Lynx rufus, Week 1

Bobcats (Lynx rufus) are North American cats that have a wide range from Canada throughout the United States. These small cats are about 20-40 lbs and have short, stumpy tails for which they are named. Powerful hunters, bobcats in Montana prefer snowshoe hares and red squirrels but are opportunistic hunters like most cats and will eat small rodents, birds, and fawns. Bobcats are often confused with Canadian lynx, but these are not the same cats, as bobcats are smaller than lynx and have different features. These cats range from shades of brown to gray and have various light solid spots throughout the coat, though not as prevalent as the spots on a serval or snow leopard. Bobcats have been legally hunted during the trapping season in Montana for their pelts, which are still considered an agricultural commodity (I do not support the fur industry no matter the species. We can talk fashion later). These cats have plenty of "cattitude," and although they can fall prey to wolves, coyotes, and mountain lions, these cats do well in the Montana forests.

This photo belongs to Roberta Newbury, the PhD candidate I am working for through the University of British Columbia. Most photo credits will go to Roberta (aka Bobbie) because her camera is way cooler than mine. This is one of the collared cats we are monitoring. Photo was taken when animal was trapped for collaring and prior to release. Collars do not hurt the animal.

The work I am doing this summer involves lots and lots of hiking. Bobbie and I are working in Flathead National Forest studying bobcat habitat selection as well as energy expenditures of these cats. We are also evaluating the presence of snowshoe hares and red squirrels (the main prey of bobcats) to determine where bobcats might travel through. Finally, we are taking vegetation surveys of sites to determine the density of areas for both rabbit and bobcat presence.

The reason I am developing hiking legs is because we use GPS to select sites in bobcat habitat. Although there is a lot more that goes into the process, each day involves traveling from one "site" to another using a compass and distance measurements. The good thing to note here is that if you ever get lost with me, I now know how to use a compass and navigate the wilderness using utm coordinates. I assist Bobbie with counting the steps from one site to another and count bunny pellets and squirrel middens (pellets are waste and middens are the remnants of pine cones. Squirrels are brutal to a pine cone, and the bunnies are eating well). I have learned a variety of scat identification as well as developed the sixth sense required of hikers in Montana if one hopes to survive. The forests are thick, busy, and full of black bears; grizzly bears; mountain lions deer and mule deer; moose; and a variety of small critters and hundreds of beautiful birds. The moose and bears are the most dangerous, followed by the elusive mountain lion and my general clumsiness on cliffs. Bobbie, however, has proven extremely knowledgeable and patient as I learn to climb over fallen trees and not fall down a lot. The hiking doesn't sound difficult in theory; however, long hours in mature forests with varying slopes and tough terrain are difficult to travel through without experience.

I've just finished week one of this new job. It has been a blast! The first day was very rough because we hiked through very mature forest with lots of fallen trees. It was a 13 hour day! Bobbie and I have become fast friends and we've enjoyed our combined squeals over the many wildlife sightings we've had in such a short time:

Day 1 included some very adorable mule deer fawn twins.

Day 2 involved having to climb a very steep little cliff. There were moose tracks up the dirt. I wasn't happy.

Day 6 involved FOUR bear sightings! We saw a bear that we thought was deaf, but it turns out she was focused on her yearling cubs just up the road, both of which we saw not five minutes later!

Mama bear is the first bear. Her yearling cubs (only one pictured, below) were quite curious about our truck. This guy stood up to get a better look. How cool!

The BEST part of this week, however, was when we rounded a corner on Day 3 and saw one of our bobcats sitting on the side of the road! Most wildlife sightings are by chance, as these guys do not like people. We know that this cat was one of ours because of the radio collar around his neck (they don't sport fashion on their own, these cats). The collars help us know where the cats are in the some 250,00 acres of forest, relatively. Bobbie has been teaching me about telemetry use:

Looking for bobcats can take all day, but it has been a nice break for our legs. I'm learning a variety of Montana plants as well as what to do to protect myself out in the wilderness. Montana is a beautiful state, and I'm having a beautiful time stretching my new hiking legs and chasing around my favorite species: cats!