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Stinkin' Up the Place

Friday, January 18, 2019

Who goes there? 

 My friend Geoff Heeter introduced me to the concept of spread in antlers. A buck has to be 31/2 or 4 1/2 years old before the antlers spread beyond the span of the ears. I think I have that right. You can see that, while this one has a high crown and long tines, the antlers still spread no further than the ears do. This is not something I've picked up on before. I mean, I knew a wide spread meant an older buck, but I didn't know the numbers. Thank you, Heets.

I didn't know at first what brought them, these bucks, walking proudly through the meadow of another gray morning. All I knew was to praise them and start shooting, or rather, clicking, gathering my trophies, my snippets, my memories.

First was a proud, high-crowned eight-point. Not particularly massive or aged, like the brace of beauties in my last post, but so beautiful nonetheless. Any buck is a great treat for me.

He seemed to be looking for someone.

By and by he slipped into the honeysuckle and sumac tangle, taking a well-worn deer road down into the woods.

Following a hunch, I hugged my big lens and skittered through the house to the studio. There, I found my little friend Flag, Ellen's daughter peeking out from behind the birch trunks. Flag was born in the spring of 2016, with a twin brother named Pinky, so she's 2 1/2 years old now. 

 And it became apparent that Flag was, in hunter's parlance, "stinkin' up the place." It appeared she was still in estrous, on December 9. She must be really fast to have escaped getting knocked up in the first rut.

On another hunch, I peeked out the west window of the studio and whoa! There was a buck I call TinyTine, lurking around the fallen pine in the backyard.  TinyTine is a ten point, but just barely. See that tiny tine on the beam of the near antler? That's his claim to 10 point fame. I've been following him for several months. I see him regularly at a corn feeder about a mile to the east of my house. And now here he was right in my backyard! His other nickname is CornHog.

Flag knew when to get gone. She moved down toward the meadow, peeing as she went.

TinyTine, you'd best get going.

 TinyTine followed, checked that stuff out.

Mmm. I love the smell of estrous in the morning. See his partly opened mouth? He's doing flehmen, passing the scent through his vomeronasal, or Jacobson's organ, assaying it for hormones. This area is a patch of chemoreceptive cells in the nasal cavity, just above the hard palate. TinyTine is huffing Flag's urine, passing it through his Jacobson's organ, testing it.

Flag must've passed his test. After all, it's #flehmenfriday. The chase was on.

This will be a several-part post about one magical December morning. I'll post as I can, when I can find a couple hours to rub together. It's a challenge to even get the photos sorted and edited, much less write them up; it's taken days. But I don't want to lose this morning. I want to remember it.


Saturday, January 5, 2019


 Buck doing buck things. Which involves neck stretching, thrashing at vegetation, poking twigs into their pre-orbital scent glands, peeing, snorting, pawing and facing off.

 Refugium: A safe place. A place you can go to get away from everything else that's going on. Indigo Hill has always been a refuge, for animals and for us. I keep this blog as a refuge for me, for you. But even Indigo Hill can be compromised, invaded.

I have been holding these photos since I took them October 22, 2018. I didn't want anyone to see them and know that these beautiful bucks were frequenting our meadow. I held them until after hunting season at Thanksgiving, and then I planned to hold onto them until after the two-day gun season December 15 and 16.  No way was I going to blow these big boys' cover with a blog post while men were about with guns. And then on December 16 all hell broke loose in our world, and it has taken me until now to even begin to emerge and remember who I was and the things I was doing before that, to remember the joy these animals brought me. I remember as through a fog or a screen. My joy has been badly beaten. It's still there, the way a pilot light glows blue in the back of the oven, waiting. Wishing to burst back into flame, knowing that isn't going to happen.

I don't want to write about hell. Screw that. There's enough hell in this world. I want to remember looking out the window and seeing this enormous eight-point beast shuffling up the meadow margin.

And because that wasn't enough, along came a nine-point monster to complete the picture.

Such incredibly beautiful, fine, mature animals. Their racks are high and their tines are very long. Surely the finest brace of bucks I've been blessed to see here.

I knew the moment I saw them that I'd tell no one, show no one their magnificence. They were too beautiful to share. And sharing them during hunting season could get them shot.

I grinned as I watched them showing off for each other, and for any doe who happened to be peeking from the woods. They tried to moosh their scent glands up as high into the brush as possible, to say that a big one passed here.

Then they drew close together and my heart almost burst.

The span of their antlers seemed to go on forever. They looked almost like mule deer, or elk.  I wondered if they were brothers. Twins, even. What a thought.  Looking back on them, they're but apparitions to me. I can hardly believe they were ever here, hardly believe I had them in my lens, my heart pounding out of my chest.

 I've no idea if they survived hunting season, but chances are better than usual. It was miserably wet all week, with cold driving rain, and the hunter numbers were greatly suppressed. I can hope they escaped. I can hope they hid in this refugium we offer. And wouldn't it be wonderful to trip over one of those antlers some gray February day? To see tines sticking up out of the sere grass? To pick up a shed antler and marvel at its weight, smoothness, and beauty? To bring it home and add it to my basket of bloodless trophies? I can dream.  I did dream, and my dream looked like this.

 Click on this photo to see them all at proper size and definition.

Who's That (Cat) Lady?

Thursday, December 20, 2018


Sorry to make you wait for this. I got it written and then couldn't get it posted. Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.

When we last left Zick, she was on all fours at the sliding deck door, head and camera sticking out of her big warm blind of a house into crisp 22 degree air, fffreeeaaaaking out at what she'd been blessed to see this morning. 

One bobcat in the meadow had transmuted into two, and the second cat was putting on a nice greeting display, clearly pleased to meet up with Cat #1.

