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John James Audubon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Everything’s been coming up “big birds” lately, in terms of sightings reports. A few days ago I received one that, if the reported bird is what I think it is, definitely points to the flesh-and-blood, relict population side of possible explanations. The witness (name withheld for now) happens to have a doctorate in zoology, and enjoyed a prolonged daylight look at it, along with a second witness. Here’s a slightly shortened version of the original report and a follow-up response.

“I am writing to report a sighting I had, of an incredibly large, raptor-type bird back in Oct/Nov of 2006.  I had moved to Memphis, TN in July of that year to begin a new job, and was renting a house with a large, tree-lined backyard.  It was late in the afternoon, around 5:00 pm. I went into the back yard with my dogs, a German Shepherd and a Malamute, played with them for about 15-20 minutes and then sat down on my back steps.  I looked up into a tree in the SW corner of the yard.  The leaves had fallen from the tree, and the view was relatively unobstructed.  The tree was about 30 feet from where I was sitting.  In the tree, sitting on a branch approximately 15 feet off the ground, was an enormous (and I mean enormous), raptor-type bird.  The head and body (minus the tail) of the bird measured approximately 4 – 4 1/2 feet.  The bird was a homogenous, beautiful, deep red-brown, no white was present.  The beak and feet ranged from a grey-tan to black toward the tip of the beak and claws.  The eyes were a brilliant orange.  I’ve never seen a bird like this before, or after for that matter.”

I went inside to get my girlfriend, so she could see the bird too.  It was still in the tree when we came back out.  We discussed the unusual size of the bird, as it watched us watch it.  The bird seemed to be equally interested in us.  I was able to observe the bird for close to 30 minutes.  I guess I was too fascinated to even think of grabbing a camera, which I regret.  My dogs didn’t seem bothered by the presence of the bird.  The dogs did, however, get into a barking match with the neighbor’s dog, causing me to divert my attention for only a few seconds to address that behavior.  Turning back, the bird was gone.  I never heard it take off from the tree and could not locate it in the sky, so I don’t have an estimate of its wing span.  My girlfriend and I spent the evening looking at pictures of raptors that might have fit what we saw, but we didn’t find anything that was a match.  I kept an eye out for the next few days, but never saw the bird again.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the underside of the wings.  S/he just sat on the branch looking over the neighborhood, and then looking at me.  The bird didn’t seem interested in my dogs at all.  The bird was pretty mesmerizing.  I’m not one of the ‘I’m attached to my cell phone by an umbilical cord’, so I didn’t have it with me to take a picture.  I’m not sure I would have thought of using the phone camera had I had it with me.  At first, it did cross my mind that it might be an immature bald eagle, but there wasn’t even a hint of white on this guy, and s/he was much too BIG.”

Subsequently, I went to Reelfoot Lake in NW TN, with a friend of mine, to see the bald eagles.  The backyard bird dwarfed the eagles I saw at Reelfoot.  I honestly never thought of reporting this sighting.  Partly because I never thought of it as being a possible cryptid or unidentified species, and partly because I would have had no idea where to report it.  I’m reporting it now, because I just started reading your book American Monsters.  I thought of my backyard friend, and felt you might be interested.”

***

When I read this exciting report, especially the part about the all-over, red-brown color, my mind immediately jumped to a supposedly extinct bird known as Washington’s (or the Washington) eagle.   It was documented and illustrated by John James Audubon, whose peers were very doubtful at the time that this was a separate species and not just an immature bald eagle, even though Audubon had an actual carcass that he’d shot, himself. According to Audubon, it measured over 3 1/2 feet in body length with a wingspan of 10 feet, 2 inches.

There is a great article by Scott Maruna on his Biofort blog that discusses this controversy– and the comparative descriptions of the birds — in detail. I forwarded the article link to the witness, who wrote, “The description in the link you shared is d… close. I agree that the color would be accurately described as chestnut, possibly cinnamon.”

But that historical kerfuffle wasn’t the last word on this cinnamon bird. Maruna also posted a blog about a more modern sighting of a possible Washington’s Eagle that occurred in the winter of 2004 near Stillwater, MN, which like Memphis lies along the Mississippi River. Both Stillwater and Memphis are known for their steep bluffs, a type of habitat favored by large birds of prey. Could there still be a small population of this eagle sweeping up and down the Mississippi River bluffs?

I’ve forwarded the witness’s full information and contact info (with permission) to Maruna. Perhaps between the two of us and other interested investigators, some new publicity will bring out other sightings not yet reported, and we can all learn a bit more about this rarest of raptors.

