Glory from the Garden

Morning glory is a common name for over 1,000 species of flowering plants in the family Convolvulaceae, belonging to the following genera: Calystegia; Convolvulus; Ipomoes; Merremia; Rivea.

As the name implies, morning glory flowers, which are funnel-shaped, open in the morning, allowing them to be pollinated by Hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other daytime insects and birds. The flower typically lasts for a single morning and dies in the afternoon. New flowers bloom each day. The flowers usually start to fade a couple of hours before the petals start showing visible curling.

Morning Glory Photographs by Janice Stiles-Boults


Who's That Laughing in the Woods?

“Ha-ha-ha-HA-ha”, is the staccato laugh of the sassy and frenzied, Woody Woodpecker, who first appeared in 1940’s cartoons. Singer Harry Babbitt, who died in 2004 at age 90, voiced the laugh of this character. Woody is modeled after the pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), which is a most unusual bird with its ability to bang its head against trees all day; a sound that can be truly annoying if you get one of these gawky characters on your house or in a nearby tree. Their wild screaming laugh can be unnerving the first few times you hear them, and really does sound like good old Woody Woodpecker! The drumming sound they make can be heard for miles, and is done to declare their territory whether a tree or utility pole, they stake their claim. The pileated is about 15” long, and is one of the largest woodpeckers found in North America. It has a black body, a red crest, white stripes on its neck and black and white stripes on its face. It has yellow bristly feathers over its nostrils that keep out wood chips. It has a long, sticky tongue; a long, sharp pointed bill and yellow eyes. Males and females are similar, but males have a red forehead, and females have a gray to yellowish brown forehead. The pileated woodpecker is not currently listed as a threatened or endangered species, although it is a protected species.

You can pronounce pileated two ways, with a short I-sound (pill-ee-ated) or a long I-sound (pile-ee-ated). Their homes are cavities in trees where they roost at night. Each bird normally sleeps alone, one bird per roost, even though the pileated woodpecker stays with the same mate for life. This tree hole they make will have multiple entrances to escape from predators, and provides protection from the weather. The most common predators are all the variety of hawks we have in this area as well as barred owls, weasels and squirrels. Pileated woodpeckers are one of the few birds that will literally move their eggs if they fall out of the nest to another site – a rare habit in other birds.

In the spring a new nest cavity is excavated, so be alert to that drumming and you might just have a couple woodpeckers getting ready to have their clutch which on average is four eggs, but could reach six. If you live in a wooded area (they prefer coniferous and deciduous forests), or near water that has standing dead trees, you could easily have the pileated woodpecker around. We have three that are regulars on our property. Both male and female will work creating the new nest, and both parents incubate the eggs during the day and the male incubates the eggs at night. When hatched the young are naked and helpless so each parent takes part in the feeding, and I’ve watched as they tirelessly go back and forth all day long filling those hungry mouths. The young birds will depend on their parents through the summer and learn the skills needed to acquire their own food. By fall they will leave the parents altogether and wander until spring when they will build their own nests and establish their own territories.

Previously published in the New Marlborough 5 Village News, April 2007
Photo One: source unknown, taken from the internet;
Photo Two: originally posted to Flickr as Pileated Woodpecker in a Tree;
Photo Three: Juan A. Pons

Owl Be Seeing You

Barn Owl

One evening in early October while relaxing with my husband, I find myself unable to resist reading out loud from my nature book the following line: “Who Cooks For You?”

“What?” he quizzically replies?

“Whooooo-cooks-for-youuuuuuuu,” I sing out, trying to mimic an owl.

Chris just shakes his head, giving me an amused look, and asks, “What animal are we talking about now?”

My North American Wildlife book says that the owl’s call resembles the phrase “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” It makes one wonder about the origin of these interpretations or mnemonics of bird calls, and who exactly makes up these words to go with the songs they sing. I guess I have to concede, though, that all the owlish vocalizing going on right now really does sound like “who cooks for you, hoot hoot-tee hoot-hoot!”

