Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Request For Contact: "Proud Army Mom"

I have a message for the reader going by "Proud Army Mom" who recently contacted me in regards to a black panther sighting.

Please email me directly at Texascryptidhunter@yahoo.com. I'd like very much to discuss the incident you described as it is not far at all from an area of interest for me.


Monday, June 24, 2013

HUGE Bird Spotted in Temple, TX...By Me

I apologize for the lack of posts lately. As I noted on my Facebook page and on Twitter, I have taken a summer job with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and they are getting every bit of their money’s worth out of me. I applied for a part-time position for which I would have worked somewhere between 10-20 hours per week. After going through the interview process I was offered a full-time position for which I would work a minimum of 40 hours per week. I was a bit hesitant as I realized this would put a crimp in my summer activities but felt I should not turn the opportunity down for a couple of reasons. First, and foremost, I needed the supplemental income. I have a daughter going to Baylor University and really want to accrue as little debt as possible in getting her through school. Second, it is the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. I would be on the inside, so to speak. If things were to go well I might be able to get on with them once I retire from teaching and coaching. It just would have felt irresponsible and lazy to turn the job down.

As a result, though, I’ve been pretty whipped upon arriving home each evening and haven’t felt much like writing. I have several topics lined up but just haven’t had the energy to sit down and bang out a post. Something happened today that changed that, however.

My wife and I made a trip to a furniture store to pick up a mattress and box spring for my oldest daughter’s room. After loading the mattress and box spring into the back of my truck we started home. The furniture store is not far from my home so I didn’t feel any need to tie the load down. I planned to wind around some back roads and drive slowly on the trek home so that nothing blew out of the truck. We were about halfway home when something very strange happened. We were negotiating a curve in the road when something huge swooped down out of the tree line and flashed in front of the truck. It was clearly a bird of some kind but was absolutely huge. My wife actually spoke first saying, “Did you see that?” I replied that I, indeed, had seen it and quickly braked to a stop. I jumped out of the truck in the hopes of getting another glimpse of the bird but it was gone. As I climbed back into the truck my wife said, “It was almost as big as a plane! What was that?” I said that I had no idea and started the drive home. I scanned the sky the rest of the way but saw nothing unusual.

My wife’s comment about the bird being the size of a plane was a bit hyperbolic but have to admit that I had the same impression. The bird was huge. It was simply stunning to see. I’m trying to be reasonable and realistic but this bird’s wingspan had to be in excess of 10 feet. It was dark in color but not black. It was definitely brown. This leads me to believe it was not a turkey vulture or black vulture (both species are common here and are large). My wife suggested an owl but I don't think so. Turkeys are native to the area and are big birds but this was far bigger than any I've seen in the wild and was too strong a flier to fit that bill. I really can't say what it was. It was a bit surreal, to be honest. I was glad my wife was with me as most of the time I’m alone when I see weird stuff. She was pretty excited by the whole thing and has been talking about it since we got home.

In my mind, the most likely suspect is the North American Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). The coloration of the bird I saw would fit that of the Golden Eagle but what about the size? Some quick internet research yielded the fact that Golden Eagles do get quite large. The average wingspan of the species is somewhere in the 6-8 ft. range. The average weight of the species, however, is only 9-14 lbs. The bird my wife and I saw sure seemed to have a larger wingspan than this and I would absolutely say it weighed more than 14 lbs. Even so, I have to think that the Golden Eagle is the most likely culprit. But do Golden Eagles live here? As if often the case, that is a more complicated question than it at first seems. Most distribution maps do not show the Central Texas area as accepted Golden Eagle habitat. Having said that, the maps show that the accepted range for these birds of prey isn't so far west that an adventurous individual couldn't find his way to the area from time to time.

It must have been a Golden Eagle...right?

I guess this sighting did accomplish a couple of positive things. First, it energized me enough to get me back to the keyboard and do a write-up. The second thing that it accomplished was sucking my wife into my bizarre cryptozoological hobby. While she has always stood behind me and believed me when I’ve recounted some of my strange encounters there is nothing quite like seeing something strange firsthand.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll see a “Mrs. Texas Cryptid Hunter” blog coming soon…

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Waxahachie Camera Project Update: "Hog Heaven"

I was able to get up to Waxahachie on Memorial Day and check on my cameras. As usual, the trip was a mixed bag. I greatly enjoyed being out on the land and visiting with the property owner. On the flip side, it looks like I have lost another camera.

I arrived a little later than I would have liked (about 3:30pm) but still had plenty of daylight in which to get the two cameras already on the property serviced and get my newest camera deployed. I had recently purchased a used Reconyx RC-55 and was excited to get it posted as a replacement to the cheaper Wildgame Innovations camera which malfunctioned after only one month in the field. To be fair, I’ve had pretty good luck with Wildgame Innovations cameras but this one turned out to be a real lemon.

Upon my arrival, I visited for about half an hour with the property owner. She told me that quite a few things had occurred over the last few weeks. One of her horses suffered a nasty and very deep wound on its head/jaw, which she feels is attributable to a predator. She also said that she had heard a deep grunting call similar to that of an African lion coming from an area about 100 yards east of her house and the area where the animals are kept. She also mentioned that the donkey, which acts as sort of a watchdog, had been “on alert” for most of the week. She had discussed this behavior with me before. Basically, the donkey will walk a little ways away from the house and stand dead still and stare at a specific spot for extended periods of time. The property owner feels the donkey is positioning himself between what it considers some sort of threat (possibly a predator) and the two horses and house. While this behavior had been described to me, I had not seen it myself on any of my previous trips to the property. This time I did see it.

