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Bobcat finds a backyard sunny spot

Northwoods Notebook

A bobcat pauses under the February sun at Six Mile Lake in northern Dickinson County. GPS tracking of collared bobcats indicates they will roam a home range of 60 square miles, according to Brian Roell, a wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

One of the most common — and most efficient — predators in the Upper Peninsula also can be among the hardest to get even a fleeting glimpse of unless it chooses.

So I was more than a little surprised when my mom reported a bobcat sitting under a fallen tree on the edge of our property on Six Mile Lake, looking like it was enjoying the full sun. She had photos, taken with her cellphone, to prove it.

Next came photos of the cat striding up the trails that had been cleared in the snow to more easily reach the bird feeders in the backyard. She even watched it stalk one of the red squirrels.

But I had not been lucky enough to see the new resident feline until Thursday. As you can see, it was worth the wait.

Apparently, we’re not alone this winter. Brian Roell, a wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said he’s had more calls — but not complaints or concerns — about bobcat sightings.

(Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

“Most people are just really excited that they’ve seen one … it’s not an animal that you really see. They’re pretty secretive,” Roell said.

And nocturnal, which accounts for why bobcats can be tough to catch sight of while still light enough outside. Yet bobcats appear to be doing quite well in the region, Roell said, especially when compared with other native felines.

While North America technically has eight cat species, only three could be expected far beyond the Mexican border region, much less in the northern United States and Canada: bobcat, Canadian lynx and cougar or mountain lion.

All three once reproduced in the Upper Peninsula, but now only the bobcat likely does, Roell said. Cougars, once extirpated in the state, now regularly show up again, but the DNA that could be obtained and analyzed from some of these cats showed all were young males that had dispersed from the Dakotas. Young males are forced to go looking for their own territory; female cougars only need go far enough to not compete with their mother and find a male that’s not her father. It makes it unlikely a female would feel the urge to journey this far east — and also that the young males will remain here with no prospects for a mate.

Even when breeding here, cougars probably never were that numerous, Roell said. Its main prey are the smaller deer, which originally weren’t the dominant type in the Upper Peninsula — woodland caribou were, Roell said, adding that some caribou still can be found on Lake Superior islands in Ontario, Canada.

(Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

The missing lynx are a different story, Roell said. It might well have been the cat species most at home in the Upper Peninsula when it was more boreal forest and had a strong population of snowshoe hare. But as cottontail rabbits and white-tailed deer expanded into the U.P., species such as the snowshoe hare and caribou lost ground. Though at first glance it looks bigger, lynx are not as heavy as bobcat and cannot compete with their cousins, Roell said.

Even as snowshoe hares appear to be rebounding, “probably we will never go back to a lynx breeding population,” Roell said.

The bobcats, however, benefitted from the growing presence of cottontails, a favorite prey. Our yard cat likely has recognized the area around the bird feeders draw in rabbits; one backyard trail camera photo actually showed a bobcat carrying off a rabbit.

They are capable of taking adult deer, yet not surprisingly fawns face the most risk from bobcats, Roell said. Still, bobcat rank well behind coyotes and black bears in the impact they can have on the fawn crop, simply due to numbers — the area has far more coyotes than bobcats, he explained.

GPS tracking of collared bobcats indicated they will roam a home range of 60 square miles, Roell said. And while females may have slightly overlapping territories, a dominant adult male will not tolerate another male, though obviously it will the females. The density for bobcats is never high, he explained, so their effect on deer populations is considered low.

It’s difficult to determine how large the bobcat population might be in the region, Roell said. Unlike wolves, “it’s a carnivore that we don’t track very well … but we have no reason to believe they’re in trouble.”

In fact, the bobcat may be the most adaptable and certainly the most widespread of the wild felines in North America, surviving in forest, southern swamps, desert, mountains, scrublands.

Right now is the usual breeding season, with kittens born 50 to 70 days later. But females may bear young anytime during the year, with the kittens remaining with her until about 8 to 11 months old.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 240, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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