
James Taylor - not that one - reported seeing a huge bird in the backyard of his Codorus Furnace home, one that caused his black shepherd named Jaeger to experience paroxysms of fear - something from a dog that Taylor describes as fearless. That bird turned out to not be as mysterious. It was a peacock that's been haunting his neck of the woods for some time now, keeping people up at night with its caterwauling.
And then, another alert reader, a truck driver from Littlestown named Cliff Myers, called to report that he heard something on the Coast-to-Coast radio show some time back about giant birds in Pennsylvania, that they roosted in the Black Forest, wherever that is, and, in the 1700s and 1800s were credited with carrying away cattle and such.
The subject of the radio show, apparently, was the legend of the Thunderbird.
One of the first recorded appearances was in the April 26, 1890, edition of the Tombstone Epigraph, which told the tale of two cowboys who shot a giant bird in the Arizona desert. The story said the bird measured 92 feet in length, with a wingspan of 190 feet.
That's one big bird.
Another report, from the Boston Evening Globe from July 28, 1977, described a giant black bird that attempted to carry off a 10-year-old boy in Illinois.
The kid's mom told the reporter that the bird carried the kid for about 20 feet before dropping him. Another story, recounted on About.com, has a big bird snatching a puppy in Kentucky.
Closer to home, here in Pennsylvania, there've been reports of huge bird sightings in Coudersport, Clinton County, and Jersey Shore.
The legend has it that the bird originally nested in the mountains along the Pennsylvania-New York border and has migrated south to, I guess, snatch puppies and small children.
It still doesn't come close to explaining the giant bird - or birds - that have been spotted here. Several people have speculated that the bird is a California condor with a very poor sense of direction. Others believe it may be a black vulture, which is common in Maryland and is known to venture into these parts to feast upon York County's superior stash of roadkill. Black vultures can be pretty big, with wing spans approaching five or six feet.
Yet another reader suggested that perhaps the sighting of the bird was caused by an unfortunate drug interaction or is an angel of doom set to prey upon us by Pat Robertson.
It'll probably turn out to be a blackbird that somehow got into Barry Bonds' stash of human growth hormone.
Mike Argento, whose column appears Mondays and Thursdays in Living and Sundays in Viewpoints, can be reached at 771-2046 or at email@example.com.
April 20, 2005
I know nothing about birds. I am no good at identifying birds. So what follows is my best description of the giant bird that attacked my car while driving on Braddock Road in Fairfax today.
The thing was like Rodan's cousin. Or maybe it was the drunk uncle of Hawkman from Buck Rogers. Or possibly it was the lazy Vulture from Looney Tunes. Whatever the hell it was, the bird was friggin gigantic.
Here's the scene.
I'm driving about 50 MPH up Braddock, cruising along the treeline, when suddenly this gigantic brown and white Hawk/Buzzard/American-Bald-Eagle-looking massive scary bird swoops out of the trees, dive bombing right into the hood of my car.
The bird then bounced off the hood and hovered, spreading its wings to full span which was (I swear) the width of my hood, and then it let out a blood-curdling screech.
Of course my moving car proceeded to whack the hell out of the hovering war-bird one more time before it recovered and flew next to my car until I outran it.
This is a true story. I am beginning to rethink my daily route to George Mason. First my car exploded into a giant ball of fire on Braddock Road and now giant birds are attacking me there.
One option would be to Metro to Fairfax each morning, but then I'm afraid King Kong would grab the train a-la the poster for the 1976 re-make. I could try driving 66 but then I'd probably get picked off by some sniper while stuck in traffic.
Anyway I look at my situation it is lose-lose. Of course there is no guarantee that the giant killer bird will remain exclusively on Braddock Road, hence my warning to all of you to be on the look out for this Aviarian Assassin in your neck of the woods.