Winter Wildlife

One of the things I like about being on the rural side of Colorado is the frequent wildlife sightings. Bunnies and jackrabbits are common. On our property, we’ve also seen coyotes, deer, elk, a badger(!), a bear (alas, only my wife saw that one), prairie dogs, eagles (both Golden and Bald), vultures, foxes, and while we didn’t see the animal, we’ve found mountain lion tracks here.

On Wednesday (13 February) my assistant, Clare, called out, “Bobcat!”

I turned around and she was looking out the window. I quietly popped over to her desk and sure enough, the cat was only about 15′ away. The only camera I had was my cell phone, and I grabbed it and snapped this through the window as it walked by:

Bobcat outside the office
A really neat photo, but I sure wished I had a better camera with me. (Not to mention it was just before sunset, so it was in full shadow.)

Well, this morning, I finally remembered to grab my good camera — the Canon EOS T3i with its 15-85mm Image Stabilizer Ultrasonic lens. And sure enough, this morning Clare called it out again: “The bobcat’s back!”

I was gleeful to have my good camera. I grabbed it and went straight for the window:

Bobcat outside the office
I estimate him at 18-24″ at the front shoulder. Then I tapped on the glass lightly so he would turn around:

Bobcat outside the office

What was he looking for? I’d guess bunnies: those are rabbit tracks going off in the direction the bobcat is following. I noticed one run by my window earlier in the morning — I had watched it, wondering if I’d see anything chasing it. Nope.

I let my wife know we had a second sighting, and she walked up from the house (the office is next door), but she didn’t see it. She had to be satisfied with seeing the fresh tracks:

Bobcat's tracks in the snow.
Bobs are pretty shy: I’ve never heard a report of them attacking humans. They avoid people, but we see them around here because the average lot size in my area is 40 acres. Not all of those lots have houses, and there is plenty of totally wild land around here too, including BLM reserves.

Bald eagle in treeThat makes for all sorts of animals running around — or flying around. A few months ago, before the snow started to fly, my wife and I were headed to town when we spotted something at the brambly top of a tall pine tree. I had my camera (and the same lens) in the car, and stopped to take some shots. It was pretty far away to shoot with such a wide-angle zoom, but he looks majestic enough, eh?

It’s actually common to see bald eagles around here, though they usually prefer hanging around the river, which is about two miles east of here.

Here’s the wider angle of him surveying his turf:

Eagle surveys his turf
Yep: we just love living here!

Update

My wife reminds me of another animal we saw here — something we had never seen before in the wild.

One day in November 2006 I went out to the garage, and noticed the cats were circled around a shelf where we keep garden tools. I also noticed a horrible odor. I figured the cats did something stinky, but they attracted me to their intensity: they were fixated at the bottom of that shelf. I pulled out a flashlight, got down on the floor, and looked.

Something looked back.

The cats were fascinated, but didn’t want to go anywhere near the thing! I grabbed a broom handle and coaxed it out: it was an ermine, which quickly scampered over to the relative safety of the plumbing. At least it was open enough that I could get a photo of the skinny — but very long — little rodent:

An ermine in the garage.

Ermines are in the weasel family, and during the winter, their fur turns white so they blend in with the snow. The white fur in paintings of royal robes of old? Ermine.

I managed to help the beast find the door, and it ran like crazy. I also managed to keep the cats from seeing it escape, so they were a bit perplexed. We’ve seen it out there from time to time.

39 Comments on “Winter Wildlife

  1. I am jealous…would have love to see either. But isn’t it time to invest in a better lens? 70 to 300 is cheapish…or a 300 f4? Man the images you could grab!

    Focal length has little to do with quality. The zoom I was using is a very nice lens. I do also have a 55-250mm, but it’s a low-quality lens. It’s all about what you want to afford, and what you want to carry around. I normally do landscape work, so wider is better for my needs. -rc

  2. I have the Canon 70-300 IS, and it is shockingly good for the price for long range shots. I would really like to have the 100-400 f/4 IS L, but it’s a little expensive for me right now.

