Posted by: James Wapotich | December 23, 2013

2011: Year of the Bobcat

Okay, so ideally I would’ve posted this at the close of 2011, but then ideally I would have more free time on my hands for such ramblings and musings.

Bobcat Ranger Peak Los Padres National Forest

Bobcat hunting and relaxing near Ranger Peak

The first time I saw a bobcat in the wild was Labor Day 2006 along Manzana Creek at Fish Camp. I was completing a three-day backpacking trip with a friend, and it was our last night in the woods. I had known that bobcats lived “throughout the west”, but hadn’t really considered that they also lived here, in the Santa Barbara backcountry.

One of the downsides of many regional guidebooks is that it’s hard to know what’s actually in your own local area, until you see it. I mean “found throughout California” can sometimes mean “we don’t really know the exact range”. And so in this case I’d imagined they were referring to Northern California and the Sierras, but were casting a wide enough net to cover places like the Central Valley and wherever else a bobcat might turn up.

But there at Fish Creek, while I was getting ready to fill my water bottle, I watched a bobcat quickly cross the creek; it paused midway to look at me and then continued on its way, disappearing into the brush – a mere moment in time.

Later that same year, coming back from a hike down to Forbush Flats, I spotted one along the Cold Spring Trail. At first I thought it was a house cat, but as I thought through the plausibility of that notion, I realized that I was looking at bobcat. Moments before I had been wondering just what kind of animals live down in these small canyons, and the answer appeared.

The next year, 2007, while backpacking along Manzana Trail towards Manzana Schoolhouse, a friend and I spotted one along the trail. We were a little ways past Potrero Camp, and the bobcat was good enough to pause for us so we could try to take its picture with her new fangled camera, which of course we couldn’t figure out how to use. You could tell that the bobcat felt sorry for us and waited as long as it could before needing to move on.

In 2009, following the Jesusita Fire, I made a number of hikes through Rattlesnake Canyon. Because of its closeness to town I’ve hiked Rattlesnake Canyon more than any other trail, but with the brush cleared by the forest fire, a lot of new off-trail hiking possibilities opened up. Over the years I’d seen the occasional deer, and the ever present fox scat, but never really considered Rattlesnake Canyon a hot bed of wildlife activity. However tromping around off-rail after the fire I was surprised by the amount of tracks I was seeing, how fresh they were and the diversity of animals represented such as deer, bobcat, fox, coyote and even one set of bear tracks.

While on one those post fire Rattlesnake Canyon hikes, this one near twilight, I saw what I thought was a boulder across the trail in the distance. Turned out to be bobcat crouching down hoping to go unnoticed. As I was attempting to take a photo, my camera made a clicking sound and the bobcat dashed off.

2011, however, was definitely the bumper crop year for bobcat sightings. Early in year while hiking along the Snyder Trail I spotted one near Paradise Road. I was returning back up to East Camino Cielo and the bobcat was along side the trail, it quickly darted back into the brush, headed in the same general direction as the trail, and so I managed to see it a second time a few minutes later.

Later in the spring, while returning on the Arroyo Burro Road from a hike down to the Santa Ynez River along North Arroyo Burro Trail, I spotted one walking along the road. The bobcat didn’t seem to take notice of me at first. But when a trail runner, coming from the opposite direction came over a small rise, it first darted down the road away from the runner, but then spotted me and cut off trail into the brush. But, I’d finally gotten my first photo.

Bobcat Los Padres National Forest Santa Ynez Mountains Arroyo Burro Trail River Santa Barbara Hike Camino Cielo

Bobcat enjoying a hike along the Arroyo Burro Trail

My next sighting was at Mission La Purisima. I had just finished hiking the trails there, and as I was coming back to the trailhead I watched this bobcat dart out in front a hiker and his dog and then disappear back into the brush.

The highlight for the year, however was my bobcat encounter at Ranger Peak. While hiking up from Happy Canyon Road, I had just crested the small saddle near Ranger Peak before Figueroa Mountain Road. As I was descending towards the road I spotted this bobcat cruising downhill next to a fallen tree, following a small wash. Because the wind was blowing pretty strong towards me, I thought I might have a chance to position myself to catch a shot of it coming out of the wash.

The bobcat then picked a spot with several gopher holes and busied itself with alternately gearing up to pounce on something and waiting to see what would show up. After it tired of that it trotting off in true cat fashion as if it hadn’t really been hunting, but just hanging out. I think the bobcat was aware of my presence, but chose to ignore me, in the same way that a domestic cat will often ignore the people around it and focus instead on what it’s interested in.

