Date with a Bobcat

The Search Begins

In December, I came to northern California to commune with bobcats and bask in blue skies and warm sunshine. Rain was forecast for parts of the first two days (the trailing end of an atmospheric river bringing snow to my mountain home). I got up early to wander before the rain started. I missed an intended turn and ended up watching rutting Tule elk herds before backtracking. It was a delightful detour.

A Sighting

A skunk caught my eye, so I stopped to photograph her. As I exited the car, I blurted out loud, “BOBCAT!” A bobcat moseyed out of the bushes, ignoring me in that way that all cats have mastered. She was hunting, strolling the hillside looking for gophers, tentatively checking out yesterday’s badger hole, her short tail wagging in a constant circle as if to indicate she was deep in thought. She and the skunk passed closely without any acknowledgment of one another. They both know the rules of this land.

That blob at the top of the picture is a skunk.
Sitting in front of a recent badger dig.

I watched the bobcat’s white tail tip and bright white ear patches, all that was left of her camouflaged coat, as she disappeared into the dry winter grasses. She was busy and on the move. I didn’t have much time with her, but the pressure of finding a bobcat was relieved. Seconds after I closed the car door, the rain began to fall.

An Encounter

The next day, I was up with the sun. Marine fog draped the coastline. The park was quiet – no coyotes even. I went for a short hike and got distracted by a pair of white-tailed kites. After moving on, I turned back to photograph a ubiquitous northern flicker perched near the road. As I turned, a bobcat appeared on the hilltop. I exclaimed aloud to myself again. They seem to materialize out of nowhere. (They all but disappear when they sit or lie down in the grass). This bobcat hung around for a while hunting.

I spent about twenty minutes watching her—just the two of us. In respect for her and gratitude for the time we spent together when she chose to leave, I did not follow.Since I’d seen a bobcat in this area between 9:00 and 10:00 these first two mornings, I planned to go out here the next day, find a spot to sit quietly and inconspicuously and wait for my date with a bobcat.

At 9 am the next morning, alone in the park, I left the car, hiked to an inobtrusive spot, and made myself comfortable. I sat for an hour, watched a couple of coyotes, and wrote in my journal. No cats. I was stood up.

After wandering around the park and hiking to Abbott’s Lagoon, I returned to Bobcat Lane. A big spotted male bobcat was lying in the sun. As soon as he saw me, he got up and began to walk away. I knelt and stayed where I was to be less threatening while I watched him go.

I drove to the end of the road, scanning the hillsides for wildlife. Heading back, I saw a bobcat in the same area again. He was far off. I stayed in my car and stopped to watch him. A vehicle was coming towards me. Seeing me with my binoculars, he was wondering what I was watching. However, he was caught on the other side of a cow jam. Once the herd of dairy cows crossed the road, he pulled next to me, and we chatted. He’s a local who’s here for the cats, too. As he’s telling me about a bobcat who’s recently been seen hunting this stretch of road, she appears at the top of the hill as if on cue. His theory is that the coyotes avoid the roads and the people there, so it’s a safer place for the cats to hunt.

Although ranchers and residents drive through in a hurry, so there’s a different risk to hanging around the road. We pulled to the side to watch her hunt.

A Date

She stalked and prowled and then disappeared. I was concerned we had pushed her off. Clint pointed to a coyote on the hill behind us. That was why she ducked out. He said that once the coyote moved on, she’d be back. As he was saying that, she reappeared from the brush as if he’d summoned her again. She walked away from us, intent on the underground activity.

We held our positions to allow her to hunt without concern. At the bottom of the hill, she caught a gopher and moved off to eat under cover, where she was less likely to have her catch stolen from her.

Soon, she was back hunting. Another photographer that Clint knows joined us. Another coyote appeared, and the bobcat departed. During this absence, Clint regaled us with stories of how this particular cat had, on occasion, walked right up to photographers. He’d never had it happen to him, but he’d seen it. And it was remarkable.

“Chill” reappeared at the top of the hill and began hunting down the road toward us. Clint stayed by his vehicle, and I took a position about twenty feet off her path of travel, knelt down, and waited for her to pass by. When she got to my location, she abruptly turned and started walking toward me.

Straight toward me, closing the distance. As she’s getting close, very close, I’m wondering how this is going to play out. Is she going to rub on me? Urine mark? At this point, I’m committed. If I move, I will startle her. I will accept what comes. The ball is in her court.

Close up, I’m struck by her petite size. She’s smaller than I expected. Her muscular, lean torso is comparable in size to a large house cat. Her stilty long legs and bulbous, thick feet set her apart. Her mutton chops and striking striping are all wild. She keeps coming on her direct path straight at me. She’s too close for my camera to focus (the minimum focusing distance is about eight feet).

And then she angles off to my side without ever really looking at me. I pulled out my iPhone after she passed to video this too-close encounter.

Oh. My. God. I love her. We spent over two hours together.

Courtesy Clint Graves

At some point, I put my camera down to sit and fully immerse myself in her presence. The tip of her tail is always moving in a slow arc as if she’s deep in thought. A slow wag of concentration. She has two thick, bold black stripes on each inner foreleg. The small spots on her back coalesce into racing stripes down her back. Her sides aren’t as boldly spotted as other bobcats I’ve seen this week. She has more of a ticked tabby pattern.

She alternately slinks, prowls, and sits motionless with intense patience. All the while, she is listening intently for the sound of foraging gophers.

I watched her catch another gopher. I can’t believe how incredible this long-lived encounter was. A cyclist stopped to watch her, a foreign tourist who didn’t know what he was looking at stopped to ask questions, and a couple of other photographers joined the paparazzi before she departed for good late in the afternoon. Everyone was respectful, stayed mostly to the road, and gave her her own space.

I’d thought I was stood up on my date with a bobcat. It turns out she had grander plans for me.

Be respectful, let nature decide, and the magic will happen.

Addendum: This bobcat moved on shortly after the blog post was posted. She was drawing too much attention. Small crowds would follow her for much of the day, disrespecting her space and disrupting her hunting. Photographing wildlife warrants an adherence to field ethics. We must care about the individuals and the species more than our images. Learn more about how to observe wildlife with minimal impact here. I’m glad she has the space to escape this pressure. Not all animals have that option.


If you’re interested in purchasing or licensing any images you see here, please email me at SNewenham at, and I’ll make it happen.

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2 Replies to “Date with a Bobcat”

  1. Thank you so very much for the comments and beautiful pictures. You made my day. My husband passed this past Wednesday. Your love for nature is beautiful.

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