Jade Jarvis and Alyssa Valentyn were maintaining their research trail cameras at Saint Michael’s College when they noticed a brown smudge obscuring the lens of Camera 4. Alyssa used the corner of her t-shirt to wipe it clean and they moved on to the remaining cameras on their route.
Weeks later, while downloading the photographs, the source of the smudge became glaringly obvious. The first shot showed a conspicuously tufted ear with black and white pelage; the first bobcat sighting from their summer-long study. (Bobcats are uncommon visitors to our cameras, so the photograph caused great excitement in the lab.) After the cat’s ear passed the camera, the next image showed more of the animal’s side against a crisp backdrop of vegetation. Next, a blur of fur seemed to indicate a feline rear end approaching the camera, and the following image left little doubt: a raised tail and a blur of fur with the cat’s ear still in plain view.
All of the subsequent images lacked the crisp clarity of the pre-cat images. The vegetation through which the departing bobcat left was fuzzy and out of focus. The bobcat had marked the camera in the way that felines do. A message sent to other bobcats: “you are in my territory,” or perhaps a love note left to romance a furry suiter.
Regardless of the message’s content, it was wasted on the human visitors. We wiped up and moved on. Alyssa’s shirt survived the encounter and she gained a cool story-from-the-field to share with friends and family. And now I’ll be more eager to look at the photos from future besmirched cameras.