Monday, December 8, 2014

Field Report: Ellis County, TX

Yesterday, I managed to make a long overdue trip up to my study site in Ellis County, Texas. I have had cameras on the property off and on for about two years now. The property owner originally contacted me after multiple family members had seen large cats on the property (one tawny-colored mountain lion and one large long-tailed black cat) and several of the horses on the property came up with injuries that resembled deep claw marks and puncture wounds on their haunches and necks. To date, I have captured one intriguing video of an animal I cannot identify but nothing else unusual. I have tons of photos of feral hogs, raccoons, opossums, coyotes and a few of bobcats. Interestingly, I have not one single shot of a white-tailed deer.

My arsenal of game cameras has become quite depleted over the last few years. Some have worn out and stopped working properly. Some have been destroyed in high water events. Still other cameras have been stolen. For the last few months I have had only one camera on the property, a Cuddeback Ambush model. I was several weeks past due on checking this camera and anxious to look at what it might have captured. Also, I recently had two older Reconyx cameras (an RC55 and an RC60) repaired and upgraded and was ready to get them back out into the field. All that being the case, I set out for Ellis County excited at the prospect of having better coverage of the property once the reconditioned Reconyx cameras were deployed.

Upon arrival, the first order of business was getting the two reconditioned cameras set out. I found two locations that I am very excited about. Both cameras will be overlooking spots where well-worn game trails intersect. The trails run very close to a major creek in a heavily wooded section of the property. There are ample food sources and several dens, belonging to several different species, were found while scouting the potential camera locations. I anticipate getting some nice photos of whatever roams around those woods. Once the two Reconyx cameras were placed, secured with camouflaged steel cables and padlocks and activated, we moved to the location of the Cuddeback Ambush camera in order to download what photos and/or video it might have captured over the last two months.

I was disappointed in the number of events the camera was able to capture. The spot over which the camera watched, apparently, is not the busy animal thoroughfare I thought it was when I placed it. Even so, I got some nice shots of a couple of very large feral hogs and some coyotes. One of the hog shots is interesting as it shows this very large pig leaping into the air. I am not sure why it was doing so as there is no debris in that spot that could not be negotiated simply by stepping over. Maybe it was feeling its oats that night. In any case, it is a fun photo. A couple of the coyote shots interested me as the animal(s) photographed is travelling with its tail straight out behind it in a horizontal position . This is a characteristic of wolves, not coyotes, which usually travel with their tails down below the level of their backs. Do not misunderstand me, as I am not claiming the canid photographed is a red wolf. I do feel, however, that it could be a sign that the coyotes in this particular area have some red wolf lineage to them.

By far the most interesting item captured by the Cuddeback is a short video showing an animal of some kind in a tree. The animal is a rusty color and, though mostly obscured by foliage and branches, clearly negotiating a tree branch in the upper right hand portion of the video. There appears to be the flip of a tail, or some other appendage, toward the end of the video. The tail, if that is what it is, appears too thick and puffy to be that of a cat, in my opinion. The animal is close to the same color as the coyotes photographed. Could a coyote be up in this tree? Not impossible, I suppose, but not the likeliest of explanations either. I feel a red fox is a possibility. I know foxes have a limited ability to climb trees and they are native to the area. Admittedly, I have never captured a photo of a fox (red or gray) on the property and the animal in the video seems a bit large to be a fox (you’ll have to take my word on this as I am familiar with the tree in which this animal is moving). It is a bit of a head scratcher but enjoyable to ponder. Maybe the culprit will return now that the leaves have dropped and it would be easier to identify. The video is below. Again, keep your eyes on the upper right hand quadrant of the video.

Overall, it was a very good trip. The property owners and I have become good friends and it is always nice to visit with them. Time outdoors is always a good thing as well and does more to recharge me than just about anything else. The only negative I took away was the quality of some of the video shot by the Cuddeback Ambush camera. The video of the last few events captured was of very poor quality. So much so that it was hard to tell what you were looking at on the screen. I am hoping this is a result of the batteries having been very low (I was more than a month overdue in changing them) and not some flaw in this almost brand new camera. Time will tell, I suppose.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Robert M. Pyle, PhD on the Sasquatch

I am having trouble finding the time necessary to write any in depth posts (basketball season) so I have been posting some quotes that I like or feel are relevant to the cryptozoological field. I should have a "real" post up soon but, in the meantime, enjoy this quote from Robert M. Pyle, Phd in regards to the possible existence of the sasquatch or wood ape.

