Who’s watching me…?
As I rode my mountain bike through the thick Colorado forest I caught of a glimpse of something to the side of me. I stopped my bike, looked around, and listened carefully. Nothing could be heard except my breathing and heart beat. It was one of those moments when my “sixth sense” was making a statement that I did indeed see something in my peripheral vision. I have learned to not only listen to these cues, but to act on them. In this case this meant getting off my bike and sitting on the ground quietly waiting for movement.
Through some very thick undergrowth I saw some eyes! I could barely make them out through the lens of my camera. Whomever these eyes belonged to, they were hiding from me and did not want to be seen. Opting to leave the wildlife alone I got back on my bike and rode off, only to see a pair of bobcat kittens further down the trail. In what seemed like eternity, I pulled my camera back out of my pack and was able to record a few images of them, before they disappeared quietly back into the thick undergrowth.
Wildlife encounters like these are what I dream of. They are few and far between. Luck, patience, persistence, and skill come into play — much like in fly-fishing. You need to have the patience to find the fish, match the insect hatch they are feeding on, have the persistence to get out on the river even if you were skunked the last time, and have the skills to know how to present the fly to the trout naturally. The luck factor is more important in wildlife photography.
Lately I have started to carry a wildlife camera and lens when I go mountain biking. This is a bit of hassle carrying the extra weight and bulk of a “real camera”. On the bike I cover many more forest miles and can reach remote areas rather quickly.
During the “heat of the moment” while photographing the bobcats I quickly adjusted exposure settings while also trying to find the mother bobcat. I eventually saw her camouflaged against the foliage. Whether she was always in that spot watching me photograph her kittens, or she snuck into a protective position I do not know. The look on her face was more of concern about her kittens rather than a threat to me. I have seen a similar expression on mother grizzly bears that I have encountered in the wild.
I was not afraid of the mother bobcat. Homo sapiens seem to be programmed to fear most wild mammals. I am always amazed to see how different people react to wildlife, or images of wildlife. “Weren’t you afraid of being attacked?”, “Did you have a gun?”, “I would be petrified if I ran into that in the wild”.
I see it the other way around. Humans have impacted every corner of the planet in such a way that all other species fear us. For good reason, as we seem to have established ourselves as the primary “predator”. Bobcats, mountain lions, bears and other species are learning how to avoid humans. This is getting harder each year as man encroaches into their home. Yes, their home!
On another recent trip I encountered a mountain lion with kittens up close. The mother cougar growled at me and quickly scurried off into the thicket with her young. It all happened in a split second (or less). This was a surprise encounter for both of us. I feel bad that I encroached into their habitat in such a way as to disturb the family.
Besides eating fear-mongering humans, bobcats (Lynx rufus) feed mostly on rabbits, gophers, birds, and even deer. Adult bobcats range in size from 11 kg (25 lbs) –> 19 kg (40+ lbs). Growing up in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains in California I would see more bobcats than I do in New Mexico. I believe this is due to a higher prevalence of hunting and trapping in New Mexico. Yes, trapping! It is unbelievable that jaw traps are still legal in some areas of the USA these days. Nowadays people do not need to trap as food source, as they did 100 years ago. As a farmer I like having predators like coyotes and bobcats around to control the rodents and keep things more in balance.
Bobcat mothers with kittens avoid male bobcats, just like mother bears with cubs do. Males will kill the young in order to put the female back into estrus. Bobcats range from central Mexico to Southern Canada. Some bobcat populations have learned how to benefit from the presence of humans. In the gated communities around Phoenix, and similar areas in Nevada and California, bobcats live and hunt in these neighborhood communities which have more water, and hence other species to hunt, than the surrounding desert. They are generally safe in these neighborhoods where hunting and trapping is not condoned.
My sightings of bobcats have left me with great memories. My first one was watching a bobcat jump over 2o feet horizontally to catch a large jackrabbit. It was as if the cat had super-springs in its legs to jump like this. Another time I watched a mother with three kittens playing together — wrestling with each other in one big orange fur-ball of fun.
Perhaps you have been lucky enough to witness these beautiful wild cats out in nature. I always keep my eye out for them, which means I will probably miss seeing them! Surprise encounters seem to be the rule with wild cats.
Interesting Facts on Bobcats
- Litter sizes range from 1 – 6 kittens, with 2 – 4 kittens most common.
- The mother raises the young kittens without any help from the male.
- Mother’s bring wounded or live prey back to the den for the kittens practice stalking.
- Bobcats are solitary and territorial. Mating is challenged by male and female bobcats finding each other.
- Male bobcats mate with as many females as they can. Males home range is 2-3 times larger than that of females.
Humans are a Bobcats Worst Enemy
- More bobcats die from humans than from any other cause.
- Humans poison, snare, trap, shoot, run over with cars, and electrocute (fences) bobcats.
- Many bobcats are killed by humans. In the 1987-1988 season 85,879 bobcats were reported killed.
- Bobcats live to 32 years in captivity, whereas wild bobcats rarely live past 15 years.
- The USDA Wildlife Services Agency uses taxpayer money to kill bobcats each year. In 2003 Wildlife Services killed 2,503 bobcats, with 1,304 bobcats killed by cruel leghold traps.