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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A mighty mountain lion

Our mountain lion adventure started on Saturday, January 2, when my labrador, K, discovered a freshly killed deer. A mountain lion had left tracks in the snow surrounding the carcass, which lay mostly exposed.

Wildlife cameras have captured the lion's activity since that time. For the first three days (Sat-Mon), the lion's pattern was that he stayed by the carcass all night and departed for most of the day. Then, on Tuesday, his pattern changed. He stayed all day, vigilantly guarding his feast. Below, I've outlined the details of his behavior, and I've included a video montage of his movements and images.

After killing the deer early Saturday morning, the lion returned to the carcass at dusk on Saturday afternoon and stayed until about 2 AM on Sunday January 3. He spent that night feeding on the carcass and then covering it with snow. He lumbered away, straight up the hill, deeper into the pine forest. He likely planned to make a nearby bed to rest after gorging himself. I'm guessing that he watched closely as my dogs and I discovered the carcass. That's a bit unnerving.

Later Sunday morning, he returned at about 5:45 AM and stayed for an hour. Again, he ate, immersing his entire head in the ribcage, and then covered the deer's body with more snow before departing on exactly the same route as the previous time.

During the day on Sunday, the lion stayed away from his prey for almost twelve hours, before sauntering back to the kill at 5:15 PM on that afternoon. Upon returning, he spent 14 hours at the site, eating, digging snow onto the carcass, and finally departing around dawn. He also spent time lying in the dirt spots that he'd exposed when digging snow. One of his 'beds' is shown next to his snow pile in the photo below.
He stayed away, perhaps resting in a day bed nearby, until mid-afternoon on Monday, before returning for a brief snack and some snow digging. Finally, after leaving for a couple of hours, he returned for a long stay at about dusk on Monday. Overnight, until dawn on Tuesday, January 4, he ate and remodeled the snow pile.

Then, contrary to his habit for the previous three days, he did not depart at daylight on Tuesday. Rather, he stayed by the carcass all day. He barely ate. Rather, he spent most of the time resting in the dirt spots created by his snow throwing, prowling around looking alarmed sometimes (probably guarding against scavengers), and remodeling the snow pile protecting his cache. Most of the video is from daytime on Tuesday because the wildlife cameras can shoot video only in daylight.

No scavengers, aside from an occasional raven or magpie when the lion was absent, has dared to visit the carcass. Eventually, when the lion abandons the carcass, I expect to see a parade of smaller carnivores and omnivores, like bobcats, coyotes, corvid birds (crows, ravens, magpies, Jays), and even rodents arrive at the site.

The cameras are still documenting the activity at the prey cache, as I write. My books say that the 'usual' stay at a large prey cache is 2-5 days. However, his intensive guarding and snow pile remodeling yesterday make me wonder if he'll stay longer. Moreover, an extreme cold front with snow has arrived. It'll be very interesting to see what he does next.

In the video below, my good friend from Dream Valley Ranch, has made a montage (with purrfect music) of the best video clips and photos of the almost 300 we have. The video clips are all from January 4 during the cougar's daytime vigil over the carcass. The photos, taken from two cameras, show him over the four nights he's spent at the carcass so far.

Believe me, the videos and photos have made mountain lions (aka, "cougars") much more real to me. K has been spending a lot of time in a 'heel', running right next to my bike on the right side.
I'm scared to give her much freedom, especially when we are even vaguely close to the carcass. She's much too precious to me. Moreover, we navigate lion-friendly terrain daily, like the rocky-cliff sided trail shown below.


  1. Yeah, that' right wise K, heel! I would probably crawl inside my humans pant leg if I were you. Did you know we have mountain lions where I live too? I live right by Angeles National Forest. I don't get to see them but rarely. Thank you for the awesome documentation. This was like NatGeo!

  2. WOW! What a magnificent animal!
    Thanks so much for sharing. And thank smrpie for the mix.....I could tell by the music who you were in cahoots with, Ha!
    Great way to start off the New Year!

  3. First, we love the music choice for your video. Absolutely perfect.

    The pictures were stunning, but the video is spectacular. We love the muscularity, the giant paws, and the sheer confidence of this magnificent beast. What an intimidating and majestic animal.

    P.S. - K - Listen to mom.

  4. Wow, KB, is all I can say. What great pictures of a great wild beast!

    Yes, I am all for keeping the Pup at heel!

    Be you careful out there!

    Stella and Jo

  5. Oh my!

    Those paws are HUGE!

    Of course, we loved his CAT-ga!

    It is just incredible footage and so shows the wonders of nature!

    We have to remember we share their territory and they ours -

    We agree with D.K. - GREAT music!

  6. That is one cool cat! Great choice of music to go with the videos, too!

    I find myself wishing that I had a wildlife camera and something more exciting to capture on it besides the rather foolish rabbit who keeps pooping by the dog turn out pen.