“There is no prevailing model of anthropology and zoology, I would suggest, that eliminates the possibility, let alone the likelihood, of bigfoot. Not on an evolutionary ground, not on a bio-geographical ground, not on an ecological ground, not on a metabolic ground. The only thing that keeps scientists, I think, from putting their necks out and saying this is something worth our looking into is their own fear of ridicule.”

- Robert M. Pyle, PhD

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

For Your Consideration...

I thought I would share a couple of my favorite quotes with you. Both of these quotes were made by noted researchers of cryptozoological phenomenon concerning their particular areas of interest; however, I have always felt these quotes were applicable in a much broader sense. Current events have only strengthened that sentiment. I present them for your consideration below.

“Most of us dislike having to change our opinions. So, while facts are facts, objectionable ones are often deliberately misinterpreted."

- Ivan T. Sanderson

“Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but no one has a right to be wrong about the facts. Without the facts, your opinion is of no value.”

- Rene Dahinden

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Thanksgiving Message

With so much bad going on in the world, it is easy to forget how blessed we are to live in this great nation. Wars, and rumors of war, terrorist groups, the toxic political climate, race issues and more threaten to overwhelm us. With so many negative things surrounding us, it is easy to fall into a pit where we cannot see the good that does exist in this world.

Don’t let that happen to you.

Do you have air in your lungs? Be thankful.

Is your heart beating? Be thankful.

Do you have a dry and warm place to lay your head at night? Be thankful.

Do you have a friend? Even one? Be thankful.

I believe that as long as we are living there is hope that we can make this world a better place. If you are feeling low, do something for someone else. It doesn’t have to be something big and grand, just something that blesses another, if only for a moment. If you are feeling down, helping someone else out will make you feel better. I promise it will put things in perspective. Once you look at your life from the proper perspective, you will see there is so much for which to be thankful.

So, be grateful, be kind to one another and do not dwell on the negatives out there in the world. Once you do, you will realize you are blessed and will develop a thankful attitude. This attitude will permeate your life and you will not feel a need to try and count your blessings, as if they are finite in number.

After all, who can count that high?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Wisdom of George Gill, PhD

I can't add much to this. I will say only that it makes a lot of sense to me.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Black Panther Photographed in American South?

Has a black panther been photographed in the American South?


I found the image included in this post on a hunting forum. According to what I read there, the photo was taken via game camera somewhere in the woods of Alabama. The gentleman who posted the photo felt it was proof that “black panthers,” a colloquial term used to describe any and all long-tailed black cats, were real. Mainstream science, as has been mentioned here countless times over the years, denies the existence of these legendary mystery cats.

According to wildlife officials, the only New World big cat that exhibits melanism is the jaguar (Panthera onca). While the historic range of the jaguar once included much of the American Southwest and South, these big cats are thought to be almost completely extirpated from North America. Jaguars are recognized to live in South America, Central America and Mexico with a few stragglers occasionally venturing across the border into the Southwest United States (Arizona and New Mexico). This being the case, along with the fact that there has never been a documented instance of a melanistic mountain lion (Felis concolor), would seem to shut the door on the existence of the legendary black panther. Yet, people continue to report sightings and even capture intriguing photographic evidence like the image accompanying this post.

Some supporters feel the jaguarundi (Puma yagouaroundi) is a candidate for the black panthers so often reported. The jaguarundi is a small, wild cat native to Central and South America. The habitat of this species is thought to extend into Mexico with most individuals located in the Yucatan Peninsula or along the Pacific and/or Gulf Coasts. The jaguarundi has been known to slip across the Rio Grande and up into Texas but keeps to the extreme southern portion of the Lone Star State where it is extremely rare. According to the Mammals of Texas – Online Edition, the jaguarundi has only been officially documented in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties. Many, many Texans would disagree with this and feel this small wild cat’s range extends up through the Hill Country and up along the Gulf Coast as far north as Jefferson County. The problem with the jaguarundi as the suspect behind black panther sightings is the small size and distinctive appearance of this cat. While the jaguarundi does go through a black/charcoal phase, the overall description given by most black panther witnesses would seem to eliminate this animal as the mystery cat in question.

Now, back to the photo.

The subject is quite obviously a cat of some kind. I do not think anyone would dispute that. Too, at least from the perspective we have, it would appear to be larger than what would normally be seen in a feral/domestic. The length of the subject is more impressive to my eye than the height. Also, the cat in the photo is very thick through the chest and mid-section. Most ferals do not appear this hardy. The characteristic long tail, with thick rounded tip that is so often reported by people claiming to have seen black panthers, is clearly visible. I think it is also quite clear that this animal is black. It is not a trick of light or a case where the animal is in shadow giving the illusion of melanism. From what I can tell, and I will be the first to admit that I am no expert, the photo appears genuine. In addition, the forest in which this photo was taken looks like southern woods. The terrain looks very much like the forested areas that run from east Texas eastward across the south. The picture certainly looks like it could have been taken in the woods of Alabama. All of these factors being what they are, I can say it is one of the more intriguing alleged black panther photos I have seen in some time.

Having said that, there are still some problems with the photo, first and foremost among them being the who, when and where behind the image. Who took it? The gentleman on the forum went by a user name that was obviously not his given name. When was the photo taken? Where exactly? My requests for more information have remained unanswered. Also, some of the common earmarks almost always seen on photos taken by trail cameras are missing. It is rare, indeed, to see a photo taken by a game camera that does not have a date and time stamp on it. Most cameras these days also feature a temperature stamp and their company logo as well. These hallmarks are missing here which leads me to believe that the photo was edited in some way. It is possible the image was simply cropped a bit to exclude this data. This would make sense if the owner’s name appeared on the image as it often does on many models. If that is all there is to it, then the cropping is understandable; however, the possibility that there is some sort of agenda of a more nefarious nature behind the cropping must at least be considered at this time.

Another problem with the photo is scale (doesn’t that always seem to be the case?). The cat in the photo certainly looks to be larger than a domestic/feral but we know nothing about how high the camera was mounted, the angle at which it was set, etc. These are factors that can truly affect what we are seeing. For example, the tree to the right of the cat appears to be pretty large in diameter in the photo. The impression one gets is that the cat is walking right by it. That is not quite the case, though. The tree to the right is actually in the foreground and closer to the camera than the cat. If the cat were right next to the tree then we would be seeing where the tree meets the ground. We cannot see that in this picture, therefore, the tree must be in the foreground. The subject has already walked by the tree and is now well past it. How far past? It is hard to say. If the cat is just a step or two past the tree then it would seem the animal is pretty big. If the cat is five or six feet past the tree, then maybe it is not that large at all. That being the case, we cannot really make a definitive call on the size of the animal.

So, once again, we have a photo that is intriguing but inconclusive. It is too bad that the cat is walking away from the camera (again, doesn’t that always seem to be the case?). Otherwise, we might be able to make a judgment on what we are seeing. A jaguar has a massive head, for example, and is very different structurally from a mountain lion. A jaguarundi has a very distinctive head shape as well and would be pretty easy to identify. I will say that I do not feel we are looking at a jaguarundi. The cat in this photo is thickly built and is simply not put together like a jaguarundi, which is a very slender and has an almost weasel-like appearance. I think there are only two real possibilities as to the identity of the cat in this photo. It could be a large feral/domestic that is very robust and is being made to look larger than it really is due to a trick of perspective or…

… it could be the animal that we have all been seeking.

*If there is anyone out there that knows the story behind this photo, please contact me at

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ode to a Dog

Yesterday, I buried my dog.

Maggie came to us almost twelve years ago. She was not the type of dog many of you might picture me owning. She was not a Labrador Retriever or a bulldog. She was not a bird dog or any other kind of hunting dog. Neither was she a “manly” breed like a Pit Bull, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd or Rottweiler. Maggie was a Westie, a West Highlands White Terrier, to be specific.

Why a Westie? Simply, because that is what my little girl wanted. My daughter, 8 years old at the time, had seen a Westie on a dog food commercial and fell in love with the breed. When we finally decided that she was old enough to help take care of a dog, she made it abundantly clear that she wanted a Westie . My youngest daughter was only 3 at the time and just wanted a “puppy dog.” The breed didn’t seem to matter much to her. That being the case, it was settled. A Westie it would be.

