As summer's heat peaks, are ringtails on the loose?

Ringtails are nocturnal, western beasts, cousins to raccoons. SOURCE PHOENIXASAP.COM
July 20, 2012

Up until a month ago, I had never heard of a ringtail, a ringtail cat, or any other animal with the name ringtail in it. Now, in the space of three weeks, there have been three possible sightings.

In late June, Becky and I were driving west on Route 16 one weekday evening, heading home from Broadkill Beach.  Just about where the Prime Hook marsh gives way to high ground, I saw a strange animal break through the hedge on the left and go scampering across the road before disappearing into the briars on the right. First thought, fox.  No, it wasn’t loping like a fox, and foxes don’t have striped tails like this creature did. Second thought, raccoon.  But that thought ball didn’t drop neatly into one of my brain slots either. It was longer than a raccoon, ran lower to the ground and didn’t have the humped back or the awkward gait of a raccoon. Stumped.

It wasn’t two days later when I got an email from Kelly Stuchlik, who said her husband, Terry, reported seeing a ringtail crossing one of the streets near their Lewes Beach home. I asked Terry about it late last Sunday afternoon when he and his bandmates in 33 1/3 were busy trying to beat a thunderstorm as it bore down on the upstairs deck at Lewes Yacht Club where they had just finished a set. “No doubt about it,” said Terry.  “It was a ringtail.”

A ringtail? What’s a ringtail? According to lots of articles on the web, the ringtail is a relative of the raccoon that typically lives in arid parts of the western U.S.  It’s sometimes called a ringtail cat because it has a cat-like face. But there’s no mistaking that striped tail.

On Tuesday this week, I talked to biologist Annie Larsen at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

“Any recent sightings of unusual animals there?”

“Do you mean cougars or mountains lions or lions or giraffes?” replied Annie.

“No.  I was thinking more along the lines of a ringtail.  Seen any of those?” And I went on to tell her the story of my sighting and Terry’s.

Annie hesitated just enough for me to know that a thought ball was working its way into one of her slots.

“That’s funny,” she said.  “Just a couple of weeks ago one of our maintenance guys got a similar call. A ringtail.  I think that’s what he said. I haven’t seen one myself but that’s kind of funny to hear about them a few times in just a few weeks.”

I thought so too and that’s why I’m bringing it up.  If anyone else sees what might be a ringtail, give me a call.  I saw a coyote a few times several years ago at Prime Hook, and Annie said she saw a cougar there a few years back which she thinks got away from its owner.  But the ringtail is something new.  Maybe the drought conditions from the past several years in the southeast have extended the range of these curious animals up onto Delmarva.

A big summer in Lewes

Lewes City Manager Paul Eckrich said this week that strong crowds are finding their way into Lewes this summer. “Our meter revenues are up slightly over last year, which tells me we have more people than last year.  Elisha Hartman, our lifeguard captain at Lewes Beach for the past several years, said her impression is that the number of people on the beach is up, and there have been no major issues. We’ve had good weather and that’s keeping traffic as strong as ever,” said Eckrich.  “We’ve also had no major problems with crime and vandalism.  We haven’t seen the car break-ins that we had last year, and I’m hoping it stays that way.”

Mike DiPaolo, executive director at Lewes Historical Society, said the Sea Glass Festival at the historic complex a few weeks ago was the largest event ever hosted on the grounds.  “That’s in terms of revenue and people through the gates,” said DiPaolo.  “We took in $31,000 at the gate and counted 4,500 people who attended.  The annual craft fair we had last weekend was also very strong.  It’s a strong summer.  Our museum revenues are also up.”

Lewes Historical Society is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding this year.  DiPaolo said the society will be hosting special events on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 21 and 22, in recognition of the milestone.

Cape park numbers steady

Park Manager Mary Wagner said crowds at the campground and beaches at Cape Henlopen State Park are holding steady this year.  “We haven’t closed the park as many days this year as we did last year, but I think with so much high heat and humidity like we’re having today [Tuesday], people don’t stay on the beach as long.  That makes for more turnover.”

Wagner said the 150-site campground is staying full, and the six new camper cabins have been doing well.  “People like the air conditioning and the screened porches. We’re still knocking around the idea of putting electricity in for the campground.  Right now we have no electricity - except in the cabins - and we don’t allow generators. People thank me for that.  They don’t like the noise of the generators.”