Winchester-Nabu Detective Agency Year Five:
Case File No. 39-247
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Where We Left Off:
In the last case file, I showed the method and progress of how I’m trying to preserve some of the evidence we’ve gathered during our investigations.
I don’t mean to always talk about the weather, but it’s not filler, I promise. It’s a driving force whether or not we get to have adventures outside. It’s been a cold winter, but we haven’t had much snow. This is a surprise since there’s usually one or two nor’easters that trap us inside until we can dig our way out (we got a couple of inches last week). Gus has wanted to go out every day for adventures, but when it’s below 30, I just don’t do it. He and Oliver can get balcony time which can last from a couple seconds to 15 minutes. The wind plays a factor too. If it’s only 30 but no wind, we’ll go out; but 35 and gusty, no way. February last year is when we got hit hard with the snow so it might be on its way.
I bought Gus a fleece sweatshirt which is hard to put on and take off. He hates it and it’s not sized properly. I got it to see if he would tolerate a sweater or coat. It seems that he will, but walks funny and isn’t sure what to make of the feeling. Maybe next year, he’ll get a proper coat with Velcro. Right now, he needs dental work which is expensive and his new prescription food is like owning a tiger. A nice $55 coat will have to wait and I spotted someone “meowdeling” it on Instagram.
The little bit of snow that has fallen allowed Gus and me opportunity to study some wildlife tracks that aren’t visible like this in the summer unless there’s mud. Snow makes for a more pleasant tracking experience and better photos.
The Cook gave us an eyewitness report in January: in the dark, she saw something larger than a domestic cat size come through the grotto. She believes it was a fox which is entirely plausible. The thing is, our human eyes are terrible at judging sizes and shapes. There are a lot of news posts where the journalists take reports and photos from the public asking questions like, “Is this a mountain lion in the suburbs?” and things like that. We’ve discussed it before in previous case files. Eyewitness testimony is not the greatest.
Soon after testifying in the Fairbanks trial, Loftus began seeking a way to visually present to juries the proposition that people’s ability to decipher details degrades rapidly as a person or object moves further away.
“At 10 feet, you might not be able to see individual eyelashes on a person’s face,” he says. “At 200 feet, you would not even be able to see a person’s eyes. At 500 feet, you could see the person’s head but just one big blur. There is equivalence between size and blurriness-by making something smaller you lose the fine details.” – American Psychological Association, “How reliable is eyewitness testimony? Psychologists are helping police and juries rethink the role of eyewitness identifications and testimony.” Zak Stambor, April 2006, Vol 37, No. 4.
Gus and I had a couple of opportunities to search the perimeter for tracks and other evidence of visitors. We found so many tracks! Remember Mr. Valentine? I think some of them might belong to him or The Stranger. I took several measurements. There were consistent tracks of hooves, squirrels, and birds.
As we walked along one border and made a turn, the tracks changed. The smaller domestic feline tracks didn’t continue, but other ones about twice as large were found! Last April, Gus and I saw our first bobcat. It was surreal to see it walk through the yard calmly as if it had been there plenty of times. It probably had, but how had we gone so long without spotting one? We noted some measurements of the tracks this time. It was easy to watch Gus walk and see the size and shape of his. What’s interesting is that his back feet will follow his front ones and land in the same spot.
It looks like we were left choosing between a fox and a bobcat or perhaps something else like one of our local cryptids, a pumapard or pancelot. Then again, if someone owns a massive Maine Coon cat, those prints must be huge, right? We haven’t seen any, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. Mr. Valentine looks like a domestic longhair tuxedo.
Over in the fairy garden, some of the pumpkin looks like it was going to be a snack for one of the critters. That’s why I cut the pumpkins open. I was surprised the seeds weren’t taken immediately. Is it too much work for critters to split the shells open? It shouldn’t be considering what they will go through to eat a walnut. It didn’t appear that the pumpkin had any bites taken out of it. Maybe a critter just felt like kicking it across the snow-covered grotto. With all the tracks in that area, it would be hard to tell what exactly happened.
Gus found a relatively new entrance to the Underworld right outside the fairy garden at the base of a tall tree. He spent his time hunting for smaller suspects. I was still intrigued by what The Cook had said. If she saw something “larger than a house cat” by the fairy garden, that means she could have seen who moved the pumpkin. Unfortunately, she couldn’t provide any more credible information. The birds were extremely happy to see us so I decided to ask them if they had any information.
Honestly, the Blue Jay Gang acted as if they hadn’t eaten in a year. Peanuts-peanuts-peanuts! That’s all they cared about! They wouldn’t tell me anything. A dapper cardinal kept trying to land near me, but those jays were oafs in the branches and would scare it away. A red-tailed hawk perched on a branch and wanted to be left alone. There was a remarkable Great Blue Heron that zipped overhead with no interest in getting involved with us whatsoever. A flock of dark-eyed juncos came by. They are skittish. I can’t speak to them directly. They require a mediator.
Luckily, I came across a patient and friendly white-throated sparrow before it was time for us to go home. Clarence Sparrow took our inquiry and began interviewing other birds on our behalf. Mr. Sparrow was able to conduct the interviews I couldn’t. What he discovered was that there was one more possibility besides a fox or a bobcat: a coyote.
Then I got lucky because I searched the NJ Fish & Wildlife website and found an illustration comparing the size of coyote prints to bobcat prints. Those bobcat data they have seem smaller than what I personally witnessed — and this brings me back around to the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. The bobcat I saw was definitely bigger than how a 20-pound house cat would look. I took the illustration and overlaid it with one of our photos. That may simply be about body shape and bone structure! Gus sometimes looks “bigger” than Oliver because he’s longer and I think stands taller from floor to shoulder, yet he weighs less than Oliver. Ollie is round in his features.
Where it remains tricky is that I shared the photos with some locals and one said bobcat, one said fox or coyote.
After consulting with Clarence Sparrow and doing a lot of research with the boys, we feel that the small feline tracks one the one border are one of the local vagrant tomcats and that the other tracks near Fort Winchester are from a bobcat. Exciting!
Case Status: Closed
Addendum: As it turned out, our neighbor with the pond said he saw a bobcat too! Looks like that’s the owner of the mystery tracks. It’s probably not the one who played soccer with the pumpkins.