Aug 11 2015

Elusive Visitor

Melissa Crytzer Fry

This may not seem like much: a tilted container at the end of our heat pump/AC unit (to catch condensation and give the birds and bunnies a drink).

But it was a mystery to me, as I had checked the container just an hour and a half earlier – around 6:30 a.m. – noting its complete fullness (and uprightness). When I returned to hang laundry around 8 a.m., it was turned over and I noticed some marks by the white cup. Look closely (click to enlarge).

Do you see what I saw? I gasped, seeing what was stamped into the earth, soggy from rain, a calling card from a wild visitor. Still unsure of what I was viewing, I looked for more tracks. And oh wee, did I find them.

I got a little tingly, remembering the strange ‘feeling’ I had earlier that morning, looking up the hill behind our house. That’s the only way to describe it. Strange. Though I saw and heard nothing, it crossed my mind – and I have no idea why – that I was quite vulnerable if anything were up there. And by ‘anything,’ my mind immediately went to ….

Well, anyway, by now I was beyond intrigued and excited. So I went back to the water cup and noticed something else. The drainage tube was moved a full five inches from its original spot. Something had picked up that large, unwieldy tube (4 inch diameter).

And then I noticed this:

Can you see the paw marks running the length of the pipe? (See how it was moved to the left?) Click to enlarge.

Here's a closer view. Click to enlarge.

Here’s a closer view. Click to enlarge.

And yet an even closer close-up. Click to enlarge.

And yet an even closer close-up. Click to enlarge.

The other interesting thing? The day before, I said to my husband, “You realize, even as elusive as mountain lions are, we will see one at some point, living here near the wash.”

We had some debate over whether these tracks were, indeed, feline (Me: “Yes it is a cat!” Him: “Nah. Dog. If a cat, then bobcat.”) You see, most of the time, the presence of claws indicates coyotes (or stray dogs). But The Mountain Lion Foundation says, “Don’t assume that a track automatically belongs to a dog if it has nail marks showing… Cougars and bobcats will occasionally use their claws for extra traction while walking upon slippery or disagreeable surfaces.”

This was, indeed, a slippery and disagreeable surface after a night of rain, the ground slick with shiny mud.

And while this track is nowhere near the size of the monster-sized track in the riverbed we saw last year, it fits the criteria for mountain lion tracks.

Last year's kitty tracks compared to hubby's giant hand.

Last year’s kitty tracks compared to hubby’s giant hand.

The toe pads are rounded, the size is impressive, and the walking stride matches my field guide for mountain lions (36 inches) vs. bobcats. Also, the paw size is right there at 3.5 inches.

My field guide ruler says 3.5 inches. Click to enlarge.

And besides, I don’t think a bobcat would have the body weight to wrangle that tube (which, if you look closely, has bite marks at the end and claw marks along it).

Those are tooth and claw marks! Click to enlarge.

Those are tooth and claw marks! Click to enlarge.

And dogs? Well, they dig and aren’t as dexterous with their paws.

So yeah, I’m sticking with mountain lion. An elusive lion who either wanted water from the tube, or was after a mouse or lizard in hiding.

For Readers, Writers, Everyone: The biggest bummer of all is that the veiled visitor walked directly in front of the location where I had the trail camera for a month. And in broad daylight! (I had removed it to change batteries and failed to set it up again, and – you guessed it – missed the opportunity).

But you know what? Maybe that’s best. Because for now, the mystery of this majestic predator lives on in my imagination – the “so close to seeing one” adrenaline rush still within reach.

The human mind’s desire for teasing out the mystery, its interest in the unknown, may best manifest itself through the fiction we read. That sense of intrigue – the unanswered questions, the sense of possibility … that is what keeps us reading, excited and alert. What book captured your interest lately or ignited your imagination?


21 Responses to “Elusive Visitor”

  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Goodness, gracious, sakes alive! Those are some mighty impressive paw marks!

    Interestingly, I’m currently reading “The Tiger’s Wife: A Novel” by Téa Obreht.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    And is this book leaving you with questions and mystery that makes you want to continue reading (I have wanted to read that one, too!)

