Our Two Amazing Weeks with a Bobcat

bobcatstrollWe first caught sight of the bobcat on a snowy day in February.  He or she—we never did figure out its gender—snuck up on a flock of ducks that were eating spilled sunflower seed beneath our bird feeders. In an explosion of noise and flying snow, the panicked ducks took off. That is, all but one, which the bobcat carried off in his mouth.

That's the bobcat in the lower right.

That’s the bobcat in the lower right.

Pamelia and I were stunned. Any bobcat sighting is a rare treat. We had never seen a bobcat here before, and only once had I observed one in the wild, fleetingly, more than a decade ago by a beaver pond (in a woodsy wetland marked on old maps as Wildcat Swamp) in Northwestern Connecticut.

The bobcat scampered off with the duck that he or she had caught.

The bobcat scampered off with the duck he had caught.

Though bobcats are the most common wildcats in North America, their population is no more than a million or so (maybe 750,000). That’s not all that many, considering that their territory covers roughly 3 billion acres from Mexico to southern Canada.

They’re solitary animals except during mating season (late winter to early spring) when males and females can be found together. Was ours in search of a mate? We heard reports of other bobcat sightings in Maine around the same time as ours, though none within 10 miles of us.

To our amazement and delight, the same bobcat kept returning nearly every day for more than two weeks. Through our windows we observed him in action, at close range, time and again, in daylight. We appreciated every sighting. We knew this might be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The bobcat often returned to scout our feeders. That black box is a motion-detecting wildlife camera.

The bobcat often returned to scout our feeders. That black box is a motion-detecting wildlife camera.

A typical afternoon viewing session would begin with either Pamelia or I yelling, “There he is!” after seeing him. As he moved around, we would dash back and forth between windows, trying to angle better views and photograph him. (We wished we had taken the window screens off last fall.) He generally would stay close enough for us to watch him for anywhere between five minutes and an hour.

The 'cat often walked by our art studio. He or she sometimes hid under the picnic table in the distance when hunting.

The cat often walked by our art studio. He sometimes hid under the picnic table in the distance when hunting.

We came to know his patterns. The bobcat followed routes through the snow from one hiding spot (under a fir tree or picnic table, for example) to the next. Sometimes he descended to the rocky shore at low tide; other times he headed away from the water, into the woods. The only prey we saw him catch was that duck, but on some mornings we found feathers on the snow, suggesting that the bobcat (or some other animal) had found a meal overnight.

The bobcat seemed to have an injured left eye. The eye appeared cloudy, and from certain angles the bobcat looked almost cross-eyed. Bobcats in the wild have a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years, so we wondered if this was an old cat that had been through the wars. Seven years ago carpenters working at our house had seen a bobcat; could this have been the very same animal?

Notice the odd looking left eye. Could the bobcat have been partially blind?

Notice the odd looking left eye. Could the bobcat have been half-blind?

For several days I moved our motion-decting wildlife camera to a corner of the house where we had seen the bobcat. I was curious if the camera would capture the cat at night. Bobcats are primarily nocturnal—another reason why our daytime sightings were so extraordinary. The only images the camera produced, however, were afternoon shots of our bobcat’s coming and going. That doesn’t mean he didn’t hunt at night; we merely have no evidence of  it other than those suspicious feathers in the snow.

At times, apart from its short tail, the bobcat reminded us of an oversized Maine coon cat.

At times, apart from its short tail, the bobcat reminded us of an oversized Maine coon cat.

The bobcat in another of the resting/hiding spots along its route.

The bobcat in another of the resting spots along its route. Again, very house-cat-like.

Resting just outside the studio doors.

Resting just outside the studio doors.

The bobcat was not huge—perhaps 20 to 25 pounds. His paws were noticeably larger than those of a house cat.

The bobcat was not huge—perhaps 20 to 25 pounds. His paws were substantially larger than those of a house cat, but smaller that those of his cousin the Canada lynx, a threatened species that also can be found in Maine. The lynx has longer legs, less noticeable spotting and hips that are higher than his shoulders. Lynx paws are large enough to help him move through deep snow; bobcats aren’t as well suited to that.

