Monday, October 24, 2011

Dallas Bobcat on the Trinity River at McCommas Bluff




Bobcat (Lynx Rufus) in the City of Dallas on the Trinity River October 23, 2011
What, courage man. What though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.
-William Shakespeare
Much Ado About Nothing









Curiosity kills cats to paraphrase Will Shakespeare. Not the particular bobcat featured in this post but the cat put its guard down to fulfill the inquisitive nature only a predator can hold. As a result I had a rather rare encounter with this bobcat on the Trinity, thanks to the ruckus on the other side of the river.

This post features photos and video of a bobcat on the west bank of the Trinity River directly across from McCommas Bluff Preserve on October 23, 2011. The previous evening saw a heavy widespread rain across the Dallas area with the passage of a weak cold front. The cooler and partly cloudy conditions bring out many animals not normally seen during the day.

So what was the bobcat doing?

I had no idea initially. It was laser locked on something across the river. If you are familiar with house cats when they are in full stalk mode with ears up and tail twitching, you get the idea here. As I approached it moved to my right, stopping at the top of a small dirt berm. Usually, a bobcat will turn tail and leave. It decided to stay and intently watch the other side of the river. I finally saw what it saw. Along the bluffs were a couple teenagers with a remote control toy truck. The whine of the remote control motors drew in that bobcat like a moth to a porch light. The truck would stop, the cat would lose interest. Truck started up again and the cat would whip its head around to stare. Cat completely ignored me.

Below you can see what transpired. The drone of a small Cessna overhead drowned out the sound of the toy. I did not even think of getting my camera out for something like this because cats like this are basically just ghosts and vanish out of sight before you can get a camera out. The last few seconds of video show the teenagers on the other side of the bluff messing with their truck.

Video footage of bobcat at McCommas Bluff





This section of the Great Trinity Forest is rarely visited by humans. Other than utility workers who mow a 20 foot wide stretch of right-of-way twice a year, humans simply do not visit the far west bank of the Trinity. Miles from any paved road and inaccessible by private vehicle, this area is by far the closest thing you will find to wilderness in Dallas. From this point south you will not find anything developed along the river until you reach Lake Livingston. A game warden told me that traveling north from Lake Livingston you will not encounter a single chain link deer proof fence until you reach the SE corner of the Trinity River Audubon Center near Woodland Springs. As a result, this area is just as diverse in wildlife as anything you will find 20, 40, 80, 160 miles down the river. When the second phase of the Great Trinity Forest Trail opens in 2012, this are will be much more accessible. You can read more about the new trail and bridge here:Trinity River Trail and Bridge




Bobcats are small wild cats with the scientific name Lynx rufus. They get their common name because of their short bobbed tail, while their scientific species name rufus refers to their brown coat coloration. 

Trinity Bobcat
Bobcats are the most widely distributed wild cat in North America.  They are also found in Southern Canada and in parts of Mexico. Given their wide distribution, they are not considered endangered species. It is even legal to trap bobcats for their fur in many parts of the United States, including California. Trapping and hunting is banned inside the Dallas city limits.


Bobcats tend to be primarily nocturnal creatures, particularly near urban areas where they actively attempt to avoid crossing paths with humans.  They are solitary creatures, like most cats.  They are territorial, and we call the areas each individual occupies their 'home range.'  Male home ranges tend to overlap several female home ranges.  Males try to maintain distinct home ranges from other males, and females try to keep separate, non-overlapping home ranges from other females.



How to identify a Bobcat vs Mountain Lion


Mountain Lion vs Bobcat size comparison; source: Cougar Central

I can tell you with 100% certainty that no mountain lions exist in the DFW area. Not one. Much like the 20 pound largemouth bass that got away or space aliens, no one has pictures to back it up. If you really want to see a panther, you need to head over to the corner of MLK and Cesar Chavez where they congregate on the street corner. In the past year at various times, motion sensing game cameras have been placed throughout the Great Trinity Forest. Some were placed there to combat feral pig eradication. Some were placed just out of curiosity. Deer, pigs, armadillos, bobcats and all matter of varmint on four and two legs were seen. No mountain lions. The cougar conspiracy theorists chalk it up to the immense range of a mountain lion. Often hundreds of square miles. While the food source needed for a mountain lion exists for one, the animal itself does not exist here.

North Texans seem to have a hard time identifying a bobcat. Since bobcats are usually nocturnal they can easily be seen as something larger like their distant cousin the mountain lion. Light, distance and space can often confuse your eyes into seeing something that is not there. The illustration above shows the main differences between the larger mountain lion and the bobcat. 3 feet long for a bobcat, 7-8 feet long for a mountain lion. Similar coat colors, similar markings. I think many people can get confused especially when a bobcat turns away from the person viewing it. Below is the same bobcat on the Trinity. When viewed at the rear quarter, the bobbed tail is much less pronounced and the coloration of the foot at the base of the leg resembles that of a mountain lion tail.


Bobcat viewed from rear


In addition, while the bobcat appears to have the same basic squatty dimensions of a house cat, the torso of a bobcat is quite long. In the photo below you can see just how long they can appear to look given the right angle.




Tracks

Another tell tale sign are tracks. Just like other animals, cats seem to enjoy walking roads and trails rather than traversing cross country through the woods. Below are some great examples of the different sizes of tracks.

Comparison of animal tracks; Source TPWD

Things can get blurry when it comes to the tracks of a coyote and bobcat. I even have problems with feral pig vs deer. The main thing differences to look for with canine versus feline are the presence of claws and the triple lobes on the heel pad of cats.

