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Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Year of the Bobcat lives on

Yesterday's experience was one of the most astonishing of my life. I didn't depart on my hike searching for a bear den. Instead, by serendipity, I discovered one. Part of the reason was a commitment that I made to myself when I decided to call 2010 my Year of the Bobcat. It was a commitment to be bold and flexible - to use my neck surgery as a springboard to venture beyond my comfort zone.

Although many of you expressed terror at the situation that I stumbled upon, I was 99.99% sure that I was safe. I've researched bear behavior over the years because I run into them on the trails. I've read books and research papers about their biology, and I felt almost certain that a hibernating mother bear wasn't going to sprint out of the den and attack me. Moreover, on every single hike or bike ride that I take, I carry a huge can of pepper spray. It's the size that's recommended for stopping a grizzly bear. I'd only use it as a last resort - but it was next to my hand yesterday.

I have to admit that I feel much less scared around the forest animals than I do when I'm in the city. In terms of safety, I far prefer a jaunt through a shadowy forest to a walk along a brightly lit city sidewalk. We all have our quirks - and that's mine!

This morning, my neck hurt more than usual before I even finished breakfast. I'm working on viewing the pain as a sign of healing so that I'll take a positive attitude toward it. Nonetheless, K's encouragement to head out the door for our hike helped me immensely.

From our first steps, I knew that we had a special day ahead of us. A paper thin layer of snow fell over night, and I spotted some bobcat tracks. I retrieved the memory card from our closest wildlife camera, and I found another phenomenal photo.
Here's the handsome dude in close-up.
I've been reading extensively about bobcats, including a fascinating book called "Bobcat Year" by Hope Ryden. She followed the activities of several bobcats over an entire year and tells the stories of their lives. It's both enchanting and sad. A bobcat's life is difficult beyond our imagination, between avoiding animals that might hurt them (people, coyotes, lions, and other bobcats) and finding enough food to survive. For a bobcat, a rabbit is the best meal imaginable. Perhaps that culinary preference explains why many of my bobcat photos occur in places where rabbits live.

I've learned in my reading that each bobcat likes to have sole possession of his/her territory. So, the forest around my house undoubtedly has important property lines that I'm not aware of. These are the lines between the bobcat territories. Occasionally, the edges of territories overlap but the neighboring bobcats avoid each other because they'd prefer not to experience a life-threatening fight. For that reason, I'm guessing that the bobcat who I photographed last night is the same individual as the one who visited slightly more than a week ago. He looked more confident and like he was moving faster last week.
Today, I was able to track the bobcat. I followed his tracks off our property and then lost them for a little while. However, as we climbed a snowy slope, K found the tracks again and alerted! In the photo below, she's just pointed out the tracks to me. I think that she's a huge asset in tracking, if I'm smart enough to read her communications correctly!
Below, I've included a photo of the tracks that K found! The bobcat was climbing snow covered slope where the drifts could have swallowed him whole if he'd stepped in the wrong place. Interestingly, however, I've learned that some bobcats hunt rabbits by hiding underneath the snow next to a rabbit trackway. Then, when the hapless mountain cottontail hops past, the bobcat bursts out of the powder to pounce on the rabbit.
Today, I learned that in areas of deep powder, bobcats use their agility to avoid having to plow through the snow. The bobcat who we followed today used logs as his primary walking surface.
When he reached the end of one log, if it was physically possible, he leaped to another log, completely avoiding deep snow.
Usually, he landed on the next log so gracefully that I could barely discern a hitch in his tracks. Once, I found a spot where he landed with all four paws under him and seemed to slip a little.
In one spot, he found a fallen tree that hung about 2' off the ground. A rabbit trackway went directly under the log. It appeared that the bobcat perched on that tree for a little while, waiting to see if a rabbit would hop under his log. Based on tracks, I think that his wait was in vain. A bobcat pawprint is in the lower left corner of the photo on the log. The rabbit tracks go from the bottom to the top of the photo in the snow below the log.
After that log, we approached the spine of the ridge, and no more logs provided the bobcat with easy travel. His paws sunk deeply into the snow.
Then, we crossed an area with a higher density of rabbit tracks than I've ever seen. As the bobcat perused the rabbit trackways, the hard snow supported his weight. In some places, the tough snow crust prevented him from leaving any trace. We lost the trail on the crusty snow and then the dry grass of the top of the ridge. But, we'd had a glorious time walking in a bobcat's pawprints, viewing the world from his perspective for the first part of our hike.