    The 17-85 IS is a very nice lens, and is the one I use the most as well.

  3. I have a ‘critter cam’ set up at our weekend house in the Mount Washington Valley of NH and have both mountain lion (supposedly NOT in NH) and bobcat pictures taken from the remote camera. And bear, and fox and coyote, and wild dog, turkeys, deer etc. Have I seen any in real life? No.

    I’m sure I’d be shocked by all the animals I’d capture if I set up a CritterCam. It doesn’t take very long for there to be a lot of tracks in freshly fallen snow. -rc

  4. A while back I saw a peacock in my yard. Apparently it’s a pet and it had gotten spooked and flew off from its owner’s house down the road. I got several pictures and even some video of it, granted it was only cellphone camera.

    I know a place where there are a bunch — in Boulder! They were indiscriminate about where they laid their eggs, so one weekend we made a HUGE omelet. (Yeah, really.) -rc

  5. What a beautiful cat! The best I get are bunnies. (Maybe send Bobbie here?) Used to get foxes, but haven’t seen any, lately. Just got a warning about coyotes in our neighborhood, though.

    Bunnies beat nothing! -rc

  6. So jealous! All I get in my suburban back garden is squirrels and pigeons. The odd fox visits at night. That’s all.

  7. Have seen deer, foxes, coyotes, eagles, plenty of red-tailed hawks and owls, and even watched a rafter (or gang) of wild turkeys walk through my backyard. I live in rural SC and my front and back yards are all woods and tree farms. I really enjoy sitting outside sipping a single malt and puffing on a ‘gar, communing with Nature.

  8. I sure agree that seeing wildlife just outside the house is really enjoyable. We live in the country just east of the Blue Ridge in Virginia and often see foxes, groundhogs, rabbits, and occasionally a black bear. If you need some whitetail deer, let me know and I’ll ship you several dozen!

    We have more than enough deer! -rc

  9. Where I live is actually north of Dallas, and ranches abound far and wide. All around my subdivision are varying spreads, and one of them has a large pen visible from the road containing a couple of emus (cousins of the ostrich, for those who don’t know). When my daughter and son-in-law came down from Michigan to visit, I gave them a tour of the area and showed them our “Texas Parakeets.”

    The favorite wildlife joke around here is mocking the tourist who asks, “At what altitude do the deer turn into elk?” -rc

  10. The usual around here is rabbits or feral housecats.

    One day on my way to work I spotted three large birds running across the road ahead of me. Looking them up online from work, I discovered they were female peacocks. They must have escaped from someone’s ranch nearby.

    I only wish that I had a camera with me at the time.

  11. We have seen cat tracks at our Summer home in Northern Utah but mostly moose. Nothing is more exciting than being ten feet from a full grown bull moose. And nothing is more reassuring that having a door to jump through and close when he gets to curious.

    I’ve been within 10 feet of elk, which is pretty intimidating. Can’t imagine scaling that up to a moose. -rc

  12. Our house is at the crest of a hill. The back wall & power/phone lines are a regular animal throughway. We used to have a little skunk that came through our yard every night about 9:30pm. Unfortunately it was killed by the dog next door — in our yard! urgh! The raccoons had been tormenting the dog for a while, & we think he got confused. Went right through our fence; the resulting hole actually increased the numbers of critters cutting through!

    Currently we have an excess of crows: they are really noisy, drive away the little birds, and harass the hawks & kites hunting the local hill. They’re the loud, obnoxious bullies of the bird world. It’s actually kid of scary when there are 30-40 of them swooping about.

  13. I live just outside a largish city in SE Michigan, in a “manufactured home community”. We don’t get much in the park, but I’ve seen coyotes, deer, pheasant, wild turkeys, red foxes, many species of hawks, falcons and owls, northern flying squirrels, woodchucks (hate those, destructive), and assorted small critters in fields and friends’. But the best sighting was a beautiful 12-point whitetail buck and his harem in one friend’s backyard. So near to town, there isn’t any hunting, and the deer know it!

