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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.

What's That In the Meadow??

Saturday, December 15, 2018


In my living room are a large plate glass window and a sliding glass door. Both look out onto the best view on the place, which is a diverse and overgrown meadow. It's like a gallery of wildlife. I start every morning peering out, even before it gets fully light, to see who might be out there. 

It's a rare morning that there's not at least a whitetail out there, browsing around.
As I do my morning routine, I trot back to the living room every few minutes to scan the grasses for any anomaly. I know every bush, stick and clump in that meadow. Anything out of the ordinary, I see.

 Anyone watching me on a given morning would think there was something wrong with me, trotting back and forth from studio to living room like a hamster on a wheel. But they don't know how high are the stakes here.
This scanning behavior is often enough richly rewarded that I keep it up.

On this frigid morning, December 10,  hoarfrost covered everything and gave it a ghostly, mystic air. And on one of my scanning trips, there was a brown lump where there had never been one before. I was carrying a big bag of raw suet from the fridge, and when I saw that lump I dropped the bag--plump! right on the living room carpet, where it lay for the rest of the day until I remembered what I'd been doing when the world stopped turning. I dashed for my camera.

But there was no need to hurry. That lump wasn't going anywhere.

It was licking its big soft paws as if it were 65 degrees out, instead of 22. I was shooting through the glass of the living room window. For such a rare opportunity, I longed to shoot through thin air. 
So while it was licking its paws, I crept over and slid the deck door open a few inches.

Close enough to hear, it lifted its head. Did I just hear something? 

 Nah. Must've been my imagination. Back to the paws. Lick, lick, lick sliiiiiiide. Head up. Freeze. Lick, lick, sliiiide

until I got the whole lens and my head and shoulders out and was able to shoot through the deck rails. Much better. Notice how the tongue is still just barely protruding. I've seen housecats in the middle of grooming themselves look around with their tongues out. But 
Is. A. 


I've had some mighty sweet bobcat encounters. More than I could have ever dreamt.  I thought about James, the 2016 male, and Cindy, the 2017 female, both of whom took up hunting on August 17 in their respective years of visitation, right in my yard, taking out squirrels and rabbits until there weren't enough to bother with. How I was able to photograph them right from my drawing board. How I got to see Cindy kill a squirrel and a chipmunk, and James try multiple times to catch anything at all. Cindy smoked him for hunting prowess. But he must've gotten something, because the rabbits dwindled and the squirrels went from 9 to none, and then he moved on.

Now here sat this beautiful cat, right in the path, just biding its time, as if it were waiting for someone. Of course, my mind was racing, wondering if I had ever seen it before. Could it be James?

Click, click, click. I kept making pictures, crouched down by the open deck door. I was thankful I'd had the sense to put a coat and hat on when I started, because I figured it'd get really cold.

 I kept shooting as long as it was there. What else could I do? You don't walk away from a calm, resting bobcat.

And it raised its head high and slitted its eyes. What could it be looking at? I didn't dare take my lens off it, so I just kept shooting.

And the unbelievable happened. This is uncropped, to show you what a narrow little window I had between the deck rails.  You're going to want to click on this, and all of them. Because how often do we get to luxuriate in the stripes and spots of a wild cat, right in our own backyard?

Or, um...TWO. 

Next: Who's that lady??

More Buck Schneakin'

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


As bucks get older, they get heavier in the shoulders and chest.  There are people who can age bucks by looking at them. I try. I have the small buck aged at 1.5 years, and the larger one at 3.5 years. Happy to be corrected. Might learn something! Experienced buck-agers, step up!

The neck swells during the rut. You can see that not much of that is happening yet with the small buck. The bigger one has a swollen neck, but he looks athletic and toned, not tanklike. He's pleasantly proportioned, not ponderous like a 4.5 or 5.5 year old buck would be. I've seen some monsters this year, and he's not one.

The forkhorn seemed pretty comfortable in his rival's company, lifting a rear hoof to give it a little attention.

 The big buck was listening and looking across the meadow. Bucks are all about possibility, about opportunity. During the rut, they're the guy who's pretending to be interested in you, but always looking over your shoulder to see who just walked into the bar. That guy.

 He sent a glance my way, freezing me still.

Then the forkhorn approached and clickety click, they were sparring again.

The last mini-match was the most vigorous.  A final salvo. I love the sprawly legs on the big boy here.

 The little buck got pushed back a few yards, and that, it seemed, was that.

The little buck sauntered toward me, and the big buck turned and cut across the meadow. 

He pooped all the way over, spreading his bucky scent far and wide. That guy, livin' large.

The little feller went over to scent mark on the west border of the meadow.

A lot of what bucks do during the rut is peeing and pooping and other sundry things that make for strong scent patches.

 Suddenly a big doe burst out of the border and launched herself through the flaming sumac.

Oh man, she was headed right for me, still rooted in my rickety blind of gray sunflower stalks.

She slowed down, caught her breath, and walked up the path, closer and closer.

 It was very still, so I think she heard my shutter.  Her head shot straight up. Funny, the bucks had completely ignored my shutter sounds, though they were doubtless close enough to hear them, as I'd heard their antlers clacking.

And that doe was outta there!

But being a doe, she had to stop and wheel around to wonder and stare for awhile. Bucks don't do that. When they go, they go!

I guess does tend to get away with curiosity. I have a notion that the relentless pressure of human hunting has shaped flight responses in deer, sorting their behavior by sex. You just won't see a buck getting all curious and walking up to you, stamping, or presenting his lung area for the perfect shot like this doe is doing. A buck who does stuff like that dies.

She gave me time to take a shot, yes, but also to take a deep breath and pull back and look at the incredible beauty of that morning. Of all that had happened, that I got to witness. The sun coming up golden behind the pines. The color, still leaking from the meadow. My Canon struggled and failed to truly capture it, but we got close. Please click on this photo and run through all of 'em embiggened. Don't know about you, but they look awful to me, small.

 Ka-thunk, ka-thunk! She was off again.

Back into the waiting arms (legs?) of the two bucks.

Little buck, still standing, watching the whole thing, wondering what got into her?

He decided to follow. Might be something worth running away from. Might get lucky.

Ecuador (Oct. 24-Nov 2) was ah-maaa-zing and I loved it, the birds and the Andes and the botany!! The wonderful companions! But I was so torn about missing the end of October in Ohio. The colors, the deer behavior, the weather...leaving my home with all this going on took FOMO to new heights.

I felt so blessed to catch the tail end of it all.

 I absolutely love the rut, 'cuz I jes' love schneakin' up on bucks. 
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