Possible bobcat sighting in Delaware County

Posted: November 18, 2011

It happened again. There has been another big-cat sighting in Delaware County.

On Monday, Folcroft Borough police received a call about a bobcat running through a neighborhood.

"Upon arrival, the animal was gone," Folcroft Police Chief Robert Ruskowski said.

Is it the power of suggestion that keeps the calls coming? Or could there be a bobcat?

"It is very, very possible," said Gary Stolz, manager at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. "They are native here."

When Upper Darby police received a call Oct. 26 about a mountain lion or bobcat, they figured it was just a large dog. Ditto for the report in September, when two women confessed to police that they had burglarized 29 homes but that they had passed up one house where they had encountered a lion.

Kim Hill of Folcroft is sure what she saw Monday night shooting across the road into the drainage culvert next to her house on Ashland Avenue was a bobcat.

"It was crazy," she said.

About 9:45 p.m., Hill was headed out to pick up her son, Blake, 22, from work at a nearby Home Depot. Suddenly, something across the street triggered a neighbor's security light.

"Here it came, running out the side of their yard," she said. "When he saw me, he took off like crazy."

Hill described the large cat as sleek and fast, with a brown or tan body that had small spots. It looked to be about 40 pounds, with a triangular head and pointed ears. She looked up bobcat on Wikipedia and said the image there was identical.

The culvert connects to the Muckinipattis Creek, a tributary of Darby Creek, which extends all the way to - you got it - Upper Darby Township. And it forms a natural wildlife corridor that dead-ends at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Tinicum Township.

"It would be neat to see native wildlife restored and coming back," Stolz said. In recent years, bald eagles, river otters, beavers, minks, and numerous types of turtles have returned. It is an indication, he said, that the environment is becoming healthier.

Bobcats are extremely elusive, Stolz said, and their range is extensive. But no documented sightings of the animals have been reported since the Heinz refuge was established in 1972, he said.

Though there have been no confirmed reports in Delaware County, bobcats have been seen in Valley Forge National Historical Park in Montgomery County and in the state of Delaware, said Jerry Feaser, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

"I would not be surprised that they are in and out of Philadelphia, following those river channels," Feaser said.

Bobcats generally live in the mountains. Found mostly in the north-central and northeastern part of the state, they are known to inhabit swamps and agricultural areas. Their population has increased over the last 20 years, and Pennsylvania has a hunting and trapping season for them, according to the game commission.

For months, subtle signs along Ashland Avenue have suggested something was amiss.

The neighborhood around the 60-foot culvert has been home to a healthy population of rabbits, possums, squirrels, and feral cats.

Not anymore. The numbers aren't what they were in the past, said Doug Hill, Kim's husband.

Then there were the "ungodly shrieks" coming from the culvert late at night, neighbors said. They were used to hearing wildlife noises, but these were different.

"Bobcats," Stolz said, "have a shrieky voice."

Stolz said chances were the cat was just that, a feral domestic feline.

Still, he said, you would need proof - roadkill, cat scat, or a photo - to be sure, something that could be used to scientifically document the sighting.

Kim Hill is prepared, keeping her cameras ready to roll.

"I want to see him," she said. "I want to get him on video."

Contact staff writer Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149, mschaefer@phillynews.com,

or @MariSchaefer on Twitter.

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