Wildlife dramas continue to unfold in the canyon1. They are nature’s equivalent of reality TV and old-time soap operas. My trail cameras document them all—wild animals living day-to-day while being impacted by urbanization. Some of the videos are sweet, filled with new life while others record the realities of living with natural and human-made dangers.
Among the notable wildlife recorded this summer, we are privileged to watch as bobcat kittens, a mountain lion cub and a spotted fawn grow and mature.
Puma family saga
It is not new news that mountain lions are regulars in the canyon. They have lived in the area long before the first peoples came to California. My cameras have watched the wildlife in this canyon for only five years—a brief minute when compared to the length of time pumas have lived here. Until this year, they have documented only solitary lions, never family groups or pairings. This year it is different. For the first time since the cams have peeked into the lives of the inhabitants, the canyon is fortunate to host a small puma family composed of a female along with her one cub. The pair has been captured on film almost every month since February. The first glimpse I saw of the little family was when the cub was around three months old.
Youngsters stick with their mums until they are between 18-24 months old. Then they disperse, searching for their own territories. Puma moms have difficult jobs. It is not an easy task to teach their young ones’ important survival skills. Living solitary lives, they must protect, hunt and raise the cubs without help. Unlike our local coyotes, mountain lions do not live peacefully with each other; they don’t live in packs and they don’t hunt cooperatively. Nor do adults willingly share their meals with conspecifics, but there are exceptions.
The puma mom is doing a good job. As her cub matures, she gives him more independence. One indication of this is her increasing the distance between them. But she is always nearby, ready to intervene, just in case there is danger.
The most recent appearance of the little family was in June, filmed at the rim of the canyon.
Video courtesy of Eric Cheng
Bobcat soap opera
At least two litters of bobcats were born this year, probably from two different females. Usually, bobcats only have one litter a year. The kittens stay with their mums until they’re between eight to twelve months old and then disperse2. Early this year three adorable bob kittens were recorded almost every day, playing with each other and annoying their mother. Although one of the babies had only one eye, he seemed to manage as well as his siblings.
Early this summer a new bob family was recorded in the canyon. The mom seems young; she may have been born about 18 months ago and possibly is the daughter of the female who, for at least four years, has claimed parts of the canyon as her core territory. Based on her behavior with the kittens, I’m guessing that this litter is a first for this girl. She doesn’t seem quite as vigilant as the older, experienced bobcat mum. Although she keeps track of the youngsters, they are a distance from her. Also, she only has two kittens. Young, first time mothers usually have fewer kittens then older females.3
The first time the babies were caught on film they were young, barely two months old. Mom may have been moving her little family to a new den. Kittens are frequently relocated, more when they are neonates, sometimes as often as every day to every few days. As they age they are moved less often. Predators also determine when it is time for a change of address4 because the little ones are vulnerable to predation by coyotes, raptors, puma and even male bobcats. The smell of the dens and the sounds of the kittens attract them.
The first time the babies were filmed, they may have been almost weaned, new graduates from the milk bar and barely getting accustomed to a meat diet. Around this time, they also start to learn to hunt. Bobcat moms have their work cut out for them: there are many mandatory survival skills these babies must learn in order to make it in a dangerous and competitive environment.
Mom is doing something right. Both kittens have survived another month—a hard task for a single mom. The little ones have grown and appear to be thriving. I love watching their immediate responses when their mom calls them. We definitely will keep a vigilant eye on those youngsters.
The camera at the fork in the trail is positioned at a popular spot for bobcats. Bobcats, like most felids live mostly solitary lives, they usually don’t socialize with other conspecifics unless they are juveniles ready to disperse, adults looking for mates or a queen raising kittens.
Coyote reality show
Coyote 09M was the canyon star for a few years. He was a joy to watch as he played and interacted with his mate and gamboled on the trail. 09M had a distinctive personality that showed through in the hundreds of videos of him. The cameras lost track of him two years ago. Since he disappeared several coyotes have been filmed. None stayed for the length of time 09M did. While that boy lived in the canyon, he took a mate and produced at least two litters of adorable pups.
A bonded pair of young coyotes began hanging out in the canyon a few months ago. Tragically, the male was badly injured in July and lost a foot. We can only guess the initial event—he could have gotten his foot caught in a trap or he may have been bitten by a rattlesnake. It is one of many wildlife mysteries that probably will never be solved. It is difficult for coyotes to successfully hunt when injured to that degree—sadly the survival rate is low. Now, only the female has been spotted.
There is a smorgasbord of vegetation for the deer to dine on in the canyon—a major attractant for a doe and her fawn. The two have found plenty to munch on, especially next to the creek, directly in front of one of my cameras.
In contrast to the bobs and lions, deer are highly social, and hang together in herds. There is safety in numbers—herds give deer some protection against coyotes and mountain lions. The characteristic of individual herds vary and are dependent on the ages, gender, familial ties as well as the season. Bucks group themselves in “bachelor groups” in the spring, but then become rivals when competing for the attentions of the does. Bachelor groups usually have three to six individuals in them. Ours has five members.
Wildlife dramas continue
The wildlife soap opera continues and because of technology, we are fortunate to be able to catch fleeting, 20 second glimpses into the fascinating lives of the canyon animals. It’s wonderful to watch as they live out their lives, hunting, playing and interacting with each other. The cameras also play an important part in monitoring the behavior changes of our wild inhabitants caused by the pressures of urbanization and the fragmenting of their habitats.
- Three to four trail cameras have been filming wildlife and human activity in an undeveloped 88 acre canyon for almost five years. This canyon is surrounded by businesses, roads and homes. Footage from the cams document behaviors of the suburban wildlife being impacted by the pressures of urbanization.
- Hanson, Kevin. Bobcat Master of Survival. 2007. Oxford University Press.
- 4. Sunquist and Sunquist. Wildcats of the World. 2002. University of Chicago Press
Marilyn is a certified cat behavior consultant (The Cat Coach, LLC). Not surprisingly, she’s fascinated by feline behaviors. This started with household cats and then after witnessing a puma being killed a few blocks from her home in the suburbs, expanded to include local mountain lions and bobcats. A few years after the tragedy, she joined the Bay Area Puma Project/Felidae Conservation Fund, maintaining trail cameras, writing and helping wherever she can. Her focus is on how urbanization is affecting apex predators’ behaviors.
She is also an author and educator. Her book Naughty No More! focuses on solving cat behavior issues through clicker training, environmental changes as well as other positive reinforcement techniques. She gives presentations throughout the United States as well as writes columns and articles for a variety of venues. She is also frequently interviewed for podcasts, print and on line publications. Additionally Marilyn is a frequent guest on television and radio and has appeared, along with her Bengals and Savannah Cat on Animal Planet , CBS, ABC, KGO and others.