Did The Cat Come Back?

Maybe that deer I wrote about last week — relying on eyewitness Tom Ricardi’s report of watching it run for its life from a large bobcat toward the South River just upstream from Conway’s Burkeville Covered Bridge – didn’t escape after all.

Ricardi opined that had he not pulled his vehicle over to observe the chase, the bobcat would have eventually overtaken and killed the exhausted deer, tongue hanging from its mouth. Instead, the cat, unnerved by Ricardi, sat down for a moment, turned around and ran back into the pine grove from which it had come.

Nonetheless, that deer may not have been long for this world, according to neighbor Ed Mann. While out on his evening walk last week with yellow Lab, Boomer, Mann discovered a deer carcass along the river bank just upstream from the covered bridge. He speculated it may have been the same deer, given the location and timing, but wasn’t sure what had delivered the fatal blow. A deep coating of fresh snow had covered the tracks of the culprit(s).

“That cat could have prevailed at the end of the day,” he wrote. “Or, of course, it could have been taken down by coyotes, which have been passing up and down the river this past winter.”

Years ago, domestic dogs would have been the primary suspects, but that has changed dramatically with the enactment and enforcement of leash laws. So, yes, it was probably either opportunistic coyotes preying on a weakened deer they came across quite by chance, or that wily bobcat doubled back to finish the job.

Deer are often taken by predators on ice, where their hooves leave them helplessly splayed for the kill. It doesn’t happen by accident. Coyotes and wolves work in unison to force deer toward ice, where they know they have an advantage. Bobcats? Well, that I cannot say. But, when you think of it, why not? Before Ricardi’s tale, I didn’t know a bobcat would chase down a deer, only that they would occasionally ambush from above and pounce down upon an unsuspecting young whitetail or take fawns from their birthing nests.

This is the time of year when deer are at their weakest and thus most vulnerable to predators, which are tuned into their struggles. In the end, it all comes down to opportunism and that basic law of nature we all know well: That is, the strong survive and the weak perish.

 

*****
Another Conway resident, Gail Connelly, chimed in to report an indelible sighting. She thought maybe someone else has seen the animal she saw “several years ago at the end of March on Hoosac Road.”

Ms. Connelly has lived in Conway for 32 years, during which she has often walked her golden retriever “on logging trails and in fields — running into deer, fawns, raccoons, porcupines, moose, bobcats and numerous black bear.”

Her most memorable wildlife sighting was that of a wildcat she believes, judging from its profile, was a Canada lynx.

“I had my Golden retriever in the car when a huge animal ran in front of me,” she wrote. “I slammed on the brakes, and when I got out of the car, the cat had jumped a small ravine and was running across a field. When it got to the edge of the woods it stopped, turned around to look at me, then slowly walked into the woods. My golden is over 90 pounds. This cat was taller than him, long furry legs, his paws were thick with fur, very padded. I’d be curious to know if anyone else has seen one in our area.”

The problem with such sightings and comparisons to dogs is that looks can be deceiving, especially from afar. I once had a similar deer-stand sighting of a “bobcat” walking gracefully along a stonewall some 50 yards away and was convinced it was too tall for a bobcat, judging it taller than my male springer spaniel at that time, Ringo. Now, that cat may or may not have been taller than Ringo, who stood about 19 inches at the shoulder, but it sure did appear taller from where I sat.

When I studied the Canada lynx photo I ran with this column last week, taken by Jim Shortell in Alaska, it occurred to me that the animal appeared taller and leggier than my current male springer, Chubby, who’s taller than Ringo was. Then it dawned on me that, because of the lynx’s leaner torso it may not, in fact, have been taller, just appeared so. It’s difficult to make such a call from a distance.

Which is not to say that Ms. Connelly did not see a Canada lynx that day. She may well have, and people in these parts may see more lynx in the future. It seems that a southern expansion of this northern species is underway.

Who’s to say that this animal wasn’t here when William Pynchon first stepped foot on this valley and is now on the comeback trail, similar to moose and … dare I say, cougars?

 

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One final touch of sage hilltown wisdom on the bobcat/Canada Lynx discussion, this one arriving out of the blue at the 11th hour of 4:24 p.m. Wednesday from old friend Roger “Heze” Ward. It may answer the question we ended the previous segment (above) with.

“Growing up in the hills of Buckland, a couple things come to mind about the presence of bobcat and lynx,” he wrote. “The lynx was the bigger of the of the two, sometimes hitting the scales at better the 60 pounds, whereas bobcats were generally in the 30-pound class. One difference that never failed in the ability to tell the two apart was the size of the feet. Lynx feet were huge compared to the bobcat. Your picture in last week’s paper proves that out.”

He then offered this enticing little tidbit that’s well worth sharing:

“I don’t know if you ever head the story about this ungodly noise we would hear at night. The old timers it said was a bobcat and said it sounded like a baby crying. I heard it many times and never could figure out what it sounded like. I always wondered if was some kind of mating ritual. I don’t remember anyone ever saying they saw the bobcats first hand making this noise. It always seemed to be deep in the woods, and really didn’t sound like domestic cats.”

Hmmmmm?

So there. Maybe lynx are not a new phenomenon to Franklin County.

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