Friday, December 30, 2011

TCH Photo Prompts the TPWD to Officially Recognize River Otters in Bell County

It is funny how things work out sometimes…

As regular readers of this blog know, I started a camera-trapping project here in Bell County in June of last year. I’ve chased mountain lion reports from one end of the county to the other. I have yet to capture a photo of one of these elusive big cats but remain hopeful. There continue to be periodic sightings of a cougar in the general area around my camera locations but things seemed to have slowed down quite a bit. It is possible the big cat has moved on.

While not getting that cougar photo to this point, despite sightings very close to my camera locations, has been frustrating, the project has not been a failure. As is often the case with these sorts of things, something very good has come out of it…just not the good thing I targeted in the beginning.

Last month I retrieved images from my cameras and was surprised to find a photo of a pair of river otters (Lutra canadensis) walking down a dry creek bed. I’ve lived in the area since 1987 and had never heard anyone mention having seen otters before. I did a bit of research and found, according to The Mammals of Texas – Online Edition, otters had never been documented in Bell County. The possibility that I had documented a species previously unrecognized in Bell got me pretty excited so I fired off the following email to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department:

"Would a photo of a pair of river otters taken in Bell County be unusual and/or something you folks would be interested in? I have a photo, taken by a game camera, of what I believe to be two otters in a creek bed outside of Temple, Tx. I was surprised to say the least. Let me know if anyone there in your agency
would be interested in viewing the photo.

I received a reply thanking me for taking the time to submit my query and saying that they would like to view the photo. So, I submitted the photo and waited. About two weeks later I received the following reply from Gary Calkins, District Leader, out of Jasper, Texas:

“Not too much doubt what you are looking at in the photos – probably a mother and a youngster.

Would you mind taking a moment to give me a location of the sighting – it doesn’t have to be specific just something like “where Rocky Road crosses Sandy Creek” would be fantastic. That will give me enough information to plot the sighting."

After submitting the general location where the photo was taken, I asked if the picture was enough for the TPWD to officially document the species in Bell County. Here is the reply from Mr. Calkins:

“Your photo is perfect and the sighting will be added to the map. Basically – I keep the email string as a reference and the sighting will be numbered and referenced to the email string by that number so that your personal information stays confidential if the map is distributed – however, if I or someone else doing otter work needs to get any additional information we have the email to go back to.”

To make a long story a bit shorter, because of my photo, the distribution map for the river otter will be changed to reflect the presence of the species in Bell County. The timetable on when this will take place is not clear but it will happen the next time the map is updated. The documentation of a known species a few counties west of where it is supposed to be may not seem like an important discovery but it is actually kind of a big deal in wildlife circles. I am very, very pleased by this turn of events and think it really shows that even an amateur naturalist, with extremely limited resources, can accomplish some pretty cool things.

So, a project that got started, and continues, with the hope of getting a photo of a mountain lion has reached its high point with an accidental photo of a pair of river otters.

I'll say it is funny how things work out sometimes…

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas

I wanted to take a moment and wish everyone a Merry Christmas. It is my prayer that you all have a blessed holiday and a prosperous and peaceful new year.

I look forward to what the new year may bring.

My best to you all…

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Wise Man Once Said...

"If I trim myself to suit others I will soon whittle myself away."

- Unknown

I try to keep this quote in mind when others give me a hard time about my interest in cryptozoology and other "non-mainstream" topics. I am who I am.

I may not be the one who solves the sasquatch mystery but it will be someone a bit like me. Someone who shakes off the ridicule and vitriol directed at them by those who spend life on the sidelines and stays true to himself. Someone who shakes off negativity and naysayers to do what they say couldn't be done. Someone who, even when it was tough, did not whittle themselves away to suit others.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reindeer Visit Webster, Texas

If you live somewhere along the I-45 corridor near Webster, Texas and your child comes home and says that he/she saw Santa’s reindeer running down the road…believe it.

Well, they weren’t Santa’s reindeer (as far as I know) but there were reindeer dashing about on and near I-45 yesterday. It seems a petting zoo was transporting a couple of its reindeer when the trailer in which they were being towed came loose from the truck. Somehow, the door to the trailer came open and the two reindeer made a run for it.

Webster police, after fielding several calls from surprised local residents regarding the reindeer, dispatched several units and helped round up the runaways. Neither the reindeer nor anyone else was injured during the incident.

Santa Claus didn’t come to town (it’s not time, after all) but a couple of reindeer did.

I guess it is just that time of year.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bell County Camera Trapping Project Update: River Otters Photographed

I was finally able to get out and check my game cameras here in Bell County this past weekend. I was over a week past due on checking them due to inclement weather and a bad cold. I have to admit that I’m a huge sissy when it comes to colds. Any sort of injury I can handle ok. Sprains, strains, contusions, broken bones…I’ll handle them. A bad cold? I’m done. In any case, the skies cleared up, the water ran off, and I started to feel better so I got out and got it done this past weekend. I’m glad I did.

I again failed to capture an image of the mountain lion(s) that have, until recently, been spotted on a regular basis in eastern Bell County. Even so, I was able to retrieve more than 700 quality images from 3 of the 4 cameras. I say 3 of 4 because the bungee chord holding up one of my two Cuddeback cameras snapped shortly after deployment. I have a security chain on the camera that kept it from falling into the creek bed but it did fall down to the base of the tree and somehow got twisted so that it faced the trunk. So, nothing of value was captured on that camera. The other three cameras (Cuddeback Excite, Moultrie M80 GameSpy, Wildgame Innovations IR2) all performed very well.

The Moultrie captured a few interesting videos as well as getting some nice photos. At some point, the camera was twisted and shaken by an unseen animal. I’m guessing it was a raccoon. Easily 2/3 of the pictures taken were of raccoons which makes one of them a likely culprit. I would add that this is exactly the sort of video some people would put forth as evidence of a sasquatch tampering with the camera. Many would say no other animal was capable of shaking and shifting the camera in such a manner. So, keep my little video example here in mind the next time you see a similiar clip and it is offered as indisputable evidence of sasquatch behavior.

Despite the camera being shifted and moved around it continued to get some nice shots.

This camera is programmed so that when triggered it snaps a photo. It then immediately begins taking video. One video was a great insight into the behavior of whitetail deer during the rut. The camera captures a fully airborne doe leaping into the creek as if something was chasing her. The video, which started immediately after the photo was taken, shows a buck trot up, sniff the air, and then proceed to follow the object of his desire. Whether she ever decided to cooperate or not I cannot say but the video is exactly the sort of “behind the scenes” look you can get with a game camera. I love seeing clips of even the most common animals behaving naturally. I find it fascinating.

The Wildgame Innovations IR2 is easily the least expensive camera I have in the field. It actually performs pretty well. The photos it takes during daylight hours are very, very good. The nighttime shots, when most of the action takes place, are, unfortunately, not nearly as sharp. The sensor detects movement at an acceptable range but the flash is too weak to light these targets up sufficiently. The result tends to be shots that are murky and not sharp if the subject is on the periphery of the sensor range or washed out images if the subject is close to the camera.

I was especially pleased with the performance of the second Cuddeback Excite camera. As I’ve mentioned before, this is an old veteran of the TBRC’s Operation Forest Vigil. It has been an old warhorse for a long time now. One of the great things about this camera is that it takes color photos at night. This capability produced one of my favorite shots of the set when it captured an unusually reddish-colored coyote. He is quite striking and his coloration stands out starkly when compared to a more typically colored coyote that was also photographed.

The Cuddeback captured the widest variety of animals of any of the three cameras this time around. Included were the pictures below showing a black opossum and a striking bobcat with a very leopard-like coat.

