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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Return of the Mountain Lion

Yesterday evening, a storm swept into the mountains while the Duo and I hiked. K's UTI already seemed somewhat better, and she enjoyed a mellow hike. She and R posed against the stormy sky.
Then, while R sniffed out rabbits, K perched on a lookout point.
By this morning, K seemed like herself. This is the normal course of a UTI for K. Within about 12 hours of starting antibiotics, she bounces back to her usual energy level. I'm so glad that our vet lets us keep antibiotics for UTIs at home so that we don't have to delay treatment while waiting for a vet appointment.

We headed out for a short mountain bike ride, through about an inch of fresh snow. I tried to upload some photos of the beautiful morning but my internet connection did not cooperate.

However, something very exciting happened during our mountain bike ride. First, we saw a band of about 30 elk, splintered off from the main herd. They watched us pass by without worries. They seem to know that K won't chase them.
As we re-entered the forest, we saw where this elk faction had spent the night. Each elk's bed was a melted out oval in the midst of the pine trees, and the thirty elk had all lay close together.

After checking out the elk beds, K and I went a little further, and I checked a wildlife camera. I saw a big scrape under the Ponderosa Pine tree where a mountain lion visited 2 weeks ago. I looked at it closely and thought that it might be fresh rather than 2 weeks old but I wasn't certain.

Indeed, when I arrived home and checked the camera's memory card, I discovered that a muscle-bound mountain lion had visited the scent post last night when the snow was flying out of the sky. I'm guessing that he was hunting the elk who were spending the night nearby.

Upon arriving at the scent post, he started to scrape the ground with his hind paws while he stared at my camera which was emitting a muted red infrared light.
After scraping the ground, he sniffed the base of the tree.
Finally, less than 10 seconds after entering the camera's view, the mountain lion departed.
Notice how much this mountain lion looks like the one who visited 2 weeks ago.

I've made a "flipbook" video of his visit to the scent post which you can view here if the embedded video doesn't work for you.

It's an amazing feeling to find a series of photos like those on my wildlife camera for a host of reasons. First, to choose where to put my cameras, I've spent hundreds of hours in the forest, looking for subtle signs of where the wildlife travel and mark their territories. So, when I hit the "jackpot" with photos of an elusive animal, it feels like validation of my ability to read animal signs in the forest. Part of why that makes me happy is that, for every camera placement of mine that is super good, I have at least three that aren't. So, the good ones make me smile!

A second reason why I get so elated by photos like today's is that I have undeniable proof of a huge predator mingling in our trail system. This scent post sits about 50 yards from a "popular" trail (which means that it's used one or two humans a day, on average). This predator moves through the trail system like a ghost, never letting himself be seen by human eyes. My cameras are teaching me that mountain lions pass through our trail system at least once a month because that's about how often I get their photographs. However, I'd bet that they actually visit more frequently but I don't get photographic evidence.

It was truly amazing this morning that I knew for a fact that I stood exactly where the huge lion did, less than 12 hours earlier. It's a powerful feeling - a mixture of awe and fear.

Here's to the Year of the Mountain Lion!


  1. Amazing! You really know the forest well, good job on placing the cameras....
    Such an incredibly beautiful animal!
    Glad K is feeling better!

  2. Khyra's fluffy tail is up in support of that pawesome 'khytty'

    Great shots and insight!

  3. That is so cool that you were able to capture the mountain lion like that! You ought to be doing research on them. It seems like something just made for you!

    I'm so glad to hear that K is feeling better!

  4. It has to feel so validating when your unstincts and hunches and developed skills come together to score such amazing photos. Glad K is back to her usual self and the UTI issue is resolved.

  5. are you ever afraid the lions will attack your furry kids?
    Benny & Lily

  6. I'm just amazed at how BIG the lion really is. Awe and fear would sum it up!

  7. He looked like he had a full stomach. Quite large of a fellow too! Must be a good hunter. Nice photos. Thanks!

  8. Glad K is feeling better. What an awesome experience to be able to track such a beautiful animal and know they are among you. I agree with your feelings of awe and fear and the power that is there.

    Beautiful shots as always.

  9. You're elated. K's feeling better. And you get to stand in the same spot as a mountain lion. Sounds like a pretty good day !

  10. What a magnificent cat! I've seen stories where professional wildlife photographers who spend a year making the films about lions or elephants, etc. for PBS and other TV networks have the same success issues. They can spend a week filming to get, with luck, 5 or 10 minutes of usable film. Sounds like your success rate is right up there, if not better.

    Glad K is feeling better. Jed has been on thyroxine for several years, and Abby just had to go on it last Fall. I get a T-4 test on them at least twice a year. No idea why Abby would suddenly develop a deficiency, so I put it down to 'sympathetic hypothyroidism.'

    Jed & Abby

  11. Very humbling to know that big predator is sharing the trails with you.

    Mango Momma

  12. Sure looks like the same cat. It's always rewarding when you do get your cameras set in a good place.

  13. Year of the Mountain Lion...I will spread the word. Your experiences with the lion albeit on camera still make me shudder somewhat. I just hope and I know you are super vigilant, that your spidey sensors are in tingle mode at all times!

  14. Glad K's feeling better and OMG that's a big kitty!! So pretty though...even for a kitty. :)

  15. Excellent shots! We've seen many Florida panthers but have yet to see their subspecies cousins!

  16. Wow, what great photos! Very, very cool shots of the mountain lion - exciting to view. Thank you for sharing with us!

  17. Glad K is feeling better! Great photos! Thank you for sharing them...
    Lots Licks
    Casper Bear

  18. Great placement and we love the flip action photos.

    We are happy to know that K is doing better. Thunder says to tell R he would love to hunt those rabbits with him.

  19. That did look like a good sized mountain lion. Nice shots!

  20. The final portion of this post is what I've been thinking ever since I've been reading your blog, although I didn't know you have cameras that aren't quite as well-placed. I've always thought you have a magnificent sense of how the animals behave and that you are expert in reading their signs. I love when you successfully capture them in their routine just like this!

  21. The lions belly looks pretty round. Any chance its a female and pregnant? Cool photos once again!

  22. I am so happy you have your cameras too, so you can share your world with us.
    It is amazing to see what happens in the wilderness,. as our eyes sleep.
    Yet the forest creatures are awake.

  23. Awe and fear indeed! I am always awed at your wildlife camera pics. It's something I've always wanted to do, but after you account, feel a bit daunted! Truly I'd be afraid somebody would find and remove the camera - one of many downfalls of living in a highly populated area.


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