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DSC03794The awesome Fairiechick’s Fantasy Book Reader blog has posted a special one-year revisit of God Johnson, which is now on sale for 99 cents through the month of September to celebrate the release of American Monsters; a History of Monster Lore, Legends and Sightings in America. Thanks so much Vanessa Strickler!  http://www.fantasybookreader.net/2014/09/revisiting-god-johnson-unforgiven-diary.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+FairiechicksFantasyBookReader+%28Fairiechick%27s+Fantasy+Book+Reader%29

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art by Linda Godfrey

art by Linda Godfrey

Super-sized birds are one of the most tantalizing topics for researchers of cryptid animals. Most of these weird flyers resemble some type of actual bird (often a type thought long extinct) that would seem to put them in the “likely to be ‘real’” category – except for their wingspan usually reported at 20 feet or more, their massive bodies, and their penchant for carrying off live creatures considerably larger than the rabbits, fish and squirrels preferred by even the largest of our known birds of prey.

The 2005 sighting near Hayward, Wisconsin by a Minnesota businessman named John Bolduan that I chronicled in American Monsters describes one of the better observations I’ve seen anywhere of these creatures. Bolduan’s sighting was in close range in full daylight and included seeing the bird on the ground, taking off, and then flapping away, with nearby trees, tall grasses and roadway for size comparisons. It had a stork-like appearance, but Bolduan hasn’t been able to match it to any known species.

Since the time that I had to submit the manuscript for that book, I’ve received other reports of oversized avians that I wish could have been included. A brief summary:

  • Pike County, PA, autumn 1996 or 1997: A woman reported seeing a huge birdlike creature gliding over the trees during the day. She stopped her car to watch it and estimated it was the same length as her car, 17 feet. She tried reporting it to an area animal preserve and to a game warden, who both told her she had probably seen a vulture, but she said it looked nothing like a vulture and could not find anything to compare it to other than something prehistoric.
  • State Line Island, Nebraska, May 1995: In another daylight sighting, a man hiking along the North Platte River encountered two birds standing in a clearing that appeared the size of large humans but were covered with black feathers and had raptor-like heads. No markings. One turned and looked at him, then both spread their wings to an estimated 20 foot span and jumped from the ground. One was carrying a small deer in its talons and had a hard time getting airborne with it as the other bird screeched from the treetops. He believed the deer was the same small doe he had seen at that site the day before and estimated its weight at at least 75 pounds.
  • Clements, Michigan, spring 2014: NOTE — I’m withdrawing this report of a “giant” bird that had been sent by a third party. Subsequent interviews with the actual witnesses revealed this was almost certainly a turkey vulture. According to the father and son, it had the typical pinkish-red, unfeathered head and other characteristics of this bird that is probably the Midwest’s most oft-misidentified bird of prey. Just goes to show the importance of a little extra digging, and my apologies for posting the brief version prematurely!
  • On the other hand, as if to make up for that one, I received another report from Brookfield, a suburb of Milwaukee, that was indeed submitted by the original witness who answered follow-up questions. Her sighting occurred in fall, 2006, in daylight, as she and her three-year old son stood in the backyard of the home they were renting. She noted that the area had enough natural cover that they often saw deer, coyotes and other wildlife. She wrote, “A bird that resembled a golden eagle, except that it was about the same height as me (five feet, four inches) landed 15-20 feet away from us, looking me in the eye. We all remained still, staring at each other for a while. I remember feeling a little scared, as it could easily fly away with my 3-year old, but also a great reverence as I felt the bird was deciding how it felt about us being on that land.”  The woman added that they all stood for about 20 seconds, eyeing one another, before it flapped away with “great ease.” After it left, she took a  yardstick and measured what its height and wingspan would have been according to where it had stood in relation to corresponding features of her lawn, and said it stood 50-55 inches tall (about a foot shorter than she thought at first) with a 12-foot wingspan. A golden eagle may have a 5 1/2 to 8-foot wingspan but stands only about 27-36 inches tall. She added that the breast color of the bird she saw was “creamish,”  which is not usual for this species. Was it a golden eagle? If so, it was a specimen considerably larger than the known dimensions of that species, with unusual coloring. I do think what ever it may have been, it probably was interested in checking out her 3-year old, and that’s the scariest aspect of this encounter. Golden eagles have been known to seize small deer and domestic animals.

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Sasquatch illustration by Linda S. Godfrey for American Monsters

Sasquatch illustration by Linda S. Godfrey for American Monsters

American Monsters release day! What a great time I had on CoasttoCoastam.com with George Noory last evening talking about all the creepy critters! Thanks to all who listened, called in, and followed my blog afterward. In case you missed the show (I’m not normally up between two and four a.m. either :-) click HERE.

