Thursday, August 4, 2011

Mysterious (Very Exciting) Animal Sighting

OK, folks, hang onto your hats. I have quite a story to tell you.

Just a day ago, the workers finished installing vinyl siding on the house. It looks great, but for five days, there was quite a bit of racket here, especially sitting inside the house, which I did for the bulk of the time they were here. It was out of deference to my two cats. I mean, they were banging so hard on the walls that I had two small shelves in the kitchen fall off the wall, as well as some mini blinds in the bathroom. My one cat stayed holed up in the basement for most of the time, while Luther, the braver of the two, endured the noise with me in the office, but I could tell he was stressed.

But back to my story. Around mid-day today, I had just put a loaf of chocolate zucchini bread in the oven. I was comfortably ensconced in the sun room on my lounge and probably could have drifted off to sleep. My gaze was in the general direction of a large rhododendron shrub in the backyard about 20 feet from the sun room. All of a sudden, I see an animal face appear. It was crouched on a small branch of the rhododendron that was growing parallel to the ground, about 3 inches high off the ground.

There are a number of my neighbor's cats that wander through here regularly, but this cat was different. It was solid tan. While most of its body was obscured by the shrub, I could tell it was quite a bit larger than your garden variety house cat. It had a long, curved tail and a distinctly feline-looking face.

It was acting nervously, as if it might bolt at any minute. Again, its behavior was different than the cats I see around here, who prowl around and are obviously hunting, exploring, wandering. Then my cat, Luther, started meowing elsewhere in the house. He does that sometimes when he doesn't know where I am. Normally, I would call to him, but I was afraid any movement on my part would scare off this animal. I had the windows to the sun room wide open.

I think it was Luther's meowing that spooked the animal, and it bolted off the rhododendron branch and disappeared into the brambles and woods behind my house. There's a fairly large expanse of woods behind my house, up on the hill, and on the other side is a dairy farm. There's a coyote den somewhere in there; my neighbors and I see or hear them periodically, and in fact, they killed my neighbor's Golden Retriever.

I'm really mystified about what I saw. A coyote would not crouch on a tree branch like that. There have been bobcat sightings in my town, but bobcats have short, cropped tails and are usually spotted.

I called Wildlife Biologist Paul Rego at DEP and told him what I saw. He said the mountain lion killed on the highway in Milford was the first and only confirmed mountain lion sighting in Connecticut, so it would be an exceedingly rare thing if what I saw was a mountain lion. I did not really see the animal's full size because it was crouching, and then I saw it from behind only when it ran back into the brush. But I don't think it was larger than, say, a German Shepherd.  Paul said you would be impressed by the size of a mountain lion, and that while sizes vary, they generally are larger than a big dog.

He asked me how large the branch was that the animal crouched on, and whether it would likely support the weight of an actual mountain lion. I went out afterwards to check that branch. It only looked to be about an inch-and-a-half in diameter, growing parallel to the ground and about 3 inches off the ground. However, I was startled to see a good-sized crack in the branch. I put my hand on the spot where I saw the animal crouch and as I pressed down, the weight of my hand caused tension on the branch in the very spot where the crack was. The only reason it hadn't cracked further, I think, is because the branch touched the ground. So it supported the idea that the weight of the animal was great enough to bend the branch down far enough to crack it.

Paul was a little stymied about what else this animal could be. Could it be an immature mountain lion, I asked. He said yes, anything's possible, but the question is, how likely is it? While I can't be absolutely sure about the size, what I am sure about is that this was in the feline family. Its face was very cat-like and it had a long, curved tail. It also ran into the woods like a cat, not trotting like a dog. I don't think it was a housecat because not only was the body larger than a cat, but the head was larger than a normal-sized cat.

I guess it's unlikely I will ever see this thing again, and so I guess I may never know exactly what I saw.


  1. Ooh, weird!! I would want to know what it was as well. Too bad you couldn't get an answer.

  2. Wow, what could it have been? I would have said bobcat for sure, since I have seen them around here (north central CT) many times and close by the house, but you said it had a long curved tail.

    If one mountain lion migrated here from out west, couldn't another be here too? Unlikely, but . . .