The jewel of the set, however, was a photo of two river otters. This is one species I was not expecting to see. The creek bed where I have placed my cameras is not a live creek but a run-off creek. It is dry most of the time. That being the case, I would not expect otters to be present. The Mammals of Texas – Online Edition says:

“River otters are largely aquatic and frequent lakes and the larger streams. In the Gulf Coast region, marshes, bayous, and brackish inlets afford suitable range. Presently known only from the eastern one-fourth of the state in major watersheds: probably extirpated from the Panhandle, north-central, and southern Texas.”

I checked the distribution map provided as well and found that, according to known county records, no river otters have ever been documented in Bell County.

All of this being the case, I got very excited about this photo. Could these be the first river otters ever documented in Bell County, Texas? Short of that, could this photo prove that otters, once extirpated from central Texas, be rebounding? Well, maybe. I have been informed that unless an actual specimen has been taken from a county, a species is not considered “documented” there. In other words, river otters may have been seen, possibly even photographed, in Bell County before but since no one has trapped or shot one and presented the body as proof to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department the species is not considered to be present.

I submitted the photo to several biologists who all have confirmed that the subjects in the photo are river otters. I also sent an email to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department explaining that I had a photo of river otters taken in Bell County and asked if they wanted to view the photo. I sent the email Sunday night. It is now Wednesday night and I’ve heard nothing back from them as of yet. If I don’t hear back from them in the next couple of days I’ll contact the local office in Temple.

Regardless of whether this photo will officially “document” otters in Bell County, I feel very fortunate to have captured it. Otters, at best, are very rare in this part of the state and I think it is an incredibly cool addition to my wildlife photo collection.

There was some bad news. The Cuddeback that took these great shots was a victim of rising water after several storms blew through the area a couple of weeks ago. The camera was never completely submerged but some moisture did get into the camera causing the lens to fog up. While the camera still showed power, no photos were taken after the flooding event. I feel very fortunate that the compact flash card was not ruined. Currently, I am attempting to dry the camera out. Once it is dry and cleaned of mud I’m hopeful it will continue to function.

Even though the big prize that would be a mountain lion photo eluded me again, I feel very good about this last set of photos. I remain hopeful that I will eventually get a shot of one of these big cats. Even if I don’t the otter photograph proves that you just never know what you might get a picture of if you are patient and allow cameras to sit undisturbed for long periods of time. I’m due to check the cameras again in 4-5 weeks.

I can’t wait.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bigfoot/Sasquatch Sightings: Correlations to Annual Rainfall Totals, Waterways, Human Population Densities and Black Bear Habitat Zones

The following article originally appeared on the website of the Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy and is reprinted here with permission.

Bigfoot/Sasquatch Sightings: Correlations to Annual Rainfall Totals, Waterways, Human Population Densities and Black Bear Habitat Zones

By Daryl Colyer & Alton Higgins

In Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana, anecdotes about huge, hairy, apelike creatures said to dwell in the deep woods and, occasionally, near the peripheries of rural communities, have accumulated for centuries. Many of these accounts were related by highly reliable and trustworthy individuals, people who had nothing to gain by telling their stories.

Indeed, in many cases, these witnesses became the subjects of much ridicule, even among close friends and relatives. To the present day, most witnesses hesitate to share their incredible stories of seeing this strange, undocumented animal. Their reticence should come as no surprise given the treatment of the subject by the mass media and some mainstream scientists.

There are many skeptics; their concerns are legitimate. Skeptics demand to know why no skeletal remains have been found; they want to know why no hunters have killed one, or why no driver has collided with one on a secluded country highway. Would not a large primate, skeptics ask, leave an undeniable, discernable mark on the environment in perhaps the same manner as mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla beringei)? Such questions are not invalid. Expecting skeptics to accept the likelihood of such a species existing beneath our proverbial noses may be asking just a tad too much. Nevertheless, the body of anecdotal accounts and accompanying evidence seems to indicate just such a possibility.

Contrary to what some may assert, most hunters do not generally shoot at anything other than their intended game. While there are exceptions, most hunters will definitively identify their targets and normally just do not shoot at unknown or unidentified prey. That said, there have been a few scant reports of sasquatch shootings; most were relayed through second hand sources. Further, most of those few reports that were related to shootings indicate that the shooters either missed or did not immediately bring the fleeing sasquatches down.

Skeletal remains are rarely found of any common, large, wild animal, so it should not be surprising that the skeletal remains of a sasquatch are not readily available. The acidic forest soils and muddy river bottoms found in the preferred habitat for the sasquatch tend to work in tandem with scavengers to quickly eliminate the remains of deceased animals. Finding a cougar (Puma concolor) carcass as a result of a natural death would probably be most analogous to finding a sasquatch carcass, although the most conservative estimates of cougar population densities most certainly are far greater than even the most liberal estimates of sasquatch population densities.

There have been a few unsubstantiated reports of near misses of sasquatches by drivers, and given the probability that many encounters go unreported, it is possible that a sasquatch could have been hit and killed by a moving vehicle. However, realistically, given the probable rarity of these creatures along with their intelligence and caution, the odds of such an event occurring seem almost non-existent.

There are some discernable signs that possibly indicate the presence of sasquatches (thus the noticeable effect on the environment), however, the signs are easily disregarded by someone unfamiliar with purported sasquatch behavior. For example, there are numerous reports of bigfoots breaking branches, trees, and saplings, and to a lesser degree, constructing nest-like structures.

Tree damage, possibly done for the purpose of marking trails or territory is discernable, but oftentimes hardly stands out among deadfall and ice or wind-broken trees. Most people would miss or casually dismiss such signs. It is unlikely that a typical wildlife biologist or anyone not knowledgeable on this subject, upon observing sasquatch-related limb breaks, would ever suspect a sasquatch as the culprit, even in the absence of any other readily apparent explanation. The characteristic twisting accompanying such breaks would appear to require enormous strength that can only be accomplished by something with hands. Nest-like structures, purportedly built by sasquatches, have been found by researchers in areas of sightings.

Another contention often heard is that the thousands of credible reports from throughout North America are, in one way or another, the products of human imagination. The contention is that many of the witnesses are intentionally lying about what they encountered and are actually themselves the perpetrators of hoaxes, or the witnesses are simply mistaken and are misidentifying what they saw or heard. Or, as the argument goes, many of the witnesses are simply victims of practical jokes and/or hoaxes. All evidence aside, it may seem more plausible to consider that there actually is an undocumented animal that is prompting thousands of reports than it is to believe in an unrelated series of hoaxed sightings and misidentifications.

It should soon become evident to anyone who seriously and objectively delves into and studies the numerous credible sightings that many of the reports themselves are quite compelling. It is difficult to totally dismiss as fabrications all the reports that have accumulated from so many credible witnesses over so many decades.

However, the essence of the research presented here does not focus on the validity of any individual report, but on the body of reports as a whole in order to ascertain any correlations and patterns that may exist. When one impartially studies the sum total of all the reports it becomes evident that there do indeed seem to be correlations and patterns that could be representative of a living species.

Among these correlations, particularly in Texas, is the likelihood of sighting reports in areas with certain amounts of annual rainfall. The same pattern is also evident in the body of reports that originate in other states where there are divergent rainfall totals in different parts of each state, such as Oregon, Washington, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Montana, Colorado and California. (Conversely, in states with widespread abundant rainfall totals, such as Arkansas and Louisiana, a rainfall total/reported bigfoot encounters correlation is not evident). There is also a pattern of reported sightings along rivers, creeks or lakes. Reported sightings and human population densities seem to have some correlation, as does the distribution of alleged bigfoot sightings and areas viewed as suitable black bear habitat.

John Green, journalist, author and renowned sasquatch researcher, first touched upon the association of reported sasquatch sightings and annual rainfall totals in his 1978 book Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us. Though the book was written nearly thirty years ago, the passage of time has not diminished its relevance. On the contrary, the increase of credible reports since that time has served to further validate Green’s thesis. He determined that eighty percent of the reported sightings and alleged footprint finds in North America occurred in areas receiving more than seventeen inches of annual rainfall.