Canine vs Feline tracks; Source TPWD

Mountain Lion tracks in Texas Hill Country


Above is a photo I took a few years ago of a verified set of mountain lion tracks outside Kerrville, Texas(up Harper Road) in the Texas Hill Country. Not only are the tracks huge, almost the size of a dinner plate but they also have the hallmark feline triple lobes and lack the claw marks one would see in a canine track.


The Poop on Bobcats

One great way of determining if there are bobcats around is to look for their poop/feces/scat. Bobcat scats are similar to those of a house cat, but much larger. Each dropping is segmented and contains very little plant matter. The type of scat indicates the time elapsed since the bobcat's last kill. Bobcats normally feed first on the internal organs of their prey, and scats from this feeding consist mostly of gray matter mixed with some hair. Scats from later feedings consist of bone chips and hair. The last feeding often contains hair only. Grass may also be found in bobcat scats. Scats can be found under overhangs, near kills. Finding scats is one method of determining the presence of bobcats in an area of low cat populations. Bobcats will leave scats in ravines, on trails and near scrapes. There is usually a large concentration of scats around kills.


Urban Bobcats in Dallas

Urban areas in Dallas are home to a number of smaller predators like the bobcat. Frequent sightings are common at White Rock Lake and up White Rock Creek in the Lake Highlands area. The bobcats in this area have found a certain niche in the environment that allows them to coexist with humans. Below is a video clip I filmed on the evening of August 28, 2011. The weather that day was a brutal 107 degrees for a high. I had been down to the Trinity and was coming back home via the Santa Fe Trail when I crossed paths with this bobcat near TP Hill. Unless you are walking a pet rabbit off a leash you have nothing to fear from the bobcats there.













16 comments:

  1. I have never seen a big cat like that in Dallas. Very interesting. Your blog has completely changed how we see the Trinity River. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello, I came across this blog googling Mountain Lions at White Rock Lake. Although you say with 100% certainty that there are no mountain lions in the area, I'm convinced I saw one several weeks ago when cycling White Rock Lake after dark. Although I have no photos to back it, I caught a full side profile under a street light at Lake Highlands and Biscayne. At first I thought it was a large dog until I saw profile of the head and it had a long tail.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Jason,

    Thanks for the comment! You might have seen one of the resident coyotes that live at the lake. They are quite common after sunset around the east side boat clubs, Bath House and towards Winfrey Point. I have seen the coyotes in those areas many times while riding around the lake at night. I am certain that a mountain lion does not live anywhere near White Rock Lake.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've seen the coyotes on a number of occassions. What I saw that night was not one of them. It most definitely had a feline head and was larger than the coyotes I've seen by the lake.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I saw a bigfoot drinking a pina colada at White Rock Lake once. His hair was perfect.

      Delete
    2. I don't doubt your story, Jason. I think an occasional Mountain Lion will pass through the DFW creek and river system, even though they don't take up residence here. I know too many people who have land on the outskirts of town who have seen mountain lions and/or their tracks. The big cats live in the rural areas on all sides of the Metroplex. Not thickly. But they're out there. So they're going to wander through from time to time, and I guess you were lucky enough to have seen one!

      Delete
    3. Just to put everyone's fears at rest if you do have a meeting with a cougar, panther or mountain lion. They are more scared of you than you are of them. They are just as harmless as a bobcat. I have been a hunter for many years and have been around mountain lions many times. They have no interest in humans but they do like our pets so keep FIFI and Rover away from them. LOL

      Delete
  5. http://www.audubondallas.org/forum/showthread.php?t=2425

    If you go to the link above you will see photos taken of a bobcat in December 2011 at Sunset Bay. This is on the east side of the lake and close to where you saw your cat.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I saw a fairly large bobcat on White Rock Creek trail area on Sat. April 28, 2012. He crossed right in front of my bike. Very pretty cat.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Saw a mountain lion today as I was jogging along the asphalt trail near the marina. It crossed the trail path and disappeared into the woods. About 40 yards away. Beautiful shy tan color wild cat.

    ReplyDelete
  8. 2 & 1/2 ft tall by 5ft long excluding tail, bobcat or cougar? I took a low res photo of a gaunt tan cat crossing the bicycle/pedestrian bridge in a Trinity River park at 157 & Green Oaks in Arlington. I took some pictures of some tracks at the river where I happened to be fishing but think they are of other animals. Largest track appears to be almost as wide as my foot although it was in mud and had claw prints as well.
    Time was about 3pm not overcast and good light. I wish the photo would have captured the detail that I saw. The proportions appeared more like a cougar. My only concern is if there is one that is starving and people don't even realize there are any with their pets running around, I mean little children.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I came across this and can tell you with 100 percent certainty that i have seen a mountain lion near Las Colinas Blvd near the Campion Trails.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anyone who says there are no mountain lions in the DFW are saying so to try to prevent over reaction. They are here. I saw one in the middle of the day two days ago when I was walking on Santa Fe Trail in Lakewood area of east Dallas. I saw it in this wooded area on the bank of a little ravine. It was unmistakable because it was a beautiful jet black in color. It was sitting in a somewhat slouched position and it was facing in my direction. I could not believe my eyes, as I tried in my mind to acknowledge what I was seeing. It was only when I saw the long tail start to sway back and forth and the hairs all over my body started standing up that I got nervous and slowly walked away in the opposite direction on the trail. When I told one of my friends who lives near Lake Highlands, she told me she saw a tan mountain lion walking across her yard one evening and her and her daughter pulled into the driveway. make no mistake...they are in the area.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He saw a black bobcat with a long tail? According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, they have been found in counties very close to us. http://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_br_w7000_0232.pdf It wouldn't be surprising if one wondered through the area on occasion. I agree they wouldn't make a home here though.

      Delete
  11. Saw a cougar at my farm killed some of my chicken's big but beautiful cat.

    ReplyDelete