Also, check out my guest blog running today in Huffington Post on America’s Seven Scariest Monsters. It was extremely difficult to choose only seven, and I’ve seen a few comments wondering why I didn’t include the upright canines such as Michigan Dogman or Beast of Bray Road. It’s true that few things are scarier than encountering a menacing, upright wolf, but since I’m so identified with my wolfmen books and research, I wanted to emphasize that this book is a survey of the whole weird menagerie from giant birds to lake monsters. Besides, the canine crew gets its due in the book’s section on land beasts. And I wouldn’t care to run into any of these creatures on a dark trail at night. 

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Linda Godfrey at site of apparent deer and predator trails

Linda Godfrey at site of apparent deer and predator trails

More mulch churned up by deer and by whatever made those 4-5 inch tracks, a strange “paw” print on the house siding, and a family even more perplexed about what’s lurking literally in their back yard–these were what fellow investigator Jay Bachochin and I found on a return to the residential site in Hartland where a woman saw a six-foot tall, upright wolf-like creature cross her back yard at 1:30 a.m. the night of July 17-18, 2014.

I invited Bachochin, founder of the WPI (Wisconsin Paranormal Investigators) to help conduct a more thorough search of the grounds. The owners also graciously invited us to use their deck for a late night stakeout. We were able to sit quietly in the dark with a perfect view of the yard, cameras at the ready, and confirmed that the eyewitness would indeed have been able to see and identify a large creature from that position. We also spent some time viewing the neighborhood by foot and by car to see just how much cover there was for a large predator — and found a surprising amount of wooded ground that would allow it to make its rounds and then escape to a freeway corridor (US Hwy 16) when ready to return to the lake-and-park-rich surrounding area.

The mulched garden at the back of the yard had seen a lot more activity in the three days since my first visit. There were so many more prints–both from deer and the larger predator–that a lot of them had blended. But as can be seen in the above photo, there still were plenty of distinct trackways. The 5″ print size and the much smaller deer prints both remained consistent.

The owner hadn’t (and still has not) caught an image on her trail cam, but she did find a strange hartlandbearwolfpaw2mark on the house siding that looks like a partial paw print. It seems to be made with fine dirt, and measures a little over four inches. It’s located four feet above the ground, too high (and too big) for a raccoon or the family’s little dog. None of her family members have hands that size, and there was only one print. It may be entirely unrelated to the creature, but there are rear paw tracks in the mulch below and all around the house that tell us something large was there.

She also called the police again to ask whether there had been more sightings. The officer she spoke to this time said no, but that the department would be alerted.

As for our stakeout, we saw one small, scrawny and Hartlandbearwolfpawpossibly sick raccoon in the neighbor’s yard, and what appeared to be a smallish coyote sniffing around another neighbor’s garbage. Neither would ever be mistaken for an upright, six-foot dogman. I consider the case to be ongoing, and I’m staying in close contact with the family. 

I need to make one other note; I’ve received a comment or two from a couple of readers who assume I’m out hunting actual werewolves and using firearms and traps. That’s so very wrong. This is not Mountain Monsters!!! I don’t carry a rifle or create cages from the local junk yard, and Jay and I both left our long coats at home. I investigate with cameras, tape measures and Google maps, and I don’t believe the creatures I document are traditional lycanthropes in any way. And just for the record, July’s full moon was on the 12th. I’ll continue to keep you all posted!

***

American Monsters: a History of Monster Lore, Legends and Sightings in America,is scheduled for August 28th! It’s a wide, wide world of unknown creatures out there, from giant birds to Sasquatch, and this book trails them all by air, water and land. 

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Sketch made by eyewitness of creature seen July 17 in Hartland WI.

Sketch made by eyewitness of creature seen July 17 in Hartland WI.

A Hartland, Wisconsin woman wrote me this past Monday to report one of the most chilling sightings I’ve heard lately. Her encounter took place the night of Thursday, July 17 on her property inside the Hartland city limits. And if what I later found in the landscaping around her home is what it looks like, a six-foot tall, bipedal canine creature may have been snooping on her family, particularly a young teen, since early summer. She wishes to remain anonymous, so I’ll leave out names and street locations.

She had arisen that night at about 1:30 a.m. at the insistent yapping of her small dog. She hadn’t actually fallen asleep yet, she said, so she was awake and alert. Thinking the pooch needed to relieve itself, she took it out to the deck at the rear of her home, expecting it to run to the yard as usual. Instead, it stopped barking and cowered behind her on the deck. She could see something moving by the trees at the back of her yard, lit by her deck lights and other lighting around the residential neighborhood.