Hoot Owl

This is the call of the barred owl, or hoot owl that, according to the Audubon Society, is a local breeding bird in much of Massachusetts. The barred owl is a raptor and it is illegal to kill or injure them, or even to hold them captive. Old abandoned pileated woodpecker holes are a favorite nest of these owls, and they will settle in, mate for life, and reuse the same nest every year. The parents share the care of the babies, and once they leave the nest, both parents still protect and feed the young until they are able to take care of themselves. In the spring the young birds move off and find their own territory.

The hoot owl is most territorial in the spring and fall, and all the hooting going on is to warn other owls that this area is taken. Several warnings are given and if the intruding owl stays too long, the other owl will fly to it and try to use more aggressive calling or to size them up. Physical contact is the last resort as sharp talons and beaks may be deadly to both fighters. During the summer they are very quiet while their young are learning to fly and feed themselves, since calling would attract the attention of predators that eat the young. Many owl species are most vocal just after sundown and then again just before sunrise. However, during courtship and the early breeding season, they often can be heard throughout the night. They are also quiet in the winter, as they do not defend a territory at this time of year. Barred owls are very light, weighing in at only one pound, but appear to be larger with a wingspan of 50 inches and a height of almost two feet.

Screech Owl

Mass Audubon lists seven breeding owls of Massachusetts: Eastern Screech, Great Horned, Barred, Long-eared, Short-eared, Barn, and the Northern Saw-whet owl. Of all these owls, our area is most populated with the barn owl, the great horned and barred owls, and
Possibly, the eastern screech owl as well. The screech owl, though, is listed as being “the most common owl in Massachusetts and a permanent resident throughout the state, except in the high hill areas of western Massachusetts.” However, I do believe I have heard their eerie, whistling “whinny” that can be such an unnerving scream in the night.

The great horned owl is our largest and our second most common owl. Its hooting, which is mellow and very deep, can be heard on winter nights in much of rural Massachusetts. Owl vocalizations range from hoots to whistles, screeches, screams, purrs, snorts, and hisses. Not all owl species hoot. Owls can also make clicking noises with their tongues to be threatening, and may also clap their wings as part of a mating display.

Owls generally roost singly or in pairs, but may form flocks outside of the breeding season. A flock of owls is called a “parliament!” Owls can be amusing to watch, as they have very expressive body language, and will bob and weave their heads as if curious about something. As birds of prey, they are great hunters with special adaptations and unique abilities. The forward facing aspect of the eyes are what give an owl its “wise” appearance, but it also gives it a wide range of binocular vision. Together with acute hearing, powerful talons and beak, they are a formidable predator. Owls can fly silently to hunt down prey. The outer edges of their
feathers adapted in such a way that there is no sound when the wings flap, making the owl the original stealth bomber.

Now, the next time you are out on an evening stroll and you hear a voice off in the woods asking, “Who cooks for you?” you won’t have to say, “Who wants to know?” !

Barred (Hoot) Owl

Previously published in the New Marlborough 5 Village News, November 2007


Springtime Wildlife Round-Up

Early spring brought chipmunks popping their heads out of the ground, foxes emerging from dens, woodpeckers drilling out new homes -- and the black bears woke up. They are grumpy and hungry, and some of them discovered a surprise upon waking -- new cubs -- something they did not go to sleep with last fall, so be prepared! I had one in my yard the beginning of April, and it tore down my last remaining winter feeder, and crushed my new finch feeder, so Mother Nature was basically letting me know it was time to bring the feeders in at night. Let’s all do our part to keep the bears in the woods by securing refuse cans, recyclables, and compost piles. Fence in vegetable gardens if wildlife become a nuisance, and keep barbecue grills clean and covered. Do yell and scream, or bang some pots together (from the safety of your porch or house window) if one does show up, and maybe it will get the message to stay out of your yard this summer.

