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.
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.
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.
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?