The Natural Stuff

First Sightings 'The Dorset Large Cat Enigma' - Page 2 of 3

It was quite a warm day I recall and I found several basking adders in the hedgerow on my way up. Only half the quarry was in operation and the top part was a wildlife haven for all sorts. I positioned myself at the top overlooking newly built up buzzard's nest and marvelled at the gorgeous view below me. I had only been in position for about half an hour when a buzzard started to give alarm calls and flying below me would pass every couple of minutes or so. I had never heard a buzzard doing that to a human, they usually just lift off the nest and fly to a tree a few hundred yards away or so, and keep an eye on one. I presumed that she was doing it at me, at least until I realised the truth. The bracken had grown exceptionally high in this warm out of the wind micro climate, so swished when an animal walked through it, as it did now.

I first thought 'must be a fox' as they often had cubs in some of the secure mini caves in the quarry. But something was amiss. The animal was walking slowly, not trotting like a fox. At first I didn't think too much of it , as it passed But then it happened again, the animal would slowly make its way from the bottom of this particular plateau, and work its way up parallel with me before vanishing above me, only to return in my left side vision a few minutes later, and repeat the process.

I then realised that it was not fox behaviour, certainly not any deer unless we had muntjack, and I knew that we hadn't so I tried to glimpse the animal which was doing a grand job at concealing itself, but a breath break in the height of the bracken revealed a pair of ears, and although they were dark backed like the fox, they had a white patch And a brief glimpse of fur revealed grey on the rump. I then realised that the animal was walking stealthily and I then put two and two together. Again I was looking at a cat. I then wondered whether or not it was the same animal as before or not and why was it acting so. I at first thought that maybe it was stalking me, but my attention was distracted by movement down below. In a small cave like tunnel deep in the chalk were the heads of at first two, then three baby animals tottering about in typical baby like fashion. They looked very dark grey to me with the possibility of spots, I could not tell as they were in shadow.

'Oh my god there is a puma with cubs'. I couldn't see where the adult had gone, but I got up and slowly walked up the top plateau and out of the quarry via the top. A hundred thoughts again rushed through my mind, but I did notice that this animal was certainly grey, not tawny golden. There had been a vixen and cubs in the hole last summer, now there was a puma. What a turn out for the books. Although watching intelligent cats was not the same as watching badgers or even foxes of which are very wary animals. I told nobody, just spent all the next few days pondering the situation.

I was reading Chris Ferris' book 'The darkness is light enough' and she had not made any reference to alien cats during her badger watching vigils, come to think of it nor had any other naturalist of what I knew of It wasn't until many years later that I managed to pick up a copy of Nigel Briery's book, among others. I visited the quarry on a regular basis. There were orchids to see, adders, grizzled skipper butterflies and twice I saw pine martins. One time about to shin up a small beech, the animal was chestnut with a lovely thick tail, and then I saw one on the edge of the village trying to raid a friends beehive, it got stung and went hell for leather up the path, leaping two ditches as it went. It was dark chocolate brown about the size of my ferret of which I was walking at the time; the other one was much bigger I at first mistook it for a fox cub as it was similar in colour.

I later read that one of the last records for martins in the county was in Cranborne chase during the 1920's. This was the 1980’s. Was it a relic population or unofficial reintroduction? Perhaps I will never know. The memories will last forever. It wasn't until just after Christmas 1985 when I decided to go see the huge keepers cove colony farther along the hill side. As I walked along the lane, the sky was white, and the air was dead calm, I heard just one or two badgers rummaging higher up the slope when it suddenly bucketed down with snow. Very thick goose down snow and it started to pitch as soon as it settled.

All of a sudden a laud wail filled the air. A long drawn out scream type wail of about four seconds, followed by a second after a small gap in time of about two seconds and almost exactly the same, but coming from a different direction. That was all At first I thought it must be the so called 'badger scream' as the late naturalist Ernest Neal called it, although it has to be said, that I have never heard it since, or heard of anybody else being familiar with it. I certainly have not seen a badger screaming with all my badger watching experience since that episode. I very much later was to find out that cats made such a noise and in particular puma.

So I went on for years thinking that what I heard were badgers. How stupid of me. I just did not jump to conclusions, being the opposite by nature. Two weeks after this episode, I found a body of a roe buck in the woods in the same place as the noise. It was partially covered up with leaves and debris and at first I could only see its head and big antlers sticking up. It had a big wound on its neck and it was partially eaten, now I would have recognised it as being eaten in typical cat fashion, then I had my suspicions. My next close encounter with this species, was again on a moonlit night during a frosty late January. I visited the chalk quarry again not expecting to see much else accept the odd badger, or roe deer clicking away in fright as the usually do, when I decided to walk the main plateau under the vast cliff. It looked beautiful in the moonlight, the chalk crystals glinting and the cold biting my nose, when all of a sudden I noticed an animal on the next ridge above me. I was not directly under the cliff so I had a good view of anything above.

The animal was roe deer size and at first, this is what I naturally presumed, until I noticed the odd un-deer like behaviour of walking around in circles with a pacing sort of gait although roe do indeed walk around in circles, it is usually connected to a territorial point such as a tree, or to chivvy a doe. Although the animal was only about 75 yards at a guess, I felt the need to take my binoculars from out of the inside of my coat. I regularly took them out in bright moonlight. Low and behold it was the cat again, or 'a' at again grey brown, but moonlight is not very good for discerning colour one thing I did notice though was its very thick tail, of which it would rise up over its back slowly before allowing it to rest back down again.

imageWhy wasn't it fleeing? Here I was in full moonlight in full view with a puma walking around in circles right in front of me. I just stood transfixed wondering what it was doing. It did seem to lower its head a few times to the ground, and years later I realised that it must have been transfixed by some scent which can make a cat less alert to danger. I doubt that it had got used to me being around, although I suppose it could have been half of it. I now realise just how weary these animals are and seem to know what's going on in their environment and seem to be able to spot people miles off and take appropriate action. It must have seen me many times, but I not it, thus not seeing me as a threat.

That was the last I saw of these particular animals, and I moved to Blandford for a while so rarely visited the Shillingstone area at night time. I basically forgot about it for a while or at least put the experiences at the back of my mind, although I did venture out many a time at night around the Blandford, Langton areas but did not encounter any catlike activity there.

I also did not carry a camera even if I did the chances of me capturing one on film were pretty remote. Many times when I have purposefully taken out a camera to snap badgers. I have been too scared to take it out of my pocket unless I spooked the subject........