Bobcats; Comparing Point Reyes National Seashore and Yellowstone National Park

Bobcat, Point Reyes National Seashore

A bobcat moves through grass hunting for gophers at Point Reyes National Seashore.

I go to Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) often.  It’s rare that I go and not see at least one bobcat.  I also spend a month or so almost every year in Yellowstone National Park (YNP).   Yet, I’ve never seen a bobcat there in spite of the fact that they do exist.  I’ve often wondered why.

According to my most recent copy (2013) of the annual “Yellowstone Resources and Issues Handbook,”  bobcat numbers in Yellowstone are “unknown, but generally widespread.”  It says their habitat is in rocky areas and conifer forests.  It goes on to say that they are rarely seen, with most reported sightings being in rocky areas and near rivers.  I’ve seen a few online photos of them along the Madison River in winter.  Given the lack of stated population numbers, I assume they haven’t been studied much in Yellowstone, if at all.  I’m not aware of any bobcat study in PRNS either.  I assume PRNS doesn’t know how many bobcats there are in PRNS, let alone what their habitat preferences are.

In any event, why do I see bobcats regularly in PRNS and never in YNP?  I can only speculate.  My best guess is that it has to do with where the bobcat finds itself in the predator pecking order in each place.  In YNP the bobcat has to worry about grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes and mountain lions.  In PRNS it’s just coyotes and a very, very few mountain lions.  This may cause them to stick to the forests and other good cover in YNP without the same pressure to do so in PRNS.  If so, this reminds me of what I found last spring photographing pumas (aka mountain lions) in Patagonia’s Torres del Paine National Park (TDPNP) and adjacent private land. There are no bears or wolves in TDPNP.  There is a coyote-like predator there called the culpeo, but coyote-sized animals are no threat to a mountain lion.  While mountain lions in YNP stay in good cover, in TDPNP they feel no need to hide.  I saw 18 pumas in a week in TDPNP and all of them were in open areas – like the bobcats in PRNS.

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Bobcat Marks His Territory; Point Reyes National Seashore

A male bobcat marks his territory by urinating on a shrub in Point Reyes National Seashore.

A male bobcat marks his territory by urinating on a shrub in Point Reyes National Seashore.

It’s a little hard to see in this photo because of its size, but this male bobcat was marking his territory.  As he looked right at me I thought he was also making a statement as to what he thinks of humans in his territory.

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American Kestrel, Point Reyes National Seashore

Kestrel, Point Reyes National Seashore

A female kestrel perches on a fence post in Point Reyes National Seashore.

With a break in the wet weather, I headed out to Point Reyes yesterday afternoon.  It turned out to be a good day.   I saw and photographed several bobcats and coyotes.

I also photographed one of my favorite hawks, the American kestrel.  It’s the smallest member of the falcon family and the most colorful bird of prey that I know of.

Point Reyes has a good population of kestrels.  If you visit the seashore, look for them on fences and bushes.

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A Day at Point Reyes National Seashore

I was at Point Reyes National Seashore a few weeks ago and saw many creatures I typically see there such as tule elk, black-tailed deer, coyotes, bobcats, red-tailed hawks, harriers, kestrels and quail.  I also saw a white-tailed kite and several male elephant seals.

I also saw something that is not too uncommon, but a little harder to find on any given day.  Based on the photo of its eyes below, do you know what critter it is?

A great horned owl perches on a bush in Point aReyes National Seashore.

Who am I?

It has feathers so it’s obviously a bird.  Its eyes are located at the front of its face for binocular vision for judging distance and that leads one to think it’s a predatory bird such as a hawk or owl.  The eyes are very large and the pupils are especially large which suggests that it hunts at night.

If you guessed it’s an owl you’re right.  What kind?  It’s the most commonly seen owl at Point Reyes, or almost anywhere, a great horned owl.

Great Horned Owl, Point Reyes National Seashore

Great Horned Owl, Point Reyes National Seashore

You may be wondering how I got what appears to be such a close-up photo of the bird’s eyes above.  There was a reason for that.  In addition to the assistance of an 1120mm super-telephoto lens and significant cropping, the owl was perched in a bush on the shoulder of the road.  While hawks perch close to roads on fence posts, it struck me as odd that an owl would perch in a bush within a few feet of the road in daylight.  Then I noticed what might have been the reason.  The bird’s left wing droops.  I think it had just injured its shoulder.

