Big Cat

While driving dirt roads, I often look for tracks. When I see something that looks interesting, I roll down the window for a closer look. Today I rolled down my window and beheld the best series of mountain lions tracks I’ve ever seen.

The site was a steep slope where I always grimace when towing my trailer. The road snakes into two quick switchbacks. The dust is deep in summer and the mud scary-slippery in winter.

These tracks were deep in dust and very clear, giving the impression that they were freshly minted. Nothing makes a better track imprint than deep dust.

The lion had walked along the side of the road for a considerable distance leaving a perfect imprint of every step. Here is what I saw and photographed.

 

 

My Swiss Army knife is 3.5 inches long. The lion had a trail width of about four inches and a stride of about two feet. Because the lion was walking down hill, the cat’s rear foot did not directly land on it’s front foot as it normally would when a wild feline is on level ground.

The single set of tracks gave me the impression that they were those of a big tom with a pot belly – maybe full of venison.

Note: Thirty minutes ago I made this post. Something bothered me so I decided to pull out my trusty references, most important is the Peterson’s Guide to Animal Tracks. After spending a few minutes re-evaluating, I concluded that my interpretation of the tracks was incorrect. Should have checked sooner.

Yes this was a big cat and it may have had a pot belly, but it was not walking. It was trotting. This leads me to believe that that cat may have been in the road ahead of me as I drove down the hill and it began to trot when it heard me coming. That’s the reason it didn’t direct register.

Nobody had driven the road since I departed yesterday at dusk. This is an area with little travel. In fact the section of ground where I saw these tracks is owned by the East Bay Regional Park District and the parcel was purchased to protect a known mountain lion den nearby.

Something that I did not say earlier was that about twenty yards further down the road, the cat did a 180 turn. In retrospect, I believe it decided to reverse course and then move off the road.

Maybe it was watching as I photographed it’s tracks. Mountain lions are very sneaky.

Sorry about the confusion, but tracking is always a puzzle and I should practice more often.

Fear

I’ve been blogging for a while and sometimes I forget that I’ve already told a story, so if I’ve told this story before, please forgive me. I’m going to tell it anyway.

Being alone in the woods is not a scary thing to me, usually.

However, in about 1990, I was hunting a location in Idaho for the first time. Rob and I were camped in a drop camp and hunting elk and mule deer in territory with which we were unfamiliar.

In addition, I picked a spot in some dark timber that gave me a funny feeling. As I recall, the action was quite slow. The woods were quiet and a bit eerie. Of course this feeling was all in my own head.

However, when a horrific loud growling sound emanated from the timber about 100 yards away, the feeling was more than in my head. I stood still, facing the sound, which continued for what seemed to be a long time.

I actually dropped my trousers. And, nearly messed all over myself.

I tried to walk towards the sound, but eventually admitted to myself that I preferred to continue on without confronting the noise. I could only guess what had produced it. I wondered about the source of that sound for many years.

Maybe ten years went by before I was given a clue as to what the sound was about. As I sat near a pond waiting for blacktail deer on our ranch, two to bobcats faced off about 50 years from me. Although they were small, the sound that they made as they tried to intimidate each other made me think.

Could the sound I’d heard years before been created when two mountain lions faced off in a manner similar to the bobcats?

A few more years passed before I got my second clue. As I stopped to open a gate, on the way to our ranch, a could hear a horrendous racket going on in a brush patch that I could see about a half mile away. Crows and ravens were making a racket from all directions as they flew towards the brush patch.

I knew I was hearing two mountain lions fighting, but the reason for the bird involvement was not clear.

About another few years passed before I finally figured it out. One day I arrived out our camp at the ranch. Once again I was alone. The scene from ten years previous played out again. This time near the bottom of the canyon below me.

Again I heard the two lions growling and fighting. Again the birds zeroed in on the site of the action. Finally it all made sense. The two lions were not just fighting, they were fighting over a carcass. And, the birds knew that a free meal was on the way.

That day in Idaho, two mountain lions had faced off about 100 yards from me. The sound of those two cats is to this day the scariest sound I’ve ever heard while alone in the woods. And, in those few moments, it was the most fear I’d ever felt  – except one other time.

