Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Here Kitty Kitty Kitty

Wednesday August 9 2006

Cougar alerts! One guy from our Forest Service office probably saw a cougar early Sunday morning south of Bridgeport on the Green Creek road – he saw a long tail slipping through the sagebrush. Another guy from the office probably saw two cougars early Monday morning northwest of here at Lobdell Lake. They were too far away to tell for absolute certain, but they were definitely not deer or antelope, and they loped when they ran, didn’t spring like deer. A definite cougar was sighted last summer early one morning just 4 miles north of Bridgeport – on a road I often drive and ride! I’ve often driven the Green Creek road, and hiked quite a bit last year around Lobdell. All those places I’ve thought of as cougar habitat. I’ve seen 4 cougars in Washington (1 definite, 3 probable), and definite tracks north of here far down Desert Creek (maybe not coincidentally, Desert Creek originates in Lobdell Lake).

I’ve started a map marking Maybe, Probable, and Definite cougar sightings in the area for my own amusement.

Today I went goshawk/nest hunting in the general Green Creek area. Looking for birds, but keeping my eyes open for a big tawny smooth loping beasts with long tails!

I saw: tracks! But they were dog or coyote. I smelled and saw the bulldozing evidence of sheep (canine tracks were probably the sheep dogs). I saw 1 bear track (a day old?) and lots of old bear poo. I found 1 flicker feather and 2 woodpecker feathers. I saw a goshawk! – soaring above the aspen canyon I was hiking, but incomprehensibly, there was no nest anywhere in this perfect habitat. I also came across a big suspicious – but not distinct - footprint. Not a bear, and bigger than the dog tracks, and not shaped quite canine-like. Hmmm… Now, maybe I just have cougars on the brain, but, it could have been a cat track…

Some places you hike, you just know there has to be a cougar. Some places, you feel it. A couple of times in the Pacific Northwest, I was spooked. I felt a cougar – it was there, it had been there, was going to be there. I walked very cautiously, very alert, looking everywhere, around me, behind me, especially in the trees I was passing under; I’d jump at any sudden noise. Maybe it was my imagination – or maybe not.

I don’t know what I’d actually do if I came across a cougar on foot (my 4 sightings were all in my truck) – would I be scared? Would I want to touch it? One of my bosses once drove up on a cougar on a logging road. He stopped his car and got out, and the cougar sat there watching him. Dale got out his duke (fake mouse on a string, for getting birds’ attention), and tossed it at the cougar, and reeled it in. The cat watched the duke. Dale tossed it out at the cougar a few more times, till he suddenly realized he was standing outside his car, mousing a cougar that was a few feet away. He reeled in the duke and got back in his car and watched the cougar till it got up and strolled off.

I complained to my ranger friend Tim once that there were no cougars in the Hoover Wilderness. He said they were out there. “Well, I haven’t seen any.” “No, but they see you.”

Keep that in mind that next time you’re hiking in the forest, or sagebrush, or desert, or even some urban areas…

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