This Thing Called Courage

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bobcat in the Hood!


Bobcat Spotted at Edge of Middlesex Fells (aka Happy Land)


By James O'Brien, Globe Correspondent July 13, 2008


State wildlife officials are heralding a bobcat in Medford, as naturalists at the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the state's Division of Fisheries and Wildlife confirmed that a Medford nature photographer captured a juvenile of the species on camera in the woods surrounding Brooks Estate.
George R. McLean said he caught the cat by surprise from his car, which he uses as a blind to photograph deer, coyotes, and birds. He said he was at the edge of the Middlesex Fells Reservation and adjacent to Oak Grove Cemetery on the Winchester line on June 26, when he snapped more than he bargained for.
"To the left, I saw a pair of eyes," said McLean, a semiretired 73-year-old who has been photographing wildlife for some 50 years. "I swung around, and click-click-click. It was gone, and I looked down at what I got on the camera. I said, 'God, that's a bobcat.' "
The animal is extremely elusive, and rare to the area, according to Mass Audubon Wildlife Information Line coordinator Linda Cocca.
"They're not common east of Route 128," Cocca said. "They're very rarely sighted. Even rangers out in the Quabbin area and open places rarely get a glimpse of one. I would give anything to see a bobcat. I never have."
Laura Hajduk, a MassWildlife fur-bearer biologist, said the appearance of the bobcat in Medford marked a special moment for state conservationists and town residents, and could mean Middlesex Fells Reservation now harbors the animal.
"It's a completely adequate habitat," Hajduk said. "They could thrive there and not be seen all that often. It's one of those things that is a treat, and they should feel lucky they live near conservation land that could support such an animal."
However, a bobcat of the size and apparent age in McLean's photo, according to Cocca, is probably on the move.
"Bobcats stay with the female for about a year," she said. "This may be a bobcat that has just had to disperse . . . kicked out of its natal range and is wandering."
While rarely seen in Eastern Massachusetts, the animal finds the western and central parts of the state an ideal home, full of rocky ledges under which it makes its den, said Cocca.
Averaging 3 feet long from nose to the end of its characteristically short tail (which, combined with its loping gait, gives the bobcat its name), the animal typically weighs 20 to 30 pounds.
Hajduk said bobcats eat at dusk and dawn, preying on small mammals such as chipmunks and rabbits. Fully grown, it has no natural predators other than, perhaps, man.
The bobcat was once hunted without restriction, viewed as a nuisance, Hajduk said, until the 1970s. Massachusetts was the first state in the Northeast to reclassify the bobcat as game. Now, only 50 may be taken per season in the Commonwealth.
Cocca cautioned Medford residents against knee-jerk reactions to the bobcat's appearance in town. She said surprised neighbors tend to overreact to uncommon animals in the suburbs around Boston.
"They call Mass Audubon and want to move them to a different location, get rid of them," she said.
Hajduk said Medford and Winchester residents need not worry that the bobcat will threaten pets, or even pose a surprise at the garbage can.
"They generally shy away from human habitation," Hajduk said. "They won't be attracted to garbage. Definitely not. There's nothing [residents] should change."
Thomas W. Lincoln, president of the Medford-Brooks Estate Land Trust, which works to restore the town-owned 19th-century Shepherd Brooks Manor and Carriage House in the Brooks Estate woods, welcomed the rare bobcat sighting.
"The Brooks Estate is important conservation land for both people and wildlife," Lincoln said. "We wish this beautiful and elusive creature well."
McLean said his encounter with the animal was a highlight in his career.
"I got a beautiful shot," he said. "And then he was gone, without even a rustle."

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