Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Once in a Lifetime: Steller's Sea Eagle Spotted in Texas

 Most of us would consider our chances of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning as highly unlikely. The odds of such an event occurring in the life of an individual are ridiculously long. Another event that would carry similar long-shot odds would be spotting a Steller’s sea eagle in south Texas; yet, it appears that event has actually taken place.


The Steller’s sea eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) is a striking bird of prey native to coastal northeastern Asia. It is among the largest and heaviest eagles in the world achieving lengths of 2 – 3.5 feet and weighing 11 – 20 pounds. The species sports an impressive wingspan of 7 feet on average though larger eagles are suspected to exist. Unsubstantiated reports of wingspans of up to 9 feet exist and, though not officially recognized, are not thought to be outlandish. When it comes to size, only the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) and Phillipine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi) can give the Steller’s  sea eagle a run for its money. The Steller’s  eagle is a strikingly marked bird with dark brown feathers, white wings, and a white tail. The beak and eyes of this bird are a bright yellow. The feet, too, are a bright yellow, and sport talons a bit more curved than those typically seen on inland eagles. All in all, this is not a bird that is going to be easily misidentified.

 

The fun started on March 10th when a photo of a Steller’s  sea eagle was posted on the Facebook page of the Barnhart Q5 Ranch & Nature Retreat. According to the post, the bird was spotted on the Coleto Creek arm of Coleto Creek Reservoir and downstream from the Coletoville Road bridge in Goliad County. The snag on which the eagle was perched has been found and the location verified according to my contacts in the birding community. Those same contacts have told me there is no sign of photoshopping or other doctoring of the original image. More and more of the Texas birding community – who initially scoffed at the possibility of this species being seen in the Lone Star State – are coming around to the likelihood that the sighting is legitimate. 

 

If true, how could a Steller’s  sea eagle have gotten so lost? The first possibility is that it did not. Some have speculated that what was seen was a bird that escaped from a zoo or a falconer. It is a theory that would neatly sum up the mystery as to how this eagle ended up at least 5,000 miles from home; however, there are problems with this hypothesis. There are very few Steller’s  sea eagles in U.S. collections. According to several veteran Texas birders to whom I spoke, there are less than 20 of these eagles in captivity in the United States. A quick search revealed that zoos in San Diego, Cincinnati, Denver, Boise, Louisville, and New England house specimens. These are some of the heavyweights of the zoo world in North America and not roadside menageries with a ramshackle enclosures that might make escape possible. None of these zoos have reported a missing eagle. These same birders went on to address the falconer theory and said this explanation is unlikely. One said, “It would be an extremely tough bird for a falconer to even obtain.” To sum up, the idea that this bird is an escapee has lost a lot of steam.



If one considers the possibility that the photo is legitimate, we are still left to wonder how and why this magnificent bird got so far off course. While native to eastern Asia, these eagles are occasionally seen on the western-most islands of Alaska. In September of last year, however, an adult bird was seen much farther inland at Denali National Park. At the time, it was considered to be the farthest inland the species had ever been seen. If that bird lingered in Alaska over the following five months, it is possible it was forced south by the brutal Arctic front that recently assaulted Texas and caused so much havoc. If so, now that the weather has warmed, this eagle likely will not be around much longer. That being the case, many Texas birders are racing to the Goliad area as quickly as possible in the hopes of capitalizing on what is almost assuredly a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this eagle.

 

Another possibility as to how this eagle found its way to Texas is that there is something wrong with it. Occasionally, individual birds lose their ability to navigate properly. It is almost as if their internal compass suddenly ceases to operate correctly. This loss of navigational ability has led to sightings of species far outside of their normal ranges. One such recent example is the case of a great black hawk (Buteogallus urubitinga) – a bird that is native to South America, Central America, and Mexico – that ended up in Maine in 2019. This incident ended on a sad note when the hawk was found near frozen one cold January day. The bird was taken to a rehabilitation center but suffered frostbite on its feet and had to be euthanized. The only explanation for how this species managed to get 2,000 miles from its accepted home range is that something in its internal navigation system went haywire. We can only hope that a happier fate awaits the Texas Steller’s  sea eagle.