I don’t want to disappoint the returning finches though, so I will put out seed for a few hours during the day, as well as glass juice feeders. These sweet little birds showed up when the weather finally got warmer after Easter! The American goldfinch has brilliant yellow plumage with black markings, and there are purple and red finches, all of whom love to cling to thistle sock-feeders in masse. We also said hello to many other species of birds arriving this spring, and in my corner of New Marlborough there were phoebes repairing last year’s nest, as well as huge flocks of red-winged blackbirds, cow birds, and a variety of spring sparrows and crows by mid-March, along with a brief sighting of a rose-breasted grosbeak and two vivid bluebirds. At this writing, I am awaiting the first of the ruby-throated hummingbird “scouts” that will show up to check out the area, often hovering around the places where I usually hang up the hummingbird feeders. They should be settled in by the end of May. I usually have about fifteen to twenty all summer. Also arriving will be the flaming orange Baltimore oriole; its lovely trilling song will fill the late springtime air, and you will know if one is nearby, as it has an unmistakable melody.

Thanks to all of you who wrote to me regarding sightings of wolves or mountain lions. The response was terrific. I received more than three dozen reports of sightings of some type of wild dog, wolf dog, coy wolf, coyote, or wolf, as well as one report from a New Marlborough resident who spotted two mountain lions sitting high up on a hillside behind their home.

Many had no doubt that the animals they saw were wolves, others sent articles that focused on genetic studies of these large animals. Several of the articles provided by a fellow nature lover here in New Marlborough dealt with “coy wolves,” with the DNA of some of these canines being more than 50-percent wolf, and the rest being eastern coyote. It’s worth noting that none of the coyotes tested in New England in recent years have turned out to carry dog genes.

While we do not have a sufficiently large population to classify wolves as part of our wildlife inventory here in New Marlborough, random sightings over the years support the fact that they are around, or are at least passing through. Some may not be “pure wolf,” but they are not coyotes either. Keep an eye out and you might just see one of these impressive animals. I was happy to hear from a reader who has actually seen the white wolf I talked about in my March article in an area much higher, more sparsely inhabited, and more mountainous than my area, so maybe he/she moved on. This is a beautiful animal, and undoubtedly a wolf, as it is very large, and reminded me of my neighbor’s Great Pyrenees dog.

Another possibility is the wolf dog. An acquaintance of mine purchased two of these animals in Canada back in the 1970s. They were quite a pair, strong and large, but also overbearing, and unmanageable, and very frightening -- with those piercing yellow eyes. I’m not sure what finally happened to them; they had escaped several times and were impounded once. They could have been released in a remote wooded area -- who knows? Thus, there is the possibility of their DNA mixing with the wild canines.

This spring we had turkeys galore in my corner of New Marlborough, what about yours? The turkey population soared this year, and “The Great Backyard Bird Count,” held in February, resulted in record-breaking reports of many species of birds in Massachusetts, and in particular the wild turkey. The many flocks around my property were huge, plump, and healthy-looking. We had about fifty to sixty turkey visitors daily during the height of mating season -- late March through early April. By the time this article is in your hands, most of the turkeys will be hidden away, close by their nests, until their young are mature enough to venture out with them this summer.

To conclude, I thought I would step out of our immediate environment for a moment and offer you a few of the many wildlife stories making headlines across our country. There have been significant changes. The Yellowstone grizzly bear, the timber wolf, and the American crocodile are among several species that have been taken off the endangered list. The wolves in Minnesota made a major rebound, and the federal de-listing will make it easier for farmers, dog owners, and government trappers to kill wolves. For the first time in forty years, a farmer who sees a wolf threatening cattle can legally shoot it. (I’m not necessarily agreeing that this is a progressive move, but at least the wolf population has returned, and I do understand the plight of the farmer concerning his livestock.) Bald eagles are on their way to a strong recovery, with over 9,000 nesting pairs in the lower forty-eight states. It’s a bird you could see right here above New Marlborough, if you are lucky; in March a resident of Housatonic, Massachusetts, took photos of a nesting eagle in an area along the river in that town.

Enjoy the reawakening of life all around us in this springtime of the year, and remember that the hot, lazy, hazy days of summertime are just around the corner. Please respect, protect and care for Mother Earth throughout every season; she is the only one we’ve got!