If I could be sure of anything, it was that these two animals knew each other well.

There was not a whiff of aggression at their meeting. Just pleasure, or at the very least, a friendly tolerance of each other's presence.

I'd call this a social yawn. It's certainly not a snarl, nor did I hear a yowl. 

Just hello, how are you? Now I'll be passing on by. I don't know if it was this next shot that made me think I was watching a female passing a male--pretty cute the way Cat 1 watches the walk-by and licks its chops. To me, that's just the aftermath of the yawn. Bill, on the other hand, to whom I always spill the hottest, freshest animal news, had this read: "He's checkin' her out."

The second cat kept walking, and the first stayed put. But Cat 2 didn't go far. Just this far. 

Cat 1 continued grooming itself, the essence of cool.

Cat 2 walked down to the border of the meadow and looked back its length.

then, praise the benevolent Nature Gods, it sat down. I was dying to get a face portrait of it, as I had of Cat 1.

This view from the deck door was a bit obscured so I jungle-crawled back to the picture window. 

And it looked right at me. Click. Gotcha, Kitty.  Now maybe I'd be able to work a little magic. Because magic is what I like best. 
Identifying individual animals is becoming an obsession of mine. It's one of my favorites.

 Look at the big dark blotches on the cheek ruff, hanging like dangly earrings to each side. That's not something every bobcat has.

We'll come back to those. 
For now, just click on the photos and luxuriate in this beautiful, beautiful wild creature, come to grace our lives. They look best embiggened, so click and go through them.

They were just a stone's throw away from each other. 

Cat 2 looked around. I think I like this shot best. All those doo-dads on its fur. The earrings, the bars, the spots, more bars, more spots. Can you believe this walks my field, and sits in the frosty morning light to be adored and admired? I still can't.

Cat 2

Compare with Cat 1, who has striped cheek ruffs, but no big blotches. No lower neck bars like Cat 1. What a gift it is to have a wild cat so ornate, that a Science Chimp like me can hope to tell one from another!

Cat 1

 Cat 2 dozed for a few moments, then got bored.

It got up, and, looking like a mini-hyena, sloped off toward the multiflora rose mess on the meadow border. 

 I clicked away, wanting to record every bit of it, even its south end. I wanted to keep this encounter in my files and my heart forever.

Cat 2's exit did not go unnoticed. Cat 1 hurried to get up and follow!

and, amazingly, the two of them took the same path into the dense woods. 
You can see Cat 2 as a dark shape in back, while Cat 1 is just entering the brush. 

 And with that, the show was over. I'd had Cat 1 in view from 8:03-8:07 AM, when Cat 2 arrived. And they both disappeared at 8:12:34. Nine minutes of pure bobcat-worshipping bliss. It felt like an eternity. Time seemed to stand still.

Now you understand why I leap up from the drawing board and run through the living room so many times each day, especially in the morning.
There might be something out there.
There usually is!

About that magic...It was time to look back through my photos. Here is James, from August 17, 2016.

 James is an absolutely beautiful bobcat. Heck, they all are. What jumps out at me is the large white muzzle patch beneath his pink nose. While Cat 1, below, has two small white spots there, its dark whisker tracks go all the way across to the center line. Cat 1 also has a dark crescent on its chin, and a strong midline up the forehead. James lacks these marks. No match there.

 Let's look at Cat 2 again.

CINDY DEC 10 2018
Well, well, well! Hello, Cindy! You look exceptionally lovely in winter fur.  

  Here you were in August 2017, and you're wearing your dangly earrings. You have the strong V on your little white chin; the flames over your eyebrows. Sidebars on your chest, too. I'm so very glad to see you again, my dear.


So Cat 2 is Cindy. Who is Cat 1? 

I don't know. I looked at the only other good bobcat face shot I have, which is off the MeatCam just a few hundred yards down the meadow. It's a huge tom from March 5, 2018.
And the dual stripes on its cheek ruffs tell me it's neither James, who has a single cheekruff stripe. nor Cat 1. This cat has a much whiter muzzle than Cat 1.

 Obviously, we got us some bobcats up here, even though actual sightings are months apart. The thought gives me a delicious shiver. So does the March sunshine in this beautiful photo. Thank you, C., for loan of this camera. It is being put to good use.

Once I figured out that Cat 2 was Cindy, I assumed Cat 1 was a male. And yesterday, it hit me...On what evidence? The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had none. Assumptions are not much good in nature sleuthing.

Yes, they were happy to see each other, relaxed and traveling together. And it is December, the start of bobcat mating season. But that doesn't automatically mean these two are mates. Thinking outside the box, Cat 1 could  be Cindy's son or daughter, though I couldn't see much, if any, size difference between them. (Cindy is about 2 1/2 now; she was a yearling in 2017). And I just don't get a heavy-boned, thick-jawed tomcat feeling from Cat 1. But maybe Cindy's a bobcat cougar. 
Much as I scrutinize the photos of Cat 1's south end, I can't see a hint of the jewels so nicely displayed in James' and Trail Cam Cat's photo. Jury's out on Cat 1's identity. The more I look at it, though, the cuter it gets. Maybe it IS Cindy's kitten!
But you may be sure the Science Chimp will be watching, perfectly content to get a piece of the puzzle every few months. And trying not to be led by assumptions.

And there are several months of fresh trailcam photos yet to look at, too. I put a little beef roast end out just last evening, and the camera was still firing away. 
I think it's a good bet there will be bobcats on the card when I finally find time to download it. Full-face identifiable color shots, doubtful, but hope is what it's all about.

There are not enough hours in the day to fully appreciate this place. Not even close.

This may be my last blogpost for awhile, but it's a doozy, so it's a good one to leave for awhile.
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