    Love the pic of the bobbie.

  14. Beautiful pics! I, too live in the country in SC, and have seen all of the things Jerry has, and also some of our newest imports, armadillos and kudzu bugs (you really don’t want kudzu bugs around — they are vile).

    Do bobcats run alone? It seems to me that the first pic you took might be of a different cat — it looks fatter to me than the later pics you took. It could have just eaten, but take a look at the belly. Is it too early for bobcats to be pregnant?

    I don’t know when they mate, but I’m reasonably confident it’s the same one. I’ve seen them travel in pairs, but never in packs. -rc

  15. We have dingos on our property and they ate all of our young goats, so we rehomed them and their guardian dogs. We have had vermin deer, rabbits and foxes here (vermin as they are introduce species and not native to Australia). We get all of the local venomous snakes including an eastern brown in the house on Christmas day. Kangaroos, echnidnas, large lizards are all very common. We have had hundreds of hawks flying overhead in the last week or so due to the plague of cicadas in the paddocks. We have never had snow here, so no tracks, but the snake tracks in the soft dirt can be a little unnerving. Great that you took some good photos. I need to get a long distance lens for my camera ASAP.

  16. Thought of your bobcat pics when I saw this video. These guys were in the front yard of a house just north of Dallas.

    Wild. Glad no kids on tricycles rode up that sidewalk. -rc

  17. In the mountains of northern New Mexico, we get coyotes and deer quite often. Bears and, more rarely, mountain lions, will come down out of the mountains. Once, a local discovered that a bear had gotten into their garage and eaten their trash. Although most of the wildlife was driven away by the Las Conchas fire in 2011, it is fortunately beginning to make a comeback. Also, those bobcat pics are great.

  18. Country folk don’t have a monopoly on wildlife! I watched the program: “The Nature of Things” w/David Suzuki, last week on CBC (Canadian TV) where they have CoyWolves* living in downtown Toronto!

    *A crossbreed of coyotes and the Eastern Wolf.

    I didn’t say anything about a monopoly, but I think it goes without saying that rural areas have more wildlife* than urban areas. -rc

    *(Rappers don’t count.)

  19. Great pictures!

    I live in mid-Southern Colorado (Las Animas County), just north of the border with NM, and on a *lot* of evenings my wife and I sit with our arms around each other and listen to the coyotes torment the local dogs! Or just them singing to each other, whichever they feel like doing.

    There is one coyote family from the North and one from the South-West that will come to the edge of this tiny town and sing to each other and swap “Sons” and “Daughters” for the other family. Lots of other animals, but most seem to keep away from the area due to mining, the major freeway and the minor freeway. (Except for the deer — some *beautiful* ones around here!)

    You’re a lucky guy. -rc

  20. Living in a smallish tourist town, (Grand Haven, MI, the location of the first USCG station in the US) I see wildlife from time to time: deer, which is a HUGE problem in town, and turkeys, which I have seen across the street. No, it is NOT rural. The most amazing thing I have seen was a flock of 25-30 turkeys crossing the main street leading to the beach, maybe a half mile from where the Grand River enters Lake Michigan. That street is VERY HEAVILY trafficked as it is the ONLY street leading from the downtown area to the Lake Michigan beaches. (Incidentally chosen as one of the top 10 beaches in the US.)

    “I didn’t say anything about a monopoly, but I think it goes without saying that rural areas have more wildlife* than urban areas. -rc

    “*(Rappers don’t count.)”

  21. When I lived in a rural area in Zimbabwe in Africa, we had a Kudu (large antelope with spiral horns) just outside our gate one morning, browsing on one of our trees. We also got various smaller animals and baboons going past. Here in my suburban home in Australia the best we have had is an echidna (like a large hedgehog) and a tortoise and lots of parrots. I always feel very privileged when wild creatures come into my space, it is always a special feeling.