There were also several images online that year from other sources supporting the notion of 2011 being a banner year for bobcat sightings. In August, a reader posted on Edhat a picture of a bobcat and her two kittens crossing Mountain Drive, later that month a reader in Orcutt posted a series of bobcat photos on Edhat. And in September, another reader, posted some more great bobcat photos on Edhat.

Ironically since my sighting near Ranger Peak I haven’t seen a bobcat on the trails until August of this year while hiking along Edison Catway near San Ysidro Canyon.

Bobcat San Ysidro Trail Los Padre National Forest Santa Barbara hike trail

A bobcat scrambles up a hillside along Edison Catway near San Ysidro Trail

A close second for 2011 was rattlesnakes. I saw more rattlesnakes in 2011, than I seem to recall on all of my previous hikes in both the Santa Barbara Backcountry and the Sierras combined.

It’s likely the renaissance of regrowth set off by the 2007 Zaca Fire has been a boon for wildlife. New plant growth means new opportunities for small rodents and birds, and so on up the food chain.

The first rattlesnake sighting for 2011 was a baby rattler along the Davy Brown Trail.

Davy Brown Trail Rattlesnake Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara hike

Baby rattlesnake along Davy Brown Trail

In April, I went on a backpacking trip with a couple friends down to Manzana Schoolhouse. From there we day hiked down to Horse Gulch Canyon, and along the way while trying to located the old road bed, I stumbled across the fattest rattlesnake I’ve seen to date. It was up on a small embankment and particularly upset about its day being interrupted. I jumped back what felt like at least 10 feet to give it its proper respect. Then on the hike out from Manzana Schoolhouse we decided to hike the western portion of Hurricane Deck and came across another rattler who explained to us that a quiet, remote trail means there shouldn’t be any people on it.

In June, I joined the Condor Trail Association for a trail work project along Sisquoc River Trail. We camped at Bear and worked the trail above and below camp. While working on the trail below Bear, a rattlesnake went off several times upset at the hikers passing by. I was working the section of trail where it was and kept wondering why it just didn’t clear out of the area given all the noise we were making. However, as I continued to clear brush along the trail I soon uncovered his house, which explains why it hadn’t left. It was not very happy about all the ruckus and so I moved on to another section of trail.

In July, with Paradise Road still closed at Lower Oso, I hiked to Red Rock along Paradise Road and the sections of trail one can find along the way. Near the Camuesa Connector I wandered over to the river to take in the sights, and this rattlesnake went off assuring me that this was his little corner of the world.

And over Labor Day weekend I hiked in along the Santa Cruz Trail to Santa Cruz Station. The next day I day hiked up to Flores Flats and came across a small rattler napping in the middle of the trail near Romo Potrero

Rattlesnake Romo Potrero Roma Santa Cruz Trail San Rafael Wilderness Los Padres National Forest Santa Barbara hike

Rattlesnake at Romo Potrero

In 2012, by comparison, I saw only three Rattlesnakes. Over Memorial Day weekend I hiked the lower Sisquoc Loop with a friend. At the junction with the old Big Bend Trail I hiked up the canyon just a short way before running into a good size rattlesnake. It explained to me very clearly that It was having a rough day and would appreciate not being disturbed. However, I was busy trying to get a good photo of it. You could tell that the rattlesnake was like “What’s wrong with this guy, I already explained to him the situation and yet he’s still here?” Once I got my photo I quickly moved on.

Rattlesnake Big Bend Trail Sisquoc Los Padres National Forest San Rafael Wilderness Santa Barbara Hike Sisquoc River

Rattlesnake near the beginning of where the Big Bend Trail was located

Then a half mile later came across another rattlesnake stretched out across the trail. Its back had a black pattern, but its sides, near the ground were golden color. This one just crossed the trail without even rattling at us. Perhaps the snake was at that age where rattling at a couple of backpackers just didn’t seem worth the effort.

The third one from that trip was a baby rattlesnake I spotted crossing the creek below White Ledge Camp.

Rattlesnake White Ledge Trail San Rafael Wilderness Los Padres National Forest

Rattlesnake crossing the creek in White Ledge Canyon

That said, this year, 2013, on a single trip along the Sisquoc in May, I saw no less than 4 rattlesnakes along the trail between Bear and South Fork. All were pretty active and healthy looking.

Rattlesnake Sisquoc River Trail San Rafael Wilderness Los Padres National Forest

Rattlesnake along the Upper Sisquoc River

If you come across a rattlesnake the best thing to do is give them their space. When they rattle they are not being aggressive or looking to strike, they’re communicating that you’re too close. Be respectful, apologize for the disturbance and find a route that lets you safely pass so that everyone can get on with their day. Sometimes the snake will clear out on its own if has a safe route to do so. Animals generally want to avoid conflict unless provoked or feel otherwise cornered and threatened.

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