We hadn’t been to the game camera to look for bobcat pictures in a week. The melting and compacting snow made it easier for the bobcat to move, and I’d stopped feeding him. The last visit to the site was on March 10 when he walked through. Parts of the carcasses were left beneath the snow but he wasn’t interested in them. He could hunt again. I saw him (I think it was him…) when I was out for a run on the afternoon of March 10 as he walked the tree line of a field three-quarters of a mile up the road.
On Saturday morning, March 21, Steve and I snowshoed out to the site. I got excited when we reached the short trail to the skidder road and saw his tracks. He’s a creature of habit. When he comes in from the east he always,always walks in the same way, between two young maples and around a small balsam. There isn’t a snowmobile trail in the deep, fresh snow for him to follow this time. He walked four feet to the left of the snow-covered trail to stay at the edge of the trees. Steve cut through the woods to get to the site and I stayed with the tracks. I’m driven by curiosity – where did he go? What did he see when he stopped and turned a full circle? What did he do? What was there first, the cat or the ermine that left tracks behind? I followed his tracks to the site.
I’m not excited that he’s back. I wish conditions were better for the wildlife. I’m excited that he’s still alive and healthy.
The camera reads 6* higher than the real temperature and is one hour behind because I didn’t reset it with the time change. It’s slow to wake up when it’s below 20*. He did a lot of digging that first day back. You can see how far away from the coppice he buried pieces of the carcasses. He’s sometimes so careful of those buried pieces that he keeps a paw lifted over them rather than standing on them.
The hares and partridge disappeared when the bobcat first arrived. They came back when he hadn’t been here for a day or so, and now that he’s back, they’re goneagain. There are no new tracks.
Three and occasionally four crows are at the site to clean up bits and pieces left behind as the snow melts. They hadn’t been there after it snowed on March 11 or 12 but returned after the cat dug down to get to the carcasses. Note the time on the camera in the picture above and on the one below.
The bobcat hasn’t been in my yard, which means he hasn’t been near the hen house, since the day he found the first beaver carcass. He’s gone from a desperate cat (link) that clawed through a soft board to get to my birds and walked on the roof of the hen house in search of a way in to staying away (link). This is his territory. He lives here. He’s here off an on throughout the year but we don’t see him because he doesn’t need our poultry to stay alive – until we have winters like this one. I’m going to leave one of the game cameras on the trail he uses most often to get an idea of how often he’s here when he’s not coming to the site. I’m not feeding him now. He’s in good enough condition to get through the rest of winter (30″ of snow on the ground today, 4*, -16* windchill, it’s not spring) without help. He’ll probably keep digging to get to what’s left of the carcasses but with the snow compacting with all this wind he’ll be able to hunt and sustain himself. It’s been a great privilege to watch him.
Why do this? Why feed a predator? Good questions. We’ve killed two bobcats attacking our poultry in past years. One was a long time ago, the other last winter. Both were starving. “They’re just trying to survive,” someone said to me. And he’s right. Feeding them didn’t occur to me. I thought, as most people I talk to about this think, that feeding a bobcat will make it dependent upon this food. That’s incorrect. If they wanted to be here in my yard after easy meals they would be here year round. I raise chickens, ducks and turkeys for meat and eggs and they’re outside, sometimes not even in pens. We have a working farm dog that stays with them but she’s really no match for a full grown bobcat. The cats are here only when they’re desperate, when they’re just trying to survive.
Hunters and anglers are deeply involved in conservation. I chose to write about this and take the grief in comments that we all know that comes with writing here to show you that as a hunter I don’t have to dominate everything. We don’t kill animals for the sake of killing. Had it been hunting bobcat season I’d have waited for him to come back and that would have been the end of the story. It wasn’t hunting season and someone suggested I give feeding him a try. It worked out well for the cat, my birds and yes, for me. I’ve learned a lot.