|Grave's Landing, Quabbin|
Mountain lion evidence was found in Pelham, Mass., in the spring of 1997 by professional tracker John McCarter. DNA testing of droppings left behind proved conclusively that a mountain lion had been in the area.
Mass Wildlife had a press release from around that time confirming the McCarter find, but speculating that the mountain lion had been a captive released into the wild and not a native. With the reworking of the Mass Wildlife web site, the press release is now unavailable from the bookmark I had saved. I tried a search of the site, but so far have come up empty. From now on, I copy and paste stuff I don't want to lose to cyberspace!
Along with the McCarter find, I have heard firsthand two reliable accounts of mountain lion sightings in the same area of the west side of the Quabbin Reservoir. These sightings were not related to me by city folks out for a weekend jaunt, but by loggers who have spent their lives in the forests of New England. What struck both of these men was the way the animal they saw moved, unlike any animal they had seen before. In one of the accounts, the lion cleared the forest road with one leap from snowbank to snowbank.
According to the logger who witnessed the leaping animal, the next time he ran into an environmental officer while he was out logging his plot at Quabbin, he told him about the cat. The officer supposedly confided in the logger (who he had known for quite awhile through their Quabbin connection) that mountain lions had indeed made the area home, at least temporarily, if not permanently.
Apparently, in the winter, to help the resident eagle population out, the good folks at the Quabbin (and they do an awesome job) will sometimes put a fresh-killed deer on the ice for the birds' dining enjoyment. This particular officer claimed to have witnessed mountain lions feeding on these carcasses, as well.
I relate this second-hand, so it is subject to scrutiny and certainly unofficial in every sense of the word, to be sure. I've been interested in the question of whether mountain lions are among us here in Western Massachusetts for quite awhile now, but for now, history records 1858 as the year the last Massachusetts mountain lion was killed. Officially, there are no resident mountain lions in Massachusetts.
Of course, that's what the experts said about the gray wolf, too. And they were wrong:
With the presence of the gray wolf in Western Massachusetts confirmed, I feel less wacky sharing this experience my wife and I had almost ten years ago now.
We were hiking Quabbin's Gate 40, passing Dana Common and heading the two miles further out along Skinner Hill Rd. to the spot on the eastern shoreline known as Grave's Landing. Making our way around dead man's curve and down the slippery and steep hill beyond, we shed the walls of the forest for the wide-open expanse of the reservoir. It was a cold day in late winter, and the Quabbin was still plenty iced-in, with no hint of spring's approach.
Our attention was quickly drawn to the circling eagles above a deer carcass on the ice. Blood trails on the ice told the story of the young deer's final minutes. This was no ranger-kill, but a natural death. A death by predator.
My wife, Roma, and I hunkered down to watch the bald eagle buffet from the vantage point of the little peninsula just at the end of the road. We were about 100 yards away from the carcass, hoping to see our first Quabbin bear. I know, bears are dangerous, but remember, you only have to outrun the person you're with.
What we did see was even more amazing as far as we were concerned, although we've told very few people about our experience, for reasons pretty obvious to any skeptical Western Massachusetts outdoors-person.
Creeping slowly and warily out of the woods, a canine about one-and-a-half to one-and-three quarters the size of a large German Shepherd made its way down the snowy bank and onto the ice, stopping about ten feet from the deer, scouting for danger. Moments later, a second canine emerged from the woods, walking slowly past the first and to the carcass. After a glance around, the second animal began to feed, while the first waited patiently surveying the area, undoubtedly standing - or sitting in this case - guard. The markings, shapes and sizes of these two Quabbin creatures left no doubt in my mind of what we were looking at. Even more compelling was the instinctive, primordial sense that flooded my cranium, causing my adrenalin to surge and my hair to stand on end. My immediate and involuntary reaction upon the initial sighting was to whisper to my wife with a mixture of fear and awe, "Wolf!"
Indeed, it is possible to be both very pleased and scared silly at the same time.
The animals relaxed, the wind blowing in our favor. For about twenty minutes they took advantage of the free meal. Then again, maybe it was their kill. Looking at the healthy, strong and formidable creatures through binoculars, it didn't take a far stretch of the imagination picturing the scene.
By placing ourselves on a somewhat barren point of raised land jutting out into the frozen water, we had no choice but to lay low and wait for the animals to finish dining, hoping that they didn't head our way when they were done. Any attempt to remove ourselves from the tricky situation at that point involved the good possibility of drawing the (unwanted) attention of the two canines. I'm not so smart sometimes. With two sharp-toothed predators in play, outrunning my partner probably wouldn't cut it.
Okay, where are the photographs you ask? I must have taken pictures. Well, yes. I did. But unfortunately, being poor back then - funny how some things never change - my camera at the time was a cheap 110, and the photo quality is very poor. I also have photos of Scotland's Nessie. Just kidding.
I'll dig the photos up and scan them into my computer and post a link here when I get the chance.
When the two animals (notice I am still reluctant to call them wolves) had eaten their fill, they trotted off across the ice, heading southwest towards the ghosts of Greenwich. We feel privileged to this day to have spent part of that chilly morning with two such beautiful and regal creatures. Their shared bond was evident. Watching out for each other. Taking turns at the feast. Continuing their journey through the cold wilderness together when they are finished.
Some memories are worth dragging out for a look-see every once in awhile.
Mountain lions? Maybe. Gray wolves. Yep.
As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.
For more on Quabbin, check out 'The Quabbin Page' or 'The Quabbin Chronology: A Timeline of the Swift River Valley,' both found exclusively at EWM!
Update - June 13, 2011: A 140-pound mountain lion was hit and killed by a vehicle in Milford, Ct. on Saturday, June 11, 2011. Here is a link to the Reuters article: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/13/us-mountainlion-killed-idUSTRE75B1JE20110613.
Update - July 27, 2011: Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel Esty says the Milford, CT, mountain lion hailed from South Dakota, traversing upwards of 1,500 miles over a period of years as tracked by its DNA. Here is a link to the amazing story at the Middletown Press: http://www.middletownpress.com/articles/2011/07/26/news/doc4e2f1341de52f489437623.txt?viewmode=fullstory
The New York Times also has an article on the far-flung feline: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/27/nyregion/wild-cougar-traveled-east-1500-miles-tests-find.html?_r=1&smid=tw-nytimes&seid=auto