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  • Allan Thompson

On the track of a bobcat


When following a bobcat track you need to be prepared to for a good walk. They cover an average of 10 miles per day through rugged terrain. Up and around rocky ledges, over or under brush, logs and through wetlands. With every step in the snow an ephemeral story is written with the tracks, lasting only until it is obscured by the next snow or thaw. I follow animal tracks to learn the story and which types of habitats are important. In this way we can prioritize land management and conservation efforts to insure that bobcat and other important habitat is protected. Habitats like the Shutesville Hill Wildlife Corridor.


It was for this reason in early March when I found my first bobcat track of the day that I stopped to take note of the habitats around me. These tracks lead me into a hemlock forest where by virtue of the dense branches overhead, there was less snow and both the bobcat and I had a reprieve from the arduous trek through the deep snow.


Based on the size and the snow crystals that formed inside the track, this set was created by a male a couple days earlier. Bobcats have plenty of reasons to roam. Food is the primary driver for a bobcat’s wanderings but this cat was likely also after something else. A mate. Late winter is mating season for bobcats. Males will cover even longer distances to increase chances of a romantic encounter. Kits are born in April or May and will stay with their mother through the following winter. Juveniles will disperse from their mothers in February to find home of their own. All this movement requires the right habitat components all connected on the landscape.


The forest in which I followed this track became denser with younger trees, a perfect place to search for grouse or a snowshoe hare. The track eventually exited the underbrush into a wetland complex; cattails and small spruce extended above the frozen wetland. Were it summer, I would have been knee deep in muddy water while the bobcat likely would have found the only dry route. The bobcat and I walked atop the ice for another easy walk, this time over the frozen wetland.


Large unfragmented habitats like this that include wetlands, rocky ledges and dense thick cover are ideal. On average bobcats require a lot of space; about 17,000 acres and 5,600 acres for males and females respectively. Larger areas are required if these habitat features are scarce or fragmented. Our development patterns within these habitats can have great impacts on these ecosystems, most often to the detriment of bobcat habitat.


The Shutesville Hill Wildlife Corridor offers excellent bobcat habitat with wetlands, rocky features and dense forest cover. The added virtue of the 10,000 acre Corridor is that according to biologists, it is best connection between the large unfragmented forests along the Worcester Range to the east and the Green Mountains to the West which are in themselves, valuable habitats and connections to habitats beyond.


The Shutesville Hill Wildlife Corridor Partnership (stayingconnectedinitiative.org/shutesville/), which includes the Vermont Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, Vermont Land Trust, the Stowe Land Trust and Waterbury and Stowe Conservation Commissions, is working together to protect the Corridor and habitats within.


At the far edge of the wetland, the tracks lead to a cached beaver, partially frozen in the ice; clearly a destination for a quick meal. I could tell that other animals have been here too. At least two coyotes, a raven and a mink have all visited enjoying the same easy meal. For a bobcat, a beaver is a welcome meal at any time of year, let alone a winter like this. But that may not have been the only reason to make a visit. Another bobcat track was here too. This track was smaller and likely a female. This, not entirely random meet cute was all I needed. Satisfied that the bobcats were satisfied, this is where I left their tracks which continued through the forest that these bobcats called home. I went the other direction to continue my exploration of these haunts and consider other management and conservation efforts. Then back to my own habitat.

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