“At first I thought someone was playing a trick on me,” she said, “or that it was a person wearing a thick, gray jacket.” Then she realized it wasn’t a person. It was gray all over, with the fur thickest on its muscular chest. The head was that of an animal, with short, pointed ears on top of the head and a “short snout” like that of a boxer or other short-snouted canine, but “definitely not flat like a human’s,” she said. Its forelimbs hung at its sides and seemed muscular at the top but ended in longish paws with noticeable claws. They weren’t long like a Bigfoot’s, she said. Its thighs were also muscular but thinned toward the lower limbs, and it walked on its toepads. “The legs were canine,” she said. She estimated its height at about seven feet, gauged by a tree it passed under, and when I measured the tree later the actual height turned out to be six feet tall.

As she watched the creature easily stride across the back of her yard along a treeline that separated her yard from the neighbor’s, the beast suddenly swiveled its head to glance at her. There wasn’t enough light that she could see its eyes or any eyeshine, she said, but she knew that it saw her.

“And then it kept on walking like it didn’t care,” she said. She grabbed her dog and scrambled back inside her house. She did not sleep at all that night, she added.

The next day she called the police and told an officer what she had seen. Expecting a negative reaction, she was surprised when the officer told her he believed her, and urged her to be cautious. She asked him if there had been other reports, and he did not answer. (Which leads me, of course, to think that there were perhaps other reports!)

Single print

Single print

I got to her property to examine it the day after her call, on Tuesday, July 22. We walked around the rear of her yard and found numerous deep impressions in the mulch-dirt mixture. Some were obviously the size and shape of a deer’s tracks, and the others appeared roughly canine and about four and one-half inches in length, with some give-and-take for the distortion caused by the helter-skelter quality of mulch. The prints appeared to be made only from the hind limbs of something taking two-foot strides in bipedal fashion, and led in a path across this landscaping feature to an adjacent small woods. While neither she nor I could make any sort of impression in that ground whatsoever, even by stomping or jumping, these prints were about an inch deep, on average.

They were also very evident in the mulch around her house, especially under several windows. One of the windows belonged to the couple’s young teen, who has a special needs disorder. The teen had been telling the woman that there was a “monster” peering into the window almost every night for a month, she said, but it was never there by the time she got to the room, so she thought the teen was imagining things. She does not think that any more, she added.

DSC03983 - Copy

We also found a couple of small piles of scat near the house and in the rear of the yard that looked canine but did not seem like they were substantial enough to have come from a creature of that size.

While it may seem unusual that such a creature could roam freely in a neighborhood like this, there are several factors that make it more likely. There are abundant deer for prey, and much water; Hartland is very close to Pewaukee Lake, with eight other closely connected small lakes to its east and north. Moreover, the Kettle Moraine State Forest, a source of many cryptid sightings, lies just to its north, as does Holy Hill, the site of the well-known encounter when a deer was taken from a carcass collector’s truck. I’ve dubbed this creature the Holy Hill Bearwolf in my blog posts and books, and I asked the woman if she’d ever heard of it. She hadn’t, she said, but she thought the term “bearwolf” very appropriate for what she saw. “I know it was definitely not a bear,” she said. “The legs were wrong and it was too different, but it had that thicker chest.”

The family had a previous incident in the past  year when a huge, white, blue-eyed wolf walked up to the patio door of a room with a hot tub, and just stared in for a few moments before casually walking away. The woman estimated it stood three feet high at the shoulder. She does not think it was the same animal she saw on July 17, however.

The woman added the reason she was willing to tell me her story was that she believed other people in that lakes area should know that this creature might be out there. I continue to communicate with her and will be checking on the property. In the meantime, she has put up a trail cam. I consider it an ongoing investigation, and hope we will find something definitive.

NOTE: Sorry but comments have been turned off for this post as other duties leave me unavailable to moderate.

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To wish everyone a Happy 4th, here’s something I dug out of my WayBack File. The photo in this clipping from The Bee (August 2006) in Phillips, Wis., shows a reenactment of what had to be the most awesome summer Bible camp ever, since it portrayed Sasquatch (guy in gorilla suit) interacting with a Biblical character (unsure of what character but Noah would be my choice.) This was soon after a flurry of Bigfoot sightings in the hilly areas of nearby Lugerville had drawn the interest of Monsterquest and sundry Bigfoot researchers. I had previously interviewed witness Don Young and also tracked down another observer by poking around Lugerville myself. However, although my dad grew up in that area and I’ve spent much time in Price County woods my whole life, also still have many relatives there all hunters and fishermen, no one I knew there had ever mentioned Bigfoot. UFOs, yes, cemetery lights, yes. But not Squatches. Perhaps the Forest Folk just stuck to the nearby Chequamegon Forest until fairly recently. Or my relatives didn’t live close enough to Lugerville. But Happy Independence Day!

 

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