Bobcat! Or, mystery solved
It was an overcast weekend, kind of misty slash foggy, and decidedly chilly without the sun in attendance. Though there was no rain to speak of (a little overnight on Saturday/Sunday) it was damp and nippy all weekend. I’m thankful for the no active mud part but am already tired of the cold, dreary grayness and chill. I don’t know if it’s an age factor or just timing—this year marks my 40th year living in the greater Seattle area—but damn, it’s only October 20, and there are easily six more months of this…
The weekend was short, as the majority of them are. Since I’m nose work obsessed these days, my Saturdays are dominated by nose work classes. Daisy did well at the outside location our instructor chose—Harmony Animal Wellness Center—and was her amazing self for the first search or two. We had lots of interruptions with clients coming and going, so it was hard to stay focused. “You named a Rottweiler ‘DAISY’?” one woman said with a smile. I loved that she ‘got’ it. I pulled Daisy off that search—there was just too much going on and we restarted after things settled a bit. MY focus was off, never mind hers, and I never regained it. Still we got in some good searches, then again with the boys in their class later in the day.
After class with Daisy I headed over to the Monroe fairgrounds (a mile or two away) for the 2013 Fiber Fusion show, a trade show and fiber extravaganza for those who grow and work with animal fibers. Today was the third year for FF and the best yet, I think. It had more vendor booths than ever this year and I had a great time looking at the wares (getting ideas) and talking with the vendors. I had one woman VERY interested in my Shetland fleeces (have her name/number and need to call) and really enjoyed talking with several who are doing things with wool that I’m still hoping to (time!). I went over to the other building where the wool show was being held, just in time to see the Shetland fleece judging (if I’d known in time I would have entered a fleece or two). I was pleased to meet up with two fellow Shetland friends—Sally, who has the lamb-daddy, Colin, who’s coming to visit my ewes next month, and Franna, the person I first talked to about Shetlands, and who graciously invited me out to her farm and talked sheep with me before I’d purchased my girls. It was nice to “talk sheep,” and especially Shetlands, with them for a bit, and also to watch the fleece judging with them.
And the good times continued when I won a spindle in one of the raffle drawings I’d entered. I was also hoping for the carders, but the spindle is wonderful, since I’ve been wanting to get one for a while. Now to get on Youtube and start spinning some wool!
Sunday was just as chilly and damp, and I indulged with a couple hours in bed reading before I got up for the day. I went out to do some work outside mid-afternoon. The leaves are falling in earnest now, and the pasture is covered with them. It bums me out in that the guy I talked to back in March about harvesting trees for firewood never called me (though to be fair, I never followed up with him, either) after he took my riding mower (a pre-trade for the tree work we discussed). I need to call him and see if he’s still interested. If not, I’m going to place an ad on craigslist and see if I can get someone decent to take down some of these maples this winter. It still sucks to have all the leaves to rake—part of the reason I want to take the trees down is to reduce fall leaves (and decrease canopy/shade on this north-facing hillside) and I was hoping to have less to rake this fall. Ah well.
So after I filled the yard waste bin (96 gallons; all of 15 minutes of raking) I went up to work in the garden. I let the sheep and the chickens out and began to clean up and harvest. Bo was on the other side of the garden fence waiting for all the discards I tossed over (lots of cabbage and kale leaves) as I went through and got rid of the dead and dying squash plants (and harvesting the delicata, pumpkins, and daisy gourds). I found a TON of cutworms all over the kale and cabbage plants. The frass on the cabbage has been huge but I haven’t been able to find the culprit
until today. The cutworms I found living on them—with a little poking and searching—were so huge they gave me the heebie jeebies. Most of the pest control I do is of the pick it off and squish it variety, or, in the case of slugs, pick it up and toss it a dozen yards away into the sinkhole behind the beehives. So picking the giant cutworms out of the pocket of leaves had me a little jumpy (they were MASSIVE). I then ground them under the heel of my boot, along with several of those gross slimy slugs that don’t grow big enough to toss (but who wreak havoc with the leaf munching they do). I squished a couple dozen cabbage worms (picked off the kale) with the end of a stick. Lots of protein fertilizer going into the soil today! Normally I like to toss these critters to the chickens, but I so wanted them dead that I didn’t trust the chickens to get them all, plus the fact that the cutworms were so huge I think even the chickens would have been intimidated.
