Last week on the morning after St. Patrick’s Day, it was crisp and clear but warm enough for me to have coffee on the porch. One nice thing about a taste of spring….no bugs yet. So I’m sitting in a daze that caffeine hasn’t yet cured, when all of a sudden I hear this deep-throated snarl! I thought at first that it might be farm machinery off on some neighbor’s farmyard. It sorta sounded like metal getting dragged over concrete or rubbing against other metal.
Then I heard the scream! I’ve heard an otherwise voiceless rabbit, scream in fear or pain and I found examples on You Tube to help confirm the idea. After that brief and piercing scream the deep base growl continued for what seemed like a long time. Did it also seem like it was a contented growl? Did I just hear a mountain lion kill a rabbit right below the bluff beyond our backyard? Now, I’m in full “adventure” mode!
Over the years there have been lots of reports of mountain lion sightings in our general area. Usually it’s in the next county and usually there aren’t very many trail cam photos. But, several years ago one of our neighbors found these tracks along the Rock River about three miles west of our place. They look pretty authentic to me and they are probably the most direct evidence that we have had of a mountain lion fairly close to the Farm…. until the morning after St. Patrick’s Day!
I reported my suspicions to Margaret at breakfast but she didn’t seem too concerned about my plans to go looking for evidence of the kill. Old guys need something to occupy their retirement days, after all. So, I went off looking for distinctive tracks or some dramatic spread of crimson snow that might mark the kill site. I also thought about the new calves that were cavorting around a paddock near our house and recalled the stories about pets at risk from mountain lions in Colorado. Remember that witch’s line from The Wizard of Oz “….and your little dog too”?
Well, I did find some tracks but they were probably made by a coyote or a raccoon. The only red thing that I saw was a piece of wild plum wood in the Creek that had been stripped of the bark by a beaver. No bloody snow with gray rabbit fur spread around. So, there wasn’t much direct support for my mountain lion speculation.
I don’t mind losing a few bunnies. They’re usually busy grazing on our landscape plants and pooping on the porch all winter. In fact, that’s one reason I like to have coyotes along the Kanaranzi Creek: they help to control the varmint population. Contrary to popular misconceptions, coyotes don’t pose much of a direct risk to calves. Here’s a link to a blog post by a prairie ecologist in Nebraska that describes all the good things that coyotes can do.
Coyotes and mountain lions are pretty much at the pinnacle of the predator “pecking order”. I know that we routinely have coyotes in the Creek pasture, but if it was a coyote growling that I heard on the porch the morning after St. Patrick’s Day, it was a BFC…. A Big Fricking Coyote!
And, there’s one final thing to point out. This “visitation” was just a few days before the vernal equinox, the astronomical first day of spring. There are a lot of folklore traditions that say strange things happen around this time of change. For example the east-facing headstones in the cemetery on the hill two miles west of the Farm, light up with bright sunrise reflections on the mornings around the first day of spring. And, the sun sets exactly where the State Line crosses that hilltop because it’s due west of us. Margaret caught this photo at precisely the right time and it’s emblematic of all of the “magic” that’s intrinsic in Nature this time of year.