 

So, if you are in the Goliad area, you might want to take a ride out to Coleto Creek Reservoir and see if you can catch a glimpse of this magnificent, wayward eagle. While you are out, you might want to buy a lottery ticket as well. As this Steller’s  sea eagle has proven, sometimes long-shots pay off.

 

Sources:

 

Steller's sea eagle. (2021, March 02). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steller%27s_sea_eagle

Facebook. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://www.facebook.com/BQ5RANCH/photos/a.2097168407009460/4136167156442898/

Great black hawk. (2021, March 15). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_black_hawk

Maine's great Black Hawk - rescued! (2019, January 31). Retrieved March 16, 2021, from http://www.10000birds.com/maines-great-black-hawk-rescued.htm

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Missionary, the Former Slave, and the Sasquatch

What do an eighteenth-century Jesuit missionary and a former slave from the state of Arkansas have in common? I hate to disappoint any of you that thought this might be the opening line to a bad joke, it is actually a legitimate question. Read on for the answer.


In my mind, some of the strongest sources of anecdotal evidence regarding the existence of the sasquatch are those that pre-date the coining of the term bigfoot in an article about a catskinner named Jerry Crew - who found massive human-like tracks around his road-building equipment in California’s Six Rivers National Forest in August of 1958 - and the explosion of the Patterson-Gimlin footage on the world stage in October of 1967. Sightings reported before these two seminal events cannot be dismissed as the work of hoaxers seeking to hop on the bigfoot bandwagon. The sasquatch was all but unknown to the Europeans who began flooding the North and South American continents in the 1500s…and to the slaves that they brought with them. Their accounts of bipedal, hair-covered creatures simply cannot be dismissed out of hand.    

 

I would like to discuss here two such historical sightings. The incidents are not well-known, but they may well be extremely important when attempting to trace just how far back sightings of wood apes might go. The similarity between these two accounts cannot be denied and both lend credibility to the opinion of those who believe the animal commonly referred to as bigfoot was being seen well before the 1950s by people of different cultural backgrounds living many miles apart.


     

The first incident comes directly from the writings of a Jesuit missionary who worked among the people of the province of Sonora, Mexico – a region that stretched up from northwest Mexico to the Sierra Madre from Cjeme (now Ciudad Obregon), near the California coast, to Tuscon - in the eighteenth-century. Father Ignaz Pfefferkorn (b. 1725), a German Jesuit lived and worked among the Pima Indians from 1756 to 1767. Details of his work and life among these people can be found in his Descripcion de la Provincia de Sonora. The diaries, journals, and logs of missionaries have long been highly valued by anthropologists and historians. Pfefferkorn’s work was no different and he is considered by academics to have been an extremely reliable and credible observer. His writings continue to be cited by historians to this day. Among Pfefferkorn’s writings were descriptions of the local wildlife. Among the descriptions of what would be considered common animals, the good father wrote about the different bears (differentiated by their color) found in the region. He wrote:

 

“Of the Sonora bears some have black hair, others dark gray, and the smallest number are a reddish color. These last are the most cruel and harmful, according to the statements of herdsmen.”

 

Only two species of bear are known to have ever lived in the Province of Sonora during the eighteenth-century. The black bear (Ursus americanus) and the grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis) both made Sonora part of their home range during the time in question. While black bears can be black, blonde, or reddish, it is likely the cinnamon-colored bears that were “the most cruel and harmful” were grizzlies. While these grizzlies were likely the animals most often responsible for the killing of livestock in the region, some of the other activities attributed to them may well have been the work of something else.

 

Pfefferkorn, while documenting bear activity related to him by the indigenous tribesmen, in some cases may have actually been recording accounts of bigfoot interaction with humans. If so, his accounts are some of the earliest ever written down in North America. One intriguing passage is below:

 

“Bears are a special menace to stock raising, for they eat many a calf, and, if no smaller prey falls into their clutches, they will attack even horses, cows, and oxen. They delight especially in eating maize as long as it is still tender and soft. Woe to the field if a hungry bear breaks into it at night. He eats as much as he can and makes off with as much as he can grasp and carry in his mighty arms. In so doing he ruins even more of the field by breaking it down and treading upon it. The inhabitants assert that a bear defends himself by throwing stones when one attempts to chase him away and that a stone hurled from his paws comes with much greater force than one thrown from the hand of the strongest man.”