Previously published in the New Marlborough 5 Village News, May 2007
Chipmunk photograph by Janice Stiles-Boults, copyright 2006

The Magnificent Moose

Have you seen the moose wandering the fields of New Marlborough? Several townsfolk have reported that they saw this horse size animal in several different locations this past year. This spring, Bob Litchfield was surprised to see three moose in Southfield, standing in a field off East Hill Road. He said there was a large male with antlers, a slightly smaller female and young calf. In mid-summer, a moose was killed on Route 272 in Norfolk, near the Torrington line. And just a few weeks ago, in mid-October, Marianne Swan spotted one in Mill River. “I was about to pass a truck that had slowed down,” she said, “when I saw in the field a big beautiful moose! No wonder the truck had stopped. It was quite a sight! The moose had large antlers and his dark auburn brown coat was just shining in the sun.” Also in October, Salisbury, Connecticut, residents were amazed to see a bull moose hanging out in their area, eating and swimming in the lake, working his way across town.

Clearing for farming in the early 1700s in Massachusetts pushed the moose out of its natural range, and they were thought to have been extirpated from our region. Moose sightings began to be reported in about 1970, and the population has grown so rapidly that these impressively big animals are now abundant in North America, with an estimated population of about 700 moose in Massachusetts. Most of this group is found in northern Worcester County. Moose populations got a boost in northern New England states from forest cutting practices that created ideal moose habitat and from being protected.

The Moose, alces alces, is a member of the deer family, and the largest mammal in North America. Males (bulls) can be seven feet tall and weight up to 1,500 pounds; and a moose calf can weigh in at 200 to 400 pounds by the end of its first year. They feed on trees and shrubs and can live for as long as a quarter of a century. Moose give birth in the spring, and usually produce two, sometimes three calves. Moose aren’t usually aggressive, but they can be when they’re hungry, tired, or harassed by people, dogs, and traffic (sounds familiar!). During the mating season, (early autumn) bull moose can be defensive and chase people, and mothers, (cows) with young calves in the spring, are very protective and will attack humans who come too close. A moose may try to charge, but will "bluff" to give a warning for you to get back. Turn and run! Unlike other animals, such as dogs, bears, and wildcats, which will give chase, a moose is unlikely to chase you very far.

Running into a moose on the highway can be fatal, and such accidents are all the more likely to happen because, as Mass Wildlife notes, “a moose will step out onto a roadway without showing the slightest concern for oncoming traffic. With their long legs, a vehicle hitting a moose will take the legs out from under the animal, flipping the moose's body onto the car's windshield or roof. The dark body is difficult to see and its eyes are much higher in the air than the level of a pair of white tail deer eyes.”

In closing, as in all my articles concerning wildlife, I like to remind everyone that we humans are the most dangerous predator to animals and plant life. We are the ones disrupting natural habitats and causing animals to be on the move. It is our duty to be sensitive to our surroundings, protect Mother Nature, and be aware of new wildlife returning to this area. Most researchers say to expect many more sightings of the magnificent moose. So be on the lookout, and drive with care.
Previously published in the New Marlborough 5 Village News, January 2007.


Living With Wildlife

If you live in the woods you live with the wildlife – plain and simple, right? When you choose the country life you have to expect animals, after all they were here first. Well in my corner of New Marlborough, I might be thought of as the “attractor of wildlife” because I feed the birds. Now, mind you, I am a very conscientious bird feeder – taking the feeders down in the spring, putting them back in the late fall. In the meantime, I put out hummingbird feeders and enjoy almost two dozen of those speedy little birds all summer, and have never had any animal take down those juice feeders. I also have a small compost pile that ends up being food for the crows which are very territorial birds. These crows know immediately when I throw out any food and within minutes there are five or six that descend on the food and devour it all. That is the extent of my feeding the birds until winter - then everything comes out - feeders for suet, nuts, fruit, a large trough for cracked corn for the turkeys, and plenty of sunflower seeds for all!

I adore animals of all kinds. I respect them, appreciate them, and am very concerned about their habitats and continued survival in our area. I have certified my property with National Wildlife Federation as a habitat for native plants and wildlife, and I am in the process of working with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Landowner Incentive Program (LIP). According to the Service, “the program supports cooperative efforts with private landowners interested in conserving natural habitat for species at risk, including Federally listed endangered or threatened species and proposed or candidate species.” In addition, I am a bird watcher and counter with the Audubon Society, as I have been most of my adult life, and am involved with the much-needed record keeping of the species that come and go in this area. I have walked the woods of this village my entire life. For hours on end as children, we roamed the hills, fields, and forests, never encountering a bear, never seeing a fox, bobcat, wolf, fisher, coyote or mountain lion – all of which live amongst us here in New Marlborough, and all of which I have seen in my corner of New Marlborough on a regular basis for the last twenty years.