Here's a shot from the motion cam.

Here’s a shot from the motion cam.

He paused to take in the coastal Maine view.

He paused to take in the coastal Maine view.

We don’t know where the bobcat went, but we hope it found a mate and a place safe from coyotes and human threats such as hunting. If you have any bobcat stories or photos—or other wildlife tales—to share, please let us know. What was your most memorable animal sighting?

We'll miss seeing this beautiful cat on the prowl.

We’ll miss seeing this beautiful cat on the prowl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things You Missed at the Schoodic Institute’s First Winter Festival

Acadia National Park superintendent Sheridan Steele (front, left) and Schoodic Institute CEO Mark Berry (yellow jacket) led the group to our animal-tracking hike on Schoodic's Alder Trail.

Acadia National Park superintendent Sheridan Steele (front, left) and Schoodic Institute president and CEO Mark Berry (yellow jacket) led the group to our animal-tracking hike on Schoodic’s Alder Trail. Sheridan and the national park provided enthusiastic support to Mark, Mark’s team (including events coordinator Megan Moshier) and other organizers, most notably behind-the-scenes dynamo Mary Laury of Schoodic Arts for All.

It can be scary to launch a new event. Will anyone come? Will the weather hold up? Will participants enjoy it? The Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park took that toboggan ride into the unknown with its 2015 Winter Festival, held from Feb. 19 to 22 at the institute’s 80-acre oceanside campus in Winter Harbor, Maine. I hopped on board for what turned out to be a bracing and memorable run down the hill.

The experience was best summed up by one of the more than 100 people who came from as far away as Boston and New York to attend some portion of the festival, be it a talk by the great naturalist and writer Bernd Heinrich or a birding hike or a paper-snowflake workshop. “This is so much fun,” she told me in the cold morning sunshine as she and others built a multi-piece, illuminated ice sculpture atop a snowbank. “It has changed my whole relationship with winter.”

For those of you who didn’t make it to the event, here is a glimpse of 10 things you missed:

1) A new way of enjoying Maine’s awesome, historic, bring-on-the-blizzards winter.

Our happy group of snowshoers clomped along the Alder Trail, where we saw tracks of deer, snowshoe hares, squirrels, possibly a coyote and other animals.

Our happy group of snowshoers clomped along the Alder Trail, where we saw tracks of deer, snowshoe hares, squirrels, possibly a coyote and other animals.

The secret to surviving a season of sub-zero cold and 100 inches of snow is to embrace the experience. I put on my warmest snow boots (which I bought before covering the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics in Norway back when I was the editor of Sports Illustrated For Kids magazine) and headed out for a variety of activities, among them an animal-tracking hike with outdoor educator Chuck Whitney, the birding expedition (also led by Chuck) and a peaceful walk through the forest to visit the winter camping site set up by wilderness guide Garrett Conover. Other festival participants cross-country skied, built a quinzhee snow hut (more on that below), tried open-fire cooking (more on that too) and found other ways to explore and engage with the winter world. They loved it.

A bitter wind didn't stop Chuck Whitney's birding group from scouring the coast for eiders, goldeneyes, buffleheads, scoters, cormorants and gulls.

A bitter wind didn’t stop Chuck Whitney’s birding group from scouring the coast for eiders, goldeneyes, buffleheads, scoters, cormorants and gulls.

2) Frozen Water Balloons. The illuminated-ice-scupture workshop, taught by sculptor and art educator Blake Hendrickson, brought out the creative inner kid in participants of all ages. Blake brought vessels in which to freeze ice pieces of many shapes and sizes.

The frozen balloons were one of many creative ice forms in Blake Hendickson's illuminated ice workshops.

The frozen balloons were one of many creative ice forms in Blake Hendrickson’s workshop.

Blake also provided white and colored lights to weave through the outdoor installation of those pieces. Some of the lights changed color in response to sounds—clapping, talking, even the strong wind that gusted one night.

Artist Sherri Streeter helped create and assemble the ice forms.

Artist Sherri Streeter helped create and assemble the ice forms.