 

I do not think I have to tell anyone that a bear cannot throw stones; nor is it capable of walking bipedally in order to carry off large amounts of corn in its “mighty arms.” Pfefferkorn was familiar with bears. He had traveled across the region for many years and had seen many bruins. Pfefferkorn even witnessed a grizzly kill his Indian guide on one trip across Sonora (the guide had attempted to kill the bear, succeeded only in wounding it, and paid the ultimate price when the animal turned on its tormentor). This being the case, it is strange that Pfefferkorn would attribute rock-throwing and the ability to carry large amounts of corn away while walking on two legs to grizzlies. I think it is entirely possible that the stone-hurling, corn-stealing, bipedal “bears” of Sonora might have actually been wood apes.

 

A strikingly similar account comes from another historical source: a former Arkansas slave. Doc Quinn was one of the oldest living residents of Miller County, Arkansas (yes, the same Miller County that would become known as the home of the Fouke Monster of The Legend of Boggy Creek fame) when he was interviewed by Cecil Copeland at his home in Texarkana in the 1930s. Doc recalled when he was first brought to the plantation of one Colonel Ogburn – between Index and Fulton on the Red River - that there was a section of the property dominated by an immense canebrake. This canebrake was a favorite retreat of bears and other wild animals. It was all but impossible to go in after problem bears that would steal out of the thicket at night and take livestock, so the plantation owner had the slaves round up the hogs and animals and place them in pens at the end of the day. Several slaves were charged with standing guard at night over the domesticated animals. The efforts of the slaves helped somewhat, but bears were still seen often and some of their actions “were almost human.” The following is a passage taken from the book Bearing Witness: Memories of Arkansas Slavery Narratives from the 1930s WPA Collection in which Doc Quinn describes to Cecil Copeland the odd behavior of a “bear” he came across in a cornfield one day:

 

“The bear picked off an ear of corn and put it in his bended arm. He repeated this action until he had an armful, and then waddled over to the fence. Standing by the fence, he carefully threw the corn on the other side, ear by ear. The bear then climbed the fence, much in the same manner of a human being, retrieved the corn, and went on his way.”

 

Sounds familiar, does it not? The simple truth is that bears cannot stroll around in a bipedal fashion while plucking ears of corn from stalks in the field with one front paw and place them into the crook of their other front “arm.” The description of how Quinn witnessed this animal climb a fence “in the same manner of a human being” is fascinating. The entire incident simply does not describe bear behavior in any form or fashion.



Quinn provides another interesting anecdote in the same interview. I thought long and hard about including it here, not because it is not interesting (it is), but because Doc Quinn’s words are transcribed in such a way that his dialect is evident. Some hot-button words, including the n-word, are used. After wrestling with it for a while, I decided to include the account here with only one minor edit (I decided not to type the n-word out. I fear in today’s climate, I would be accused of approving of it or some such thing). Again, I would remind readers these are not my words. These are the words spoken by former Arkansas slave, Doc Quinn and transcribed by his interviewer, Cecil Copeland. The text comes straight from the book previously mentioned. Try to focus on the story Doc Quinn is telling and not the language and terminology he uses. The account is as follows: 

 

“Late one ebenin’, me an’ anudder (edit) named Jerry wuz comin’ home frum fishin’. Roundin’ a bend in de trail, whut do we meet almos’ face to face? – A great big ol’ bar! Bein’ young, and blessed wid swif’ feet, I makes fo’ de nearest tree, and hastily scrambles to safety. Not so wid mah fat frien’. Peerin’ outen thru de branches ob de tree, I sees de bar makin’ fo’ Jerry, an’ I says to mahself: ‘ Jerry, yo’ sins has sho’ kotched up wid yo’ dis time.’ But Jerry, allus bein’ a mean (edit), mus’ hab had de debbil by he side. Pullin’ outen his Bowie knife, dat (edit) jumps to one side as de bar kum chargin’ pas’, and’ stab it in de side, near de shoulder. As de bar started toinin’ roun’ to make annuder lunge at de (edit) he notice de blood spurtin’ frum de shoulder. An’ whut do yo’ think happen’? Dat ole bar forgets all about Jerry. Hastily scramblin’ aroun’, he begins to pick up leaves, an trash an’ clamps dem on de wound, tryin’ to keep frum bleedin’ to deaf. Yo’ ax did de bar die? Well, suh, I didn’ wait to see de result. Jerry, he done lef’ dem parts, an’ not wantin’ to stay up in dat tree alnight by mahself, I scrambles down an’ run fo’ mile home in double quick time!”

