The Bobcat: A graceful, stealthy and extraordinary hunter!

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  • Photos by DON BARTLING Top: The most common wildcat in North America, the bobcat is named for its short, bobbed tail. Bobcats have keen eye sight and an excellent sense of smell and hearing. Above: A Bobcat swimming in icy water to cross Myrtle Creek.

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    Photo by Don Bartling The most common wildcat in North America, the bobcat is named for its short, bobbed tail. Bobcats have keen eye sight and an excellent sense of smell and hearing.

  • Photos by DON BARTLING Top: The most common wildcat in North America, the bobcat is named for its short, bobbed tail. Bobcats have keen eye sight and an excellent sense of smell and hearing. Above: A Bobcat swimming in icy water to cross Myrtle Creek.

  • 1

    Photo by Don Bartling The most common wildcat in North America, the bobcat is named for its short, bobbed tail. Bobcats have keen eye sight and an excellent sense of smell and hearing.

Graceful and stealthy is what I thought when I saw this extraordinary hunter. I noticed the bobcat 40 yards ahead walking north on the one lane tour road that overlooks Myrtle Creek and the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge ponds. He was on the west side of the narrow gravel road and looking nervously at me in my Jeep and then surprisingly he walked toward me for about 10 feet and meandered west down the steep bank bordering the creek.

As he disappeared, I quietly exited the Jeep to follow with my camera in hand and stopped where his tracks first appeared in the snow. Visually I followed the tracks to a concentration of heavy brush, beyond was the creek. I looked desperately for the bobcat to no avail. I paced up and down the road realizing if I could wait him out he might swim the creek to get-away and I would have an opportunity to photograph him. I listened intently for any sound that would indicate he was crossing the creek and trying to escape to the foothills of the Selkirk Mountains.

A few long minutes later, I heard a subtle splash in the silence of the icy creek. I could not see what was making the sound; just the robust noise of the splashing water told me he was making his watery escape. I ran to a clearing where the brush didn’t visually interfere and located the bobcat swimming, he was almost to the other side of the creek. I focused my 600 mm lens and snapped the picture of him still swimming in Myrtle Creek with the water rippling around him and the sound of the shallow ice breaking.

The wild feline got out of the creek on the snowy creek bank, never stopping to shake his wintery fur coat, and just clawed through the knee deep snow toward the top of the creek bank. When he ascended to the summit he hesitated feeling safe momentarily and looked across the creek at me then the graceful hunter gave a short shake of his coat as if to shed the sight of me along with the water. The bobcat trekked through the snow leaving a solitary path among the brush and black cottonwood trees west of Myrtle Creek — and then as quickly as he appeared, he vanished.

The most common wildcat in North America, the bobcat is named for its short, bobbed tail. They are medium-sized cats and are slightly smaller but similar in appearance to their cousin, the lynx. Their fur coats vary in color from shades of beige to brown with spotted or lined markings in dark brown or black.

Though the bobcat prefers rabbits, rodents and snowshoe hares, it hunts insects, chickens, geese and other birds, small rodents, and deer. Prey selection depends on location and habitat, season, and abundance. The bobcat is able to survive for long periods without food, but eats heavily when prey is abundant. During lean periods, it often preys on larger animals, which it can kill and return to feed later. The bobcat hunts by stalking its prey and then ambushing with a short chase or pounce. Its preference is for mammals weighing about 1.5 to 12.5 pounds.

Like most cats, the bobcat is territorial and largely solitary, although with some overlap in home ranges. It uses several methods to mark its territorial boundaries, including claw marks and deposits of urine or feces. The bobcat breeds from winter into spring and has a gestation period of about two months.

Bobcats are mainly crepuscular, meaning they are active at dawn and dusk. It keeps on the move from three hours before sunset until about midnight and then again from before dawn until three hours after sunrise. Each night, it moves from 2 to 7 miles along its habitual route. This behavior may vary seasonally, as bobcats become more diurnal during fall and winter in response to the activity of their prey, which are more active during the day in colder weather.

If they are able to sneak up on prey, they will capture it by pouncing, sometimes up to 10 feet in one leap. In areas with high snowshoe hare activity, bobcats follow the well-worn hare runs and then sit sphinx-like waiting for hares to appear.

Bobcats have keen eyesight and an excellent sense of smell and hearing They are agile climbers and proficient swimmers. Fully grow bobcats can weigh up to 15-45 pounds and live for 10-16 years in the wild and up to 25 years in captivity.

Enjoy the beauty of Boundary County and the animals that share it!

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