The installation came together over the span of a couple of days.

The installation came together over the span of a couple of days.

At night the sculpture lit up and changed color, a snowbank transformed into art.

At night the sculpture lit up and changed color, a snowbank transformed into art.

3) Nature. This is the essence of Schoodic at any time of year.  Hearing Bernd Heinrich describe how animals survive here in the harsh winter conditions changed how many of us looked at the landscape we were exploring. We envisioned the tree holes, dens, snow nooks and other homes keeping animals alive. Bernd told of grouse diving into the snow and making temporary tunnels in which to hide from both cold and predators. The next morning, as I walked through the woods, a grouse exploded from the snow and flew past me. An electrifying winter moment.

The patterns of lichen and of sapsucker holes adorned the Schoodic woods.

Lichen and lines of sapsucker holes adorned the Schoodic woods.

Snowshoe hare tracks.

Snowshoe hare tracks. The front track marks were made by the animal’s snowshoe-like back feet as the hare hopped.

We debated whether this stick-and-lichen construction could have been a nest, perhaps for one of the many types of warblers found at Schoodic in warmer months.

We debated whether this stick-and-lichen construction could have been a nest, perhaps for one of the many types of warblers found at Schoodic in warmer months.

In the foreground you can see the tracks from a river otter that slid down the snow to the water's edge to feed.

In the foreground you can see the tracks from a river otter that slid down the snow to the water’s edge to feed.

 

I loved this tree.

I loved this tree.

 

Naturalist Chuck Whitney shared not only his outdoors expertise—he guided two nature walks and gave a bird talk—but also played the Irish flute in evening music jams and slept each night in the quinzhee snow hut he and festival attendees built.

Here’s naturalist Chuck Whitney, whom I mentioned earlier, sharing his outdoor expertise. He was a cornerstone of the festival, not only leading hikes but also giving a winter-birds talk, playing the Irish flute in evening music jams and sleeping each night in the quinzhee snow hut that he and other festival attendees built.

After Bernd Heinrich held a Moore Auditorium audience rapt with his talk on how animals survive in winter, his fans lined up with books and nature questions.

After Bernd Heinrich held a Moore Auditorium audience rapt with his talk on animals in winter, his fans lined up with books and nature questions.

4) Outdoor beauty. This too is a Schoodic hallmark, and the snow only enhanced it.

Even the drive Schoodic was a wintry escape.

Even the drive Schoodic was a wintry escape.

The ice floes filled inlets.

The ice floes filled inlets.

This forest trail took me over a wooden bridge well-trodden by snowshoers.

This forest trail took me over a wooden bridge well-trodden by snowshoers.

I popped out of the woods at one spot and saw clammers in the distance taking advantage of the day's unusually low tide.

I popped out of the woods at one spot and saw clammers in the distance taking advantage of the day’s unusually low tide.

5) Great indoor food. We fueled up in Schoodic’s cafeteria-style dining hall, which has the warmth of a woodsy lodge. Home-baked lasagna, seafood chowder, chicken-salad wraps, Caesar salad, pumpkin chocolate-chip cookies, blueberry pancakes, vegetarian options—the food was all delicious, and we shared it at communal tables where new friends were made at each meal.

The meals at Schoodic include vegetarian options, but for my Saturday lunch I went for the hot-out-of-the oven, homemade chicken pot pie.

For my Saturday lunch I went for the hot-out-of-the oven, homemade chicken pot pie.

 

Hungry participants had to check their snowshoes at the dining-hall door.

Hungry participants had to check their snowshoes at the dining-hall door.

6) Great outdoor food. Naturalist and outdoors educator Alexandra Conover Bennett taught the workshop on baking bannock bread, a camping favorite cooked on a stick over an open fire.

Instructor Alexandra Conover Bennett assembled the ingredients and build the fire.

Instructor Alexandra Conover Bennett assembled the ingredients and built the fire.

Alexandra Conover Bennett demonstrated how to cut wood shavings for the fire with her homemade crooked knife, a type of tool long used by Native Americans. She constructed hers from a crooked piece of yellow birch, a straight razor she found in an antique store and a wrapping of moose hide.

