I love the botany of the Brush Country. And I am delighted by the variety of birds that live in it. But nothing can beat the thrill I get from seeing a Bobcat in the wild.
There is something special about a sighting of a Bobcat, even if it is just a glimpse. Which is usually all you get: a quick look as one of these beautiful, wild cats slips away into the brush. Sightings don’t happen all that often either. I can recall only five accidental encounters with Bobcats on our farm in the dozen or so years we have lived here.
Bobcats are here, of course, but they are secretive and wary. And they are nocturnal for the most part. Occasionally, you may find one doing a bit of daytime hunting or exploring, especially after a hard rain has kept the prey activity down for a while. Most of my daylight observations of Bobcats, however, are of them lounging in a tree or sunbathing on a warm trail. And once they realize that I have noticed them, they slip away. They have the good sense to avoid humans, even ones that are probably innocuous.
I run across Bobcat tracks pretty often. The soft sand of our trails holds a track for hours until the wind obliterates the imprint. Muddy trails after a rain make for better impressions of the cat’s feet. Bobcat tracks are “about two inches in diameter and resemble a small dog’s track, except for a small notch in the front of the heel pad” which gives the heel pad a two-lobed, leading edge. The front edge of the heel pad of a dog, or other canine, has only one lobe. Canine prints usually show claw marks, too. Cats, as you know, have retractable claws, so they seldom leave claw marks in their tracks.
Except for these few signs and sightings of Bobcats, we had little proof that these felines were on our farm. So we were pleased when a photo of one showed up on our game camera. We have a water drip set up in a live oak motte to provide a place for birds to drink. We simply ran a hose up into a tree and adjusted the nozzle so that water drips down into a natural depression in a large rock. We wanted to see what sorts of birds were coming to the drip, so rather than sitting in the photo blind and watching for hours, we set up a game cam. We were delighted with images of several species of sparrows, quail and even a screech-owl! The “drip and game cam” setup provided an excellent window into the bird activity we were missing. And it also captured a splendid series of images of a healthy young Bobcat.
The Bobcat, which we assumed was a female, began showing up fairly regularly on the camera. She came to drink from the fresh water pool we had created. After drinking, she’d look around, and then leap over the rock as she left. We found we could make a short video of her visit by stringing the individual images together. Her pelt was beautiful and golden in the late afternoon light (her favorite time for drink). The pattern of spots was distinctive, so we could confirm that we were seeing the same Bobcat each time. One time she leaned in for drink and the water droplets landed on her whiskers. A beam of sunlight reflected off the droplets producing crystal sparkles. Thereafter we referred to her as “Crystal.”
Crystal comes by every two or three days. So, we assume she has several watering holes. Bobcats typically have a route that they traverse over several days’ time. Male Bobcats patrol a range from six to 50 miles! I think that this allows their prey to become less wary between visits from a predator, and thus easier to catch. In any case, the prey base is spread out over a wider area, so the cats can get enough to eat. What do Bobcats eat? They are quite fond of rats, mice and rabbits, with an occasional squirrel for variety.
Although Bobcats are tawny-golden in color, their color varies from rather pale to dark brownish. There are even some reports (16 according to the Internet) of “black Bobcats.” These melanistic individuals have been found only in Florida and in New Brunswick, Canada. No black Bobcat has been documented from Texas, so chances are, if you think you have seen one, it probably was a case of poor lighting or mistaken identity. House cats are not much smaller than the average Bobcat, so a black cat could easily be misidentified as a black Bobcat. Look for a long tail, a sure sign of a house cat. Keep your cell phone handy and get a photo or video!