When this observation is applied to credible Texas reports and is represented on a map, discernable patterns seemingly indicative of a living species emerge. In Texas and Oklahoma, roughly ninety percent of the credible reports occur in areas that see at least thirty-five inches of rain per year, or in the eastern third of the state(s). Since the vast majority of Texas and Oklahoma reports are aligned with rainfall patterns, it is possible to dispute allegations of fabrication or mistaken identity. It is not rational to assume or propose that people living in areas with more than thirty-five inches of annual rainfall are more likely to submit a hoaxed report or misidentify what they saw than people living in areas with less than thirty-five inches of annual rainfall. While a few reports have originated in areas with lower amounts of rainfall, they appear to be sporadic and isolated, possibly due to a natural propensity of wildlife to use watercourses as travel routes; if the sasquatch is a legitimate species, it makes perfect sense that it would also use watercourses as travel routes.

While portions of far western Texas and Oklahoma are certainly semi-arid, the eastern sections of both states receive abundant annual rainfall. These areas are heavily forested and feature an abundance of waterways and lakes; they are very much ecological clones of the two neighboring eastern states of the region, Arkansas and Louisiana.

The combined total amount of forestland in the four-state region equates to roughly 65,000,000 acres, or 100,000 square miles (the size of the state of Oregon). According to The Online Handbook of Texas, there are roughly 22,000,000 acres of forest in Texas alone; per the Arkansas Forestry Association, there are roughly 19,000,000 acres of forest in Arkansas; the Louisiana Forestry Association reports that there are 14,000,000 acres of forest in Louisiana; Oklahoma has approximately 10,000,000 acres of forest as indicated by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

While the forestlands of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma may be somewhat more parceled, or discontinuous, than northwestern forests, it is obvious that they are enormous in scope and depth, contrary to the misperceptions of some. Wildlife biologist Dr. John Bindernagel, who visited the region in 2001 and 2002, was struck by the richness and scope of the region’s forests, which are predominantly mixed deciduous, as opposed to the largely coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Bindernagel recognized the value and productivity of deciduous forests in terms of wildlife habitat and he pointed out that large species of mammals living in the southern forests would almost certainly require smaller home ranges than in northern coniferous forests.

Almost without exception, reported sasquatch sightings occur near water. This is even true with the relatively few reports originating in the drier regions of Texas and Oklahoma, where sasquatches are reportedly seen generally on or near waterways or lakes in thick brush or dense riparian vegetation. Most wildlife researchers and hunters would quickly reinforce the observation that many mammalian species often use rivers and creeks as travel routes. Since water is essential for the cycle of life, animals regularly congregate near or at least dwell primarily in areas featuring bodies of fresh water. Both Texas and Oklahoma have an abundance of rivers, creeks, swamps, reservoirs and lakes, particularly in their eastern regions. It is also reasonable for a large number of reported sightings to occur in or around swamps, river bottoms or bayous, since a reclusive, shy animal would find seclusion and sanctuary in such areas.

When a river basins map is viewed with an overlay of reported encounters and an annual rainfall overlay, it becomes evident that most alleged sightings have occurred along waterways and lakes and in areas with thirty-five inches or more of annual rainfall. Many reported sightings in Northeast Texas have occurred in the Red River Basin along the Sulphur River or Red River and/or their adjoining reservoirs or creeks. Many reported encounters have also occurred in the Red/Sulphur River watershed in southeastern Oklahoma, southwestern Arkansas and Northeast Texas. Similarly, the Sabine River Basin, extending from Southeast Texas into Northeast Texas has also generated quite a few reports. In Oklahoma, the Canadian River Basin is not without its share of reported encounters. In Southeast Texas, in what is called the Primitive Big Thicket (encompassing the Sam Houston National Forest and the Big Thicket National Preserve area), the Neches River Basin, Trinity River Basin and San Jacinto River Basin have had many reports through the years as well as in recent times. In fact, Southeast Texas is the most prolific area in Texas for reports of bigfoot sightings. Likewise in Oklahoma, the most prolific area for reported encounters is also in its southeastern region. It should come as no surprise that the southeastern regions in both Texas and Oklahoma also receive the highest amount of rainfall for both states, with totals as high as sixty inches per year in spots.

Although the East Texas river basins have generated far more reports, the Brazos, Colorado and Guadalupe basins have also had occasional reported sightings. These three basins average less than thirty-five inches of rainfall per year, but they typically have dense vegetation and trees in the riparian margins. Given that the vast majority of Texas and Oklahoma reports follows rainfall patterns and occurs along waterways, the notion that these reports are simply the result of the misidentification of known animals, wishful thinking, and/or deliberate fabrications seems flawed.

There is yet another interesting correlation with the distribution of these sighting reports. For the most part it appears that most reported sightings in the four-state region occur in counties with lower human population densities. There are a few exceptions. However, 100% of the sightings reported from counties with higher populations still occurred in areas that were along the peripheries of or outside of the realm of human development (such as in Montgomery County, Texas, in the Sam Houston National Forest, an area of consistent reports). Actually, suitable wildlife habitat often exists close to urban and suburban areas. That being said, reported sightings that have occurred on the edge of small towns and larger cities are by far the exceptions.

In fact, it seems that where human populations increase, reported sasquatch sightings decrease. Where human populations decrease, reported sasquatch sightings may increase. The reputed shyness of the sasquatch is only further girded by this human population correlation. This observation is further enhanced by the inference from reports that sasquatches are nocturnal, or at the very least, crepuscular. Not only do the reported sightings seem to suggest that sasquatches live in areas of low human population densities, along waterways, and in areas of high annual rainfall, but they may be most active when humans are not, which is at night. The notion of fabrications and mistakes is unrealistic in light of these correlations.

While Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana have resident populations of black bears (Ursus americanus), there remains the question of whether or not the 12,000,000 acres of dense forest in East Texas can support even a small population of large omnivores such as the sasquatch. After all, black bears no longer roam the Piney Woods of East Texas. But did black bears disappear from East Texas because of a shortage of suitable habitat? No, or so says the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Biologists conducted a black bear habitat suitability study in four areas of East Texas: the Sulphur River Bottom (51,000 acres), the Big Thicket National Preserve (97,000 acres), the Middle Neches River Corridor (247,000 acres), and the Lower Neches River Corridor (312,000 acres). The purpose of the study was to determine the suitability of habitat in East Texas for the black bear, a large omnivorous mammal. The study is relevant because there may be a correlation between purported sasquatch and suitable black bear habitat. If an area is suitable for a large omnivore such as the black bear, it seems reasonable to posit that it is just as likely to be suitable for a small population of omnivorous sasquatches.

One part of the study dealt with food availability in summer and winter; all four areas scored very high. Biologists calculated a strong favorable rating for the availability of protection and concealment cover in all four areas. In the category of human/bear conflict zones, a less than favorable rating for the Big Thicket National Preserve was determined, but a moderately to strongly favorable rating was found for the other three areas.

Overall, the study indicated that the most suitable region for bears among the four study areas was the Middle Neches River Corridor, followed in order by the Lower Neches River Corridor, the Sulphur River Bottom, and the Big Thicket National Preserve. All four areas have had an abundance of bigfoot sighting reports.

Environmental suitability issues were also addressed by another group of scientists. While the curators of Chimp Haven in Northwest Louisiana probably do not spend too much time contemplating black bear habitat factors, they do devote much of their time discussing and evaluating primate habitat. According to their web site, Chimp Haven provides a permanent home for chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) retired from biomedical research, the entertainment industry, and those no longer wanted as pets. Their new sanctuary, presently under construction, is planned to accommodate 300 chimpanzees, animals which may be the closest relatives of sasquatches. Due to its ecology and climate, Chimp Haven curators believe that Northwest Louisiana is ideal primate habitat. Western Louisiana and East Texas are virtually ecological clones. It should come as no surprise that Northwest Louisiana was selected as the new site of Chimp Haven’s operations, given what we believe about sasquatch habitat.

