Cougar Visits Skinner Creek
Story - T McCormick
Two local residents had the time of their lives when a "black panther" spent nearly an hour just inside the woods grooming itself behind their home. Eileen Smith and Wendy Broome spotted the big cat Sunday morning (03/09/03) from their Skinner Creek home.
According to Eileen, "Wendy was standing at the kitchen window when she spotted him. He was cleaning himself just like any cat you've ever seen. He continued to do that the whole time until he left. It was so exciting to see/watch him for almost an hour!!! We had the Bushnell's (binoculars) on him and though we kept thinking he was a bear, the head was so definitely "felinesque". When he stood up and walked, there was just no disputing what he was. His paw print measured 5" across, which Kerry said would have to have been made by a large male."
The "Kerry" Eileen mentioned is Kerry Gyekis, a retired forester living in the Wellsboro area who has investigated lion sightings in PA for the last 20 years. Eileen contacted him after searching the web for info on cougars and finding his website. Gyekis indicated he would come to Port Monday to attempt to track the cat. Snow is still about 10" deep in the local mountains, but has become crusty and sometimes difficult to walk on.
According to Gyekis, the black phase of the cougar is rare; the animals more typically are tawny colored. More than a year ago, a tawny phase lion was spotted over the hill from this latest sighting on two separate occasions by two different Brooklynside residents. It came down from the mountain and in one case drank from a small stream, and in the other simply prowled or hunted along the hillside. All three sightings have occurred along the edge of State Game Lands 61 outside of Port Allegany.
Eileen and Wendy photographed the animal they saw, but their camera's lens just wasn't powerful enough to capture any detail. After the cat departed, they called Eileen's uncle, Dave Baumgarner, who lives just up the road, and together they checked out the site, finding clear tracks which they measured and photographed.
Recently, Eileen Smith emailed me with the results of Kerry Gyekis' search for the cat. Below is the text of the email and the photo she attached showing the paw print left by the big cat on crusted snow...
(Gyekis is a retired forester who has spent 20 years investigating big cat sightings in PA)
Kerry spent about half a day looking for a good trail, and did find individual prints, but snow had melted to the extent that prints were hard to ID and he couldn't track him as he had hoped. He said he found the main reason our visitor was hanging out so close.
"Within about 100 years of where he was, I found a deer carcass. It was close to a small stand of spruce in your neighbor's yard. Only the rib cage and vertebra plus several legs remain. I stopped at your neighbor's back door and introduced myself, I asked him if he knew a dead deer was in his back yard. I did want to find out if they had dumped that carcass. They had not."
Kerry: "As well, in the old quarry up above your house I found fresh bobcat sign. They are probably living in the small openings of the quarry. I could find no cougar sign there."
"When I returned down slope, there were deer all over the area near the carcass because of the open grass peeking through the snow....The deer are really hard up (I found a dead deer further up your valley that had probably died of hunger) and are feeding right down, next to man. The cougar is feeding there because of that."
"Really, it condenses his hunting to areas around food plots and water, like lions feeding at water holes in Africa....There is a cougar population in Western Michigan coast that does the same. The deer come down to get a drink at the big lake and on the way back up, out of the beach, bingo. It is also a great area for DNA since the beach is like a large kitty litter box. I was hoping to find some of that on your hill also. that would make it a positive ID as far as the scientific community is concerned."
"Panther" (update II):
Did I tell you the cougar was back??? August 19th (2003) Levi Gordon saw him around midnight when the motion sensor light on our garage came on. Said he just looked over and thought there was a bear in the driveway...then he turned and Levi could see the tail!!! Said he must have been there 30 seconds or more as he had time to get his binoculars and get a good look at him. Said he was huge - we laughed and said that's just what we thought. Kerry Gyksis, from Wellsboro, replied to my message about the latest sighting and suggested maybe there was a mate and cub(s) in the area...thus the reason for his staying so close.
-- Eileen Smith
"Panther" (update III):
I was reading the story on the mountain lions in PA and right around the time when Levi Gordon said he had seen the lion we had a weird experience. We live up Combs Creek about a half a mile from where Levi lives. We had been picking strawberries that day and right around dark while my wife her aunt and grandma were cleaning the berries, over the scanner came a call to the town police to go to the train trestle behind the Jubilee for a reported "screaming woman." Well about 10 to 15 minutes later my wife called to the kitchen and said to open up the window as she heard a strange noise outside. I did and whatever it was I've never heard before or since. It didn't sound like a woman screaming, but it was a hair raising noise that kept getting closer and closer. I decided to go get my spotlight and gun. It took me a minute or two to get my stuff and I got in my car and went around back of my wife's grandma's house. I shined the light down in the field and raised my gun up to look. When I did, I could see something moving, but couldn't make it out, but it was big. I turned up my scope to 9 power to look again. I went to raise my gun and my brother-in-law came up behind me and scared me half to death by grabbing my leg!
I tried to look again, but it was gone. A lot of people said it was a porcupine, but there's no way a porcupine could of went that far that quick, and I would of heard that noise before. Maybe it wasn't a mountain lion but whatever it was I've never heard anything like it. It sounded a lot like the lion (roar) Penn State plays at their football games except more high pitched. Anyway, I just wanted to tell ya about my experience
"Panther" (update IV):
Here's a link to a Pittsburgh Post gazette article on Eastern Cougars.
It appeared March 4, 2007: