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Cape Fear Cougar?

Three years ago, just after deciding to uproot the family and move to NC, I did what any fanatical fossil hunter would do and Googled every stream, river, town and county in North Carolina along with the words "fossil" and/or "Shark Tooth". Almost all the searches resulted in either dead ends or information already available in various well known books and websites. One search however hit gold; an online version of a text from about a hundred years ago that describes numerous locations and their geological formations. I downloaded the entire book from online and was even able to purchase an original copy from an antique book store. For the past three years I’ve been transposing these locations onto recent maps just waiting for the day when I would have the time and ambition to take a chance and try a new, unknown location.

On July 4th I made my first trip into the unknown when I ventured down to the Cape Fear River in Bladen County. The location was about a three miles from the nearest access area - just close enough to use a canoe. The formation exposed was the Cretaceous PeeDee formation and shark teeth were included in the fossils cataloged there. I arrived at the river at about 7:00AM to try and beat the heat for at least the first leg of my journey. The water was fairly low and there was very little current. As long as the wind didn’t kick up I’d be fine paddling both the downstream and upstream trips. After about 10 minutes I spied something along the bank that looked kind of funny. I could see the tail of a decent size fish along with what appeared to be the scale pattern of a large snake. I made my way over to the bank and saw one of the wildest things I’ve seen in nature: what I’d guess to be about an 18 inch channel catfish being swallowed by what I’d guess to be about a 5 foot snake. It was hard to believe that this snake could get a fish that big into its stomach and could only imagine the battle that incurred between the two. The snake I later learned was a Brown Water Snake and catfish evidently are at the top of their dinner menu. I snapped a picture and continued on.

The nature on that stretch of river is really remarkable. Snakes, lizards, fish and birds were everywhere - I think I saw more Pileated woodpeckers that morning than in all my previous 39 years combined. About halfway into my trip, I came around a tree that had fallen out into the river but still had all its leaves. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something fairly large make its way up the tall bank. It hadn’t heard my approach and the tree blocked me from its view - it was cat. A big cat. I saw its whole body for what felt like a split second, maybe it was 2 or 3 seconds. The top of the bank was about 40 feet high and steep. This thing was three quarters of the way up in the blink of an eye. It stopped near the top and peered back down at me. I could see its general outline through the brush but the shadows prevented getting a clear view. I drew a couple of stokes with the paddle to get a little closer but I knew it would take off at any moment. I slowly put down the paddle and reached down for my camera. I really didn’t think that I would be able to see much in the shot, but I knew it might be the only chance I got. I took the picture and again began to paddle towards shore - he was gone after the second stroke.

The instant I saw the cat take off up the bank I thought it looked like a cougar. However, not really being familiar with bobcats and knowing that cougars are for all intents and purposes extinct in NC, I decided it must have been a bobcat. I continued on without really thinking much more of it.

As I drew closer to my destination the geological features began to take over the landscape - only, which ones contain fossils? I’m probably as unknowledgeable as anyone in identifying formations in NC. Give me some Pungo or Yorktown and I’m fine, but out here it looked as though I’d really have to do some work. There were a couple of distinct layers visible. One that drew my attention immediately was a grayish clay with black objects cemented within. My wishful self hoped that these black objects were bone but instead they turned out to be pieces of fossilized wood. After taking a picture I picked a piece out to take home. I roamed around trying to find a single shark tooth lying out in the open but none were to be had. There was some sand that looked similar to the material at Elizabethtown, so I loaded up a couple of screens with that- nothing. I roamed around for about an hour and decided I needed to work one of these areas really well before I turned back. I would then at least know where not to look on the next trip. I went back to the Etown looking material and after about 5 screenloads a ray of hope - a bleach white fragment of a crow shark tooth! Eureka! By now the time was drawing near for me to start heading back. There was a good wind brewing and I didn’t want to spend the next 4 hours paddling against it. I loaded and washed about 5 more screens. In those screenloads came a tiny goblin shark tooth fragment, a partial Enchodus (fish) jaw and a small but really nice goblin shark upper lateral tooth - nice! Satisfied that my day wasn’t in vane, I began the long trip back. The wind gave me a bit of trouble but I made it to the car in about two hours.

Upon pulling into my driveway I met my neighbor and mentioned my "bobcat" encounter. In the conversation he had mentioned cougar sightings down that way - could it have been? I made my way inside with a quickened pace to see what my crap-shoot of a picture might reveal. When I first opened the picture all I could see was the same view I had at the river. There was a broken branch caught in a tree right near where the cat was and I had made a mental note of it when I took the picture. I zoomed in, and after about 4 clicks with the magnifying glass I could see it. The face, while partially blocked by a leaf, was very visible and while I’m not an expert on big cats, it looked like a cougar. I began googling "bobcat" and "mountain lion" to get a feel for the different characteristics. The one that struck me the most was the tail. I knew that cougars had a thick long tail. What I didn’t know was that bobcats did not (so that’s why they’re called "bob" cats) In the blink of time that I had seen the cat before he made it into the brush there was one thing that I did see and that was its tail. It was the tail of a cougar. In the past week I emailed the picture to several institutions in the area and the general consensus was that while it "could" be a cougar, the picture was not conclusive on its own. Regardless, it was an amazing sight!

Location Bladen County, North Carolina, USA

ID2914
Memberxiphodan
Date Added7/11/2008

A Beautiful morning on the Cape Fear River.
A Brown Water Snake having a light breakfast.
When I took this picture I really didn't think I would be able to see anything through the brush - then I zoomed in. Its not the clearest shot but its more than I could have hoped for.
Meow.
I believe this is the Black Creek Formation. Notice the petrified wood cemented within.
A decent sized rat snake patrolling the bank.
A great little goblin shark upper lateral tooth.
  

Links
Cretaceous Crawl
Cretaceous Crawl
NC Cretaceous
NC Cretaceous
A Pit-Stop en route to Lee Creek
A Pit-Stop en route to Lee Creek
  

Comments
- 7/12/2008
Reviewer : Chris from
Total Rating : 9.333
Awesome encounter! Content Quality : 10 of 10

Drool Quotient : 8 of 10

Picture Quality : 10 of 10
VOTE! Agree  Disagree  1 of 1 voters agreed.

Looks Like a cougar to me - 7/12/2008
Reviewer : 2bears from
Total Rating : 9.667
I have been a taxidermist for many years, and have mounted severat bobocats. A couple of them were very big. Lookin at the muzzle of a bobcat, they have very distinct black bars, a cougar does not. I would say that this is a cougar. A very rare sight indeed. Content Quality : 10 of 10

Drool Quotient : 9 of 10

Picture Quality : 10 of 10
VOTE! Agree  Disagree  5 of 6 voters agreed.

- 7/12/2008
Reviewer : jax from Texas United States
Total Rating : 10
Cool trip. I cant believe the snake eating the fish! one of those things your glad you had the camera! Content Quality : 10 of 10

Drool Quotient : 10 of 10

Picture Quality : 10 of 10
VOTE! Agree  Disagree  2 of 2 voters agreed.

BRFC on Monster Quest - 7/13/2008
Reviewer : da fossz from
Total Rating : 9
X-Dan....great post, and a nice goblin tooth. Funny, I just watched a show on the History Channel about cougars in SE NC. That is amazing !! Content Quality : 9 of 10

Drool Quotient : 8 of 10

Picture Quality : 10 of 10
VOTE! Agree  Disagree 

finding things - 7/14/2008
Reviewer : JP from
Total Rating : 10
Great post Dan. It's great when you look for something and find it. But to look for one thing and find something else is very cool, in my opinion. How many chances will you have to see a snake eating a fish like that. Or a cougar? Probably once in a lifetime. Content Quality : 10 of 10

Drool Quotient : 10 of 10

Picture Quality : 10 of 10
VOTE! Agree  Disagree 

Great Post - 7/14/2008
Reviewer : Cetacean from
Total Rating : 10
What a wonderful day Mother Nature provided for you. The pictures are great. Many years ago in Sparkleberry Swamp, I was privledged enough to see a brown water snake eat a catfish - not a sight you ever forget. Seeing that "Cougar" had to be awe inspiring. Thanks for sharing your day with. Content Quality : 10 of 10
Very well written.

Drool Quotient : 10 of 10

Picture Quality : 10 of 10
VOTE! Agree  Disagree  0 of 2 voters agreed.

- 7/15/2008
Reviewer : eastcoastmeg from
Total Rating : 10
WOW, great report, that is a cougar for sure. I am glad you had the camera to document your outstanding day. Thanks for sharing. Content Quality : 10 of 10
Very nicely detailed

Drool Quotient : 10 of 10

Picture Quality : 10 of 10
VOTE! Agree  Disagree 

- 7/17/2008
Reviewer : Down by the banks from
Total Rating : 10
Sweet post, great pic. you never know till you go. Content Quality : 10 of 10

Drool Quotient : 10 of 10

Picture Quality : 10 of 10
VOTE! Agree  Disagree 

Is that Bigfoot? - 7/20/2008
Reviewer : Daryl from Maryland United States
Total Rating : 10
Wait a minute, is that Bigfoot? Serious though, my uncle and two cousins are taxidermists - they all think it's a cougar! After seeing that thing though, I'm not sure I would have had the courage to step out of the boat onto dry land with him lurking nearby. And I thought I thought seeing a couple bald eagles and a beaver on my fossil trips was neat, you've got that beat! Content Quality : 10 of 10

Drool Quotient : 10 of 10

Picture Quality : 10 of 10
Next time I want a close up of the cougar's teeth!
VOTE! Agree  Disagree 


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