I looked around a bit and found a lady that bred Westies in Kempner, only 30 minutes or so from our house. She had a litter of puppies that were almost ready to leave their mother and said we could come pick one out. We loaded up the girls and headed out to Kempner to inspect the litter. My oldest daughter had a broken foot at the time and was in a hard cast and had a difficult time getting up the porch steps of the house while on her crutches. Once inside, she sat down and looked at the white mass of squirming, running and playing baby Westies with a huge snaggle-toothed grin on her face. I had done my homework on the breed and was carefully picking up and inspecting each pup. If I was going to shell out the amount of money this lady wanted for a puppy, I was going to be sure I had the best one out of the litter. As I was inspecting the strongest and healthiest-looking puppies a tiny and timid pup, no doubt the runt of the litter, belly crawled out from between a cabinet and a chair toward my oldest daughter. The pup gave my daughter’s exposed toes (sticking out of the cast) a quick lick. My girl picked up this tiny, timid female and our fate was sealed. It turns out we did not pick out a puppy that day, the puppy picked us.

It was settled that this would be our Maggie. It would be another month before she was weaned and ready to come home with us (Try explaining that whole concept to a 3 year old that wants her puppy dog “right now”). The month came and went quickly, however, and we retrieved Maggie. She had grown quite a bit, but was still small for a Westie. That was ok with us, though. She seemed at home right away. There was no whining or crying at night or any other signs of her being homesick. She was home and she seemed to know it.

I could tell you many funny stories about our Maggie. She made us laugh and was a constant source of joy for us. She never failed to greet each and every family member with unbridled enthusiasm, jumping and hopping up and down until she received the attention she sought. Maggie loved belly rubs and would flop over on her back anytime her name was called hoping you would indulge her. We used to joke that she was part turtle as she often had trouble flipping back over after one of these belly rubs. She also loved to play. I have never known a dog that loved to play as much as Maggie did. The game really didn’t matter much to her. She would chase a ball all day, play tug-of-war with almost any object or just wrestle with your hand. She loved it all and kept her puppy-like enthusiasm for almost all of her years.

Recently, Maggie really slowed down. At first, we thought age had simply started to catch up to her. In a way, I suppose, it had. Three days ago, Maggie was diagnosed with a severe liver disorder. The veterinarian prescribed some meds but warned us that her prognosis was not good. We gave her the meds and she seemed to perk up almost immediately. We were encouraged as she ate better that night than she had in days and drank water without being coaxed to do so. Maggie retreated to her beloved crate that night to sleep, acting like she felt better than she had in a long time. When we woke up yesterday morning, however, things had changed. Maggie seemed to have lost 5 lbs. overnight. Her eyes were bloodshot and red and she could not seem to close her mouth. The change in her from the night before was stunning. I loaded her up and returned to the vet immediately. I was waiting at the door, holding her, when they opened at 7:30. The vet began working on her immediately but I knew that this was it. Maggie was a loving dog but had no problem letting you know she did not like being poked, prodded or stuck with a needle. She was a terrier, after all. As the doctor worked on her she completely surrendered. There was no fight left in her. She looked at me with very sick eyes and I knew it was time to let her go. The vet agreed and within minutes, she was gone.

The vet asked what I wanted to do with her body and without hesitation I managed to choke out, “I want to take her home.” So, I did. I was thankful that no one was home as I dug her grave in the backyard. This big tough coach/cryptid hunter was anything but during that time. I wrapped Maggie in her favorite blanket and laid her in a small box with her favorite toy. I then placed the box in the deeper than it needed to be hole (I think I kept digging because I knew what I would have to do when I was finished). Putting that first shovel of dirt on top of that box was hard. I knew it would be but… it was much tougher than I ever would have imagined. Once the grave was covered, I retrieved some bricks, left over from the building of our house more than ten years ago, and laid them in a rectangular pattern on top of the grave. These bricks would allow us to always know exactly where our Maggie was laid to rest. I knew I would likely have to redo this once the dirt settled but I did not want my girls to see only a mound of recently disturbed dirt when they came home. I wanted it to be as nice as possible.

My wife cried all day. My oldest daughter, now 20 and away at college, was devastated. My youngest daughter, now 15 and unable to remember a time when Maggie was not in her life, was inconsolable. Maggie was the dog of their childhood. The dog that slept at the foot of their bed when they were sick, the dog they slipped food to under the table and the dog that they played with for countless hours both inside and out. Maggie is the dog they will always remember. Even so, Maggie really turned into my dog as the years passed. Mine was the lap she sought out at night, mine was the side of the bed she came to in the morning when she knew she would be allowed to nap for that last hour on the bed between my wife and I and it was me she stood in the window watching for in the evening. I will miss that little white face with the jackrabbit ears in the window when I come home at night.

I know there is much in the world that is more tragic than the loss of a pet but to trivialize such an event is a mistake. Loss is loss and a good dog is worth its weight in gold. Maggie was a good dog and she was mine.

I will miss her.