Big cat on the mountain?

About two weeks ago Leah saw a shaggy dog on Fouche Gap Road. It was gone when I drove down to look, but it soon showed up at our house.

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I thought it looked like an Old English Sheepdog, and a friend who used to have one agreed. We contacted a local animal rescue group who said there should be no trouble getting it to the right place to find it a home. All I had to do was get the dog to a veterinary clinic down in town.

I needed to take our dogs for a walk before I could do that. Unfortunately, Shaggy followed us, and when Zeke saw him, he jerked the leash from my hand and chased the dog down Fouche Gap Road. I was able to call Zeke back (Zeke is getting old), but Shaggy trotted away down towards Texas Valley.

Once I got the dogs back home I drove down to see if I could find him (or her). He was at the bottom of the mountain, trotting purposefully into the valley. I gave him a dog biscuit, which he seemed to enjoy, but he showed no interest in coming back with me. So I left him, hoping he would come back or find a rescuer further down in the valley.

Last Wednesday, the dogs and I came upon a woman parked on Fouche Gap Road, trying to get Shaggy up into the back of her car. We talked at a distance dictated by Zeke’s barkful excitement. She was trying to rescue Shaggy. After some conversation and a call to the rescue group, we arranged for her to transport Shaggy to the vet’s office. She drove away, but came back a short time later. In the meantime, she had called a neighbor, who turned out to be the owner. The owner stopped us on a walk a few days later and told me that Shaggy liked to roam, so not to worry about “rescuing” him.

But wait. What does this have to do with a big cat? Well, as the woman who rescued Shaggy and I were talking, another car stopped. After the rescuer left, the driver pulled over and showed me a picture he said a county police officer texted him, saying that he took it on Fouche Gap.

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It’s a mountain lion.

Early in July there were several reports of mountain lion sightings in the area around Layfayette, which is a little north of us. Despite the fact that the reports came from what a local newspaper called reliable sources, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNE) remains skeptical. According to the DNR, there have been only three credible lion sightings in Georgia in the last 25 years, all related to the Florida panther. (The “mountain lion” is known in the East by several names, including panther, catamount, puma and painter.) The last sighting was in 2008, by a hunter who illegally shot the cat.

The recent cat reports included some people who claimed to have been awakened by a sound like a woman screaming, which some people think is what a mountain lion sounds like. The DNR says that mountain lions make little noise in the woods and when they do, it’s more like a person whistling or a bird chirping. The DNR conveniently included a link to mountain lion sounds in their statement on the local mountain lion sightings.

The DNR says that most sightings are mistaken identification of things like bobcats, which we definitely have here, or dogs, domestic cats or even bears, which we also have here.

But the picture! It sure looks like Fouche Gap Road. Or does it?

I was thrilled and only a little disturbed by the possibility that we had a mountain lion in the neighborhood, but I was a little skeptical, too. When I looked more carefully at the image, I realized that there were several problems with it. For one, the picture was taken from the driver’s side window of a vehicle that was completely off the downhill side of the road. There are only three (four if you stretch it) places on Fouche Gap Road where you can pull off the road on the uphill side, and this one doesn’t look like any of them. The second problem is that the outside rearview mirror doesn’t look like those on cars the county police use. It could, of course, have been taken in an officer’s personal car (actually, a pickup truck).

When the dogs and I got back home, I called the DNR and asked if they had any reports of mountain lion sightings in the Fouche Gap area. They said no, and wanted me to send them the picture, which I did.

Later when Leah and I went down to Los Portales for our usual Wednesday huevos rancheros, I showed the picture to a county officer who happened to be eating lunch there. He was not familiar with it.

During lunch I got an email from the local DNR game management office. One of their people had been emailed an image that looked very much like the one I had.

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So, it was a hoax. Not a big surprise. I’m only slightly disappointed, because I didn’t really expect it to be true. I’m also not surprised that the man who originally showed it to me believed it to be true. Just about everyone ends up believing what they want to believe, so almost no one analyzes things like this critically. That’s what makes these internet hoaxes so effective.

As I emailed back to the DNR, I won’t worry about checking over my shoulder for a mountain lion as I walk the dogs.

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However, I will keep an eye out for Bigfoot.

 

Cat and dog and bird

Chloe and Zeke faced off in a friendly way on the front walk last week.

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Chloe isn’t afraid of the dogs, and especially not Zeke. Sometimes the dogs sniff her a little too enthusiastically and she backs away or swats at them, but usually it’s a pretty casual affair.

I’m adding another picture to what is usually a cat post because a bird trapped itself in our garage on Thursday.

trappedbird

This time it wasn’t a hummingbird, although it had the same problem figuring out how to escape that the hummingbirds have. At first I thought it might be a swift since we have one nesting under our deck, but the beak doesn’t look right to me, based on comparing to images I found online. I’m not a bird expert so I can’t really identify this one. It’s small, dark on top and gray below.

It couldn’t find its way out for quite a while. We were worried that Sylvester would sit around waiting for it to tire out and then pounce, but apparently that did not happen. The bird was gone after while and we didn’t find any sign of it.

Spider constellation

Wolf spiders are common around here, as well as in most of the rest of the world. Around this time of year I often see them at night, running across the concrete part of our driveway. Wednesday night when I took the dogs out for their last walk of the day, they immediately spotted one. I noticed it looked a little fuzzy.

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It was fuzzy because of the dozens of baby spiders riding piggy-back. According to Wikipedia, wolf spiders are the only spider that carry their young on their back until the babies are able to fend for themselves.

Wolf spiders may be the only spider that carry their young on their backs, but there are other arachnids that do the same thing. When I lived in Alabama, I once killed a scorpion in my house, only to see dozens of little baby scorpions scatter across the floor.

Since wolf spiders are generally nocturnal hunters, and since their eyes are reflective, I can usually spot many, many spiders out in the yard at night by shining my flashlight over the ground. Every spider eye that the beam hits looks like a glowing green jewel.

And so do their babies’ eyes.

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Some of my other shots showed more glowing eyes, but they were too blurred to use. I was shooting at night with the flash, which is what their eyes reflected, but it was hard to get a good, sharp shot.

The Peaceable Kingdom

The dog lies down with the cat.

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It’s not always so peaceable. Sometimes Sam looks at one of the cats with just a little too much interest. And sometimes one of the cats (that would be either Sylvester or Smokey) jumps Dusty or Chloe. But for this time, everyone had their place in the sun, and there was peace in our little kingdom.

A night visitor

Leah has been noticing signs of some kind of animal eating the cats’ food that she puts out in the garage. Saturday night we found out what it was.

night visitor

This possum had found the beds Leah put under the stoop at the door from the garage into the house. We often see cats under there in cold weather, but not on Saturday.

Leah wanted to get him out, but I could think of only one way to do it. A couple of years ago another possum found the cozy cat bedroom and settled in for some sleep. Unfortunately, Zeke smelled him out and tore the leash out of my hand before I could stop him. Zeke disposed of the possum, or made a good effort. There was blood. Neither of us wanted to go that route on Saturday, so we settled for baiting our live-capture trap. It came up empty Sunday morning, tripped but with the peanut butter bait still there. We set the trap again Sunday night. We’ll see how that turns out.