She demonstrated how to cut wood shavings for the fire with her homemade crooked knife, a type of tool long used by Native Americans. She constructed hers from a crooked piece of yellow birch, a straight razor she found in an antique store and a wrapping of moose hide.

 

The ingredients are simple: flour, baking powder, water, a touch of salt and a bit of oil (optional).

The ingredients of bannock bread are simple: flour, baking powder, water, a touch of salt and a bit of oil (optional).

Wrap the dough around a long stick.

You wrap the dough around a long stick.

Roast until ready. Not a bad way for the chefs to stay warm either.

Roast until ready. Not a bad way for the chefs to stay warm either.

Tastes great with jam.

Tastes great with jam.

7) Snowflake-making. Instructor Breanna Pinkham Bebb was adamant: Snowflakes are hexagonal (six-sided), not octagonal (eight-sided), and to cut eight-sided snowflakes—as some crafty types apparently do—is inauthentic. I’m science-based all the way, so I was on board to learn the correct, if more challenging, technique of folding and cutting a piece of copier paper to resemble real snow crystals.

 

Breanna tried to keep it simple for us.

Breanna tried to keep it simple for us.

Follow these steps, snip here and there, and you too could be a snowflake maker.

Follow these steps, snip here and there, and you too could be a snowflake maker.

No, I didn't make the lobster snowflake.

No, I didn’t make the lobster snowflake.

 

I did succeed in making a snowflake featuring birds.

I did succeed in making a snowflake featuring birds.

8) A different view of Cadillac Mountain. Schoodic Peninsula is a bit more than an hour’s drive up the coast from Mount Desert Island, where the larger portion of Acadia National Park is located, but by water the two bodies of land aren’t far apart. Time and again during the festival I looked up and saw Cadillac—the tallest mountain on MDI—rising in the distance.

Each day Cadillac looked a bit different from Schoodic Point. Sometimes crashing waves send spray far in the air in the foreground.

Each day Cadillac looked a bit different from Schoodic Point. Sometimes crashing waves sent spray far in the air in the foreground.

9) The quinzhee snow hut. Unlike an igloo, which is made from piled blocks of snow, a quinzhee is hollowed out from a mound of snow.  It’s a survival cave, but a cozy one. The group had a blast building one near the Schoodic Institute’s baseball field.

Side note because I’m a word nerd: The term quinzhee was coined by a Native American tribe in Canada, and last summer it was one of about 25 Canadian-originated words added to the official Scrabble dictionary. Quinzhee was the most exciting addition for Scrabble players because it includes a q and a z (each worth a lot of points) and, if played on the top row of the board, ending on the top right square, can supposedly score 401 points for a player. That’s an almost unbelievable total for a single play.

The quinzhee hut became Chuck's nighttime home.

The quinzhee hut became Chuck’s nighttime home.

The view from inside the quinzhee.

The view from inside the quinzhee.

I took a break in there myself.

I took a break in there myself.

In case you were wondering about that winter tent site set up in Garrett Conover's workshop, here it is. Look closely and you'll see a metal chimney coming out the left side.

In case you were wondering about that winter tent site set up in Garrett Conover’s workshop, here it is. Look closely and you’ll see a metal chimney coming out the left side.

 

Now that's the way to go if you're camping in a tent in the Maine winter.

Now that’s the way to go if you’re camping in a tent in the Maine winter.

On the subject of lodging, here's a look at the Schoodic Institute's historic Rockefeller Hall, where some of the attendees stayed.

On the subject of lodging, here’s a look at the Schoodic Institute’s historic Rockefeller Hall, where some of the attendees stayed.

 

I overnighted in another option on campus, a condominium apartment.  It's a rare privilege to sleep within the boundaries of a national park and Schoodic Institute enables visitors to do that at almost any point in the year (space permitting). The nearby village of Winter Harbor has B&Bs as another alternative.

I overnighted in another option on campus, a condominium apartment. It’s a rare privilege to sleep within the boundaries of a national park and Schoodic Institute enables visitors to do that at almost any point in the year (space permitting). The nearby village of Winter Harbor has B&Bs as another alternative.

