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The heron that wasn't, and other weird stuff


I originally planned to have this post to be a fun post between Christmas and New Year but I never got round to it. I've been collecting bones for about six years now and in that time I have answered thousands of emails and messages, and been on hundreds of bone-collecting walks.

Most of the time it's interesting, but now and again I get a really funny story. So I've never told any of these stories before (apart from one I said in an interview recently). So because this week has been so busy (can't say why yet !) I'm going write about some of the funny stuff that has happened to me.

The heron that wasn't

Last year, just after I broke my leg, I got a phone call at home from a very nice old lady. She had read about me in a newspaper and gone to some length to find my home phone number (we're ex-directory) because she didn't have the internet. She told me she lived at a farm about six miles away, and would I be interested in a heron skeleton in one of her fields ?

I said, yes, definitely ! She gave me her address and the next day I got dad to drive me up, but first we stopped to buy chocolates and flowers for her. We found the farm, which was very old. The lady said she had lived there for 75 years, so I have no idea how old she was. I was on my crutches and she walked with two sticks two because she had just had two hips done.

The three of us, me, her and dad, went off to walk across the field. It took ages, because I was just getting used to my crutches, and she was getting used to her sticks. On the way she was talking about the skeleton. "My son thought it was a type of goose", she said, "but when I saw it I knew it couldn't be. Because it had teeth, you see".

I looked at dad and dad looked back at me, confused. Was it a goosander, which is the only duck with teeth (sort of) ? We turned a corner and there was the skeleton, or most of it:

"Is this the one ?", I said. "Because that's not a heron. It's a female roe deer".

"Are you sure ?" she said.

"Yes. I've seen loads. And it has four legs and hooves", I said.

She was very apologetic and I took it away for her anyway. I'd still like to find a heron skeleton !

Dad and the dead seabird

My dad is a photographer. He works for companies and magazines, and gets to travel around a lot and do all sorts of different stuff. Last year he spent three days photographing a big company event at the coast, where the company had sent 200 people for a big conference and team-building.

On the final day, he had to photograph them doing team building stuff on the beach, then do a big group shot of all 200 of them at the hotel. He was dreading doing the group shot, because although he works with people all the time, the people from this company had been quite cheeky and difficult to control and didn't do what they were asked.

During the team building he noticed a dead, skeletonised gull with feathers and wings still on. in the dunes at the edge of the beach, and he thought I'd like the skull. He waited until the end when everyone went to get drinks and food at tents higher up on the hill, then got a plastic bag and went to collect the skull when everyone was away. 

He looked along the beach, to make sure no-one was watching, then he put his hand in the bag, then went to get the skull. It was still attached to the body by dried tendons. He pulled harder. It still didn't work. He took out a penknife, cut through the tendons, then put his foot on the birds body and finally pulled the birds head off. Then he put the bag in his car, then went to the hotel to set up the group shot.

He was dreading this, because 200 people had to all looking at him at the same time, and they all had to listen to him to get setup correctly. But everyone arrived on time, and when he talked to them to explain what they needed to do, they all went deathly quiet. No-one made any cheeky comments. Everyone did what they were told the first time.

It wasn't until that evening when he was about to go home when the CEO told him what had happened. When dad went to get the skull, he didn't realise they could all see him from the tents further up on the hill. They didn't know what he was doing, or what my hobby was, so all they saw was him walking down, finding a dead animal, pulling off its head and putting it in his pocket. After that, they were so scared of him they did what they exactly were told first time.

The muntjac skull that wasn't

I get LOADS of emails and Twitter and Facebook messages asking to help identify skulls, and I am always glad to help, and if I don't know I try to ask others who do. There is nothing wrong with not knowing what a skull is, and it's always good to check. I don't normally write about people's emails here, or make they look silly, but this person did that all themselves.

A lady contacted me. A friend of hers had found a muntjac deer skull and skeleton in a wood, given it to her as a present, and wanted to know the best way to clean it. She sent me a picture of it.

I looked at the picture. "That's not a muntjac skeleton", I wrote in an email back.

She replied in her email: "It definitely is because the box said muntjac on it".

I replied: "There's no gap between the back teeth and front teeth, but there is on a deer. I think it's a juvenile fox, or small dog".

She replied: "That's an interesting opinion." She obviously didn't believe me.

I sent her links to picture of my deer skulls to try and persuade her. I also said that her animal had a fibula (the second bone in the lower leg) which deer don't have (well, they do, but it's merged into the tibia).

She didn't believe that either. She emailed an attachment. "Here's a picture of my fox skull, my muntjac skull, and my badger skull".

I looked at the picture. They were all fox skulls. I emailed her back telling me so. She stopped emailing me after that.

I thought that was the end of it until a couple of months later I was emailing Ben Garrod (the skeleton articulator and BBC TV presenter). Apparently, after she stopped emailing me, she started emailing him with the same pictures. He told her the same thing as me. He said he must have sent about a dozen emails and she still didn't believe him. 

She probably still thinks it's a muntjac now, just because it said so on the box.

If you've had a funny experience with bones, let me know and I might do another post of your stories !

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Ric said...

There was the class of primary school kids doing the litter pick on the South Uist beach that I had to keep dodging the day I found your seal cub, Jake... and I could probably tell you one or two about dead moles I stuffed into my outdoor boots under my desk at work... and the otter in the freezer I was keeping fresh before taking it to the taxidermist... How long have you got?!

Psydrache said...

Oh my, funny little stories - especially the one with your father xD
I have a similar story with my mum. I think I was 17 and there was a “small” flood in spring. We visited the shores of the lake and we found a death beech marten. It was more bones and tissues then something else anymore so I thought it was easy to pull the skull away. Negative, it stuck with the rest of the skeleton, like the gull of your father. I had a butterfly knife with me but the body was so “Yuck!” that I didn’t want to make it dirty. So my mum took a stone and smashed the vertebras between the body and the skull. It was an awkward view and I was happy that nobody saw it xD

Naelín said...

Well, one of my first bones was a skull that a friend gifted to me, saying "It has been in my house for years. I have no idea where is this from".
I was so, SO happy because it was beautiful and it looked like a goat! I love goats and it was one of THE skulls i most wanted in my collection. It was named Bolas in honor to Nicol Bolas (from Magic the Gathering) because it looked like a baby dragon and because Bolas sounds funny in spanish (I'm from Argentina)
So years after, I've uploaded a photo of Bolas and a fellow collectionist told me "That's not a goat! It's a whitetail deer!"
What? a Whitetail deer? We don't even have that in Argentina at all! But it is. Is a 1 year old male whitetail deer. Then I've learned the difference between horns and antlers, and the appearence of goats skulls.
Goat is still one of my most wanted skulls for my collection, and Bolas is still my very favourite piece of it.
Here's a photo of me and Bolas in the Argentina's Steampunk Day 2

Christine Sutcliffe said...

Ahahaha, those are brilliant! You'll have to do a follow-up book just for stories like these!

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