 

I ask you, what kind of bear notices it is bleeding, stops in the middle of an altercation, begins gathering leaves, and then packs its own wound? I will tell you the answer. None. No bear behaves in this manner. If Doc Quinn is not spinning a yarn to his interviewer, the creature his fishing partner, Jerry, tangled with was certainly no bear. Was it an aggressive sasquatch? Certainly, the location was right as the aggressive nature of the Fouke Monster would be well documented some years later. There is a real shortage of viable alternatives if the creature in question was not a bear.

 

The parallels between these two accounts – accounts separated by more than a century and approximately 1,400 miles – are uncanny. Bears cannot and do not gather up corn in their “arms” and walk away with it in a bipedal fashion. Yet, a Jesuit missionary and a former Arkansas slave describe observing this same behavior. Doc Quinn’s account of how his fishing partner, Jerry, tangled with an animal that packed its own wound after being stabbed lends credence to the theory that something other than a bear was roaming about Miller County, Arkansas in his youth. Is it possible that these two men from very different worlds - Father Ignaz Pfefferkorn and former slave Doc Quinn - described the same type of animal? An animal they had no name for? An animal that just might have been a wood ape?

 

Food for thought.

 

*Special thanks to NAWAC Chairman Emeritus, Alton Higgins, who authored the article, “A Sonoran Sasquatch,” that I drew heavily from for this post.

 

Sources:

 

Brown, D. E. (1996). The Grizzly in the Southwest: Documentary of an Extinction. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Pfefferkorn, I., Treutlein, T. E., & Pfefferkorn, I. (1949). Sonora A Description of the Province. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Higgins, A. (2010, November 19). A Sonoran Sasquatch? Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.woodape.org/index.php/sonoransasquatch/

Lankford, G. E. (Ed.). (2006). Bearing Witness Memories of Arkansas Slavery. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press. 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Frequently Asked Questions Answered

As promised, I am going to attempt to breathe some new life into the blog in 2021 so here we go. I receive a LOT of correspondence and get many questions about a variety of topics. I enjoy getting those emails and messages but I do end up answering a lot of the same questions over and over. That being the case, I thought I would make my first post of the year one in which I addressed the most frequently asked questions I get. Some of the questions are personal in nature while others are more cryptid specific.

 

Question: How did you become interested in cryptozoology?

 

Answer: I have been interested since I was a young boy. In the early 1970s, my grandmother took my brothers and me to a movie. I do not recall what the movie was that day, but I do vividly remember seeing the Patterson-Gimlin footage in a short feature before it started. I was mesmerized. It just looked real to me. I was hooked from that point forward. Television shows like In Search of… and The Six-Million Dollar Man along with movies like The Legend of Boggy Creek only solidified my interests.

 

Question: How many people are part of your organization?

 

Answer: If referring to the Texas Cryptid Hunter site, it is just me. I have had some great folks volunteer to visit sighting locations and send me photos from time to time, but there is no membership or staff.

 

Question: How long have you been investigating bigfoot and other cryptids?

 

Answer: I have been actively engaged in field work since 2005.

 

Question: Are you the same Mike Mayes who is Chairman of the NAWAC?

 

Answer: Yes.

 

Question: Have you ever seen a sasquatch or another type of cryptid?

 

Answer: Yes. I had a sighting of what I believe was a sasquatch in the Sam Houston National Forest in May of 2005. Since, I have three times caught glimpses of animals I strongly believe were wood apes in the Ouachita Mountains of southeast Oklahoma, including one just weeks ago. I have also seen one of the hairless canines news outlets have taken to calling “chupacabras” and many Texans refer to as “blue dogs.”

 

Question: What do you say to skeptics who deny the existence of the sasquatch or wood ape?