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  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    Wow, this is truly exciting yet also terrifying! It’s huge (even if it’s not as big as last year)! I’ve been reading a big variety of books lately — which is fun because I never know what to expect. Short stories by Pam Houston (Cowboys Are My Weakness), middle grade, young adult, and now women’s fiction… interesting to see how every style and author is written so differently.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I envy folks who can read widely — as I truly see the value in it (as you said: of studying style, technique, etc). Yet I seem to always gravitate toward the same ‘type’ of books always. I guess it’s the same as my habit at restaurants: once I find something good on the menu, I stick to it. I know: very short-sighted and non-adventurous!

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  • avatar Cherry Harris Says:

    That is an impressive paw print you’ve got there …if indeed belongs to a mountain lion you have one hell of a beauty . Outside my house I might get rabbits , foxes or badgers …a snack for your night time visitor .
    cherryx

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Yes, I think you’re right: the smaller critters are definitely on the ‘appetizer’ part of the mountain lion’s menu! (We have a badger that lives behind the house; hope he’s still there! And tons of bunnies, as well as a few foxes we’ve been lucky enough to capture on our trail camera).

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  • avatar Hulamonkey Says:

    Looks like bobcat. We find those tracks in the snow around house. Measure distance between stride. The stride of our verified bobcat prints measure 17″ center paw to center paw . Tweeting a snow print for you to see.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Very well MAY be a bobcat (my husband’s second guess). We have a resident bobcat that we’ve captured many times on film. I just wasn’t sure a bobcat would have such deep imprints OR be able to move that giant tube. Either way – I’m happy for wild cats — wild ANYthing. LOVE your bobcat print in the snow — where was that taken? Thanks for sharing!

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    Wow, you weren’t kidding! It’s like I wrote my latest blog post to answer the question at the end of yours! Those paw marks are so cool, Melissa. I love the mental image of a big kitty pushing aside that pipe just to play and snuff around. I hope you (safely) spot him/her soon, because I want a picture! Haha. 🙂

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  • avatar Jackie Cangro Says:

    So awesome, Melissa. I saw a kestrel outside my window and was thrilled. I would be over the moon if I saw these paw prints in the dirt.

    How are your cacti doing? I always think of the amazing saguaros in your neck of the woods.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Oh, wow. I wouldn’t have expected a kestrel in the city. That IS exciting! We have a pair that hangs out around our house, too.

    The cacti are good – this time of year the saguaro fruit attracts nectar-eating bats!

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  • avatar Natalia Sylvester Says:

    I love how much intrigue surrounds you, Melissa! My house, on the other hand, not so much—unless you count the mysterious fruit Maggie keeps bringing into the house from the yard, which we haven’t been able to identify. (Edge-of-your-seat stuff, I know 😉

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Hey, a mystery is a mystery! I would be interested to know if you find out what, exactly, Maggie is bringing in the house! Hopefully she’s not eating it!

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  • avatar Lori P Says:

    Holy Cat Nip!!!! You are remarkably calm when you could have been considered his lunch!

    I think I told you about reading my first scifi, WOOL by Hugh Howey. Talk about a lesson in the cliffhanger chapter endings. But now I’m enjoying being back in my comfort zone, historical fiction. Keep us posted on kitty sightings!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    I love that you went out on a limb and tried something outside your comfort zone reading-wise, but you know I’m curious about the historical fiction you’re reading now!

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    Wow, that is so crazy that you had a mountain lion roaming around your house! I still find your stories of the animal life in the desert fascinating! All I could think is how my animals would have gone crazy with those tracks near by.

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Yes, still loving our desert life and all the visitors we have. Lately, a tiny desert tortoise has been showing up every day (it’s smaller than a makeup compact). SO adorable.

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    Taking a break from posting and commenting to work, but couldn’t resist dipping in here to see what lovely photos you were sharing. So glad I did!
    I bet you were being watched from that hillside, Melissa. Your own animal instincts are working purrrrfectly from the sounds of it. Heed those, and be careful. That print looks like something bigger than a Bobcat!

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    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Love it, Cynthia… My own animal instincts working purffectly! 😉 Hope you’re enjoying the summer and writing up a storm.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    I like that it’s a mystery but you’ve used your best guesses to hope for your elusive mountain lion. (I can’t believe we’re hoping for a lion!) Seriously though, cool detective work!

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