Month by Month at The Mountain Shucks. It looks like we didn’t make any of the spectacular “best of” lists that often dominate the news cycle at the start of a new year. But that doesn’t preclude us from creating our own “best o … Read More Unleashing 2018 We’ve unleashed a whole new line of shirts for you to enjoy. This blog highlights just a few of our must-see designs for 2018! Read More
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Outside of a jungle of rain-washed pines and junipers spearing the hot blueness with the Florida sky, ran a little, tawny-haired boy. His bare toes, extending from his overalled legs, crackled in opposition to the fallen palmettos. He leaped into your air, flinging his arms toward a flock of white doves circling higher than him.
October 25, 2001Thursday... I went for a walk today, just because I wanted to look for tracks on the sandy patch on the river bar. (Curiosity outweighed my need to keep my ears warm and not freeze them off on the windy river bar.) I had heard a strange noise last night long after dark. My cat, Tiger, was outside, as usual. He likes to stay outside, even at night. The others all come inside, but he refuses to do so.
Even when it is cold. Well, last night, I heard a thump and what sounded like a hissing sound. Now, that usually means Tiger has encountered a raccoon or a skunk. He usually runs from the raccoons, hisses at the skunks. This was a big thump though and I immediately grabbed my flashlight and was out the door less than 10 seconds after I heard it. I saw nothing, although Tiger was not at his usual post on the porch.
He doesn't go far from the source of his food. I called him several times and waited a few minutes. I looked under the cabin and looked for tracks, thinking all the while of the night Bones was dragged off by the bobcat. Finally, he came trotting down the hillside. He was way up there for some reason. Something had scared him off. I couldn't see any tracks out there, so I figured he had made the thump when he jumped off the boards under the cabin.
I didn't think anything more about it until I was walking along the river bar and happened to decide to go up the big river access trail. I had been down by the water and had found the sand patch torn up and some black and white clumps of fur scattered about. It looked like something had attacked a skunk and torn out pieces of its tail fur. I headed up the gravel and got to the bottom of the access trail where a shape caught my eye.
Two tracks side-by-side, worn by the wind until the edges were rounded. They were unmistakable. Not a bobcat... too big for that. Mountain lion. A young one too. Eagerly, I took photos of them and then followed them backward. I wanted to see where the lion had come from. I found tracks here and there in patches of sand interspersed with rocks as I went toward Redway beach. I found where the lion had come down the rock on the southern part of the camp property.
I stopped there and decided to follow it the other direction and see where he had gone. It was dusk and the sun had long ago gone behind the ridge. It would be too dark soon. The wind had kicked up a bit and was rustling the leaves enough to cause me to keep looking back over my shoulder. I went back to the river access trail where I had first picked up the trail. Following along, I found tracks going in both directions.
There was an area where the lion appeared to have stayed for a while because there were numerous tracks. I got near a log that had been washed up by the river and had since overgrown with berry vines. There, I stopped to examine some scat that may be porcupine scat. Then I noticed the smell. It smelled like something was dead nearby. Ick! I moved on rather than crash into the brush to examine what might be the mountain lion's food cache.
Perhaps Tiger had heard something last night. Maybe he heard the cat kill a skunk? I found another place not too far away where the cat's tracks were crisscrossing each other. It had spent some time here. Looking up, I saw the window of my cabin about 100 feet away through the trees. This summer, the maintenance guy had cut some trees here and it is now very easy to see most of the camp from the river.
Had I been looking out that window last night, I would have seen the lion. The tracks showed no rain pock marks. In sheltered places, the tracks looked almost fresh. In unprotected areas, the wind had worked on them and flattened some out until only the shape remained. But they were no more than a day old. One of them had some lizard tracks inside, in the heel mark left by the cougar. I found one nearly perfect track.
The light was almost gone, but I tried to take a picture anyway. I hope it comes out. I then stacked a few rocks around this track, hoping to protect it from the wind so I can come back tomorrow with better light and get another photo. I followed the trail on. At the smaller river access trail, where I had come down, I found more tracks. I had been focused earlier on getting to the sand patch because I had seen ravens there and wanted photos of their tracks.
Had I looked at my feet, I would have found much more exciting tracks. The cat had paused here too, perhaps considering whether to go up that trail, or continue on the river bar. It apparently decided on the latter because the trail led north on the river bar, toward where I had seen lion tracks last January. This one followed the same path. It could have even been the same lion. I didn't go up the hillside to see if it had climbed up there.
The light was fading fast and there wasn't time. I headed back and stopped to examine a pair of shoes and a shirt that was laying on the rocks. This hadn't been here several weeks ago. Maybe the lion ate the shoes' owner? Time to get outta here! I hurried back to the trail and on up to camp, checking the trail for telltale tracks. There were none. A raccoon had gone down the trail to the river, but no lion had come up that way.
There were numerous tracks from my cats on the sandy trail. Tomorrow, I think I will go to the place where I found the lion tracks in January at "Effluent Creek." If I am correct, he will have gone that way and up into the drainage of Leggett Creek. In a way, I want it to come back, although I worry about Tiger. He refuses to come inside, or to come near enough so I can grab him and bring him inside.
But, I want to hear a mountain lion scream. I have been told what it sounds like, but never had the privilege of experiencing it for myself. I want to hear that sound that is supposed to send shivers up your spine and make you glance nervously at the locks on the doors and the shadows under the trees. Of course, I don't want to be on an empty river bar in the dark when I hear it..... October 26, 2001Friday.
... The mountain lion tracks I had found yesterday had proved too enticing to ignore. So, earache or no, I had to go back and see what the story was. The river bar was already in full shadow as the sun had just dipped below the ridgeline. The first place I went was where I had placed rocks around the most perfect track I had found yesterday. There, I stopped to move the rocks aside. The track had been protected from the wind and was still in good shape.