In conclusion, several observations serve to dispel the notion that bigfoot sighting reports in Texas and Oklahoma are not the result of actual encounters. The reports, based on recent as well as older credible encounters, continue to accumulate and show no signs of abating. If one chooses to take the reports seriously and the apparent associated ecological patterns, as has been done in this paper, debates regarding the existence of this species are replaced by new issues such as those pertaining to ecology, distribution, behavior, and population densities.


Alley, J. Robert (2003). Raincoast Sasquatch. 351 pp. Hancock House, Blaine, Washington.

Bindernagel, J.A. (1998). North America's Great Ape: The Sasquatch. 270 pp. Beachcomber Books. Courtenay, B.C., Canada.

Chimp Haven.

Distribution of Precipitation in Oklahoma map. Provided by the online Web Atlas of Oklahoma.

Fahrenbach, W.H. (1997-1998). Sasquatch: Size, Scaling, and Statistics. Cryptozoology Vol. 13: 47-75.

Garner, Nathan P. and Sean Willis. (1997). Black Bear Habitat Suitability in East Texas, featured in Wildlife Research Highlights, pages 18-19 (.pdf). Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Austin, Texas.

Gould Ecoregions of Texas map (.pdf). Provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department GIS Lab.

Green, J. (1978). Sasquatch: The Apes Among Us. 492 pp. Hancock House Publishers Ltd., Saanichton, B.C., Canada.

Natural Regions of Texas map (.pdf). Provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department GIS Lab.

Natural Subregions of Texas map (.pdf). Provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department GIS Lab.

Oklahoma Ecoregions map. Provided by the online Web Atlas of Oklahoma.

Population of Oklahoma map. Provided by the online Web Atlas of Oklahoma.

Precipitation in Texas map (.pdf). Provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department GIS Lab.

Surface Hydrography of Oklahoma map. Provided by the online Web Atlas of Oklahoma.

Texas River Basins, Major Bays and Streams map (.pdf). Provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department GIS Lab.

Texas Sightings Database. TBRC Report Explorer. Texas Bigfoot Research Conservancy.

The Vegetation Types of Texas map (.pdf). Provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department GIS Lab.

Vegetation in Oklahoma map. Provided by the online Web Atlas of Oklahoma.

Watersheds Across Oklahoma map. Provided by the online Web Atlas of Oklahoma.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chester Moore on the Giant Catfish of SE Texas

Tales of giant catfish patrolling the deepest waters of Texas lakes and reservoirs were very common in the area where I grew up. Even the occasional fisherman and/or outdoorsman in southeast Texas knew of these tales. Most of the stories from my youth centered around giant catfish that allegedly hung out near the dam of B.A. Steinhagen Reservoir in east Texas. The catfish of “Dam B,” as most called the lake, were said to be large enough to swallow a man whole. So intimidating were they, the story went, that several divers who had been sent down to inspect the dam refused to re-enter the lake once getting an eyeful of these beasts.

Outdoors journalist Chester Moore heard these stories too. He decided several years ago to pursue the myth and see if there could be a basis of truth behind the legends of giant-sized catfish. Moore documented his efforts in a 2005 article for the Port Arthur News called “Search for giant catfish.” I seem to recall seeing the article on Moore’s now defunct Cryptokeeper website as well. Here is a brief excerpt:

“While contemplating my surroundings, a chill went down my spine. It seemed as if something was watching me as I could see no farther than my hand in front of my face. Could it be that one of the creatures I was searching for was a reality and I was in the presence of one?”

If you missed the article you are in luck. The Port Arthur News has posted the 2005 article online. I don’t know how long it will be there so go check it out ASAP. You can access the article here.

The stories of giant catfish continue to circulate to this day. I heard a rehashed version of the story I mentioned above just the other day. The only difference is that the giant fish had allegedly been seen in Lake Belton. Another factor in the recycling of these stories is a photo that has been making the rounds for years. The photo shows two men holding up a mammoth catfish. The version I received said the fish had been caught in Lake Texoma. The only problem is that the fish was a Wels catfish (Silurus glanis). This particular species is native to Europe and not North America. From what I can tell the photo is real. The story surrounding it is bogus. It is not unlike the story of the Brokenbow gar I wrote about a while back.

It seems the stories of giant catfish will continue to live on whether the fish actually exist or not. I don’t know if these fish are real. If they do exist, their size has very likely been exaggerated. Even so, every time I’m tossing a crankbait along the rip-rap in the shadow of the Lake Belton Dam I think about what might be lurking in the deep water beneath me.

It makes me smile every time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rainy Days and Delays

Those of you who have kept up with my camera-trapping project in Bell County, Texas may have noticed that I’m overdue on checking my cameras. As you can see from the schedule in the right margin of this page, the cameras were due to be checked on Saturday 12/3. Due to what has become an increasingly rare weather anomaly here in Texas, several days of heavy rains, I had to put off checking the cameras this past weekend.

Temperatures have ranged from the 30's to the 40’s, winds have been high, and, according to my rain gauge, we’ve received a little more than 4” of rain since last Friday. In addition, I’ve been flat on my back with a very nasty cold. The rainy weather is actually wonderful news for the drought-stricken part of central Texas in which I live so I didn’t really mind putting off the camera check for another few days. I’m sure the creek bed in which I’ve placed the cameras is full of water at the moment, which would make traveling from camera site to camera site difficult. All of this being the case, I decided this was a good weekend to stay inside and watch football. The plan now is to get out and service the cameras no later than this coming weekend. It is supposed to warm up some and the rain is going to stop. I’ll give the creek a couple of days to recede and then get on out there.

I have had a report that one mountain lion has been seen in the vicinity within the last two weeks. The spot where the latest sighting allegedly took place is less than two miles from the camera location. I already know that multiple species are using this creek bed as a travel route. My hope is that eventually the mountain lion that continues to be reported will show up there as well.

As always, I’ll post the latest pictures once I retrieve them.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Invasive Burros Threatening West Texas Ecology

Most people who follow wildlife and ecological issues to any degree are familiar with the problems that invasive species are causing in various parts of North America. The plight of Florida officials fighting the exploding Burmese python populations in the Everglades is well documented. Other invasives are making headlines and causing major problems for native species as well. Zebra mussels, snakehead fish, feral hogs, and Asian carp are all causing problems to some degree in different regions of our nation. I’m willing to bet that one invasive species, that is causing major damage to the ecology of Texas, is not on the radar for most people. The invasive animal in question? The burro.

The burro (Equus asinus), which might best be described as a small, feral cousin to the donkey, is wreaking havoc on the ecology of far west Texas. Particularly hard hit is the Big Bend area the Lone Star State. The burros are, and have been for some time, entering Texas from Mexico. The animals are aggressive and extremely territorial. Kevin Good, a special assistant with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department says that the burros are commandeering watering holes and chasing other animals away from them. According to Good, they are also contaminating natural springs in the Big Bend area with their feces. The severe drought Texas is suffering makes each spring and watering hole vital. If native species are not able to drink due to aggressive burros or because the water has been contaminated they are going to suffer.

Good says the burros are stressing native populations of black hawks, gophers, mule deer, and, especially, bighorn sheep. Bighorn sheep populations have plummeted in the last few years and officials are concerned that competition from burros could doom them in Texas.

Sohatra Sarkar, professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin has spent years studying burro populations in Texas and Mexico. He agrees with the TP&WD that the burro population is out of control and poses a very real threat to the bighorn sheep population.

“They’re a threat to the entire ecology of the region,” Sarkar said. “Whichever method you choose to deal with it, the problem is very real.”

The question then is what should be done about the problem? For the TP&WD the answer is simple. Eliminate them.

Kevin Good said, “Our mandate is to eliminate all invasive species if we can. That is our priority.”