I did see it fly from one bush to another.  That was a relief.  I don’t know how it got the droopy wing.  My guess is it either tangled with a car or the barbed wire fence that runs along the road right below where the bird was perched.  About a year ago, I found a harrier about 1/4 mile down the road from where this owl was.  It was standing on the road and its wing was obviously broken.  I put it on the shoulder of the road and reported it to a ranger who was nearby.  The likely explanation for that injured bird is that it tangled with a vehicle.  Several years ago I found a common egret next to a barbed wire fence with a broken wing.  I assumed at the time that the egret had flown into one of the barbed wires on the fence it was standing next to. I don’t know, of course, exactly what happened to this owl with the drooping wing, but I think flying into a vehicle or the fence are the most likely causes.  I hope it leads a long life.

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Pumas in Patagonia

Mountain Lions (aka pumas, cougars, catamounts etc.) have eluded me here in the United States, so last May I went to Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia.  I had learned that it was much more feasible to find and photograph them there.  I also hired a guide who was worth every penny in finding mountain lions or, as they are known there, pumas.

Puma, Patagonia

If you’d like to see more of my photos of Torres del Paine pumas, click here.  Click on the first photo and then just toggle through them using the left and right arrow keys on your keyboard or use the navigation guide at the bottom of each image.  By the way, the link is to a new website I am building.  It is still in the early stages, but the majority of the puma images I plan to use on it are there now.

The trip was a great success. I’ll do a more detailed report on it in the future.

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My Record Day for Coyotes and Bobcats at Point Reyes National Seashore

I was at Point Reyes National Seashore yesterday from about noon to dark and saw ten coyotes and eight bobcats.  That was a record day (and half day) for me for both critters.  Plus, I started the afternoon with a badger taking a sunbath.  Here’s a photo of the badger.  Light was harsh and the badger was mostly napping, so I didn’t stay long to wait for a better photo.

Badger, Point Reyes National Seashore

As I said, I saw eight bobcats.  One was walking toward a coyote, unbeknownst to both of them. They were walking toward each other at right angles.  When they finally saw each other, the coyote gave chase and the bobcat made it to some trees and scrub brush.  Here’s another bobcat at about sundown.  Better light than the badger.

Bobcat, Point Reyes National Seashore

Here’s a coyote from earlier in the day.  It has a lighter coat than average.  My coyote count went up very quickly at the end of the day.  Right after coyote #6 chased the bobcat, a pack of four coyotes came by when I was in the same location.  I had heard them howling shortly before I saw them.   It’s the first time I saw more than three coyotes together at Point Reyes.

Coyote, Point Reyes National Seashore

I kind of wish I had gotten there at or before sunrise.  I might have added a few more coyotes and bobcats to the day and to my personal record.

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Point Reyes National Seashore; Some Elk Have Fatal Disease

The current issue of the Point Reyes Light has an article reporting that five of the 200 plus wild, free-roaming elk in the park have been found recently to have Johne’s Disease.  Here’s a link to the article:  http://www.ptreyeslight.com/article/seashore-finds-elk-gut-disease

Johne’s (pronounced “Yo-nees”) is a bacterial disease that affects the small intestine of ruminants (cows, sheep, elk, deer etc). It is caused by Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis (“MAP”). It embeds itself in the wall of the lower part of the small intestine. As an immune response, the walls of the small intestine become thicker. This thickening prevents the absorption of nutrients.  As a result, the animal loses weight and dies. It is believed to have started in Europe and it is now a world-wide problem. Sixty-eight percent of dairy herds in the United States are infected with MAP.  MAP leaves or exits infected animals in feces and milk. It can survive outside a host animal for up to a year.  Even if the mother is not infected, her young can acquire it from her teats if they are contaminated with MAP-carrying manure from lying on the ground.  Once it is in a herd it is virtually impossible to remove.  It spreads easily from one ungulate species to another as from cattle to elk and vice versa.  This information was obtained from the following sites:  site1, site2.