As our hillsides, fields and mountains are slipping away to logging and clearing and construction of mammoth houses, it has disrupted the natural habitats of the wildlife and, Mass Audubon reports that, “encounters between humans and wildlife become more and more common.” In the 60’s growing up in New Marlborough, we did not have much development going on, so it was rare for anyone to see the bigger animals of our woods during the day, but on occasion while driving at night, something might cross the road in front of you. Reports of bears are numerous now in our area, and although bear attacks are VERY rare, when one happens it makes the news, because of the rarity of the event, and promptly alarms the people that do not know how to live in the country with the wildlife. More often then not, the bears attacked because humans aggravated them, and it is these people that need to learn how to live with the wildlife.

Wildlife will come through our yards regardless if there are birdfeeders, compost piles, or food left out – I have tried it. I went for six weeks without putting out a single morsel of anything and had as many, if not more sightings of animals then I did when I was actively feeding the birds and composting. Family pets attract wildlife, as well as farms. The farmer and wildlife have been dealing with each other since the beginning of time, but we cannot live without the farmer, so they each learn to adapt and co-exist. The attraction for wild animals to farms will never end, how could it? All those smells are tempting to wildlife, all that movement of barnyard animals is attracting. The fox or fisher sees a group of chickens; a bear smells the manure with bits of undigested grain. Bobcats, coyotes, and mountain lions, all want a taste of the baby calves, lambs, colts, or even the family dog or cat - this is reality folks, if you choose to own any animals, expect the wildlife to roam your land. Do not leave your pet vulnerable tied up outside all day alone, or at night, it makes them an easy target for packs of coyotes, or a mountain lion. They need protection from the wildlife too!

A few other temptations to wildlife are from our barbecue grills that have the tasty scent of meat or chicken, and from our garbage cans. There sits the grill or can on a deck or porch, or out in the yard, and the wildlife, with their strong sense of smell, cannot resist. It is like sending out a dinner invitation. I have seen garbage cans left at the end of driveways by weekend homeowners on Sunday for pickup on Thursday or Friday and of course, by then it has been toppled by wildlife and strewn all over the road. These things attract the wildlife, plain and simple. Secure garbage cans with strong bungee cords, or take a weekly trip to the transfer station, it only takes a half hour or so of your time, plus the purchase of the yearly sticker helps with funding operations. You might try to compress and freeze the food waste garbage and take it with you if you are gone for the week, for disposal when you reach your destination. Do not leave it outside, and please, do not burn it either, that is pollution and is against the law. Scrub your grill after each use, at the very least go to Kmart and get a big plastic specially shaped grill cover (under $10) to help cover any scents. Our grill sits out in the yard, clean and covered, and the bears that do come through have never disturbed it.

Wildlife abounds here in our corner of New Marlborough, I watch like clockwork, twice, sometimes three times a day, as fox trot down a driveway that leads to the chickens, past the tempting manure and compost piles, in hopes of getting something to eat. I have seen the bear travel that same road, and watched one day while he lay right down on the manure and started eating it. One farm nearby has a fox family that returns each year to have a litter of pups, and another farm births calves in the spring and so a mountain lion frequents that area – yes, mountain lion! My family and I have seen the mountain lion about a half dozen times in the same area each time. Folks should be much more concerned about the wildcats then any other animal, especially the bears. Bears will flee from humans nine times out of ten, bobcats and mountain lions are born stalkers, and they will stalk your small pets and barnyard animals, and even you if they are desperately hungry.

