Over the holidays, Matt and I headed down to Burnsville, North Carolina, to spend a little time visiting my parents. They have a beautiful house high in the mountains there, and the views of the Blue Ridge mountains from their living room alone are worth the eleven hour drive from Chicago. We always enjoy the opportunity for some deep rest and relaxation whenever we visit.
There is also a lot to photograph in the western mountains of North Carolina. This area is frequented by black bears in the spring, summer and fall, and there are loads of birds—nuthatches, Carolina wrens, chickadees, yellow-bellied sapsuckers—right out the back door. Colorful butterflies can be found in droves in the summer, and there are waterfalls a plenty throughout the western portion of the state. It is a pleasure to have so many fantastic nature subjects so close at hand.
Another big perk of visiting this area of western North Carolina is the chance to hike with some decent elevation gains and losses. Since Matt and I are going to do some high-altitude hiking again this summer (this time in the Indian Himalaya), we were intent on getting some training in. So when my mother announced she had to run an errand into town, we jumped on the opportunity and hitched a ride with her down to the bottom of the mountain with the goal of hiking the three miles back up to the top. We set out with exercise firmly on the brain, so we left our cameras behind, practically guaranteeing that we were going to see something exciting.
We were about two-thirds of our way back up to the top when we reached the exact point where my mother told us she had seen a bobcat a few times recently. Just as we came round the bend, we spotted the feline camped right in the middle of the street. Neither of us had ever seen a bobcat before, and it was all we could do to keep from running right up to it for a closer look. We kept our distance at first and shot a couple terrible pictures with our iPhones to record the momentous event, and then we slowly worked our way closer to the cat. To our delight, it didn’t seem bothered by our presence at all and sat still in the road even as we got closer and closer. We soon discovered why.
The bobcat had its eye on a squirrel feeding in the yard across the street. Even though the bobcat was aware of our presence, he sat transfixed on the potential prey, looking not much different than your average house cat. When we finally got close enough for a decent view, the bobcat began its hunt. Whenever the oblivious squirrel turned its back to the cat, it edged closer, and we noted how much its body resembled that of a rabbit, with its long hind legs and short cropped tail.
Eventually, the bobcat decided it was time to pounce, and it darted across the street at the squirrel who managed to escape up a tree just in the nick of time. The bobcat sat in the yard for a moment before disappearing around the backside of the house. Of course, we followed it, and we skirted around the edge of the property to find the bobcat stalking more squirrels in the forested backyard. No sooner did we see it than it pounced again—this time with success!
The bobcat carried its prey down the ridge a bit before finding a suitable spot to eat. It kept a watchful eye on us as it devoured its lunch, looking up and staring us down between bites. It was so exciting to observe the event, but we were kicking ourselves for not having our cameras with us. Eventually, I decided to trek up the hill to retrieve the camera gear while Matt kept his eye on the bobcat.
Just as you might expect, by the time I returned with the cameras, the bobcat had just finished eating and was ready for a clean up and some rest. We managed to follow it around the neighborhood for a bit and capture a few shots of the pretty kitty before it gave us the slip for good. Here is the best of what we got:
Click to enlarge photographs and view as a slideshow.
After our summer in Tanzania, it was fun to observe a wild cat that wouldn’t eat us given the chance, but that’s the last time we go hiking in the mountains without a camera!