10) The people. Shared experiences build unique camaraderie, and the pioneering group that attended the winter festival bonded with each other as well as with the place.

Here's our animal-tracking group again. Notice how many are smiling. Enough said.

Here’s our animal-tracking group again. Notice how many are smiling. Enough said.

If this sounds like an event you might like to attend in 2016, check out the Schoodic Institute’s website (http://www.schoodicinstitute.org) and keep following The Naturalist’s Notebook here and on our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Naturalistsnotebook?ref=aymt_homepage_panel). Keep enjoying the winter!   —Craig Neff

Do Baboons Keep Dogs as Pets?

This is the dog about to be scooped up by one of the baboons.

In a screen shot taken from Naturalist’s Notebook contributor Luke Seitz’s remarkable video of his bird-research trip to Ethiopia (see the video and more still shots from it below), one of the baboons initially reaches down to grab the puppy.

Almost four years ago, an animal video shot by a French television crew at a garbage dump in Saudi Arabia went viral on YouTube. The footage had been packaged into a nature-show segment (see link below) that purported to illustrate—with mixed reactions from dog and baboon experts—that troops of baboons kidnap puppies and keep them as pets. The dogs were said to grow up with the baboons and protect the troop.

Now Cornell student and Naturalist’s Notebook contributor Luke Seitz has captured on video a brief but similar scene to contribute to the scientific debate over whether baboons indeed “keep” dogs: Click on this link to watch Luke’s 10-second video, shot in Ethiopia just over a month ago near the edge of Lake Langano, close to a hotel complex called the Simbo Resort:

Dog and Baboon_vid_1

Here is a series of still images from Luke’s video, in case you have problems opening the video link:

The baboon snatches up the dog as other baboons watch.

The baboon snatches up the puppy and starts to carry him or her across a rocky slope.

Luke saw this behavior on successive days with the same group of baboons. He was in Ethiopia shooting video of that country’s endemic bird species for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, so he didn’t have time to hang out and further document the behavior.

The dog does not seem to resist the baboon's behavior.The dog does not seem to resist the baboon.

If baboons are indeed taking and raising dogs to be pets of a sort—and I’m eager for more research into that possibility—we shouldn’t be completely stunned. Even though they are classified as “old world monkeys,” a group that split 30 million years ago from the primate family from which modern humans evolved, baboons share 91% genetic similarity to humans. Tests have shown that baboons have the ability to recognize printed words and think abstractly.

In addition, according to American Journal of Primatology, researchers in Brazil studied another group of highly intelligent primates, bearded capuchin monkeys, and found some that raised a baby marmoset (also a type of monkey), for years as what could be seen as either a pet or a child—in either case, a beloved family member.

Back to the still images of the baboon carrying the puppy...

Back to the series of shots from Luke’s video…  

...and another shot in the series...

…and another shot in the series…

...and one last image before the tape ends.

…and one last image before the tape ends.

Immediately below is the link I mentioned to the nature-show segment that shows baboons with dogs at that Saudi Arabian garbage dump. The early part of the segment is a bit hard to watch, as a baboon grabs a puppy by the tail, drags the dog down a rocky slope and sits on the pooch in an act of domination—though that doesn’t seem so different from the way many young children (and, sadly, some human adults) treat their family pets. Later in the segment there is footage that shows the baboons and dogs playing, relaxing and hanging out, and the dogs apparently standing sentry to protect their baboon family troop. Click here to watch:

2011 dogs and baboons

Let us know if you’ve got anything to add on this whole subject. If you would like to read more about birding wunderkind/artist/photographer Luke Seitz and Ethiopian birds, click on this post we put up on The Naturalist’s Notebook Facebook page a few days ago:

https://www.facebook.com/Naturalistsnotebook/posts/838126029559775?ref=notif&notif_t=like

We will put an expanded version of the Ethiopian bird post here on the blog soon and will keep you apprised of any updates on the baboon-dog front. Many thanks to Luke for letting us share his footage!

—Craig Neff and Pamelia Markwood