Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Triple Header at Phillips

A handful of the Nashaway Trackers took a look around the Phillips Conservation Area today. Though conditions were far from perfect, we saw some interesting stuff. It's clear that deer are abundant there, and though we were disappointed not to find any porcupine sign, we lucked out when we happened upon some decent bobcat tracks. Most interestingly though, we found a deer kill site where the young buck was partially consumed, with much of his body frozen in the ice at the edge of a small pond. Only half of his head was exposed, showing one antler and an empty eye socket. We later came across a large rodent-type skull (more on that after a little research is done), as well as the wing and head of a great blue heron. For your viewing pleasure, attached is a photo of the aforementioned heads.


  1. To what Susan said, I will add that in a remaining patch of snow, we also found a short trail of tracks that could well have been bobcat. We were not totally convinced, but it is certainly worth returning in better tracking conditions. If it is bobcat, it would be the first we've found east of rt 495.

    Donna, I am curious to hear what you determine for the skull. I was just looking in a field guide, and think it might be beaver, not porcupine. Beavers eye sockets are closer together, more on the top of the skull, so the animal can see when its head is partially submerged under water, while porc's eye sockets are more on the side of the skull. Could you post a photo of the top of the skull?

    Finally, I as the group's party pooper will personally acknowledge that the dogs deserve credit for finding the deer carcass and heron head.

  2. I hate to disappoint, but I had kind of forgotten the stride and trail width measures for bobcats and house cats. I think what we saw here was a trail of house cat tracks.

    I was just out with my 15 lb cat today, studying his lovely footprints, and saw that at in a trot, he has a step length of 9.5-11.0 inches,and 3-4 inch width. What we saw at Phillips the other day was in that same range, maybe even smaller.

    I just reviewed my photos from Pisgah last year, and saw that the bobcat there was moving with a 10-17 inch step length, width around 4 inches. At Prospect Hill a few years ago, the cat had walked with a 10-11 inch step, and a 6-7 inch trail width.

  3. And here I was, envisioning that heron being stalked and killed by a hungry bobcat. Oh, well.

    You'll be interested to know that Button found another owl pellet yesterday, and today she and Taz unearthed a large chunk of cached deer hide. They were very disappointed that they couldn't bring it home.

  4. Bob's Comment:

    "A couple of years ago I had a similar experience when there was a report of bobcat tracks on a friend's property. The size of the prints indicated bobcat as did the trail width. The stride however was short for bobcat, but we refused to acknowledge that. We wanted the excitement of finding bobcat tracks on his property.

    The next day we realized that the size of the prints and trail width we saw had melted out and appeared much larger than they were when first made. Strides are much larger than prints and trail widths and, thus, not affected as much by melt out expansion. It turns out that a large, male housecat which wanders the neighborhood had walked through a day or two before. If I had been truely objective and open minded, it would have been obvious that the strides wer consistently too small for any bobcat."

    (Hope you don't mind my posting this, Bob; I've referred a couple of people to this discussion, and want them to read your input.)

  5. Good point Bob. For the sake of completion, I will add that when tracks are not melted out, trail width is very important in distinguishing bobcat from house cat. A bobcat may be able to walk slowly with a short stride of only 10-12 inches, but at such a slow walk, the straddle will be wide. A house cat, however, will probably be trotting at a stride of 10-12 inches, and therefore trail width will be narrow.

    Bottom line is that you have to take all of these into consideration, when trying to determine if an alternating walk or trot was made by a house cat or bobcat: stride, straddle, track size, and tracking conditions.