To carry out this goal of eliminating the invasive burro population the TP&WD has taken to hunting them. Park rangers are combing the 300,000-acre Big Bend Ranch State Park, one of the state’s most rugged and isolated locales, with rifles in search of these burros. It is believed more than 300 burros are spread across this vast park. So far, park rangers have shot 128 of them. This approach is not allowed everywhere in the area, however. In neighboring Big Bend National Park the burros are protected by federal law. Here state officials are forced to try to round up and capture the burros. This is expensive and extremely difficult work. The burro is very intelligent and is adept at avoiding capture. Those that are corralled have to be screened for parasites and diseases and are then taken to auction.

As would be expected in today’s world, the treatment the invasive burros are receiving is not sitting well with some. Animal rights groups are up in arms and some local residents remain firmly in the corner of the burros. Bumper stickers and placards showing support for the burros can be seen in and around Alpine, Texas and protests are beginning to get louder. Three dozen, or so, people attended a rally last month protesting the killing of burros in the region. Protesters sang songs and read burro-inspired poetry. They also suggested alternatives to shooting burros like darting and sterilizing them. The protesters did not seem to have any useful suggestions as to how to fund such a program, however.

Adding to the situation is that burros are incredibly difficult to round up. The rugged terrain and the high level of intelligence of these animals conspire to make capture all but impossible in many instances. It is very simply one of those things that is easier said than done. To illustrate this point, Good recounts an effort made three years ago to corral the burros. A burro rescue group was hired by the state to go into Big Bend Ranch State Park and catch as many burros as possible. Despite their best efforts the group failed to catch a single animal.

It really isn’t surprising that these burros would have some strong support. The animals are a living link to the past. The first burros and donkeys came over from Europe with the Spanish in the 16th century. The smaller burros quickly became the pack animal of choice for the arid and dry regions of the New World. The feral burros populating the southwest now are the descendents of the domesticated Spanish stock. The image of the grizzled old prospector leading his burro through rocky terrain is iconic. These burros are, in many ways, living history.

I wonder if the problem isn’t more widespread than the TP&WD might suspect. Back in the spring of 2010, while on a trip to the Sam Houston National Forest, I heard a “donkey” braying early one morning. I was nowhere near a farm or any other sort of private property. A group of my fellow TBRC members camped in the same location a couple of weeks later and not only heard the “donkey” but managed to get a photo of it. We surmised that this guy had escaped from a local and gone feral. I wonder now if he might not have been one of these burros that had somehow managed to make the trek into east Texas. The SHNF is certainly a long way from the Big Bend country but it makes me wonder.

As unpleasant as it may sound to animal rights folks, the only real solution is to eliminate the invasive burros of west Texas. They are cuter than a feral hog or a snakehead but no less destructive. The native species of our state need to be protected from all invasives. It does not matter if that invasive is an ugly boar hog, a dangerous reptile like a Burmese python, or a fuzzy brown-eyed burro. Trapping, rounding up, and/or tranquilizing and sterilizing these burros is just not practical. The state simply has to, in my opinion, continue with their efforts to eliminate these invasive animals. Having said that, I also think that any rescue group or individual interested in trying to capture these burros should be allowed to do so free of charge. The TP&WD should make interested parties register with them, report where they will be attempting their round-ups, and inform them of how many, if any, burros were removed. This would involve little more than setting up a database on the part of the state and allow those who find the shooting of these burros abhorrent to put their money where their mouth is, so to speak.

One thing is for sure. The problem cannot be ignored any longer.

Source: Jervis, Rick (2011). Wild burros wreak havoc on Texas ecology. USA Today online. Sourced from here December 1, 2011.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sasquatch Stalkers

There was a great article published in the December issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine featuring three of my fellow TBRC members. The article is titled "Sasquatch Stalkers" and was written by Russell A. Graves.

The article features TBRC members Chris Buntenbah, Jerry Hestand, and Lyle Blackburn. Graves questions each of them as to how they became interested in the sasquatch phenomenon and shares an unusual sighting he had of his own with them. Together the group travels to the woods of northern Fannin County, Texas to the spot where Graves had his encounter back in 1986.

The article is well-written and an interesting look into the different ways people get interested in what would be considered a fringe subject, at best, by most. It is refreshing to see a piece that is written in a straight-forward manner about the subject of the sasquatch and the people that are attempting to document the species.

Check it out at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine site or at the TBRC site. Additionally, Russell Graves has a terrific blog site of his own. Check it out here.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The White River Monster

What would cryptozoology be without lake monsters? These creatures, real or not, are well known to the public. Names like Ogopogo, Champ, and, of course, Nessie, possibly the most famous cryptid creature in the world, have stirred the imaginations of people for generations. The three cryptids mentioned above make up a sort of “who’s who” of lake monsters but are far from alone in the world. There are numerous less well-known lake monsters that allegedly haunt bodies of water of varying sizes across the globe. One of these lesser-known beasts is said to swim the waters of an unassuming river in Arkansas.

The White River monster or “Whitey,” as it is referred to by locals, has been periodically reported for more than 100 years. The monster is very well-known regionally and accepted as being real by a surprisingly high number of Arkansas residents. There are rumors that the White River monster first reared its head during the Civil War. Legend has it that the monster played a part in the sinking of a supply boat during the conflict. Details are extremely vague, however, and while I found many references to this story, I could never determine whether the vessel that was supposedly lost belonged to the Union or the Confederacy.

What is more clear is that sightings began to pick up in 1912 when timber workers, who were floating rafts of cedar down the river below Branson, Missouri, reported seeing something highly unusual. The workers said they saw something very large on the bottom of the river that they, at first, mistook for a boulder. When it moved, however, they realized it was something else altogether. They estimated the size of the creature to be at least 300 lbs. The witnesses described the monster as a turtle of enormous size. As one might imagine, the sighting caused quite a stir and local fishermen and hunters quickly organized a monster hunt. The results of this monster hunt have been lost to history. That being the case, it is probably safe to assume the monster hunters returned empty handed without ever seeing anything out of the ordinary.

In 1924, “Whitey” showed up further downstream in Arkansas. A woman reported seeing the monster surface and emit a loud “blowing noise.” She described the animal as gray in color with a “strange kind of hide.”

The monster of the White River received a boat load of publicity in 1937 after a farmer named Bramlett Bateman reported that some of his workers had seen something strange in a deep eddy just six miles downstream from Newport, Arkansas. Bateman, not simply taking the word of his workers, went to the river to take a look for himself and also sighted the beast. He described an animal that was a car-length in width and three car-lengths in length with the hide of an elephant. The story spread like wildfire across the nation as newspaper editors from coast-to-coast published Bateman’s account. It should be mentioned here that this intense interest in the White River monster by newspapers might have been fueled by the intense interest shown by the public when the first real wave of Loch Ness monster sighting coverage occurred just four years previously.

The hunt for “Whitey” received intense publicity. Newport residents fashioned a huge rope net they hoped would suffice to bag the monster. The net was 40-feet long and 15-feet wide and the plan was for a small armada of boats to sweep the eddy area with it in the hopes of catching the monster. Adding to the circus-like atmosphere was the fact that a fence was erected by the Newport Chamber of Commerce on the banks of the river overlooking the eddy where the monster had been seen. For a mere quarter locals could come and gawk as the monster hunters plied the waters in search of the creature. Alas, nothing was ever found.

The White River monster was spotted periodically over the years after the 1937 flap but didn’t really receive much in the way of attention again until 1971. That is the year Newport resident David Jenks reported seeing a huge animal in the river that he described as being gray and long with a “pointy bone” protruding from its head. He estimated the weight of the creature at 1,000 lbs. On June 28th of that same year, a man named Cloyce Warrren snapped a photograph that he said showed the monster. The photo was a bit blurry but seemed to show a hump of some sort floating in the river. These two sightings put the search for “Whitey” back into high gear. On July 5th, a county sheriff reported finding unusual footprints on Towhead Island just north of Bateman Eddy. The prints were 14” long and 8” wide with three long toes. The prints appeared to show a spur of some sort that projected from the heel. Periodic sightings continued over the summer of 1971. Foremost among them was a report filed by a fisherman and his grandson who claimed something had come up from the depths of the river and bumped their boat from below.

