Whenever I write about local wildcats, it seems that the feedback locomotive gets rolling full-steam ahead. So it was no surprise that last week’s column drew a spike in reader email.
Oh my! Can you imagine what’ll happen when I finally jump into that Petersham mountain-lion-attacks-horse tale, which I was aware of months before it hit the news on the day after Thanksgiving, went viral for a couple of days and vanished into thin air with the surface scratched ever so lightly. Of course, it’s always difficult for reporters to really delve into a totally unfamiliar subject about which little is known, especially when state wildlife officials paid to answer their questions go into their best damage-control shutdown mode, buttressed by their Office of Executive Affairs gatekeepers. I’ll let the issue sit for a little while longer. Confirmation that the DNA samples gathered on the scene by the landowner were indeed left by a mountain lion, as determined by a reputable University of Florida lab, is due soon from another respected Arizona lab.
Not that anyone doubts the accuracy of the Florida lab’s determination that the blood and hair specimens were left by a cougar. But why not wait a little longer for confirmation from Arizona cougar expert Melanie Culver? This is the same woman who used archaeological evidence from deep-history Native American sites to prove that North American cougars (Puma concolor) from all points of the compass were one animal, not different species, thus debunking the eastern-cougar-extinction distraction propagated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mere weeks before a 140-pound male disperser from South Dakota’s Black Hills showed up dead on a Connecticut highway in June 2011.
Stay tuned. We’ll let that spicy little Quabbin Country story simmer in the Southwestern sun a little longer. Back to feedback from week’s piece about local bobcats and the Canada lynx possibility.
The first response to show up in my inbox came from Fred Bourassa, a Shelburne Falls native who now calls Greenfield home. “I remember back in the late ’50’s/early ’60’s that there was a man named Ted Cromack, who lived on Rt.2 in Shelburne across from Call’s Corner Antiques,” he wrote. “Seemed like every week he would have a bobcat hanging from his front porch. I’m not sure whether he had dogs or not, but he certainly was an avid cat hunter. I’m sure a lot of old-timers from Shelburne will remember him.”
Well, although I’m not sure my hunting buddy, a Buckland native I call “Killer,” admits to being an old-timer, he is, at 72, no youngster. Did he remember Ted Cromack? Oh yeah, remembered him well. And, yes indeed, he did own a pack of hounds. The Killer also confirmed that he often passed the same roadside display Bourassa described at Cromack’s Mohawk Trail homestead. “Absolutely,” he agreed. “He was quite the boy, a well-known cat hunter. My uncle Roland (Cusson) and his buddies used to hunt with him back in the day.”
Those were the only hunting-related bobcat comments to come my way, although this week Greenfield accountant, Marine Vietnam vet and former trapping defender/activist Donald E. Graves of Buckland forwarded a copy of a letter he sent to President-Elect Donald J. Trump requesting that, because sportsmen and gun owners played such an important role in electing him, he should repeal ASAP the Massachusetts law enacted by 1996 referendum forbidding hounding of bears and bobcats as well as leghold traps.
The remainder of the comments came from nature lovers and wildlife observers who’ve had the pleasure of watching beautiful bobcats, and even possibly Canada lynx, around their rural Franklin County homes. These folks sounded much like my neighbor, Anne Echeverria, whose backyard sighting down the road from my home spurred last week’s column. Among the respondents were two women, Betty Schneider of East Colrain and Marti Auriemma, town of residence unknown.
We’ll begin with Schneider, a neighbor of sorts who sent a photo (below) taken last fell by husband Bill on his way to Greenfield. “There are many bobcats in my neighborhood,” she wrote. “My sister-in-law had four in her yard at the same time. How rare is that? She has photos of them. Beautiful animals! I guess the living conditions/food sources are great in East Colrain.”
Not a bobcat expert by any stretch of the imagination, I can’t speak to the rarity of seeing four bobcats in a group but did myself once see three walking cautiously through the woods from my deer stand. I would surmise that such groups are typically family units of mother and kittens. Once the young approach a year old, they’re big and it’s difficult to visually differentiate between adult and juvenile.
Because Ms. Auriemma didn’t pinpoint where she lives, we’ll just call it Recorder country and leave it at that. She and her husband had an interesting backyard sighting a couple of weeks ago that piqued their curiosities enough to push them onto an intensive Internet search for a positive identification. Their conclusion? Canada lynx, which isn’t impossible, given that there have in the past six months been confirmed southern Vermont sightings around the Deerfield River headwaters. What is there to stop such a cat from following the riverside corridors downstream?
“I’ve searched all over online and the animal we saw most resembles the lynx,” Auriemma wrote. “It was silvery gray, with no spots and a tail that was barely there. It was coming out of the woods on its way somewhere with a dead squirrel in its mouth. For several weeks before this sighting, I heard what sounded somewhat like a cat calling most nights (it was not a coyote, which we often hear). I had no idea what it was, but when this animal appeared that morning, I figured it must have been what I was hearing. We’ve seen a lynx in Colorado and are certain that is what we saw there, as there were signs posted warning not to shoot them. The animal in our backyard resembled this lynx, especially in coloration. Interesting?!”
Yes. Interesting indeed. I love it when readers share their observations, though lynx color can vary and thus may not be a reliable identifying characteristic.
Local observers interested in establishing at least a strong suspicion that what they’ve seen is a Canada lynx and not a bobcat should try to shoot a photo in these days of cell-phone cameras. A backyard photo led to the Londonderry, Vt., cat’s identification as a lynx. That photo is easy to find online. The distinguishing visual characteristics of lynx compared to bobcats are their shorter, blacker tails, larger feet, longer ear tufts, and especially hips that are elevated higher than the shoulder in a broadside profile.