For almost twelve years, I have lived in my house in the woods, and for fifty plus years I’ve been a New Marlborough resident. I have to say that I have not seen bears that many times, but I have seen the cats, coyotes, and wolves a lot, as well as fishers. Fishers are another very dangerous animal to family pets and chickens – one family in our area found all their chickens decapitated and strewn all over their yard. Fishers kill for the sport and this incident proved it as they only ate a couple and left all the rest. The following is from the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife website, “The fisher (Martes pennanti), is relatively common in many areas despite the fact that it was once eliminated from Massachusetts. Considered by many to be a strictly wilderness species, the fisher is now appearing in more populated areas.” We had a nest of Phoebes destroyed by what we believe was a fisher, because of the telltale sign of decapitation, as first they eat the head, and leave carcasses behind. My family and I on at least a dozen occasions have seen a very large bobcat that frequents our area each winter, probably attracted by the possibility of catching a domesticated animal when food supplies in the woods are limited in the winter. We have seen a big black wolf, and we have seen a white one two times, yes, a wolf, not a coyote. Each sighting of the wolves has been at a neighboring farm.

We all need to take responsibility, face the reality of living in the country, learn, and become educated about wildlife. A strong suggestion – keep an eye on your pets when they go outside, left unattended, they do not have a chance against the wildcats or fishers. Dogs don’t necessarily scare wildlife away – regular visiting wildlife become accustomed to the barking and eventually learn it is not a threat.

In conclusion, Mass Audubon has a slogan, “conserve your corner of the world!” I intend to protect and preserve my little corner, and do all I can to help save our planet. It can start right in your own home or in your backyard. Numerous agencies exist, many in Southern Berkshire County, and throughout Massachusetts, that are committed to saving our natural resources and wildlife. I have closed with two favorite quotes, and have then listed agencies you can contact to learn how to live with the wildlife, and what you can do to help protect our plant and wildlife species native to New England. As Fall fast approaches, the wildlife will be more diligent and determined to find food, so expect to see them more often as we head toward winter. The bears in particular, as they need to store up calories for their winter sleep. Please be aware and pay attention to mother nature, she really has all the answers we will ever need.

The National Wildlife Federation asks, “Why Care? The threat to our nation’s imperiled wildlife is immediate and real. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to be good stewards of the environment and leave behind a legacy of protecting endangered species and the special places they call home.”

Noted Canadian conservationist David Suzuki describes this challenge well, writing: "I am often asked, 'What is the most urgent environmental problem confronting us?' My answer is the human mind, the beliefs and values it clings to. Where once we understood that we are dependent on, and interconnected with the rest of nature, the modern mentality believes that we have escaped this reality. Our big-city lifestyles, the fragmented explosion of information, the very nature of scientific reductionism, and the assumptions underlying modern economics all shatter the sense of interconnectedness and blind us to the consequences of our actions. Our most urgent challenge, therefore, is to rediscover our place in the natural world."

http://www.fws.gov/ – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
http://www.massaudubon.org/ – Massachusetts Audubon
http://www.nature.org/ – The Nature Conservancy

Previously published in the New Marlborough 5 Village News, October 2006


Are there wolves in New Marlborough? You bet! The story of the wolf is one of the most compelling tales of American wildlife. Once, the wolf was plentiful in most of North America, but it was hunted ruthlessly and extirpated by 1900 in New England, New York and Southeastern Canada. By 1960 the only wolves in the United States were in Minnesota, in 1974 they were placed on the Endangered Species List, and in 1978 The Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Plan was published. The primary goal of the plan is to maintain and reestablish viable populations of the eastern timber wolf in as much of its former range as possible. One range listed by this wolf recovery plan is in the Adirondack Park in upper New York State, a massive area for reintroduction of the eastern timber wolf.

Extremely wary, elusive and intelligent, these animals stay together in tight packs, silently slipping through barnyards and backyards, roaming the hillsides and fields throughout the night. Wolves, (Canis lupus) mate for life, and when a wolf becomes separated from his pack, it howls. The other members of his pack respond, giving him a sound to guide him home. A wolf howl can last anywhere from 3 to 11 seconds according to the National Wildlife Federation. Wolves are large mammals with long, bushy tails and a dog-like appearance, similar to a German shepherd or Husky. They can weigh between 60 to 120 pounds (coyotes weigh between 30and 50 pounds and are scrawny, with skinny legs). Wolf coloring is usually a mixed gray or grizzly color, though a few are black or white.

