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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Me, my dog, and a bobcat

My Labrador, K, and rolled out this morning onto trails with a few inches of powdery new snow covering a solid and deep snowpack. Snow adorned every pine needle and naked aspen twig. The low sun, just above the horizon, made the frosty landscape glow.
We rolled around our trail network, flying like I rarely can do in new snow. K posed for me in a favorite spot.
Only one person had tread on the trails before us, and animal tracks abounded. Deer tracks headed straight up toward the lion's lair. I'm amazed that the deer don't smell the mountain lion or the fresh deer carcass and stay far away.

I looked carefully for lion tracks on the trails but saw none. Prior to our ongoing lion presence, I always deluded myself into believing that I'd know if a lion was lurking in the area in the winter because he'd leave tracks. I'm learning that they don't necessarily use human trails, even if they are the most efficient routes due to the packed snow.

Some might wonder why I still go out into the forest, knowing that the fierce mountain lion shown in my previous post is guarding his cache and looking for new prey nearby. The reason is that I am fully aware, and have been for a long time, that I've traveled safely through these woods for the past decade thanks to the grace of the lions. If they wanted to eat humans or dogs, they would. However, they rarely do.

I must add that I'm not blindly taking this risk. I've read many books (approaching 10) and primary research articles about mountain lion ecology and their behavior in human encounters. I know enough to reduce my odds of an attack but I also know that I do take a risk every time I immerse myself in the natural world that I love so much.

This morning, as K and I explored one trail, only a coyote had loped through the snow before us.
When we gallivanted far away from the lion's lair, I gave K a tiny bit of freedom. I called her back soon thereafter. She charged back to me for her reward!
After my ride with K, I left her basking in the sun, working on a kong with dog food frozen inside it.
I headed out solo, rejoicing in the crackling crystal cold and endlessly deep blue skies. My Fatback snow bike rolled over the snow like an unstoppable tractor. And, the trails remained deserted. Below zero temperatures provide solitude on the trails!

The trail began as an endless slope of untracked snow.
But then, a set of tracks joined the trail from the north, marching purposefully eastward, in the same direction as I was pedaling.
A closer look revealed that a bobcat had left these tracks. Each track had no claw marks, was almost as wide as it was long, and measured about 1.5" across, making me certain that a bobcat had walked this way. I've recently captured photos of bobcats on one of my wildlife cameras.
The cat and I followed exactly the same path for about a half mile until he had decided to take a hunting side-trip into a jumble of boulders.
He then stayed off the main trail for a third of a mile, a section where the trail avoids the rough terrain of rocky ledges and boulder piles, the favorite terrain of a bobcat. Then, to my surprise, his tracks emerged from a cliff area to rejoin my route.
For a while, my snow bike tires and his tracks traveled companionably, side-by-side. No other marks marred the fresh snow.
Soon, however, he took another boulder-strewn and steep route, short-cutting a big hairpin turn in the trail.
Once I'd navigated the hairpin turn on a mild gradient, I crossed his path again. Alas, it was the last time because the trail approached civilization. He simply crossed the trail, leaving his tracks as he plunged into a deep and dark gulch.

I felt honored to be the first human to follow in the tracks of this bobcat and see signs of his purposeful foraging for rodents among the boulders. Living on the wild edge, on the border between human habitation and vast tracts of forest, I find animal stories in the snow on almost every bike ride. How lucky I am.

I rolled home, gazing at a winter wonderland, feeling fully content.


  1. We totally understand going into the woods. Though we do not have mountain lions (we think not, though the Park Service does acknowledge the possibility and the rare sightings, but most likely they are long extinct from our area), we have plenty of dangerous animals. But there is danger in everything we do - even driving to the grocery store. I would rather take my chances with Mother Nature any day.

  2. It must be something to know you are sharing paths with bobcats, coyotes, and others. I get excited just following a deer trail. The mountain lion, however, I'd stay away from his trail. But I am really enjoying your photos and video. It must be so much fun to be capturing all the activity with your cameras! I feel like I'm learning something and I love learning about animal behavior. Thanks for doing all this exploration!

  3. Hi KB,
    The lion was my first thought upon awakening this AM! I still can't believe its size. Your world looked a lot like mine today. So sunny with a bright blue sky - but Brrrrr - also cold. We skied in 8" of powder, and I had a big surprise - 2 moose just off a ski run on Peak 9 - a big Bull with a huge rack and a female. Unfortunately, no photos. I like the pic of your tracks and the Bobcat's, side by side. I'm thinking of you.

  4. Following the bobcat trail reminds me of when I was a little girl, growing up on the farm and how much fun we had following animal tracks out behind the house in the fields and around the lake. You must have had a great time!

    I still think you COULD ride the Iditarod trail if you decided to do it! I'll bet it was quite an adventure!

  5. From the photos I can see why you're feeling fully content. Love the second photo with the snow covered muzzle - by the look of it you're not the only one who is feeling at one with the world.

  6. Another beautiful journey. You are such a good guide.

  7. Have been bad about visiting lately, but scrolled back to see about the MT LION - whoa! Very powerful looking animal - you are just amazing to get all those photos and vids - bravo. The fresh air and snow are simply vivid in today's post also - don't blame you for keeping dogs very, very close to you. Thank you for sharing your gorgeous (and sometimes risky) wilderness with us!
    Hugs xo

  8. Oh my!! Just wached the Mighty Mountain Lion video!!! Incredible. What a tail and hefty paws!
    So much life to track there. Always enjoy your rides, K & R of course, and hearing about your encounters. Be safe my friend.

    Hugs and snaggle-tooth kisses,
    Sierra Rose

  9. A frozen treat in this weather? OMD My teeth are chattering. It's kind of funny because I saw parallels between your day and mine. You went on glorious untouched mountains and found a bobcat print. I went hiking at the burnt Station Fire area and spotted dirt, soot, mud, and a flip flop print by some crazy tourist. I saw no bob cats today, although I do get to see them frequently.
    Thanks for sharing

  10. Woof! Woof! Happy New Year! I sure like to join you guys in your great adventures through the snowy woods. enjoyed reading your older post and saw the mountain video Oh! my ... LOVE the music too. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar


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