Speaking of Nature: Now for something truly exciting: A bobcat 

  • This photo shows a perfect portrait of a bobcat. Note the black tufts of fur on the tips of the ears and the short “bobtail” that the species is named for. FOR THE RECORDER/BILL DANIELSON

  • This is Bill Danielson’s favorite photo because the bobcat still didn’t know it was being watched. Note the white spots on the back of the ears. FOR THE RECORDER/BILL DANIELSON

Published: 9/12/2021 4:00:04 PM

By BILL DANIELSON

It was late afternoon and I was in the process of making myself some dinner. I walked over to the refrigerator to get something for the meal I was preparing and, as always, I glanced out a small window that looks up my driveway as I moved from the refrigerator to the stove. This was such a casual and often-repeated maneuver that I didn’t stop to really see what I was looking at, but something in the driveway caused me to stop and go back for a second look.

It was an animal that had brown fur and this was no surprise. My yard is bursting at the seams with eastern cottontail rabbits and I regularly see them moving up and down my driveway as they look for something to eat. However, this “rabbit” was different enough to send up a flag in the back of my mind. There was something about the way it was walking that caught my eye because rabbits don’t really “walk” in the traditional sense.

With my full attention brought to bear on the animal in my driveway I realized that what I was looking at was a cat. A grumble escaped my lips as I contemplated the damage that might be done by a new domestic cat in the neighborhood, but as I watched this cat move a little closer to the house I suddenly realized that this was not a housecat at all. This was a bobcat!

My camera was just a few steps away, but I was frozen in place. There was no opportunity to take a quality photo through the window and I was reluctant to lose sight of the bobcat by turning my head. I needed to keep track of its position before I risked looking away from it for any reason. So, as I watched, the cat kept walking toward the house while it was scanning its surroundings. Then, when it reached a spot where there is a break in the taller grasses, it seemed to react to something that it saw on one side of the driveway.

The bobcat was clearly on the move, but it was also clearly keeping an eye out for potential prey. The bobcat wasn’t “stalking” any particular animal, but it was ready to react to any animal that it stumbled upon. So, the cat’s movements suggested that it had seen something (probably rabbit) and it was getting ready to make a move. This is what caused the cat to exit the driveway and enter the mouth of a long “corridor” that I maintain between the back yard and the front yard.

This was my chance to grab my camera. Three steps to reach the camera and three more steps to return to the window were all it took to discover that the bobcat was gone. Rather than become despondent, I tried to use my imagination to predict the bobcat’s next move. I guessed that the bobcat was familiar with the layout of my yard and, like anyone, would take the route of least resistance down that mowed corridor of grass. So I stepped out onto my deck and pointed my camera at a small patch of this grassy pathway that I could see through a gap in the lilac bushes.

I didn’t have to wait long until the bobcat came into view. I was facing east and the bobcat was passing in front of me as it moved from north to south. There was one environmental thing in my favor that made everything work out. A series of thunderstorms was approaching from the west and a steady wind was causing the cottonwood tree next to me to make a lot of noise. As a result, the bobcat couldn’t hear anything particularly special as my camera was firing.

The bobcat paused, perhaps because it saw another rabbit, and this gave me a great chance to take a profile photo. When the bobcat resumed its movement to the south I was able to reposition myself without making enough noise to alert the bobcat of my presence. Then things changed when the bobcat continued moving beyond the screen of vegetation that had masked my presence. There came that instant when the bobcat’s head swiveled and our eyes met. Fortunately, I was taking photos the entire time.

Then, one final bit of serendipity played out in my favor. Rather than running off in fear, the bobcat’s attention moved south again and its body language suggested that another rabbit had been spotted. This time the bobcat couched down in an official “stalk” and it inched forward with its eyes locked on its potential prey. Then the bobcat lunged into action and dove toward the tall grass at the edge of my yard. Right before it disappeared from view I saw a violent shaking of the grass that I presume was caused by whatever the bobcat was chasing. Sadly, I have no idea if the hunt was successful or not.

What I did walk away with was a collection of really nice bobcat photos and the sudden realization that I had just witnessed a bobcat-rabbit interaction that almost perfectly mirrored a similar interaction that had been recorded in snow back in February 2018. Furthermore, it was in exactly the same location as the previous interaction. Back then a bobcat stumbled upon a rabbit, launched itself into pursuit of its prey and successfully captured, subdued and killed the rabbit. This time I saw almost the exact same thing with my own eyes, but I don’t know if the bobcat was successful or not.

All of this suggests that you can be an active naturalist and observer without ever leaving your house. If you remain glued to a particular window and constantly vigilant you may see something, or you may see a whole lot of nothing. However, if you scan the environment any time you pass a window you might get lucky and see something truly exciting. All you have to do is keep your eyes open.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 24 years. He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service, the Nature Conservancy and the Massachusetts State Parks and he currently teaches high school biology and physics. For more in formation visit his website at www.speakingofnature.com, or head over to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.




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