From the ridge, the clouds loomed with bluebird skies behind them. Even K stopped to look at the show!
And then, seeing the camera, she sat in a dignified way. She's such a camera-hound!
We did lots more exploring, finding beautiful lichen-covered rocks. K loves climbing high and surveying the land.
We ended up mired down in deep snow. Here, K is standing upright but her back barely clears the snow!
We found our way out of the bottomless powder, with the very smart K leading the way.For me, today's hike encapsulated my Year of the Bobcat philosophy. I didn't leave home with an exact plan but I let nature lead us through forests, over the ridges, and to the peaks. My wanderings with K since my surgery contrast starkly with my mountain bike rides from before surgery. In my wanderings, one of my rules is that I visit someplace that I've never been before each day. Moreover, I'm flexible about the route - if animal tracks lead us someplace unexpected, that's great! That, by itself, has let me discover things about my world that I never would have otherwise discovered. Here's to the 'Year of the Bobcat'!


  1. He is one HANDSOME cat!

    Khyra says she knows 'she khould win him ovFUR'!

    Thanks again for sharing all of this!

  2. As I walked through the woods today, I thought of all of your tracking adventures and particularly your encounter yesterday. We don't see much other than dog tracks here, but I'm hoping to see some small critters or even another deer once we get back into hiking.

    Thanks for sharing all of these awesome photos - I'm not much of a city goer myself, so I don't think your quirk is all that quirky!

  3. Another cool find for you and K today!

    Do you think the Year of the Bobcat philosophy will change the way you ride any when you get back to it?

  4. The Bobcat is so beautiful! His strong stride, purposeful walk, all wonderful to see. I love seeing the beauty of the mountains, the trees and rocks. I just don't want to live there is all. Maybe its old age, could that be it?

    Keep writing and I will keep enjoying your hikes!

    Cheers and hugs,

    Jo and Stella

  5. perfect snow cover for tracking! great pictures, such a beautiful cat, and such a hard life..always searching for food.
    thanks for sharing all your knowledge with us!!
    i love the last pic of K leading the way....
    how long are you out on your hikes?

  6. Beautiful.
    What a great philosophy you have.

  7. The bobcat is beautiful and graceful looking and obviously resilient. I can see why you've decided to try and put bobcat-like qualities into your life.

    Thanks for the walk in the woods. It's been a tough divorce week and attorney bills are so depressing. You provide me with a brief escape.

    I took the day off and am about ready to take Java out on the skijoring trail. Hoping to come back rejuvenated.

  8. KB, I love how tracking becomes a sort of storytelling.

    It seems like lots of folks find their comfort zones where they spend the most time. While in school, I spent a semester living in a small mountain town. When it was time for me to return home, I was overwhelmed, even scared, by the movement of the city.

    I haven't read Calming Signals, but I'm familiar with the ideas through Patricia McConnell (maybe?). I've never thought about reinforcing the sniffing...Something to look into for sure.

    Three cheers to the bobcat...!

  9. I'm running behind and just caught up on both posts. You know what I love about this blog besides you and your dogs and the scenery?

    You never know what will happen next. What a week you have had!

  10. Cheers to the Year of the Bobcat!
    We have the big can of bear spray as well...always carry it on our camping adventures.

    Hugs and snaggle-tooth kisses,
    Sierra Rose

  11. Wow, KB, finally I got caught up. I'm sorry to hear you're having so much pain. I hope it's just your body adjusting and that it's only temporary. Your mountain lions look like they're at least three times the size of those around Angeles Crest National forest, where we live. As for the bears... BTW I have heard so much about Marley and Me that I refuse to watch it. So glad I found you again.

  12. I so enjoyed seeing how the Bobcat walked the fallen trees to avoid the deeper snow. Animals are so smart in their instincts. If only we humans were as adept at following our gut impulses. I love the photo of K on the rock - she looks very regal. Have a wonderful, healing weekend, KB.

  13. I could just KICK Tom for not having his camera with him when he saw a baby bobcat last year. How cool would have that been? A young one?

  14. Bobcats, coyotoes and bears!
    Oh My!!!
    Your blog never fails to fascinate me!!!
    Be safe my friend!

  15. Wow! I'm doing a bloggie catch up! i missed the bear post!

    that bob cat is GORGEOUS. we had one on our property as well as coyotes (and mt. lions) (Santa Cruz Mountains) ... and we've since fenced about an acre around our house with deer fence MAINLY to keep our dogs inside. if we didn't have a busy road that they could get to so easily we wouldn't fence...and we'd get to see these gorgeous creatures again. but sadly we don't see them that often. occasionally, we will see a wild boar run our fence line and the dogs will "fence fight" it. which scares the ba-cheeses out of me!

    ok, so figure the irony of a busy road but being in the mountains enough to have mt. lions... Nor cal has some oddities that way. 40 mph road that dummies will drive at 60. so i fenced to protect my dogs from cars, in the rural mountains. ironic huh?


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