That some elk tested positive was a big surprise because the park has been sending fecal samples to a lab for about 18 months to determine if there is Johne’s in the two wild, free-roaming Limantour and Drakes Beach herds.  Hundreds of samples have been examined and all the results have been negative. That is, until now.  According to the article, three elk from the Drakes Beach herd have tested positive via fecal samples.  Thirty fecal samples remain to be tested.  Furthermore, the park recently killed 20 elk to get tissue samples because tissue samples may be more conclusive than fecal samples.  Tissue from a single natural death was added to that.  Ten results are in for tissue samples and two of ten bulls from the Drakes Beach herd tested positive.  Eleven samples remain to be tested, according to the article.

Johne’s is very slow in its development.  It can take years before an animal may look like it might have it.  It is very difficult to test for and many results are false negatives.  As it progresses the first obvious signs are loss of weight and diarrhea.

Here is a photo of a Tomales Point elk that I took a few years ago.  The Tomales elk are not wild, free-roaming.  They are captive animals that live on the former Pierce Point Ranch on a peninsula at the extreme north end of the park.  I photographed this animal because its ribs were showing, it had severe diarrhea, and I thought it might have had Johne’s Disease.  The Tomales Point herd has had Johne’s since about the time the first elk were  released on Tomales Point.  They may have gotten it from the cattle that were there when the elk arrived.

A possible case of Johne's Disease

A possible case of Johne’s Disease

I wrote a blog about it at the time.  Here’s a link to the article:   https://jimcoda.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/whats-wrong-with-this-tule-elk-at-point-reyes-national-seashore/

The Point Reyes Light article raises some questions.

It’s too bad the park didn’t wait just a little longer before shooting the 14 Drakes Beach elk, given the fact that the latest fecal samples had three positive results.  Fourteen elk could have been spared.  In any event, was 14 out of 92 total animals (early 2015 figure) the appropriate number of elk to kill for samples of the Drakes Beach herd?  That’s 15%.   Maybe.  I don’t know.  According to the article, the first ten tissue samples were all bulls of the Drakes Beach herd.  I’m sure the ranchers were happy that 14 Drakes Beach elk were removed and especially happy that at least 10 were bulls because it’s been my experience that the bulls roam beyond the D Ranch more than the cows.  Were 10 (or possibly more) bulls an appropriate number out of about 20 bulls for sampling?  That’s roughly 50%.  Again, I don’t know, but it seems high.  Was six out of 120 total animals (early 2015 figure) the appropriate number of elk for the  Limantour herd?  That’s only 5%.  Again, I don’t know.  But since the Limantour herd is a bigger herd, wouldn’t it be logical that you would take more Limantour elk (or less Drakes Beach elk)?  Again, the take was not the 15% Drakes Beach take, but only 5%.

The park may have thought it made more sense to focus on the Drakes Beach herd.  It is the herd that is the main focus of a ranch management plan that will determine what to do with wild elk.  The ranchers want them out of their permit areas.  Cal Fish and Wildlife would be much less likely to agree to moving any of them to other elk areas in the State given that it is virtually impossible to guarantee that an individual animal hasn’t got Johne’s if its in a herd that is infected.  The park would seem to be left with the choices of shooting some or all which would be highly controversial and/or moving some or all to some other suitable place in the park (which may not exist).

According to the article (and my own research), dairy operations have a high (68%) incidence rate of Johne’s Disease nationwide whereas beef cattle have a relatively low incidence rate (8%).  Having animals close together seems to increase the spread of the disease and dairy cows spend much more time in close proximity than beef cattle.   A 1979 study of PRNS dairy herds found five out of ten (50%) were positive for Johne’s.  I have no information as to how rigorous the 1979 study was.   Given how hard it is to detect Johne’s, it could be that 50% was on the low side.   It may take several years for it to be obvious and dairy cows are slaughtered at a relatively young age.  I don’t believe there is any testing of dairy herds at Point Reyes nowadays.  There should be, especially the dairy herds that the elk share grazing land with.  Furthermore, dairies not only have a much higher incidence of Johne’s than beef ranches, but they require much more water than beef ranches and they cause more environmental impacts to natural resources, especially water resources.  While I find it difficult to understand how the park can justify beef ranching, given that its duty is to protect natural resources first, I don’t see how the park can possibly justify dairy ranching.  It has avoided addressing ranching in any form by continuing to ignore its duty to do a General Management Plan for the park.

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