The Arkansas legislature designated a stretch of the White River between Newport and Possum Grape as the "White River Monster Refuge" in 1973. The resolution made it illegal to kill, harass, or otherwise harm the monster within the boundaries of the refuge. Whether this was done in jest or not I cannot say with any degree of certainty. I can think of only one law anywhere else in the country that is similar and that is the ordinance originally passed by Skamania County, Washington in 1969, which made it illegal to kill or harm a sasquatch. Most considered Skamania County’s actions to be a tongue-in-cheek jest meant to capitalize on tourist dollars. Having visited the county, I can assure you that the people of rural Washington take the sasquatch a lot more seriously than you might think. From what I can tell, longtime residents living along the White River feel the same way about their monster.

What could the White River monster be? Several theories have been advanced. Two have gained the most traction over the years. Many believe “Whitey” to be nothing more than a giant alligator snapping turtle. These turtles can grow to some truly impressive sizes. The largest ever caught was in excess of 400 lbs and they do inhabit the rivers, swamps, lakes, and reservoirs of the south. Descriptions of an animal with a large hump with spikes, a pointed head, and dark gray in color could describe a snapping turtle. Remember, too, that the lumber men working the river in 1912 initially described what they saw as a giant turtle. In addition, these turtles are believed to live up to 150 years. One excessively large specimen could be responsible for decades of sightings. There are problems with this theory though. Very few witnesses describe the White River monster as being in the 300-500 lb. range. Some, to the contrary, report the creature to be truly enormous and in excess of 1,000 lbs. Snapping turtles have never been known to get this big. In addition, most people living in rural bottom-lands are very familiar with what a snapping turtle looks like. For these folks to mistake a turtle for a monster seems unlikely.

Biologist Roy P. Mackal has put forth what has become another popular theory; mainly, the White River monster is nothing but an incredibly lost bull elephant seal. Mackal theorizes that the elephant seal ended up in the White River after traveling up the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico. Elephant seals are truly enormous creatures. Males can reach lengths in excess of 16-feet and weigh in at 6,600 lbs. The bulls are known for their large trunk-like proboscis from whence they get their name. The bulls use this “trunk” to help them make extraordinarily loud roaring noises, especially important during mating season. Some of the descriptions given for the White River monster would seem to be a good match for a bull elephant seal. The “horn” that some have described protruding from the head of the creature could be nothing more than an elephant seal’s large trunk-like proboscis. The size of an elephant seal matches up to several of the descriptions of an animal the “size of a boxcar.” Also, some witnesses have described an odd type of skin on the White River monster that matches up well to what elephant seals look like during molting. It seems like a good match but, again, there are issues with this theory. The main problem is that no self-respecting elephant seal would be anywhere near the Gulf of Mexico. The northern elephant seal ranges from Alaska to Mexico but are always found on the Pacific side of the North American continent. Southern elephant seals are found much farther south on the islands surround Antarctica and only occasionally near Australia and New Zealand. This makes the southern elephant seal an unlikely candidate to have ventured up the Mississippi River. Finally, elephant seals typically live only about 15 years. A wayward bull could not possibly account for the sightings over so many years.

Personally, I don’t put much stock into the snapping turtle or elephant seal theories. I do feel that the most likely explanation is that a known animal has ventured outside its known range (though not as far as an elephant seal would have to roam) and is being seen by the locals. I think it is entirely possible that what people have seen, and continue to see periodically, is a Gulf sturgeon. Sturgeon are an ancient group of fishes that have remained virtually unchanged since the age of the dinosaurs. Some types of sturgeon can reach massive sizes. The Gulf sturgeon can be in excess of 8-feet in length and weigh more than 200 lbs. They are covered in scutes (modified scales) that form a very effective protective armor for the fish. Some of these scutes do appear raised and give the sturgeon a “razorback” look (appropriate for a river in Arkansas). This could account for reports of the White River Monster having spike-like projections on its back. These scutes also give the sturgeon an appearance very different than that of other fish. They would appear prehistoric and alien to someone not familiar with them. The head of the Gulf sturgeon features an extended snout with four tactile barbels on the chin in front of the mouth. The unique design of the sturgeon’s head further adds to the odd appearance of the fish. The Gulf sturgeon is anadromous. In other words, it lives in marine environments but migrates to freshwater rives to spawn. The Gulf sturgeon's spawning habits have not been well studied but it does appear that the species is a “home stream spawner.” Basically, this means that individuals return to the rivers where they were born to carry out their own reproductive efforts. The Gulf sturgeon is a long-lived species. Scientists conservatively estimate the average lifespan of the species to be 25-30 years with the females living longer than the males. Some have speculated the females of the species might be capable of living for 100 years or more. These fish do occasionally jump and have actually struck and injured swimmers and boater when doing so.

I posit that at some point in the past a Gulf sturgeon, or a small group of them, ventured farther up the Mississippi River than would be typical in order to spawn. They found their way into the White River and reproduced. The fact that they live a long time could account for sightings over the decades. In addition, the fact that sturgeon return to the rivers where they were spawned would mean that a small number of these fish would continue to return to the White River year after year. That being the case, sightings of the White River monster could continue in perpetuity.

The fact that Gulf sturgeon are anadromous, are home stream spawners, live for a very long time, reach truly large sizes, do occasionally breach or jump from the water, are known to inhabit the Mississippi River for several months of the year, and are very unique and “prehistoric looking” in appearance make them my number one suspect in the mystery of the White River Monster.

There is no definitive answer as to what the White River monster might be. One thing is for sure, however, and that is many locals continue to believe it is there, somewhere in the river, waiting to be discovered.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I just wanted to take a moment and wish all of you a very happy Thanksgiving.

It is easy to get caught up in the trials and tribulations that are a part of our everyday lives. I hope that on this day, at least, we will all pause to remember and dwell upon our blessings.

My best to you all.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Operation Endurance Presentation

I have received several emails over the last few months asking about the TBRC's Operation Endurance. I haven't posted much about the operation for a couple of reasons. One, I wanted to wait until the operation was complete. Second, the group was planning a detailed presentation on Operation Endurance to be given at the annual conference in October. It seemed appropriate to wait until after the conference before posting on the subject. The TBRC, recognizing the fact that many could not attend the conference, has now made this presentation available to the public.

Brian Brown did a terrific job presenting the details of Operation Endurance. That being the case, there is no real need for me to do a detailed post. You can simply listen to the presentation yourself at the TBRC website here. At some point, we hope to get the video of the presentation up on the site. In the meantime, you don't want to miss the audio of Brian's presentation.

Some amazing things occurred during Operation Endurance and some very intriguing evidence was obtained. I plan on commenting more about it in the future but, until then, take a listen to this presentation.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rare Sighting of a Long-Eared Owl on Texas Coast

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time at all you know that I am interested in all manner of wildlife. While I have a unique interest in animals that would be thought of as cryptids, I am not one of those people obsessed only with animals that might exist. Certainly, mysterious creatures like bigfoot, black panthers, and the like intrigue me. If they didn’t I would have come up with a different name for the site. While I have devoted many posts to cryptozoological topics, I have also written many posts on known animals like alligators, bears, cougars, sharks, wolves, coyotes, and, well, you get the idea. Sometimes, a known animal showing up somewhere it generally isn’t seen or just flat out does not belong interests me as much as anything else. This post sort of falls under that umbrella.