  7. Hi KB, Bob and I just watched your video. I'm almost sorry I'm watching it so late - right before bed! What a big cat - very muscular and beautiful. However, just the thought of him watching you and the dogs at the carcass makes my blood run cold. I'll show my sons when they come this weekend. Holy Cow! Be careful! Thinking of you.

  8. I'm just dumbfounded. Amazing, and you did a great job of presenting it...

  9. Unfortunately, I can only watch the first minute or so, as my internet connection is being rather belligerent lately. I'll put the remaining two minutes on my list of things to do once my internet is fixed (if it's ever fixed..)

    But, from what I saw, that really is something. It's amazing that you share your home with a creature of such size, and who obviously means business about his food!

    PS - about the ESPN agility - I actually didn't get a chance to catch the agility, but watched some of the other events. Thanks for your offer, but, much to my dismay, we don't have a VCR hooked up any more - there've been a couple of things lately that I've wanted to watch on tape, but couldn't! I'm sure it will be on Youtube soon.

  10. Hey there KB
    Congratulations on some superb footage!...and of course - thanks for sharing it with us all.

  11. Great video! We too have mountain lions visit frequently and it's a little chilling, but more thrilling to share space with such powerful and beautiful creatures!

  12. How fortunate you are to see such a beautiful creature and be able to observe its daily live.

  13. Wow, that is one big, powerful cat. I can't say that I'm sorry that we don't have them around here. I'd much rather see them on video than in person when I'm out in the forest!

    BTW - we got our trail camera. We got one with flash rather than IR for night pictures, although I still wonder how much the flash will bother animals. I never get the impression from pictures you have posted that it is that big of a deal. What is your impression?

  14. Wow, what incredible documentation! You obviously put a lot of work into this and I hope you have some idea of how much it is enjoyed by those of us who get to see it. It really was like watching National Geographic.
    The power and majesty of these creatures really shows, and the music choice to go with it was great.
    Glad to hear K is staying close.
    Again, thanks for sharing.

    Byron's Mom

  15. great video....i had hubby watch it too....i would say you guys were lucky that day you happened upon the carcass.....wonderful spot for the cameras! can't wait to see what other critters visit....when is surgery?....

  16. KB, This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen on a blog...the video is awesome!
    I've added a link to your blog on my post today.
    As always, thank you for sharing your "wild" world w/ us!
    You and the pups stay safe,

  17. Thanks to Ms. K, I'm visiting your blog today... I agree totally with her. You should get some kind of award for this great video. It's fantastic!

  18. Spectacular work you've done here. And I'm very grateful you and your dogs have been able to stay safe. Keep riding, and keep staying safe. Then keep sharing your great stories with us!

  19. That is insane (& rare) footage!! Very nice video and glad you put up the camera. Be careful out there! Did you show the video to K and R? For how much they see us out there (and we DON'T see them out there) it's truly amazing they keep to themselves and their preferred diet of deer when they have us and our dogs to pick from! As I heard one researcher that studies mtn lions say, "If lions wanted to be eating humans, they would be."

  20. Just amazing!!!! What a majestic creature!!! But those glowing eyes are bizarre and scary. How lucky you and your pup were that day. Your video is just awesome.

  21. That is pretty scary! That thing is pretty huge... it looks bigger than you guys!

    I'm glad you guys got away from it without a scratch.

    Giant mutant cats... wow you guys have funny things out there!


  22. awesome and amazing. The best thing about him is that he's not sporting a collar. A lion of similar size walked behind my house (on Caribou) a few weeks ago. Just spectacular. Thanks for sharing the cache and carrion. (ha. sorry.)

  23. Awesome. Amazing, amazing footage. Great post and well done.

  24. Great video ... also you did a very good job of camera placement.

    I've noticed that my cameras hardly ever bother the animals and never a cougar. They just walk past and might look at the camera but hardly raise their head.

    As for something to hold the camera where you lack trees, I use a rod setup to hold the camera, it is light weight and easy to pack. Think I had a photo of one in a past post on my blog.

    Sure hope you start feeling better, sure is difficult to keep a person out of the woods even when sick or hurting, been there on many occasions.

    game camera photo blog

  25. Fabulous video. I track but haven't used cameras yet. Just wondering: you must have gotten footage of the lion feeding on the deer? Did not include that because you thought it might be too disgusting for some? I would love to see how the lion feeds, in what order it feeds on body parts, etc., but realize this might be considered offensive for some people.


  26. Janet,

    Thanks for your comment. Actually, I'm fascinated by the details also. So, I'm working very slowly but surely on putting together all 400 photos and video clips into a coherent series. So far, I've made it through the lion's first 24 hours with the carcass.

    So, keep your eye on the blog, I'll put the full series up when I finally finish it. One of the cams wasn't correctly set up in terms of time and date, plus it was too far from the cat. So, I'm spending a lot of time with photoshop fixing its photos!


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