  22. The Bobcat….What a beautiful animal. You have taken AWESOME pictures. Professional camera or not, you did great. Thank you for sharing the pictures. As far as the Ermine, I would have loved to keep it. We used to have ferrets. They do indeed have a musky scent, even descented. I know it sounds insane, but you know what, I don’t care what people think. My lovely Bride and I have 14 dogs. They are loyal and give us UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, they will not hurt you ON PURPOSE AS A HUMAN BEING WOULD.

    Thanks again for the great pictures.

  23. While driving through a suburb of Deadwood SD where houses were close together I was astonished to see a herd of about a dozen bighorn sheep in a backyard. A number of them had trophy size horns and paid no attention to us when we stopped the truck and got out to look at them.

  24. Bald eagles are common in Maryland too. There is a pair nesting on the farm I live on — in a strip of woods between a field and a creek. They look pretty, but have bad habits.

    My house is situated where, if it were on fire, my closest neighbor would say something to the effect of “From where that smoke is coming from, that might be Tom’s house”.

    If you classify Homo Sapiens as wildlife then urban areas may have more than rural areas.

    I did already exclude rappers. -rc

  25. As soon as the turkey-hunting season opens here, we begin seeing flocks of them feeding and socializing in the wider medians of I-75 — where no hunting, of course, is allowed.

    And they say turkeys are stupid! We get flocks of wild turkeys nearby, but I’ve never seen them on our land. -rc

  26. This sounds counter-intuitive, but if you increase your exposure compensation by one stop in photos where the ground is snow covered the snow will appear whiter and the subject will show better detail also. The reflected light from the snow fools the in-camera metering.

    I was shooting in a big hurry to make sure I got the shot. I definitely didn’t want to fool with settings. -rc

  27. Not claiming a monopoly, but I think we may be sitting on Boardwalk with two hotels!

    We’re on Sanibel Island, Florida, just off Fort Myers. Sanibel is a barrier island (read: built on shifting sand) that is about 12 miles long and shaped sort of like a banana. Almost half of the island is in one preserve or another (the ‘Ding’ Darling national preserve covers about a third of the island), and there are more ‘natural’ yards than ‘manicured’ yards.

    Wildlife abounds, with some tropical twists for this ex-midwesterner — we don’t see deer anymore, but there are ‘Gopher Tortoise Crossing’ signs everywhere. On the mainland you see a lot of ‘Panther Crossing’ signs.

    Golf courses have water hazards with alligators; we watch Osprey and Pellicans catch fish; we have seen hundreds of hawks soaring together (avian dating?); wading birds are everywhere (Ibis, Egret, Heron, etc.); and there are a lot of Bald Eagles.

    Birds and sunning ‘gators are easy to see; most of the furry-type critters typically hide from predators and people, and hiding is easy for them — everywhere you look there is thick, lush vegetation with lots of dark shadows, even outside the formal preserves. We supposedly have bunnies, but we’ve not seen any, but we have raccoons, bears, Florida Panthers, Armadillos, coyotes, and probably lots more that we haven’t seen. The sea turtles only come ashore to lay eggs, and then only at night, but we see evidence that they are in town.

    We don’t miss finding tracks in the snow — we’re Green all year long!

    Even if you love mountains and snow, Sanibel is a great place to visit for a couple of weeks in February! (We had ‘winter’ last week when it was 65F and windy, with lows in the mid-40’s. Today it’s in the 70’s heading for about 80 this afternoon. Last night was cool enough that we had to close some of our windows.) We love it here year-round!

    I’m guessing (being off-shore) it’s not quite so bad in the summer, too. The heat is one big reason I left S California. -rc

  28. Living in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, and working in a rural town about 35 minutes west, we are blessed with a great number of acres (thousands) of green space, (hopefully permanently) set aside by previous political wisdom, and for the most part left to nature, right in and around the city, and inhabited by many of your animals mentioned above. (We have NO poisonous snakes or spiders, Australia, you are welcome to them).

