Sometimes I hate the fact that I don’t wake up about an hour before dawn, when all the animals are doing interesting things. I woke up yesterday morning and went to the spring for water, when I saw an unusual set of very clear prints in the snow. All the local carnivores (except the bears) have vaguely similar tracks: in order of commonness, coyotes, foxes, and bobcats. Looking at these tracks I knew almost immediately they were not of a coyote: coyote tracks are a bit longer than wide, and frequently have claw marks, but more than that, I just sensed immediately that these tracks were not like the coyote tracks I see so often. I got my water and then decided to follow the tracks a bit. They came from the woods in the north, got onto my driveway, followed it for a bit, crossing in front of my house, and then went up by where I park my truck, to the back of my house – within ten feet of my back door – and then onto my compost pile. There I lost the track a bit because (as was obvious enough after some examination) the animal jumped up onto the compost pile and walked across it, where there was little snow. I have three compost bins, about twelve feet across, and the tracks resumed on the other side of the pile. One print could be made out on top of the coldest pile (which had a bit more snow).
This did not sound like obvious bobcat behavior. They are notoriously shy, and walking around three sides of a house, coming within feet of the backdoor, and then examining the compost pile are not normal bobcat activities. In almost five years at the cabin I have never seen one, and found tracks on my property only once. But these tracks were of the right size, and the more I examined them the more certain I was that they did not belong to a fox or coyote. Not a single imprint anywhere showed any claws, and they all showed the unique “chevron” in feline hind pads – a pad shaped like a ^ but with noticeable lobes. I thought it might be a housecat on an unusual adventure, but it would have had to have been an unusually large coyote-sized housecat.
That said, the mind of this animal was clearly a feline mind, and it was a delight to track it. It thought about going into my garden but turned back; it wandered over to my sawhorse where I had been cutting wood and decided it simply had to jump up onto one of the logs waiting to be cut and walk along it. In fact, this was a pattern: whenever there was a log to walk on, the cat always walked on the log, went down its length, and then got off. Neither coyotes or foxes do this, for whatever reason. The tracks were delightfully straight and direct for brief periods, but ultimately zigged and zagged amazingly, from sawhorse straight to a beech thicket; then veering toward a large rock; then veering into the field, etc. The tracks crossed the field and got on top of the wall at the field’s edge, and, sure enough, stayed on top of the wall for some time, the way a child would. Then down the wall and into the deep woods, where they wandered into an area where deer bedded down, and I lost the scent in the confusion of many many animal tracks. I walked rings around the area but could not pick the tracks up again. They were very clear in the open, but under the trees the prints were hard to discern. Once the trail was lost it was impossible to pick it up again.
I am curious to see one of these guys one day. I have half a mind to put half a dozen steaks out on my lawn just to see what happens, but in general I suppose it is best not to interfere. And knowing my early-morning habits, I would probably just come out at nine a.m. to find six steaks four hours gone. In the meantime, I am grateful for the visit, and happy that I live in a place a bobcat could reasonably call habitat.