Coyotes - Google Images, Photographer unknown.

My husband and I saw the most beautiful, large, all white “dog” early one morning while driving up through the Canaan Valley portion of Southfield near Whiting Ridge Farm. The dirt road runs along the steepest side of Cleveland Mountain, and so the rocky crevices and little caves are ideal habitat for these animals (as well as the wildcats). It was the fall, about ten years ago, when we came upon this white canine. The fog was lifting from the valley, and there in the mist stood this dog… or so we thought. We pulled over and I opened my window to call to it and when it turned, alert and standing tall, staring us down, we knew it was not a dog. It almost scared me – it seemed as if it would come at us if we challenged it, and so I gave a couple shouts and rolled up my window! It flipped its tail, as if irritated, and turned its back on us and walked on down the hill. Several months later, during a particularly snowy winter, my husband and brother spotted this white wolf running through a corn field at the base of the valley near the intersection of Campbell Fall’s Road and Canaan Valley Road. The massive animal had a small baby deer in its mouth, darting through the field, and up the ridge where we first saw it, probably going back to the den. After researching wolves, we do believe this was a timber wolf, although the pure white coloring is seemingly rare. The animal was very large, with a thick fluffy coat and mane, strong sturdy legs, and the most piercing yellow eyes. There was a great feeling of respect when staring into the eyes of this magnificent animal.

White Wolf - Google Images, Photographer unknown.

Not very far down the road, just over the state line on Toby Hill, a Southfield resident spotted an animal trotting through a field so he pulled over, got out and started taking pictures. The animal saw him and ran a short distance up the hill, but then stopped, turning around to stare him down. Ed thought possibly it had something up there it was protecting – food or young, and so it stayed there just watching… and eventually it did trot off, not running, and not frightened at all. My research reveals that wolves usually won’t run, as coyotes do – who will scatter at the first sign of cars, humans or noises unfamiliar to them – wolves, however will not, they may possibly even approach you. They watch humans, and secretly slip around us, usually unseen.

About five years ago, while house sitting near the old Palmer Cemetery on Norfolk Road, I spotted two black wolves early on a hot summer morning getting a drink in a stream running through the field. As a loud trailer truck came roaring down the road, shifting gears, making all sorts of noises, these two animals casually raised their heads and watched it go by, then went back to their drinking – totally unafraid. That same evening at sunset, I saw them again, standing proud on the hilltop by the cemetery.

Timberwolf, Photographer, James M. Richards

On Route 57, near Cassilis Farm a friend of mine saw two wolves on one side of the road and one on the other side, out in the fields late last November. So surprised by this sighting, he turned around and went back and pointed his headlights out into the field, and there they still were, watching him! He said they were large, and had the markings of a Husky dog, but he knew they were wolves, there was wildness about them. The one he depicted to be a female, slightly smaller, really kept up a steady stare. He ended up leaving before they did, as they were romping around not bothered by him at all.

Many more local friends of mine have sighted wolves in New Marlborough, and the story is the same – usually the person is taken by surprise, realizes instantly they are looking at a wolf, with its knowing eyes and take-charge attitude, its very presence strong, challenging and unafraid - a rare sight to behold!

Previously published in the New Marlborough 5 Village News, March 2007


Eastern Cougar

Eastern Cougar
Photo courtesy of turtletracks.org

Eastern Cougar, Photo courtesy of the
North Carolina Museum of History
Last month in my article “Living with Wildlife,” I talked about the many times that my family and friends have seen mountain lions here in the Berkshires. The big cat roaming our region is called the Eastern Cougar (Felis concolor couguar), and was once found in abundance in the east from the southern Appalachians to New Brunswick, Canada. Also known as the “cat of many names”, the cougar, depending on the region, is referred to as mountain lion, puma, mountain screamer, brown tiger, catamount, silver lion, mountain demon, king cat, sneak cat, and panther. Their character is to be cunning, determined, shrewd, sly, and solitary. Usually silent, the cougar can produce many kinds of calls, including screams, hisses, and growls. It also utters a shrill, piercing whistle.