    There are many nature trails and bicycle paths and beaver ponds within easy drive, even walk of most homes in the urban landscape. However if one really wants to “escape” it will probably take at least a 10 minute car drive…from just about anywhere. Except of course between 4 and 6 pm, or on a “Hockey Night”, if you are heading west. The Ottawa River, Rideau (Prounounced ree-dough) rivers along with the Gatineau River, (Gat-neaugh) converge on their way to the St. Lawrence, all right downtown Ottawa. A great deal of the Ontario shoreline was bought up by wise decision makers many years ago and set aside as public lands.

    Local wildlife are very abundant including most of what your other readers have already reported on excluding (so far) the Bobcats and the Mountain lions.

    I loved the video clip linked in the comment above.

    Truth is, nature is all around everyone no matter where they live, you just have to look for it carefully. Sit quietly on any park bench, or by the local rivers or streams, and before long even the common sparrows or whatever local birds you have will befriend anyone with some small amount of bird seed. Ducks always love bread, but watch out for the bossy geese — we could do with a few million less of those. As for apartment dwellers, get out, take a walk and it won’t be long till you see where animals like to travel, and feed, water or just pass the time, but you have to look, walk slowly, stop and rest, and be observant. Wildlife is all around us and we pass by it every day.

    I couldn’t help but comment on the note about the wolf crossbreed in Toronto. Go into any urban setting on a Sat night where there are BBQ’s and pool parties, or the most exquisite gala function at the best facilities in any major cities, and just look around. Lots of “Cougars” there… no, everywhere.

    Keep up the great work Randy, and worthy assistant(s) contributors!

  29. We are in Port Townsend, WA (on a mid-winter square dance thing) and yesterday we were driving out to Fort Warden State Park to scope out the Chapel where the dancing is going to be and saw four deer in the front yards by the street. When we got to the Chapel there were two more! Fort Warden is the place where parts of “Officer and a Gentleman” was filmed. (Still a pretty much urban area.) Saw another deer today on our way through town. Lots of urban houses with deer fences around them!

  30. Most of the wildlife I see are at the Erie Wildlife Rescue centre where they nurse injured and/or orphaned animals back to health for release back to the wild. We had a loon that must have been blown off course. He dived onto a dark wet highway maybe thinking it was water. I rescued a snapping turtle from a rural road once. I was on a bicycle so I had to recruit some friends with a truck.

  31. The earlier comments on ‘critter’ or game cameras set up reminded me of a clip an old friend sent me. We grew up within spitting distance of Mexico and his family still has a lot of ranch land out that way. They had placed a game camera focused on one of their stock tanks. You see shots of just about every animal known to traverse that area. In the middle of all the game coming through there is a shot of a human coyote (for those not familiar, this is a person that leads illegal immigrants across the borders for a fee [in others words, a human trafficker]) and a parade of about 30 illegal immigrants drinking at the water tank.

  32. Hunting up the Crosier Mt trail near Estes Park, I had the experience of an ermine scamper across the ground towards me. It saw me, described a semicircle around me at a distance of perhaps ten feet, then continued on its way.

    Even wrote a poem about it, not that it’s handy to plug in here (probably just as well).

    Don’t live in the really high country, but we do visit it whenever it is practical for us to do so. Colorado Rules!

  33. I spent years as a professional photographer. For your next camera, check out the Panasonic Lumix ZR19 (Costco) and the ZR20 (Amazon and others). The 20 model has gps, the 19 doesn’t. I have the 19. On sale it’s about 250.00. Its a pocket-sized 14.1MP camera with a 24-480mm equivalent 20xoptical zoom. (28-560mm in 1080p HD mode). 20x digital zoom.

    This has become my “good” and only camera and wear it on my belt like a cell phone. Face it, the best images you ‘ll ever see in life are the ones that happen when you don’t have your camera on you.

    Start-up time is really fast-about a second.

    It has a touch screen that is amazing. In your bobcat shot, you didn’t have the time to choose the “backlit” setting, but with the Lumix all you had to do is tap the image on screen (you can trigger with the tap or shutter button). Ever had an challenging wedding shot? Compose the group, tap on the bride’s face. Sale-able print.

