Saturday, July 19, 2008

Cougar prey, almost.

This story is a decent start to this bloggy thing. At least I think it is. ( edited a little bit from the email i sent out).

I'm currently in Southeastern, Oregon (middle of nowhere..nearest actual town is about 4 hours from here) doing some bat study stuffs for Humboldt State U. We're doing experiemental playbacks in attempt to deter the little guys from striking wind turbines. It's actually quite interesting.

It's night field work, and involves videotaping bats, etc. Usually the cameras run for 1 -2 hours at night, so there's that amount of down time.


We're working in Freemont National Forest, about 20 miles from 'town.' There are two different ponds/field sites, so sometimes I have to wait an hour or so to be picked up by Zac. Sometimes I take a walk (around dusk, til it gets too dark) and other times, I get all scared and sit in my tent like a freaking little pansy . Because you know, the dark is scary when you're solo.

So blah blah, last Sunday night (July 13th), we only had one site to do, so Zac and I set up the cameras, played a couple games of Yahtzee in the jeep. We are Yahtzee masters. We still had about an hour, so we decided to go for a casual night hike (much less scary with two people, right?) on a forest service road (no cars basically).

It was about 10 15pm , the moon was about 3/4 full, low 50's, little bit cloudy, no one around, fairly still, very quiet...we were sort of hoping to see a bear, because there were prints at that field site and evidence one had been there the night before. (We were also hoping to get it on the nighvision cameras we use...no luck).

Zac saw a pair of little eyes about 15 minutes in - probably a weasel or a marten. A few minutes later i noticed one very large eye shine with my headlamp, then the second eye. Then I noticed the head and the body. The normal human response was to shit oneself. I tried hard (and succeeded!) in not doing this.

With a little (lot?) bit of panic in my voice , I shoved Zac and told him to move his light to the giant white eyes. In a sad effort to ease my fright, Zac said "coyote." That was just silly.

We were both shining our lights directly at it, lurking there no more than 25-30 feet (in other words, one jump) away from us. It's eyes unblinking on it's huge freaking head, starring right at us. We were in a bit of shock I think, and just stood there looking back at it for a minute or two. When instinct finally set in, Zac started whistling. I started clapping and making loud noises (since i never learned how to whistle), still shining our lights at it. It was huge, and with the moonlight we could see the entire animal.


The thing did not flush, didn't freaking budge. We didn't turn around until about 2-3 (seemed a whole lot longer) minutes later, after it eventually turned it's head (which was totally creepy). But that entire time we just starred right at it's big old honkin' mountain lion self, with his or her huge bright white eyes, never blinking, never taking eyes off of us - all of THIRTY FEET AWAY!

Thirty feet away. Has that been mentioned?

The cougar was probably hunting at that time of night, and had likely been following us at some point during our hike. Unsettling. And also unsettling is that I walked by myself that way three times before in the week, and sat out in the dark in that exact area, when I forgot my tent, waiting for Zac to pick me up. Come on!


When we finally got the balls to start moving away, I almost peed on myself out of fright. The car wasn't that far away, probably just 12- 15 minutes at a fast pace, but it seemed to take forever. You're not supposed to turn your back on big cats, so we took turns walking backwards, yelling, having panic attacks, and clapping in the dark until we got back to the car.

Very cool. Very, very, cool. It's pretty rare to see these guys - and especially to see one that stares you down and doesn't flinch. Also incredibly spooky, and gets your nerves going (for apparently hours afterwards) when you're feet away from a cat that can weigh 270 pounds. Crazy.

..Since last year we've gone on little night hikes in Hill Country, Texas , hoping to see a mountain lion. Last year in Texas, we heard one scream (other than say, Dave Matthews or Coldplay, definitely the most awful noise you'll ever hear), but never saw one. There's plenty of scat and prints around our field sites in Texas also. And this May, on one of our transects, directly under some flagging tape, was a deer a cougar had killed (you can tell from the bite marks on the back of the neck, and the way they tear the carcass, and what parts of the kill they eat...intriguing).

So this is the second mountain lion i've seen. I'm glad I wasn't alone this time- last time (way back in 2000-01 I think) , i was hiking alone in Nowhereville, Southern Nevada when i saw one about 30-40 feet above me on a ledge.

Kinda rad.

1 comment:

Cheryl Ann said...

I found a dead coyote near the spot I found mountain lion prints last fall. The head was mangled, but the body was intact. Is that typical of a mountain lion? Then I realized, "OOPS! I'm out here ALONE! (duh...)" and hightailed it back to my car!!!