A Snapshot in the Life of a Bobcat

By JOHN HARRIGAN
Woods, Water and Wildlife

On Wednesday, on the way home from visiting a sick kid in Franklin, I chose the Vermont side of the river, and north of Guildhall saw a flash cross the road. It was a bobcat, moving as fast as a bobcat can move, which is pretty fast.

People think bobcats are big animals, which they are not, just as they think fisher cats (not the Manchester variety) are big creatures, which they are not. A bobcat is about the size of a bread-box, to quote the famous quiz-show line.

This bobcat looked to be a young adult, perhaps two to three years old, and was light brown. Bobcats, like coyotes, vary in color, just as deer do, depending on whether they grew up in swamp, field or ridge. And this bobcat looked fat and healthy, a natural thing going into late summer. By late winter it could be a shadow of itself, hungry and gaunt.

In the depths of winter and the lingering harshness before spring, we tend to dwell on power outages and the depletion of road-salting budgets and whining about sunshine deprivation and the need to head for Florida and the desire to see the snow-banks recede, and few of us think about what’s going on in the woods. In winters of deep snow and deep cold, deer are dying by scads, and for those in the know it’s fairly easy to empathize with that — big brown eyes, warm and fuzzy and all.

But who thinks of the predators? Fisher (cats) for instance. Put on a pair of snowshoes and go out there and check on the previous night’s work. Follow a fisher’s tracks. You had better bring lunch, because following a night’s course through alder swamp and spruce thicket and ridge-line will just plain tucker you out.

When early rain and a sudden thaw produce a thick crust on late-winter’s snow, the creatures out there eking out a living are bound to suffer. The partridge that dived into a drift to wait out a storm is trapped. And a bobcat ranging its territory for mice and chipmunks and rabbits (oh, all, right, varying hares) is going hungry.

So hungry, in fact, that stories are legion about bobcats coming to the edges of towns or even right into town to find something to eat, picking off squirrels and pigeons and house cats and the occasional small dog.

On Park Street in Colebrook, where I more or less grew up, a bobcat came into town by way of Number Five fairway on the golf course, used a snowbank to get onto a shed roof, and came through a half-open window into a bedroom, where, to put it mildly, the inhabitants were some startled.

I love bobcats for their fierce enterprise and independence, and hope that this bobcat, seen for that brief instant crossing the road, will have a much finer fate.

John Harrigan’s column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. His address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. E-mail him at hooligan@ncia.net.

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