    It has a through-the-glass mode for shots from inside the cabin (woods or airplane).

    It will lock onto and “track” a moving object in the field of view. This would have come in handy if the bobcat would have found its prey.

    Ducks drink water so fast, the eye can’t keep up with it. Shoot it in high-speed video and watch the results play back in slow motion.

    As for the camera’s “reach”, I have a photo of a statue that just happened to have a small anole lizard on its shoulder. What i didn’t see until I zoomed on the captured image was how sharp its little toenails were, or that he had just started to blink. Lizards have two eyelids. One is a transparent membrane that closes first, then the regular outer lid. The zoomed-in image shows the inner eyelid halfway up the eyeball. I was about 35-40’ from the statue.

    Another time I was shooting a flock of turkey buzzards circling over Lake Tarpon at a distance of about a mile.

    It was almost invisible on the standard view, but what was a speck in the blue sky, if you knew where to look for it, revealed itself to be a mature bald eagle about a mile and a half beyond the flock. At the equivalence of 40x it was pixelated, but it was there and I didn’t have to carry seven pounds of camera, case, and lenses to get it.
    Love your work!

    Thanks, James. I do indeed have a small travel camera that I usually have with me, which takes amazing pictures for its size, but I had forgotten it that first day, and thus only had my cell phone, which is almost guaranteed to take sub-par photos. But I don’t think there’s much at any rational price that beats a full-size Canon with a big fat lens on it, image-wise, which I had handy when my next opportunity came up! -rc

  34. We live near a State Park just north of Baltimore, and have all sorts of wildlife come though the yard. Deer stroll down the driveway as if they just bought the place, falcons, possums, one sighting of a coyote, eagles of various sorts, etc. We once had to wait for a flock of wild turkeys to meander across the drive before we could leave the house.

    We used to put out dog food for the raccoons and foxes (who would eat at opposite ends of the carport and pretend they didn’t know the other group was there) but began feeding the foxes out by the edge of the woods for their own protection. Not everyone is as kindly disposed to wildlife as we are.

    One of the raccoons used to sit in his bowl and pick up pieces of dog food from between his legs, spinning around on his little porcelain bottom whenever another animal looked as if it might want to share.

    You might want to reconsider feeding wildlife. You’re killing them. -rc

  35. Thanks for sharing the lovely shots of that beautiful bobcat (no, San Francisco, that was not a mountain lion!)

    We live in collection of three largish-cities in rural eastern Washington. It’s very desert here, but because we live relatively close to several mountain ranges, we’re blessed to see a wide variety of critters wander through.

    During winter, I have bald eagles flying over my house almost daily — I live a block from the Columbia. We have plenty of turkeys in residence, because almost the entire length of the river passing through the city is a long, skinny park. Of course, there are plenty of coyotes singing at night, along with the stray cougar showing up in someone’s garage. Out in the canyons and coulees, there are plenty of golden eagles, and if you know what you’re seeing, lots of desert bighorns hanging around too.

    Last summer, a friend of mine living in downtown Pasco went out into his alley to see what all the dogs were fussing about, only to see a big old moose hanging out in the neighbor’s yard. There’s also a very large herd of elk living just north of town in the desert plains and mountains out that way.

    Frankly, we could go on and on, but the fascinating thing is, we seem to all have great stories, no matter where we live. It seems, all one has to do is to keep his eyes peeled, ears open and we’re bound to see something that helps us enjoy the beauty of our great land!

  36. Beautiful Bobcat photos!

    In my neck of the woods, Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Black bear, brown bear, Coyotes, raccoons, white tail deer, and several different birds of prey, are common sights. Unfortunately don’t own a decent camera, but I will try and capture some snapshots with my phone if I can, and post them for you.

    At the moment though, we are literally being overrun with squirrels. My cat, kinkster, likes to sneak out into the backyard when i’m not looking, from time to time, she chases after them and has quite a few battle scars to show for her encounters. I doubt if she’ll ever actually catch one, but she’ll never stop trying.

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