The horses and donkeys on the property are very friendly and curious. On my previous trips they would circle my truck almost before I could get out of it. The donkey, in particular, would approach me and my vehicle very quickly upon my arrival. He did not do so on Monday, however. This time, the donkey was positioned in the middle of the yard staring off toward a thickly wooded area to the south-southeast. During my conversation with the owner he did not so much as twitch an ear or flip his tail. He has like a statue. The owner said he had been acting like this off and on for the last couple of weeks. The animal is pretty tame and, if he wasn’t already in your hip pocket, would certainly come quickly when beckoned with a “cookie” or “treat” by the owner. She said when he is “on alert” he won’t come for any reason. She demonstrated by calling him by name and telling him to “come get a treat.” The donkey didn’t even turn his head. I don’t know for sure that this animal sensed some sort of threat or was just “in a mood” but I can now say for sure that I have witnessed the behavior described by the property owner. What it means is open for debate.

It just so happened that I needed to walk right into the area at which the donkey was staring in order to reach the first camera. I figured if there were something in there I would have a decent chance of seeing it. Armed with this knowledge, and a Mossberg shotgun, I began my trek out to the first camera. It was simply unbelievable how high the grass and weeds had grown. There were thistle plants that were literally as tall as I was. The extremely high vegetation made the going slow and forced me to really pay attention to where I was placing my feet. I couldn’t help but think that anything could be out there laying low and I would never see it.

When I reached the first camera I noted the vegetation was extremely high in front of it. I downloaded the data but did not take the time to view the video at that time. I had a lot of events but anticipated 90% of them would be nothing more than shots of weeds blowing in the wind. So, I made a decision to move the camera to a less overgrown area. I found a suitable spot only 25 yards, or so, away from the original location. I then baited the area in front of the camera with a couple of scent dispensers soaked in mountain lion urine (very pungent stuff). This is the first time I’ve used any sort of attractant at this location. If there is a big cat of some kind on the property then I’m guessing it will stop by and have a sniff. I then loaded up and headed back toward the house.

After checking in with the owner, I accessed the back portion of the property in order to get to my second camera. I was excited about the potential for some good photos from this camera as it had been relocated to a spot on a hidden pond the month before. Justin Horn and I had located all manner of animal sign including some large, and catlike-looking, scat at this location. My plan was to refresh the existing camera and deploy the new Reconyx camera on the opposite side of the pond. When I arrived at the pond I immediately found scat very similar to that which we had found a month before. Encouraged, I made my way toward the Cuddeback camera that had been watching the north side of the pond.

That is when things got interesting.

I was about halfway between the pond and the camera location when I heard something splash in the water behind me. I turned to see a very large black hog at the edge of the pond. He raised his head to look at me about the time I spotted him. He was approximately 30-35 yards away at that time. Hogs don’t have very good vision so I can’t say for sure that he saw me but he did seem to react to my presence. He did sort of a stiff-legged hop up and down on his front legs twice. I’ve not observed this before and couldn’t say for sure what it signifies. What I do know is that right after that the hog began trotting around the edge of the pond towards me. He wasn’t coming, forgive the pun, full-boar but wasn’t dawdling either. I had no tree suitable for climbing so quickly decided that this hog needed some discouragement. The hog was about 20-25 yards away when I opened up on him with my 12-gauge Mossberg Persuader. The hog stopped in his tracks, fell back on his rump, made a sound between a grunt and a squeal and sprinted away into the woods. I heard him thrash around a bit and then things got quiet. The property owner began yelling my name (she could not see me from the house) and I could hear her quickly approaching my location. I decided to emerge from the brush around the pond and let her know I was ok rather than try to follow the hog at that point.

After relating the events leading up to the shot, the property owner accompanied me to the camera location. I was disappointed to find the camera face down in the mud at the base of the tree on which it had been attached. The bungee cord had snapped. From the looks of it, the camera had been partially submerged by water at some point over the past week or so (it is no secret that we’ve had some stormy weather in north Texas and Oklahoma over the last month). I was encouraged as the display screen on the camera was still operating. I removed the card and was able to download a large number of photos. I was disappointed, however, when after loading fresh batteries the camera would not turn on. I pulled the camera and placed the new Reconyx camera in the same spot. The spot had yielded a large number of photos so it seemed foolish to leave this spot without camera coverage (Placing another camera near the spot where the scat had been found would have to wait). I baited the area in front of the Reconyx with cougar urine and we made our way back to the house.

Interestingly, the donkey’s affect had completely changed. He was like a different animal. He was once again following us and seeking attention. He followed me to my truck and gently head-butted me in the back so that I would stop and pet him a bit. He, again, was the very curious animal that I had always seen before. I thought he was actually going to try to get in the truck when I opened the door to stow my gun case. He followed me back to the porch area and had himself a roll in the dirt and dust near the house. Whatever had been bothering him before was no longer doing so. I found the change in behavior very interesting.

I ended up getting only one video of interest from the first camera. It showed a very large spotted hog wandering about. As I suspected, the bulk of the video showed only swaying vegetation and/or birds. The lack of anything interesting reassured me that moving the camera to a less overgrown area was the right move. Hopefully, next time, especially since the camera has been scent-baited, I’ll get better results.

The photos the old Cuddeback took prior to its untimely demise were very good. Lots and lots of pictures of big, healthy hogs. Truly that pond area is “hog heaven.” It is no wonder I had a run-in with one. The camera also got photos of a couple of coyotes, what might be a fox or maybe a very small coyote, and a red-shouldered hawk in flight. If nothing else, these photos prove that a lot of wildlife frequents this spot making it a prime camera location. As we get into the summer months here in Texas, this pond is going to become more and more important as a watering hole. Hopefully, all the animals in the area, including any big cats, will make periodic stops to drink. If so, I should get the photo I’m looking for eventually.

At least, I hope so.