Editor’s Note: This blog is by our friend Eric Aldrich. You can see more of his images on the Hancock Wildlife Cam on Facebook.
For nearly 10 years, I had been camera-trapping year-round, starting with carcasses to draw in animals and getting neat photos. Then, at some point, I pretty much quit the carcasses and decided to match wits with the wildlife, seeking out shots of flying squirrels, deer, black bears, fishers, otters, and other species in their own settings, under their own terms.
As expected, the effort went up and the success rate went down, but the satisfaction grew and the photos were better. The shift away from bait forced me to study the lay of the land and the habits and habitats of the wildlife.
In the process, first by accident and then by design, I started getting cool photos of bobcats. This led to an email from Dallas Huggins, a student of White Pine Programs in York, Maine. Dallas was enrolled in White Pine’s tracking course and sought my thoughts about camera-trapping bobcats. We’ve been tracking, trailing, and camera-trapping bobcats together ever since and learning a lot in the process; it’s been like earning a degree in the woods from professor Lynx rufus.
Here’s a glimpse of what the bobcat has taught us:
Track them in the winter and they’ll show you where to place a camera. You’ll see where they’re hunting or passing regularly. Bobcats may not be in those same places come spring or summer, but you may start seeing some patterns and regular routes. Keep track of those tracks; they may make more sense next year and even more sense with each passing year of tracking. In warm months, look for pinch points between wetlands and where rocky slopes meet marshes.
The bobcat is the teacher, you’re the student. Glean every drop of information from every photo, every track you get. Which way is it going? Exactly how big is that front and back paw? What time of day does it appear? Are there distinguishing features that let you ID individuals? Keep track of everything. Look for patterns and rhythms; it may make sense, it may not, but keep looking anyway. Zeroing in on an individual cat’s habits and home range will tip the odds of a good picture in your favor.
Have patience. You can do everything right and go months or years without getting a bobcat on your cam. Then your neighbor who has no idea what he or she is doing sticks a camera out there and gets a spectacular bobcat image right away. It’s not you. Really.
Enjoy the challenge. When you’re striving to catch that image, no matter how fleeting, you’re in the zone. You’re in the hunt. It’s a primal urge that goes way back to our human beginnings. Enjoy the challenge, enjoy the course.