Then it happened. The squawk and kerfuffle that told me something was after the chickens. The dogs had been quiet; Farley was nearby, waiting for me to toss the toy he’d selected; Pal was off along the fence line somewhere, and Daisy was munching on sheep dung since the pasture gate was open. I looked over to see what the chickens were alarmed about and was shocked to see a shape moving off toward the understory with a purloined hen. It took me two beats to realize what I was seeing. A fat bobcat was making off with one of my hens. I processed several things at once. First, where the heck were the dogs? Second, this is the reason for the mysterious kerfuffle last month.
It was the same weird scenario last month—high alert, attack calls from the other birds, but with little fuss otherwise. A hawk would have them squawking and running for cover; the dogs or a coyote would be the same—lots of noise and running. This was weird, though, a high alert situation but short-lived and eerily quiet. Last time I didn’t pay much attention, figuring a hawk flew by (though they really weren’t acting like that) or perhaps the dogs. A couple days later I did a head count in the coop at dusk and realized I was missing a hen. I found several piles of feathers in the grass—an obvious attack of some sort—and blamed the dogs. Specifically, Daisy, the one most likely do go after a hen. Yet it still didn’t jive—not enough noise and though I was able to follow the trail of feathers for a while, I never found a dead hen (it was one of my two Welsummer hens, older and not a huge loss, but nice layer of a dark brown egg). Now it all came together, including the flock’s generalized but not over-the-top response. As a wild cat, the attack was swift and stealthy–none of the woohoo fun of a domestic animal. And they would have made much more fuss over a coyote. As it was, this cat probably looked much the same as the two housecats (Eloise and Madeleine) they see out there (and who don’t bother them).
The bobcat was about the size of a Cocker spaniel – fat and sleek, and as I yelled and began to run after it, moved into the understory and brush piles out in the CAO designated area of my property. I hollered for the dogs as I ran after it; surely one of them could help me intercept the cat before it made it over the fence with the hen. Farley heard me and loped over, but didn’t really engage much, and certainly not like when I was chasing the bear a couple of years ago. I kept bushwhacking through the understory (normally I follow the paths established by the dogs) and yelling but by the time I got to the fence I had pretty much given up. I didn’t see the cat and couldn’t see any kind of feather trail. (Last month, and also this past spring (also blamed on the dogs/Daisy) I was able to follow the feather trail to almost the fence line.) Damn. Pal finally showed up about then and seemed to hone in on a section of fence, obviously noting some sort of “other” passing, but too late to do much. A woodpecker began calling an alarm in the woods an acre or so over; the bobcat was long gone.
Then, miracle of miracles, I heard a tentative cluck-clucking. Farley did too, and showed me where the hen was hiding. The bobcat must have dropped her in his escape. I ran over and caught
her—it was one of my Dark Brahma hens. She’s older (3 ½) but one of my favorites. The two Dark Brahma girls are huge, stately and sedate, and are regular layers of a jumbo, light brown egg. She was dinged up – bite marks around her head (why do they scream like I’m killing them when I pick them up but when the bobcat had her not a peep) and two inch-plus gashes on her breast in the crop area. I put some hydrogen peroxide on the bites, and did a “farm suture” on the two incisions, though they might have been fine without… She seemed a little shocky, but probably more from my handling than from the bobcat attack. I put her with the flock and watched her. Sometimes they do better with normal routine and flock buddies. At dusk she was on the floor over by the nest boxes – still shocky but not too bad off. Still, I took her and put her in the infirmary (garage with heat lamp) until she’s feeling better. Fingers crossed she recovers.
Meanwhile, good to know I have a brazen bobcat about! I saw Madeleine a short time after I’d caught the hen (was checking the hen’s wounds) – her tail looked like a bottle brush, so it was obvious she was aware of the bobcat’s presence. The dogs had little reaction to the cat; my guess is that a) it’s probably a scent they smell every day and b) it smells like a…cat. Nothing new. There are domestic cats that I’ve seen in other areas of the property, and with their own four, nothing too new and certainly nothing to alert on. The bobcat was sleek and beautiful and looked quite fat and healthy. I saw one when I first moved in here—before I even had the property fenced—but haven’t seen one since, until today. Now I know better and while it’s a thrill to know I have a healthy bobcat in the vicinity, I will take more care, especially with lambing this coming spring (the Shetland lambs are smaller than housecats). And though I never blamed, and certainly never punished Daisy or any of the dogs for the two previous disappearances, it’s also good to know that they’re definitely not the culprits.