I took numerous photos of it from different angles, with and without a penny for scale. Then I moved on looking for more tracks. I got several more photos. Soon, I ended up at the place where I had first detected that smell yesterday. I sniffed around and looked at the vegetation. There were some trampled areas and broken branches. I decided to go on in. Cautiously, of course. There were numerous deer trails in there and I took what appeared to be the most heavily used one.
Under an old rotting alder branch, I found some sawdust and chunks of wood. Thinking I might be following a porcupine, I looked up to find where the material had come from. There, staring me in the face, was a pair of gaping holes left by a pileated woodpecker. I have been hearing one calling near here for several weeks. It had chosen a good place. The hole was on the underside of a branch where it would be sheltered from the rain.
How do animals know such things? I came to a place where I smelled the familiar scent very strongly. I moved in through the brush. There was a wider trail here, much wider than a normal deer trail. Bear? I continued on and found a place where an animal had laid down, matting the grass down in an oval shape. The trail led back toward the camp. I was right underneath the parking area near the dumpster.
Suddenly, I saw something ahead. It was a dark form resting in some matted down grass. It wasn’t moving, so I contined my approach. As I drew closer, the first thing that hit me was the smell. I had found the source. I took photos as I approached. It was a doe. She had been killed with a bite to the back of the neck. There were marks in the grass where the carcass had been dragged. The hunter had begun to consume the prey from the hindquarters.
The bones appeared to be all there, save a few ribs that had been eaten. This kill had not been abandoned very long. The other animals would have scattered the bones. I believe those mountain lion tracks I found yesterday were made that morning or late that night. This kill was probably abandoned around the same time. I had followed the tracks yesterday to the north end of the river bar. I didn’t get a chance today to follow them further to see if they ended up where the ones in January had.
This find took precedence over trailing the lion to the mouth of the creek. I took numerous photos from all angles. I got close-ups of the hooves and feet. I then backtracked to the scene of the actual kill. It was not far away. The lion had briefly chased the deer, then killed it. There was torn-up vegetation. There had been a little struggle, but not much. The lion had then dragged the carcass under a log and out into the patch of grass on the other side.
It had then spent quite a long time laying next to its kill, feeding when it was hungry. The grass was matted down in a big circle around the carcass. It had probably been there for several days. There was little meat left for the scavengers. I kicked myself for not seeing the lion that was all of 150 feet from my door! It will be interesting over the next few days to watch the behavior of the turkey vultures and ravens.
I wonder how long it will take until the bones are picked clean. The skunks and raccoons and foxes will probably join in as well. I took the trail up to camp. This new trail comes out by the clothesline. There, I noticed something I had seen when I hung up laundry two days ago. A mound of dirt scraped together. I had noted it in passing several days ago. Now I looked a little closer. There, near the mound, was a cougar print.
And the mound itself contained cougar scat. A scrape pile! Territorial marking! I looked up. My truck was parked not 30 feet away. I guess that ends any trips to the clothesline to retrieve my laundry after dark. I will have to pay attention and remember to bring in the laundry before dark from now on. Just in case. October 28, 2001Sunday... I spent half the day today tracking the mountain lion. I first went to the north end of the property and found that it had indeed followed the same route back to the creek drainage as it, or another lion, had taken in January.
I found only the one set of tracks there, headed back to the creek. So I went back to the scene of the first tracks I had found below the lodge. I returned to where the kill was to check on the scavengers' progress. They had been busy and had dragged the carcass about ten feet. Most of the bones have been picked clean, but there is still more left for the really desperate scavengers. The tracks there told me that two coyotes had been there.
I then followed a well-worn path up the embankment toward the camp. I found a place up there where the lion had laid down. The vegetation was matted down in a circle. It had a perfect view of the cascass below. It probably went up there after eating its fill just to sleep it off. Just as my cats do. The thing is, I looked up and there was the clothesline about 20 feet away. There was my car about 20 feet beyond that.
There was my window not too far from there. This lion had lain there when I was walking around not 50 feet from it. I know I had done laundry during that time, and had hung it on those lines. In fact, there was some hung there now. I found several tawny, stiff hairs snagged on berry vines where the lion had walked through to get to the open space by the clothesline. So, that scat mound I found there did belong to this cat.
I took a photo from the cat's eye view of my place. Very interesting what he could see from there. And kinda scary in a way. I definitely won't be making trips to the clothesline after dark anymore. I cut off a short berry vine that had a lot of hair snagged on it. I am going to tape the hairs in a notebook or something to keep them. Not every day that a big kitty visits you so close. I found a total of four places where the cat laid down to nap and digest his meal.
I also found several exits he had used to get to the river from the brush where he was spending so much time. I looked all over, but didn't find any more scent mounds or scat. I walked around the dirt parking area, looking for coyote tracks. I found them. Two coyotes. They had briefly harassed a deer right near where I park. I followed the tracks and found them coming down the road. They had been there before I got home last night.
I got home really late. Their tracks were under, or partially under, the incoming vehicle tracks I had made late last night. The other scavengers who have been hanging aorund are the ravens and turkey vultures. The ravens are much more noisy about their activities than the vultures are though. I hear them over there near the site of the carcass in the morning. So many critters to track. So little time.
When you think about how many animals are out there, and that each has four feet, that's a lot of tracks. All just waiting for me to come along and find them.... Tracking is the only really fun thing to do. If I didn't recognize those tracks as mountain lion tracks, I wouldn't have found all this and would have been totally oblivious to the story that was played out so close to home. A brief glimpse into the life of a cougar.
One more reason to learn how to track anything that moves....