Two More

Two more cougar sightings, one in Pelham, the other in Shelburne. Where this investigative mission ends nobody knows, but the reports just keep on coming from credible witnesses with no apparent reason to lie. You be the judge.

These two reports came last week, following a column had by a vignette about a Shelburne sighting by Amamda Gaffigan Steele of Plainfield. The first feedback came from Athol by e-mail, the other by phone.

First the Shelburne sighting, which was related to Steele’s in two ways: No. 1, it was reported by her second cousin, Susan Stetson, No. 2 the location of a near-miss by her vehicle on Route 2 was a stone’s throw from where Steele encountered her early-morning big cat.

“When I read what Mandy had seen, I knew I had seen the same cat cross in front of me near Frank Williams Road in Shelburne,” Stetston reported. “It happened in mid-March around at 6:15 a.m., and (unlike Steele) I got a good look at its face and eyes. It was huge. I still can’t believe I didn’t hit it. It jumped right in front of me on Route 2 and I was looking it right in the face from close range. The body was grayish-brown. I could see its whiskers, a big jowl and huge eyes. I can still see that face. Huge eyes. Like Mandy’s, it had a long tail, but I don’t remember it curling up. It all happened fast, but I recall the tail being long, straight and thick.”

Stetson first thought the tail was “bushy,” but when told that a cougar tail is thick like a fire hose, it all made sense to her. A witness viewing a fast-moving cougar for the first time could easily misidentify a thick, winter tail as bushy because of the width. “It was definitely not thin,” she said; “that, I can say for sure.”

Stetson was traveling east, toward Greenfield, headlights illuminating the road at the time of her sighting. For those familiar with that section of the Mohawk Trail, the cat was moving north to south, crossing just west of Dr. Howell’s veterinary clinic toward the swamp bordering Goodnow’s Chip & Putt.

“My husband (Sody Stetson) is a hunter and he told me there’s a sheep farm right around where it crossed,” said Susan Stetson. She’s right. The sheep are owned by the Donald and Anne Call, Mohawk Trail antique peddlers.

As for the Pelham sighting, it was reported by Athol assessor Jean Robinson, who had exited Route 202 and was traveling west on Amherst Road, which winds down from the Pelham highlands to Amherst Center. Traveling with her were her two children, aged 14 and 10. The date was April 1, about noon, “And this was no April Fools joke,” she said. “We know what we saw.”

Robinson spotted the cougar crossing the road near the Pelham Reservoir, stopped her car and watched the young animal as it stood motionless, “as curious about us as we were about it,” said Robinson. “I only wished I had reached down for me cell phone and snapped a picture. Then maybe people would believe me.”

The Robinsons live in Petersham, Jean’s native town, where they routinely see bobcats, coyotes and many other wild species in remote Quabbin country.  “We know what we saw,” she said. “It was a beautiful cat. Faint spots and a long tail, no bobcat. I Googled cougars and found that young ones have spots for about 18 months. This animal was the height of my Lab and the spots were very faint, so I’d guess it was around 18 months old.”

Robinson stopped at an adjacent new housing development to inform a few residents what she had seen. “I just thought someone ought to know for safety reasons,” she said.

Robinson’s is one of many recent cougar sightings in the Amherst area. Others have been reported on Northeast Street, Amherst, and Mt. Warner Road, Hadley, both a hop, skip and a jump from Robinson’s “Pelham Reservoir” site.

Before we leave the subject of cougar sightings, I’d be remiss not to offer my apology to a Northfield witness who reported seeing a spotted, long-tailed cat cross the road in front of her and her husband recently on the way to a doctor’s appointment. At the time, I speculated that they had probably seen a large bobcat, given the spots. I was then corrected by a Buckland naturalist and writer who informed me that young cougars do, indeed, wear spots.

Call it learning on the fly, something that’s bound to happen during ongoing discovery missions like this.

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