With three wildcats in our area, the Bobcat, Canada Lynx, and the Eastern Cougar, they can easily be confused with each other unless you can recognize the differences in these cats. The cougar is almost unmistakable - when you truly see one, you know it, by the large size, long, thick tail (up to 3ft. long) and the solid color body. Tawny colored and lithe, the animals may reach a length of nine feet and weigh more than 150 pounds. Rarely are there any markings on the body, only the face, where there are dark black areas around the eyes and across the nose. A bobcat can have a tail length of 3 ½ inches (a “bob”) or it can be up to 7 ½ inches long – at the longer lengths it does not really look like the stubby type tail most people think of when they picture a bobcat. Bobcats have spotted and striped markings, and seldom have any solid color areas, they can also have little tufts, or spikes of hair at the tips of their ears. The bobcat is smaller than a cougar – a full size, adult bobcat weighs anywhere from 15 to 35 pounds and can be between three to four feet in length.

The Canada lynx in our area are slightly smaller than a bobcat, and have very distinctive long spikes of hair at the tips of their ears, as well as long pointed tufts of fur around the jowl line. The lynx ‘s coat has longer hair than a cougar or bobcat and can have markings similar to bobcats, although the most common colors are light gray, silver, or brown with streaks of black and white. Mass Wildlife claims the only cat in Massachusetts is the bobcat – I beg to differ, as many others will too, that have seen all three of these cats in our area.

Bobcat, Photo courtesy of Mass DNR

Early in the 20th century, the cougar, hunted intensively, and extirpated from the East, (except south Florida), was considered by some to be extinct. However, “cougar sightings in remote areas never completely ceased. By the 1960s, sightings had increased to the point that the eastern cougar was believed to possibly still exist and was listed on the first Endangered Species Act in 1973.” Cougars prey on hares, tree porcupines, deer, and rodents for substantial portions of the diet. Where there are free roaming domestic cattle, they rank high on the list of prey animals for the cougar. The killing of livestock is one of the principal reasons for human aggression against the cats. The Eastern Cougar Foundation states, “fatal cougar attacks are extremely rare: 19 human deaths have been documented in the past 500 years. In comparison, dogs kill 18 to 20 humans every year.”

The Nature Conservancy’s organization “The Berkshire Taconic Landscape” acknowledges the presence of the mountain lion in Berkshire County, and its’ expected influx into our area in their future predictions for our region. Their website claims that “The Berkshire Taconic Landscape is recognized by The Nature Conservancy as one of the world’s ‘Last Great Places’ – that is, one of the most significant natural areas in the United States, selected as a conservation priority due to its health and biodiversity.” The Conservancy’s ecological vision for the forests of our landscape suggests that in 50 years “forest interior nesting birds and wide-ranging predators – bear, bobcat, fisher, and mountain lion – will find the landscape a prosperous place to live.” However, the Conservancy also states, “the landscape is under increasing pressure to develop; studies in some towns show that at current rates of change, ALL developable land will either be conserved or developed, in less than twenty years. Developments of fundamental regions these animals inhabit are driving them out of the mountain ranges and hillsides of Berkshire County. We are building right in their homes and territories and they have nowhere to go but down off the mountains and into our villages. This is why we are seeing more of the large wildlife roaming amongst us, showing up in populated areas. Sadly, it is our fault as human beings (we are the most dangerous predator to all wildlife) that these animals are disrupted and displaced. We drive them out of their forest homes, they show up near ours, and people become alarmed and angry, and do not want wildlife in their country environment, and so some uneducated people think the only solution is to kill the animals, and unfortunately this happens all too often.

For more information on Eastern Cougar Foundation, visit the ECF website at http://www.easterncougar.org/., or write the Eastern Cougar Foundation, P.O. Box 91, North Springs, WV 24869. We have cougars in Berkshire County, there is no doubt, I could list a few dozen people that have sighted cougars in Southern Berkshire County. If you have seen an eastern cougar, you can help by reporting it via email at: scb01489@mail.wvnet.edu.or use the cougar report hotline of the Eastern Cougar Foundation at 304-664-3812.

Canada Lynx, Photo courtesy of NPS.gov

Previously published in the New Marlborough 5 Village News, November 2006