Itís the peak of the summer season and the wonders of nature abound for our viewing.† When I had two youngsters living with me, I would take them out to the woods with the creed, ĎYou never know what you might find!í† Take last month.† I was doing maintenance on my Nicholson Hollow trail when I heard a deer snort just ahead.† Looking up, not only did I see the deer, but a smaller figure, looking much like a fox, just ten yards from the protesting deer.† Putting my binoculars to my eyes, I was rewarded with the sight, not of a fox, but a bobcat!† And, what looked like a bushy tail was in fact a fawn the bobcat had securely in its mouth!†† As I approached the bobcat, it dropped the fawn and trotted into the forest, which caused the mother to initiate an active chase, snorting all the way as the two left the scene.† This left me with the fawn, still deeply breathing, with an obvious broken neck.† Leaving the fawn after a few minutes of petting, I was not surprised to return later in the day to find the fawn was gone.
I love the excitement of exploring new areas and bushwhacking off trails.† Two days after the bobcat encounter, I came across a gray fox skull and another fawn, that sat quietly fifteen feet from Maureen Harris (who found the fawn) and myself for 15 minutes, until my closer approach caused the fawn to flee.
You never know when or how such encounters will occur.† Once, eating lunch, a silver-spotted skipper butterfly landed on a paper napkin I held in my hand.† Pulling out my 20x hand lens from my pocket, I watched a remarkable sequence of egg laying by the skipper on my napkin.† She would uncoil her forked proboscis and extend it under her body and between her rear legs, probing the napkin fibers, using both tips independently to sweep the fibers in opposite directions, creating a small cavity.† She then would curl her abdomen under her, pointing the tip at the opening, holding it about 2-3 mm above the cleared site.† Then, not only would she Ďshootí an egg into the opening, but would proceed to reach back again with her proboscis and neatly cover the egg with the surrounding napkin fibers!† For the next twenty minutes, I watched her through my hand lens as she laid 20 to 30 eggs!
And, then there was the overnighter I spend by myself on Dolly Sods, near Dobbins Spring (on the northwestern edge of the plateau).† I wasnít using a tent, what with the nice weather and beautiful sky.† As I lay there, a large bird flew directly over me, passing no more than ten feet off the ground.† Presuming it was a great horned or barred owl, I soon forgot about the incident until it happened a second time!† Now, you have to realize these big birds have a wingspan of nearly four feet, so, if one flew ten feet off the ground, it leaves you with a nice adrenalin rush!† So, imagine how I felt, when the owl gave me a third pass, this time hovered directly over my head for about four seconds before departing!
Those who know me know I canít do an article like this without including a snake story.† Well, this story is not about the rattlesnakes Iíve caught.† Nor is this about the boa constrictor I wrapped around my neck, the northern water snake I held by the tail, who, in turn, was holding a brook trout by its tail, nor even the family of seven garter snakes I had my ten year-old son pose with for the camera.† No, my snake story takes place in Fuller Lake, up in the Pine Grove area of the Michaux State Forest, PA in the summer of 1988.† I was canoeing with my (at the time) eleven year-old son, McLean; him in the front, me, in the rear.† On seeing a northern water snake swimming across the lake, I canoed to it, who, upon nearing it, submerged beneath the surface.† On finding it surface twenty yards away, I repeated my approach and it repeated itís disappearing act.† This happened two more times, as we zigzagged across the lake.† Finally, on what was to be my last approach, the snake changed tactics.† It turned toward the canoe, and swam passed the stern where my innocent son sat, and stopped three feet from the side and end of the canoe, exactly by where I was sitting with its head extended above the water looking at me!† I have to admit, I was intimidated, and left the snake alone at that point.
I can go on with other stories, but let me wrap it up with a few Ďlarge mammalí stories.† Iím sure we all have had close encounters with black bear, and, yes, Iíve been confronted with a mother bear who crouched and snorted when we surprised each other, and Iíve had cubs close enough to touch.† But, my favorite bear story is the mother and cub I met along the Nicholson Hollow trail on another maintenance trip.† What I like about this encounter is that the mother wasnít intimidated by my presence in the least.† In fact, what made this event so profound was that the mother, who was literally about 15 feet from me with her nervous cub at her heels sneaking peeks at me, was making very comforting, even pretty sounding, grunts to her cub.† It was clearly a reassuring, calming message the mother was giving her child. †She seemed to be saying, ĎDonít worry, he wonít bother youí.† By the way, Iím still waiting for the ultimate bear challenge.† Someday, I want to take a bluff charge from a bear.† Iím still not sure what Iíll do.† Either Iíll raise my arms and yell back at him, causing him to break away, or Iíll just stand my ground and wait for him to stop (Iím not sure I can do that!).† Once I change my clothes, Iíll let you know how it went.
OK, if youíve stayed with me this long, Iíll tell you my best story, witnessed by both Chris Lamond and Jane Thompson.† In the summer of 2001, we were driving FR 13 along Canaan Mountain, near Blackwater Falls State Park, when we saw what appeared to be a deer about 50 yards ahead of us in the road. It moved to the left side of the road, then turned back, crossing the road from left to right.† As we got to within 30 yards of it, we all recognized that what we were looking at was a mountain lion, not a deer.† It leaped into the woods to the right, leaving no recognizable tracks for us to ascertain.† A brief view, but unquestionable in size and color.†
To answer the general question about existence of cougars in this region, virtually every biologist will acknowledge the occasional occurrence of these big cats in the Shenandoah National Park, Monongahela National Forest, and other forested regions in eastern US.† In the same breath, most biologists will acknowledge these creatures as being human releases or escapees, not a relic native population.†
So, get out and keep your eyes open, your ears perked, and your senses alerted.† As I always say, you never know what you might find† In fact, I encourage you to email me your good wildlife stories.† I will gladly share them with our audience.† My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.† One hundred dollars for each story used!† That is, if Tom Johnson approves it.