The close habitat surrounding our home here on Bussey Hollow Road has become something of the ideal for the covey of ruffed grouse that hang out in the dense and often wet cover. It is such a pleasure to hear them break out in thunderous flight when I encroach on what they think is their private preserve, but is also my backyard. This is usually in single muffled bursts, flights most often not visually available due to dense cover. As I move slowly through their turf, I make it a point to take a numerical count of their blowouts. Four or five is the usual number, often with the last one remaining on the ground moving off unhappily, chirping loudly, expressing apparent displeasure at my ungainly tramping through their brush. I am always pleased to hear them, and the checking on their numbers gives me assurance that the group is making it day to day surviving the nocturnal prowling of our many local predators. The predators also seem to be surviving, if not thriving, according to my tracking observations and trail cam captures. So they must be getting and eating the other prey critters out there, one of them being the cottontail rabbits which have apparently not been as lucky as the grouse. Recently there has been no sign of them at all.
Feast, then famine, was the consequence for one quite large and robust bobcat that had a couple of days of gorging on a very large buck deer that met his demise in an unknown manner. More than likely the deer, which had already shed its antlers, had been hit by a car or truck on the nearby road and fatally injured, but was able to cross the brook and make it to his final resting place. I spotted the carcass lying out in our front orchard having been lightly eaten and then covered with a thin layer of scratchings from the surrounding turf, an indication that a bobcat had partaken. This called for two immediate actions by me; one, call my friends who are doing the Golden Eagle research and are having a tough time getting road kills because of the lower than usual number of deer around, and number two, get a trail cam set up focused on the dead buck. The completed tasks resulted in some really cool shots of the bobcat doing his nocturnal feeding, his head bobbing up constantly to survey the surrounding area, perhaps checking for the unwanted arrival of a competitor. I wasn’t there when the guys came to pick up the carcass for the project, but it was duly recorded on the cam. What was really interesting was the return of the cat the following night and the obvious dismay apparent when finding his private buffet gone. At first it appeared as disbelief, as he made a frantic search of the surrounding area and then a deep probing of the exact site, finally, a slow walk off in evident deep consternation. How could this happen? There was another very brief appearance and sniff around the following night, and then no more as the reality that it was truly gone must have finally sunk in, a major loss for this very obsessive bobcat. Back now to hunting, maybe a mouse?
A couple of weeks earlier another bobcat—or maybe the same one, we will never know—had a very unnerving experience as he made an attempt to snatch a meal. As many of you know, a porcupine had required dispatching as he was decimating some favored trees on the property. He died of lead poisoning. His body, not to go unused in this world of secret surveillance with trail cams, was placed discreetly in the low crotch of a tree that had previously been baited with table scraps, trail cam in place. Previous action at this site included multiple coywolves, a fox, three raccoons and two bobcats, none of these characters appearing at the same time. There is an hierarchy in the natural world where certain species, and individuals within species, have a dominance that is generally respected by others and, if not, may result in conflict that can be dire for the weaker among them. Light snow on the ground, very early in the dark morning, a bobcat appeared, checked for scraps, found none, took note of the porky’s bloody face. Four feet up in the tree, easy reach. With a single bound up, he grabbed the bloody head. Oh my god! A mouthful of quills, drop down, ahh, big mistake, sulk momentarily, then a hasty exit. Interesting what you can get on a trail cam, poor beast. Since then of all the critters that search the area for gifted meat scraps, none make any attempt to access the porky carcass; lesson learned, apparently by all. Update: The carcass was successfully removed and eaten by a smart coywolf. The cam shows him working from the rear underside where there are no quills. With multiple leaps and tugs he maneuvered the porky down and made a rapid exit with his prize out of camera view. I knew that some beast had been a master of the art of porky carcass removal as I encountered only the quilly skin on my trip to the site. The mystery beast was revealed by the cam.
Now back to my ruffed grouse neighbors. While cleaning out and doing some minor repair of a bird house that was of oddball size, built of scrap wood, made for whatever bird or critter that caught its fancy, I took note of a grouse warily surveilling me from about ten feet away. OK, grouse are known to occasionally act what in our human minds is plain stupid, considering the predator critters out there, but this guy or gal was particularly impervious to anything I did, which included cutting a lot of brush and noisily pushing it aside. It remained on watch. After giving the area a thorough look for a nest and finding there was none, I left this nutty bird to allow it to figure its own self out. Had I been a black bear, would it have held its ground? I doubt it.
“Those who dwell, as scientists or layman, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life”. Rachel Carson~