MassWildlife has only confirmed 2 reports of mountain lions in the last 30 years. Here’s why reports are so hard to prove… | Home & Garden

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mountain lion

A NatureWatch reader asks if a big cat he saw on a recent walk on October Mountain could be a mountain lion, like the one seen in this image from Pixabay. Thom Smith says it was more likely a large bobcat.




Q: Just recently, while walking on October Mountain, I’m sure I saw a mountain lion. He was in no hurry. Has anyone else reported this big cat lately? I wish I could see him again! (Don’t use my name because others think I’m crazy).

A: I’ve hoped to see a big cat, which has been bigger than a bobcat since NatureWatch started receiving reports in the 1980s. I wouldn’t consider most reports; a few experienced hunters and outdoor enthusiasts were hard to rule out, though none of them had photographic evidence or footprints or scratch marks except for a naturalist whom I have known for years.

We know stray animals have roamed New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts; it does not indicate that a sighting means we have a resident puma in the Berkshires. I would always share potential sightings with Tom French, Ph.D., associate director of MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program for nearly 35 years, now retired. In Massachusetts Wildlife magazine (#2, 2015), French wrote an in-depth article, “Mountain Lions in Massachusetts: Distinguishing the Fiction from the Facts”. (You can download the article at mass.gov/doc/mountain-lions-in-massachusetts-distinguishing-fiction-from-the-facts/download.) This is a piece he wrote, which I used to discuss the possibility of hard-to-believe sightings and I quote: “People always hope that what they saw is something unusual, rather than just common and mundane.”

Erroneous reports of cougars are most often bobcats. Many people don’t realize how big an adult Bobcat is. An adult male bobcat can reach four feet in length and 35 to 40 pounds. Coyotes have been mistaken for cougars.

Most cougar sightings are reported without any evidence other than eyewitness descriptions. MassWildlife uses evidence-based criteria to confirm mountain lion reports and does not investigate or confirm reports without evidence. Evidence considered could include “the body of a dead mountain lion or a live wild-caught animal; photos or videos, in which a mountain lion can be identified and MassWildlife can confirm the location; DNA evidence from hair, feces, etc.; track sets or photos of track sets; other tangible physical evidence verified by qualified professionals.”

There is no evidence of a breeding cougar population in Massachusetts, MassWildlife says on its website. However, there have been two confirmed reports of mountain lions in the state in the past 30 years. Both cases meet MassWildlife’s evidentiary requirements. In April 1997, tracker John McCarter found droppings near a beaver carcass on the Quabbin Preserve. Two independent laboratories have confirmed that the droppings found at the site came from a mountain lion.

According to French’s article: “To date, the only other confirmed evidence of a wild mountain lion in Massachusetts was found on March 4, 2011, when Steve Ward, a DCR forester, photographed a trail in the snow. crossing a frozen creek near the southwest. end of Quabbin Reservoir. Now, a similar proof is what we need!

Learn more about the two confirmed reports of cougars in Massachusetts at mass.gov/dfw/mt-lions.







Scarlet Pimpernel

Scarlet chickweed, a sprawling plant with scarlet flowers, is a non-native species imported from Europe.




Q: I recently read Sir Percy Blakeney’s book “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and was telling a friend about it, and she reminded me that it’s also a wildflower. I wonder if it grows here at all?

—Cindy, Pittsfield

A: It is less common than many other invasive species, but is found here in the Berkshires. Saw it growing in Richmond along Richmond Pond Road a few years ago, reported by the late David St. James. It is a low, sprawling plant with small, 1.4 inch scarlet flowers. It is considered an invasive species brought by early settlers from Europe (I assume Britain) for medicinal purposes and cultivated for a variety of ailments including at the time leprosy. It is also called “Poor’s Ice Cream” because it needs a sunny day to open (similar to chicory, another plant, but much larger with blue flowers that were brought here from Europe).

Q: Can you give me an idea if wild turkeys can fly? We saw them running around our yard.

— Lisa O. (and son), Holyoke

A: I should have asked a turkey hunter! I have seen them fly and do so – especially in trees – when in danger, real or imagined. When they fly it is more like a gust and reaches around 50 mph. They run at around 25 mph.

READER COMMENTS

Carol Ann P., from Hinsdale, wrote: “Thank you for this very informative article on invasive species! I was able to check the details and photos online. (I don’t get the daily Eagle but I do get The Berkshires in Brief [online newsletter] and read it every day.)


There are 69 species of invasive plants in Massachusetts.  Here's a look at 8 commonly found in the Berkshires

I hadn’t realized mullein was an invasive species even though it appeared every year in strange places in my yard. Same with the garlic mustard. At first I thought it was pretty, but then it kept spreading to the edge of the woods next to my lawn. I’m winding it up, but maybe I didn’t do it soon enough.

Japanese knotweed and phragmites are the bane of my existence on our route. It seems that nothing kills them! It is a gravel road and when the plows clear the road in the winter (or level it in the summer) they spread the invasive all the way to the edge. Well, there’s not much I can do about it.

William B., from Pittsfield wrote, “I learned something from your invasive species column. And I would like to see more plants and even animals in future chronicles. Thank you in advance.”

Thomas P. wrote, “I never thought coltsfoot was invasive. It was a favorite of Euell Gibbons and I thought it was nature’s remedy for coughs and colds. A few summers ago I found it in our garden and was happy to see it growing in a small patch. Not a good idea I guess.

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