A friend of mine emailed me these photos of a Long-eared owl (Asia otus). This species of owl would not be considered uncommon in anyone’s book. What’s unusual about these photos is where they were taken. These images were captured in the Sabine Woods on the Texas Coast just outside of Sabine Pass. The Sabine Woods (formerly known as Grim’s Woods) is a bird sanctuary owned by the Texas Ornithological Society. It is a significant tract of woods consisting mostly of live oaks and features a natural slough/wetlands area. The area is only about a quarter of a mile from the Gulf of Mexico and serves as one of the most important migratory stops in the region for neo-tropical birds. All that being said, spotting a pair of Long-eared owls there qualifies as very unusual.

The Long-eared owl is very striking in appearance as you can see. It is considered a medium-sized owl averaging 12-17 inches in length. The most noticeable physical features of these owls are the erect blackish ear-tufts. It is theorized that the ear-tufts are designed to make the owl appear larger and more intimidating than it really is.

The Long-eared owl usually breeds between February and July. This owl is considered to be partially migratory as it does fly south from the northern parts of its temperate range to winter. However, as you can see from the map below, the Texas coast is considerably farther south than where you would expect to find these owls. In addition, it usually prefers coniferous forests in which to nest. The Sabine Woods, being made up mostly of hardwoods, doesn’t fit that particular bill. This owl will gladly use the abandoned stick-style nests of other birds like crows and hawks as well as man-made nesting baskets. Often these owls will roost communally during winter months though only two of these birds have been spotted in the Sabine Woods to this point.

I’ve always thought owls were really awesome birds. Their nocturnal habits always made them seem somehow more mysterious than other birds of prey. Many nights spent in the woods of Texas, listening to the calls of Barred owls (Strix varia) have done nothing to change my opinion. These Long-eared owls may not be cryptids but I think they do qualify as an out of place animal in this instance. Even if that is a stretch, I just enjoyed the photos too much not to post them.

I hope you enjoyed them too.

Monday, November 14, 2011

TBRC Report #01110076

I just completed an investigation into a fascinating sasquatch sighting that allegedly took place on Bergstrom Air Force Base in May of 1981. The witness's original report and my write-up of the incident are below. I think you'll agree it is a pretty interesting account.

Airman reports night-time encounter on Bergstrom AFB.
Report# 01110076
Occurred May 1981 (Submitted November 1, 2011)

Witness Observation
I was in the Air Force (Security Police or now Security Forces). I was also a member of the base SWAT team and involved in the martial arts. I had just gotten off duty but was asked to respond to a call about a baby crying in base dump. I only went with them because we had to discuss an upcoming base SWAT team training exercise. This was at Bergstrom AFB (now Austin-Bergstrom International Airport).

I responded with three other guys. One was a black belt and SWAT team leader armed with a .38 caliber pistol. Another companion was a 3rd degree black belt armed with a .38 caliber pistol too. The third was a K-9 handler, with his dog. The dog was a holdover from those bred for duty in Vietnam. He was considered to be so dangerous that they had clipped and tattooed his ears to ensure no one accidentally handled this dog.

The call came from a general’s wife, so it had to be checked out.

We went to the dump area. I was then a very remote area of the base. There was a maze of deep creeks and natural drainages in this area. The closest civilization was Bastrop, Texas, and a small prison. The dump was fenced on three sides by a six foot fence with (I believe a 12" "Y" outrigger on it). The fourth side of the dump was a four foot high barbed wire fence. Beyond the fence was a freshly plowed field.

The area was maybe two acres in size, in the shape of a triangle. We arrived and entered through a gate on one of the short sides of the triangle. To our right were several large trailer sized dumpsters (maybe 8), and about 10-12 smaller (Dipsy Dumpster) on our left.

The K-9 unit went first. As he approached to dumpsters on the right, we heard the sound of a baby squeal. The cries seemed to move from one dumpster to another; moving further away from us. This was weird, but then the K-9 handler told us that he thought it was just a baby rabbit. He said he has heard them squeal like that.

After he got down to about the 5th dumpster, the sound came back towards us at the gate. We got a little creeped out by this so the senior Sergeant told us to just do a quick walk through so we could get out of there.

As we started back towards the vehicles, we heard the noise coming from the dumpster on our left, so we started checking them. When we finally got down to the 7th or 8th dumpster, we heard what sounded like a very large bodied impact against the end dumpster. Now these dumpsters were about 4 to 4.5 feet tall and maybe 6 feet by 6 feet wide. There was about 10-12 feet of space between them.

When we heard the banging sound against the end dumpster, we let the dog handler order (what we thought was maybe) a person to come out.

He gave them the order; there was no response. He then long leashed his dog and gave the order again. By now the dog was pulling and tugging to get to where the sound came from. The winds were blowing away from us, so all we could smell was the stench of the dump.

The dog handler gave a final command for the person to come out or he would release the dog. There was no response. The dog was going nuts now to get to the sound. The handler pulled the dog back, unclipped it from the leash and sent him towards the sound in attack mode.
Just as he reached the end dumpster, preparing to run around it, this huge creature leaped from behind the dumpster running. We all had our flashlights trained on the dumpster at about human height. This thing was huge. About 7-8 feet tall; covered with long dark brownish black (matted) fur. It did not turn towards us, but ran out and across the field.

It took two steps and stepped right over the barbed wire fence in as it ran off. Our flash light hit it about the shoulders. This was not a man. The stride covered the 10-12 feet in two steps, and then over the barbed wire fence without jumping.

Most importantly, this killer K-9, was frightened so badly, that he locked up all fours and abandoned his full out charge towards this creature and started screaming as if he had been hurt. He was looking up at the creature, and started backing up even as his momentum caused him to continue sliding forward. When he finally got his traction, he turned and ran past us back towards his kennel truck with his tail tucked between his legs. He was screaming in terror and was pissing himself looking over his shoulders to ensure the creature was not following him.

I would have doubted my own eyes, but this dog's behavior was one of pure terror. The dog was trained to attack on command without fear. I had never seen him behave in this manner, so I feared for my life. I knew he was responding to something real, so I was terrified too. We were no more than 15 or 20 feet away when this happened. The creature could be seen running across the field (in silhouette) disappearing into the woods.

Since we had to report this in an official government document, we delayed and discussed what we would put in the blotter until about 3:00am. Had we told the desk sergeant what we saw, we thought we could have lost our security clearances, so we simply said it was a rabbit or something.

I do not know if the report is public information now or not but it will validate the response if nothing else.

Time and Conditions
10:00 pm - It was a dark night, but there was enough natural light to see the silhouette.

Investigator's Comments
This investigation was conducted as a result of an incident that allegedly occurred in May of 1981 on Bergstrom Air Force Base in Travis County, Texas.

I spoke to the witness at length on the evening of 11 November 2011. The witness was serving in the United States Air Force at the time and was stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base, which lies roughly twelve miles southeast of Austin, Texas. The witness worked security detail for the base and was also a sniper on the SWAT team. He was technically off duty but was visiting with three men who were on duty when a call came in that night—at approximately 22:00—reporting what sounded like a crying baby coming from the area of the base dump. The call came in from the wife of a General, whose living quarters were about one-half mile away from the dump area; despite their suspicion it was nothing, the men traveled to this remote part of the base to investigate. According to the witness, the dump was an irregularly-shaped, roughly triangular piece of property, approximately two acres in size. Three sides of the dump were protected by a six-foot high chain link fence featuring what the witness described as a twelve-foot “Y” outrigger on top. The fourth side of the dump marked the property boundary between the base and private farm land and was delineated by a simple barbed wire fence about four feet high.

The witness decided to tag along on the response to this call even though he had just gotten off duty. He accompanied three other airmen who were working security that night. The witness described his companions that night as fearless men who were armed with .38 caliber handguns, the standard weapon for the Air Force at the time (the witness was not armed as he was off duty). In addition, one of the men was a SWAT team leader and another was a K-9 handler who had his sentry dog with him. The sentry dog was described as being a German Shepherd weighing somewhere between 75-100 pounds. The witness, as noted in the original report, described the dog as extremely dangerous; the dog’s ears had been clipped and tattooed so that there would be no confusion between it and some of the younger sentry dogs that had been trained in a different manner and were not considered as dangerous and difficult to handle.