That other time was when I giant conifer crashed to the ground during a Montana lightning storm in the middle of a dark night. I was screaming in my sleep when I awoke from a deep sleep while laying only a few yards away from the event. Generally the woods are quite safe, but once in a while fear is appropriate and involuntary reactions occur.

That’s the only time in my life I’ve ever screamed out of fear.

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Mountain Lion Scat

Some time last year, I spied a scat that appeared to be from a mountain lion, so I made a short video of it. Afterward I stashed it away on my computer and did nothing with it. But earlier today I came across it and decided it’s worth showing, so here it is.

I’ve found mountain lion scat on many occasions. In the case of the freshest scat, I also watched the lion from about 20 yards. He walked across the road right in plain sight.

If you ever come across a very fresh mountain lion scat, you will notice that it has a very obnoxious fowl smell unlike anything you’ve smelled before.

 

Mountain Lion Track in Mud

Mountain lion track in a muddy trail, early morning with ground frozen.

Mountain lion track in a muddy trail, early morning with ground frozen.

 

This is about as undeniable as a mountain lion gets. My guess is that the track was made in the evening, the day before I found it. The ground was frozen solid when I snapped this photo with my Iphone. An hour later, the morning sun had melted the frozen ground. In just an hour’s time, the track had become disfigured by the water.

Originally I wouldn’t have thought the track was so fresh, but after seeing how the water degraded the track, I was convinced that it was not very old.

When an animal makes a track in mud, the track deepens and enlarges. This is likely a mature mountain lion of average size. My Swiss Army knife is exactly 3 1/2 inches long.

I spotted this track along Arroyo Del Valle near the Del Valle Reservoir dam, just off the hiking trail. This is an area frequented by mountain lions.

Never seen a mountain lion along this trail, but there are other signs of their activity. Last year I found a carcass near the location of the above track. It appeared to be a lion-killed deer carcass.

My dog often sniffs out deer leg bones along the trail and rib bones litter the brush along the creek. Although deer are seldom visible, they can be spotted when disturbed while walking in the brush along the creek where they hide during the day. This is where I occasionally search for Pro V1 golf balls.

California Fails to Manage Mountain Lions

abc dan richard hunting lion thg 120222 wblog Top Fish And Game Official Poses With Dead Mountain Lion

Mountain lions are an essential element of California ecosystems. Unfortunately they are not currently managed in any form. Although the most important cougar prey species, blacktail and mule deer, are managed, a failure to manage the main species that eats deer makes deer management less predictable.

 

This California lion was photographed with a trail camera near Livermore. A lion like this can take a heavy toll on a local deer population, especially if she has juvenile cubs.

Other states have progressive, scientific methods of managing wildlife and consider mountain lions a game animal that is hunted with quotas to make sure numbers of deer, deer hunters and lions is balanced. California is out of touch.

Congratulations to Dan Richards, pictured above with his Idaho mountain lion – which appears to be a huge tom.

The difference between a Coyote Track and a Mountain Lion Track

Came upon a mountain lion track while hiking near Del Valle Reservoir last week. It had been raining and the ground was nearly saturated, good conditions for seeing tracks.

I was looking at a variety of tracks when I came upon a set of mountain lions prints. I photographed one the clearest tracks with my iPhone camera. Here it is.

The mountain lion track is more round than oval and the claws don't show, unless the lion slips or needs traction. When the lion slips, it will involuntarily extend its claws and they will show as points in the mud.

The heel pad of a lion appears larger than a coyote or other canine.

Here’s a good example of a coyote track.

The coyote track is more oval and the claws show clearly in the track. The heel pad does not appear as large.

The mature coyote track is smaller than the mature lion track. Large domestic dogs often leave tracks as large as lion tracks and sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between the two. In the case of this lion, I would give the ID a high degree of confidence.

A lion like this can take a heavy toll on a local deer population, especially if she has juvenile cubs.Coyotes usually don't stop to be photographed, except in Yellowstone.