Thom Smith: Are there elk on Mount Greylock? Not likely.
Q. I was wondering if you have heard from anyone in the last couple years about seeing two elk around the North Adams area? I can't be the only one who has seen two huge elk!
A couple years ago, I was walking the dogs on the North Adams side of Mount Greylock and heard the craziest noise. Whatever was making the noise, screeched at me as I was getting close, so I ended up turning around. A week later, I was at the same spot walking the dogs and I saw two huge animals that I thought were moose. I was excited I got to see them (the elk).
The last few nights, I've been hearing that same screeching noises behind my house near Mount Greylock in New Ashford. I can hear at least two.
I recently Googled "moose noises" and after watching some videos I was stumped because that's not the noises I heard at all, or the color of the animal I spotted. I listened to elk noises yesterday and I'm 1,000-percent positive I saw two elk that day — and they have been in my backyard the last few days
I didn't know we had elk around here.
— Jason, New Ashford
And in another email, responding to my answer of "probably not," he writes, "Is there another animal as big as a moose the exact color of an elk that makes this exact noise, and looks and sounds exactly like this (referring to an elk video)? I was about 20 yards away from them; I got a really good look at them. I'm not an animal expert, but this is exactly what I heard and saw."
A. Dear readers, what do you think? Have you seen elk anywhere in New England? To my recollection, I have never heard of any elk in the Berkshires.
I asked people in the know what they thought of elk on Mount Greylock, or in the Berkshires, and these are the answers I received:
Alec Gillman, West Region interpretive coordinator, Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation: "Elk? That would be something. No recollections here. Perhaps they heard a moose."
Andrew Madden, Western District supervisor for Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife: "We don't have any elk in our area, nor have we had any reports of any that I recall. Some states allow captive elk, but Massachusetts does not, so there is not really even a possibility of an escaped animal. I think the emailer is hearing something else. There are a lot of possibilities: fox, deer bleat, owl, bobcat and numerous other mammals. Certainly, if he got a picture, we would be glad to look at it. If the sounds are at night, a good trail camera could answer the question. Elk bugling is such a distinctive sound and unlikely to ever be described as screeching."
Gene Chague who writes The Eagle's "Berkshire Woods and Waters," and who has a good following and receives input from outdoorsmen and women, said, "I haven't heard anything about elk seen locally [from my readers.]"
Hundreds of years ago, bull elk herds could be heard in the Adirondacks in New York State, in Vermont, New Hampshire, and yes, in Massachusetts, but the last one here in Massachusetts was apparently shot in Worcester County in 1732. In 1880, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife declared the eastern subspecies extinct.
The last local elk I find records of were captive; those kept on October Mountain on the 14,000-acre Whitney Estate in the town of Washington from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Some of the animals kept on the Whitney Preserve were Virginia or white-tailed deer, and one of William Whitney's favorite, black-tail deer, elk, moose and buffalo. In 1887, the elk herd was counted at 59. In 1889, it had continued to grow with 23 elk born on the reserve. I learned that, by 1901, the elk population had grown to 84. In 1902, the buffalo population numbered 32.
Following Whitney's death, with no interested family to maintain the estate and preserve, the elk and other animals were removed to be placed in other animal reserves. Toward the end of the preserve's existence, two elk of the same sex escaped through a hole in the fence and were wounded by hunters. The would-be assassins were fined $75 each. Other large animals had escaped through the years. Today, the property with some additional land is now known as the 16,500-acre October Mountain State Forest, the largest state forest in Massachusetts.
Q. I have a problem with herons cleaning out my two ponds of frogs, fish, etc. What is a safe way to discourage them from coming to my ponds without harming them?
I am retired and live on my farm in Stamford, Vt., with my retired cows and retired dog.
Do you have any suggestions for my heron problem? There are large swampy areas, a state park with a large pond/swamp and Whitingham Dam within flying distance of my farm, so keeping them away won't affect their food supply.
A. As you are retired, and depending on your age, I don't suspect you will be re-thinking your pond design, but if you do, herons are accustomed to walking into the pond for fishing, so if your pond has steep sides, the heron problem will be greatly reduced — that is unless the fish have become so tame that they swim up to any shadow along the shore, looking for a treat. My other suggestion, that sounds better for a retired person, is to install a short fence, maybe 1-foot tall as close to the shore as possible around the pond, and as a backup, if you prefer, add a line 18-inches above ground just in front of it. There are a couple videos on Youtube that you may find helpful.
Whatever you do, remember that Great Blue Herons are protected under federal law, and that it is illegal to shoot them in the U.S. Good luck.
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