The four men arrived at the dump and entered the gate. To their right was a row of approximately eight large trailer-sized dumpsters, and on their left was a row of ten or so smaller dumpsters of the sort one might see outside restaurants or convenience stores. The men advanced with the K-9 unit leading the way. As they approached the dumpsters on the right, they heard a sound not unlike a baby squealing. The strange cry was repeated several times and seemed to be moving down the row of long dumpsters away from them. The K-9 handler told the others he thought the squealer was nothing more than a baby rabbit. One of the men suggested that the group do a simple walk-through and leave so as not to waste time investigating what seemed a frivolous report. The group proceeded with their walk-through, but their mood changed a bit when the squealing sound was repeated. The squealer had somehow doubled back and was behind one of the smaller dumpsters on the opposite side of the yard, much closer to them than before. As the men walked the line of dumpsters toward the sound, they suddenly heard a very loud and heavy impact against one of the dumpsters. The witness described it as sounding like a very large and heavy body striking the backside of the dumpster. He said it was very loud and powerful enough to shift one of the heavy dumpsters slightly. The men were now on high alert.

The men had walked up the middle of the dump property between the long dumpsters and the smaller ones on their initial reconnaissance. On the way back they were positioned in the narrow 10-12 foot alley between the row of smaller dumpsters and the barbed wire fence separating the base property from private farmland. The K-9 handler immediately ordered whomever was hiding behind the dumpster to show himself or he would release the dog. There was no response. The handler repeated the order and “long-leashed” the dog that was now tugging at his restraint and barking furiously. The handler gave the order one final time. When there was no response, he released the sentry dog and gave the attack command.

The men all had their flashlights trained on the dumpster and watched as the sentry dog bounded forward. The witness reported that just as the dog reached the corner of the dumpster, a huge creature stood up and leaped or ran toward the barbed wire fence. He described the figure as being of massive proportions, seven to eight feet tall and covered in dark, matted-looking hair or fur. The sentry dog attempted to stop and began backpedaling wildly once it sighted the figure. The dog’s momentum caused it to continue to slide forward to the point that it almost bumped into the creature despite its attempts to stop. According to the witness, the dog began “screaming” and, once it regained its footing, turned and sprinted past the men, away from the creature, with its tail tucked between its legs. The witness recalled that the dog was so terrified that it was “pissing all over” as it retreated. The witness said that he had never seen that dog, or any dog, for that matter, act so completely terrified.

The creature took approximately two steps, clearing the 4-foot high barbed wire fence without seeming to jump, and ran across the open farmland toward a wooded area. The witness said that no person could have run as fast as the creature he saw that night did. He said the movement was smooth and fluid. That fact, along with the sheer size of the creature, convinced the witness this could not be a person in an ape suit or costume. The witness stated that while it was dark, there was enough moonlight to see the creature in silhouette until it made it to the wood line.

The stunned and rattled men returned to their vehicles and discussed what to do. They decided that it would be detrimental to their careers if they reported what they had seen and decided to say it was only a rabbit. The men discussed their experience periodically and always tried to find an “acceptable fit” to what they had seen. They all considered themselves to be rational men and wanted to find an explanation they could accept. The witness said that they never could come up with that more rational explanation and eventually had to agree they had seen a sasquatch that night.

I asked the witness if the squealing sound he heard that night would have been loud enough to be heard from the General’s quarters, approximately ½-mile away. He stated that he did not think so and said that thought had puzzled him as well. I also asked him if he felt that the creature he saw was the source of the squealing. He said that he didn’t know but the noise was not heard again once the creature was spotted. He added that he has since heard a rabbit squealing and the noise he heard that night in 1981 would be a very close match. He speculated that the creature he saw might have been attempting to catch a rabbit, causing it to scream in fear. He felt it more than possible that the creature he saw never vocalized at all.

The witness has lost touch with the other three men over the years, so I was not able to follow up with them. Having said that, I found this witness’s account compelling and could detect no signs of deception. He related his account in a calm but very intense manner. He remains convinced that what he saw that night in 1981 was not a person and that he encountered a sasquatch.

*Bergstrom Air Force Base was closed in 1993. The Austin-Bergstrom International Airport now occupies the site.

This and many other reports can be found on the TBRC website at

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wisdom from Berkeley

"People should feel more entitled to go out and investigate things that scientists might say don't exist. The broader purpose of science is to find out what's going on in the world. What I'm saying is that the lay public can actually help science, and has a right, even a responsibility, to do so."

-Berkeley associate Professor of Philosophy Sherrilyn Roush.

Typically, I don't agree with much that comes out of Berkeley but I think Professor Roush is dead on with this statement.

What do you think?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Footage of Extinct Imperial Woodpecker Released

Most people with even a passing interest in nature have heard of the plight of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The sad tale of how this magnificent bird became extinct, due mainly to loss of suitable habitat, is well known. What is not as well known is the story of an equally magnificent, and even bigger, woodpecker that once thrived in the Sierra Madre Occidental – a rugged mountain range stretching 900 miles, or so, south from the U.S.-Mexico border – and in the mountains of central Mexico.

The Imperial Woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis) was truly a magnificent bird. It was (is?) the biggest woodpecker in the world. Males could grow up to 24 inches long. They were strikingly colored. Males had a red-sided crest but were mostly black in color with the exception of inner primary feathers, secondary feathers, and a scapular stripe, which were white. Females were similarly colored but the crest was solid black and recurved at the top. It had obvious similarities to the more famous Ivory-billed Woodpecker and was actually sometimes called the “Mexican Ivory-bill.”

The Imperial Woodpecker was common up until the mid 1950’s when habitat loss began to take it’s toll. The last confirmed sighting of this species occurred in 1956. Amateur ornithologist William Rhein, now deceased, captured 85-seconds of film of an Imperial Woodpecker foraging for insects on old growth pine trees and flying from one spot to another. The footage, a bit jumpy due to the fact that Rhein was riding on a mule as he shot it, is considered to be 85 seconds of pure gold by the birding world. The film has now been made available to the public for the first time. You can view it here.

The film had been in the hands of the Rhein family for years before it was tracked down by Martjan Lammertink of Cornell University. Lammertink became aware of the existence of the footage only after he came across an old letter that mentioned the film in the University’s archives. He tracked down William Rhein 10 years ago at his home in Pennsylvania and was able to view the film. Rhein’s nephew donated the film to Cornell upon his Uncle’s death in 2006.

Living Bird magazine editor Tim Gallagher said, “ It’s amazing that the bird does so many different things in 85 seconds. It’s a gold mine of information about this bird.”

Lammertink, who authored a paper about the footage published in the November issue of The Auk said, “It is stunning to look back through time and see the magnificent Imperial Woodpecker moving through its old growth forest environment. It is heartbreaking to know that both the bird and the forest are gone."

Gallagher and Lammertink traveled to the spot where the film was shot just a year or so ago but, not surprisingly, found no trace of the bird. Nearly all of the old growth forest had been cleared and the area is now the territory of drug cartels.

“It’s a very dangerous place,” Gallagher said. “There were a lot of people with AK-47s.”

As I watched the footage of the Imperial Woodpecker I found myself overtaken with a powerful melancholy. To know that this most magnificent of all woodpeckers is likely gone forever is sickening. To view the Rhein footage is both an incredible gift, as we can see exactly how the bird moved, flew, and went about it’s daily business, and a terrible reminder of just how badly we humans have failed at being good stewards of the natural world. I hope that we learn our lesson soon.

There are no second chances.


Cornell University. "Study analyzes only known footage of the largest woodpecker that ever lived." ScienceDaily, 26 Oct. 2011. Web. 7 Nov. 2011.