Reports of "beeping" sounds emanating apparently from invisible aerial sources were identified with the calls of small owls.
Spring 1967 this project received word that a state Department of Civil Defense had been investigating an unidentified sound in an area of the state. Wadsworth telephoned the same day to obtain more complete information about the sound, and to determine whether it might be connected with UFOs.
The investigation was being conducted by the warning officer and communications coordinator for the state's Department of Civil Defense, who gave further information. He described the sound as a repetitious beeping signal of practically unvarying period and pitch that had been heard regularly from the same location for a period of several weeks, continuing for hours at a time without interruption. The most puzzling aspect of the sound was the lack of any visible source. Witnesses had approached the apparent location, only to find that the sound seemed to come from directly overhead. This location was at the top of a hill in a wooded area to which access was difficult. However, local interest in the sound was so high that many individuals had hiked into the area to hear it. The sound reportedly began at 8:00 p.m. PST each night, and continued until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m.
Other aspects that the Civil Defense official reported were: The sound had been heard for about three weeks. It had been heard as far as two miles away from its apparent source. A similar sound (believed by some to be from the same source) had been received on a police patrol car radio at 150 megacycles while the sound was
being heard by persons in the above-mentioned area; visual UFO sightings had been reported in the general area of the sound during the same period. One sighting reported by two police officers and several FAA men occurred two days before the reported onset of the sound. A disc-shaped object was reportedly sighted passing overhead beneath an overcast ceiling of 1,000 feet. The sound did not alter perceptibly when people were in the area, even though they made noise, shone lights, or fired guns. When local time shifted from standard to daylight, the nightly time of onset also shifted an hour, indicating that the sound was oriented to real time, not clock time. The periodicity of the sound was approximately two beeps per second. Sometimes the sound source seemed to move as much as a quarter of a mile from its usual location in a few seconds, sometimes silently, sometimes beeping as it moved. One explanation for the sound that had been put forth was that it was the call of either a pygmy or a saw-whet owl, both of which are found in that area and emit calls similar to the reported sound.
A similar unidentified sound had been recorded elsewhere. Wadsworth took a tape recording of the sound under investigation and the other sound to an expert on bird calls. His opinion was that the latter was probably a saw-whet owl. The former, however, seemed unlike any bird or animal he had heard, although he could not be certain without knowing what distortions had been introduced by the tape recordings.
A decision whether to send out a field team was suspended until more could be learned about investigations already in progress. Any connection between the reported sounds and UFOs was speculation, and continued visual observations at the site of the sound had revealed nothing significant.
During the following week, significant new developments were reported. Sounds identical to that near the original location had been heard in other locations in the state.
The Civil Defense informant reported unusual animal reactions
in some cases. Frogs, which were numerous and loud in the area, had all become silent 10-20 seconds before onset of the sound, suggesting that they might be sensing some kind of energy other than the audible sound. At other times, the cows and dogs in the area had suddenly shown marked excitement, and then become suddenly quiet. In one instance, this pattern had been repeated three times before the beeping began.
On another occasion, a man whose house was at the bottom of the hill where the sound seemed to originate had been frightened by the sound, which he said came suddenly down from the hill and continued beeping loudly just above his house. He was standing in the yard, and the sound was so eerie that he could "take it" for only a few minutes before going into the house.
The Civil Defense coordinator felt that he was at an impasse, and urged that a team from this project be sent to investigate.
Spring 1967, Craig and Wadsworth went with three primary objectives:
When the team arrived, they met with the Civil Defense coordinator and staff to plan the investigation. It was decided what area would be the best location for a thorough surveillance of the sound, and a base was set up in a barn about a mile below the hilltop where the sound was usually heard.
Stereo tape equipment was set up in the barn, and microphones were located about a quarter of a mile apart. The sound usually had been clearly audible at this location.
It was learned that, although the beeps had been loud in all kinds of weather, there was a considerably better chance of hearing them on a clear night. It was also reported that on some occasions the sound was very faint and of such short duration that no accurate
location could be determined. It was not clear whether the occasions of fainter sound were due to distance or to a real drop in volume.
Equipment taken to the more inaccessible field site included: portable tape recorder; directional ultra-sonic translator; military infrared sniper scope; directional microphone audio detector ("snooperscope"); cameras loaded with infrared, ultraviolet, and conventional high-speed film; and two-way portable radios for communication with the operating base at the barn.
Shortly before the advance group reached the top of the hill (an hour's climb through steep, heavily forested terrain), the sound was heard. It lasted not more than 10 seconds and seemed to come from a direction different from its usual location. The team's subjective impression was that it sounded like a bird.
Throughout the night, and until 5:00 a.m., the sound was heard faintly eight or ten times for a few seconds each time. It did not seem to originate from directly overhead at any time, and the apparent direction and distance varied considerably. Part of this series was recorded on tape, but the sound was of low amplitude and brief duration. It was never heard at the main base below, so no high-quality tape was obtained.
Descriptions of an earlier observation had related that the sound had come from the top of a tall tree, then left the tree top and circled around it when someone climbed the tree. Although no bird had been seen in the darkness at the apparent source of the sound, and this description was similar in this respect to the farmer's account of the descent of the beeping source from the distant hill and its circling over his farm yard, such behavior certainly seemed owl-like. However, since the field team had heard only brief and distant emissions of the sound, they could not positively identify it.
Early the next evening, this team drove to a second site. The weather was rainy. Perhaps a dozen other cars were parked or cruising slowly by the area. The team heard no beeping sound during two hours of waiting.
The following morning, the team telephoned the county
Sheriff's office, which had been handling the local investigation to ask whether the sound had been heard during the previous night. They were told that a bird had been shot by a farmer who lived adjacent to the second location. He had told the sheriff that, when the sound began the night before, he had gone out with a light and gun, shot the bird while it was beeping, and brought it in as evidence.
The owl was identified as a saw-whet by a local biology teacher. Despite this identification, some local persons expressed skepticism that the dead owl had been the source of sounds that they believed to be too constant in pitch and period to be generated by a bird. They questioned whether the farmer, who had been subjected to much harassment by the public, might not have produced the owl, hoping to put an end to these difficulties.
Tape recordings of the sound, made both before and during the project investigation, were later analyzed sonographically and compared with sonograms of recorded calls known to have been made by pygmy, saw-whet, and ferruginous owls. The original comparison was made with calls recorded in Peterson's Field Guide to Western Bird Calls. Later, other recordings of these calls were obtained from Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology. The comparisons showed the same sound structure, pitch, and period for the unidentified sound and for the saw-whet owl. Fewer overtones were displayed on the sonogram of the unidentified sound, but this difference probably was due to lack of sufficient amplitude and recorder frequency range limitations. It was concluded that the recorded unidentified sound was made by a saw-whet owl.
None of the reported visual sightings of UFOs in the vicinity was impressive enough to warrant more intensive investigation. While the project investigators could not be certain that owls accounted for all of the unidentified sounds reported from various areas of the state, they felt confident that the audible beeping was unrelated to visual sightings of UFOs, and that owls certainly accounted for most of the beeping sounds. The latter conclusion was
The small size of the saw-whet owl (about six inches long) may account for the difficulty observers had in seeing it, thus allowing them to conclude that the sound came from a point in space that was not occupied by a physical object.