 

Answer: I find I do not worry too much about what skeptics think. I believe anyone who takes the time to seriously – and that is the key word – look into the bigfoot phenomenon with an open mind will, at the very least, come away feeling that a closer look at the topic is warranted. I fully admit that the evidence is not yet strong enough to conclusively prove these creatures exist (more on that later), but believe a properly funded entity (National Geographic Society, major university, etc.) could obtain concrete evidence if willing to commit the proper resources and time.

 

Question: Many scientists deny the existence of bigfoot because they have spent many years in the field and have never seen one. How is it that they have never had a sighting?

 

Answer: How did the okapi stay hidden so long? The truth is that practically no one is looking for the sasquatch. Even field biologists spend most of their time in labs or at universities. The actual amount of time in the field for most is usually pretty limited and they tend to be funded by grants that dictate the specific research they are to be conducting. There is no time or money for “bigfoot hunting.” I would add the majority of witnesses state something along the lines of "I've hunted for X years and never seen anything like that" or "I've lived here my whole life and have never seen anything unusual." These animals are extremely furtive and these sorts of statements are the norm rather than the exception. Most people who spend time in the woods won't see them.

 

Question: With all the trail and surveillance cameras out there, why are there no photos of wood apes?

 

Answer: Most trail cameras are placed by hunters watching feeders and/or food plots. Even these cameras are rarely left up year round. There are often regulations that limit how long cameras are allowed to be left up on public land. Too, these cameras are rarely deep into the wilderness where I believe these animals spend most of their time. A hunter typically places his cameras no more than 100-300 yards off a road or an ATV trail. As for surveillance cameras, there are not many of them out in the middle of the forest. Having said that, there are at least a few extremely compelling images and videos that have been captured. The fact that they have garnered so little attention from the scientific community proves that no photo or video will ever be enough to get this species officially documented.

 

Question: Why have we not found the body/bones of a sasquatch?

 

Answer: Nature simply does not allow a body to last very long. In a true wilderness, environmental factors like temperature, humidity, insects, scavengers, and acidic soils work to “clean up” a body very quickly. Think about how often the body of a bear or mountain lion – two species that are almost certainly more prolific than wood apes – that died of natural causes are found in the woods. The answer, of course, is almost never. Consider, too, that many animals often seek the most remote and inaccessible location possible when they are sick or injured (think about a sick dog that hides under the porch of a house). Should an animal die in one of these locations, the chances of a human hiker or hunter finding it are pretty small. I do feel it is possible bones have been found and were misidentified and left behind due to their not being thought of as anything special. Outside of a skull or pelvis, most bones are not easily identifiable to laymen.

 

Question: Do you believe it is necessary to collect a specimen in order to prove the species exists?

 

Answer: Yes, I do. It may be unsavory to many – and I understand that – but science requires a body. It really is that simple. A compelling photograph or an anomalous DNA sample might get the attention of some in the scientific community, but for the species to be officially recognized, it will take a specimen. That is just the way science works.

 

Question: If bigfoot is an endangered species, won’t collecting a specimen increase the odds of of it going extinct?

 

Answer: No, I do not believe that. The collection of one individual should have no effect on the entire population of animals. The key here is to think in terms of a population as opposed to thinking of an individual. Collecting one – and one is all I would approve of - in order to save the population is worthwhile. The government will never set aside preserves or sanctuaries or legally protect the wood ape until it moves from the realm of myth and cable television into the pantheon of known and documented creatures. If the collection of one specimen is enough to send the species spiraling into the abyss of extinction, the animal is functionally extinct already.

 

Question: Why don’t you just try to tranquilize a specimen and capture it instead?

 

Answer: The short answer is that such an undertaking is immensely complicated, expensive, and dangerous. Tranquilizing an animal – especially one as large as most wood apes are reputed to be – is an extremely dicey undertaking. I think it would be all but impossible. For more on this topic, listen to the latest episode of the NAWAC’s official podcast, The Apes Among Us, titled “Exploring Alternative Paths to Discovery.”

 

As you can see, most of the questions I get are in regard to the bigfoot phenomenon. The sasquatch remains the undisputed “king of the cryptids” when it comes to public interest. For more answers to the most commonly asked wood ape questions, see my Sasquatch FAQ Series.

 

Check back soon as I have several other posts in the works including new black panther reports, historical bigfoot sightings, and an update on the NAWAC’s “Hadrian’s Wall” camera project.