Stories of my family...and other stuff

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Bobcat: A Missed Opportunity

My family lives out in the country in the central coast region of California. More than out in the country, we live in the foothills of the Diablo Range, part of the Pacific Coast Ranges. We are only seven miles from the nearest large town (pop. 36,000), yet this out-of-town location provides us with many opportunities to view an array of wildlife.

Since we moved here we have seen red-tailed hawks, red-shouldered hawks, golden eagles, American kestrels, turkey vultures, blue herons, snowy egrets, red-winged blackbirds, various species of sparrows, great horned owls, barn owls, and other sundry birds. Although we’ve never seen them, we’ve heard screech owls as well. We’ve also seen cottontail rabbits, ground squirrels, grey squirrels, gophers, mule deer, wild pigs, coyotes, and bobcats. Friends in the area have told us that a mountain lion had been seen nearby, but we’ve never seen any.

I love taking pictures of the wildlife around our house; however, many are very shy and difficult to approach, let alone photograph. I have tried many times to get a good picture of a bobcat. (We see bobcats more frequently than once a day.) The pictures usually are blurry and dark, because the bobcat is running, and I have taken the picture at dawn or dusk.

This morning I was working outside the house at about 7:15. The sun had not yet risen over the eastern hills, and I thought to myself that this would be a prime time to see a bobcat. No sooner had I thought it, I turned to see a bobcat about ten yards from me. I’m not sure if he knew I was there, although, as alert and skittish as they are, I have hard time believing that he wasn’t aware of me. He was trotting casually away from me and was quickly out of view. Naturally, I did not have my camera with me.

Later, I left for work in my truck. As I drove towards the main gate, at a distance, I saw a small, dark lump in the grass. I thought, maybe, it was a gopher poking his head out of a hole. I drew closer noticing it was too large to be a gopher, so I slowed down, hoping it was a bobcat. Rolling the window down to get a better look, I approached it cautiously until I could clearly see that it was a bobcat crouching tightly to the ground, staring directly at me. I stopped the truck. The cat was not more than twenty feet straight out my driver’s side window.

Why didn’t he run? My truck was positioned between him and his escape route. Consider for a moment what the bobcat thought of me. I was a larger predator, which could possibly outrun him. He was too close to me to feel comfortable trying to outrun me. So he crouched, either hoping that I wouldn’t see him, or if I did, that he would be ready to fight or run if necessary.

The question now was whether or not I had my camera with me.

You know how sometimes your thoughts are clearly and precisely thought out, yet occur in split seconds. That’s what happened to me right then. I wondered if my camera was in the truck, but to reach the right conclusion I had to think about the last time I saw my camera. I had cleaned out the truck just ten minutes earlier and had seen the camera on the back seat. Logically, if I had been cleaning out the truck then the camera would have gone into the house; however, I remembered having seen the camera but not having picked it up.

The cat was still crouching in the grass, so I quickly threw a glance over my shoulder to the back seat to see if the camera was there. Aha! It was!

Fearing that taking my eyes off the cat would give him the opportunity to escape, I knew if I was to get the camera I would have to do it fast. I’m not a very small man, so throwing myself into the back seat to snatch the camera was probably dumb. To my knowledge there were no adverse consequences of my uncoordinated stunt except that I probably looked ridiculous, but my only audience was a frightened bobcat.

I thought for sure that my flopping around in the truck would have given him the best opportunity to escape. Maybe he was as dumb as I was, because he was still sitting there, and now I had the camera.

I tried my best to keep my face towards him while trying to operate the camera. I turned it on. You’ve got to be kidding me! The batteries were dead. Slowly, while keeping my eyes on the cat, I reached into the case and felt around for more batteries. There were two more double-A’s and a double-A battery pack. I was pretty confident that the individual double-A’s were dead as well, so I grabbed the pack. The battery pack had a specific way of going in the camera, so I needed to look down to get it in correctly. The cat was still there sitting quietly. I looked down to get the pack in the camera, and then I closed the camera. I looked up.

Wouldn’t you know that was the opportunity he took? I watched him gracefully bound away.

Of course, now I was hoping those batteries were dead, too, so I wouldn’t feel so bad about his having run away. They were. But I couldn’t leave well enough alone, so I checked the individual batteries I passed over earlier. They worked.

There’s no guarantee I could’ve gotten a picture, but had I, it would have been a good one. As often as I see bobcats, there’ll be other opportunities.

I think I’ll go charge my batteries now.


TwoSticks said...

If you ever visit Loch Nes don't take a digital camera.

Betsy said...

I am laughing so hard at the thought of you throwing yourself over the seat only to discover that the batteries are dead. Oh to be a fly on the windshield! The picture of the girls is so sweet.