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where cats swim

and dogs climb trees
THE WINTER BOBCATS OF YELLOWSTONE

PHOTOGRAPHY AND TEXT BY CINDY GOEDDEL

W
inter in Yellowstone National hunt trout, muskrat and waterfowl by leaping into
Park is extreme. Temperatures the Madison River. They use a similar strategy:
may drop to minus-66 degrees hide at the edge of the river and wait until a meal
Fahrenheit and the snow piles swims or floats by. Then leap and, if it works,
up deep. Food becomes scarce, so animals adapt swim back with the meal. Hide the meal where
in surprising ways. A bobcat swims and loses its the coyotes might not steal it.
tail to frostbite. A coyote climbs a tree to steal a For the last four years I have been privileged
meal from a bobcat. to observe and photograph them for hours at a
In Yellowstone at least two bobcats regularly time. Here are three of their stories.

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he focused on a drake mallard several hundred yards downstream. Since the cat moved. telltale On February 2. a mountain chickadee. I huddled in a snow pit and photographed a bobcat as he stalked and hunted along the Madison River. back and forth. I was able to place myself directly across the river from the mallard. The bobcat was out of sight but I thought I knew where he might stop. Satisfied. The watery battle lasted nearly a minute. camera and 500 mm lens. The temperature hovered around 0 degrees and it snowed most of the day. using only my body and my tripod as tools? Then. back and forth. or especially the target mallard. Then. but occasion- ally the sun battled through. I lumbered up from the snow pit and used the groomed road to make my way downstream. What if he hadn’t come this far downstream? What if I was the only photog- rapher foolish enough to plow a 100-yard trench to nowhere. too. a goose. back and forth. But no bobcat was visible. Finally. One laborious step at a time. I plunged off the road and into chest- high powder. pausing to watch the mallard. For nearly five hours. I breathed a sigh of relief and settled into my new snow pit. 2017. I had the photo- graphic opportunity of a lifetime. Three Canada geese and a few ducks floated by his hiding place at the base of a rock. I had to move. The bobcat won. the bobcat leapt. Shouldering my tripod. I raised my binoculars and spotted two tufted ears about 50 yards upstream. still catching my breath. But he was careful not to reveal his pres- ence. M O N TA N A Q U A R T E R LY 17 . Hours passed. he used a deep bison trail along the river to stay out of sight. edging above the snow pillows. waiting as the bobcat crept closer to the dabbling mallard and to me. For nine interminable minutes the bobcat watched the mallard circling imme- diately below him. he crept yet closer without alerting a red squirrel. Deciding to move closer. when the mallard’s head was down.

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coyotes sometimes watch attentively his front paws as far up a spruce tree as he could reach. coyote grabbed the bird with his mouth but the bobcat held on ing for a bit of fur on a log that serves as camouflage. tall tale searched. Along the Madison River. then 20. and tail as tools. Abruptly. M O N TA N A Q U A R T E R LY 19 . The coyote For two hours on February 2. First 10 feet. giving us a quick glance that seemed to say. The bobcat watched it all. We’d and suddenly the tree rained a cat and a dog. tensed for a tussle. Then as a badger digs for rodents or as an otter fishes. under the picked a route skyward. we searched for kept climbing. circling the trunk as he in all the usual hotspots: inside the hollow log. a bobcat with a very dead merganser in its mouth. hoping for a he started climbing. “How can you be so lame?” Heading directly up into a stand of trees and brush. perhaps 30 feet using bobcats along a 3-mile stretch of the Madison. When the snow had no luck until we spotted a coyote scent-tracking along the settled. coyotes watch Slack-jawed. searching often amounts to look. chance to steal a meal. Near the top of the tree clung the bobcats. tightening riverfront log and at the base of favored boulders and trees. its grip on the unfortunate merganser. the canid had the merganser and the feline marched river. We looked his mouth. He was inspecting all the same hangouts we had just away to lick its wounded pride and wet fur. The Unless the cats are active. we looked up. 2014. legs. he placed Opportunistic and wily. he crossed the groomed road.

When I photographed him again 17 days later. The sun came out and the temper- ature had warmed to -20 degrees when we found the bobcat. He had just leapt into the river trying for a meal of trumpeter swan but came up empty-handed. Overnight the mercury had plunged to -40 degrees and it took an hour just to start the snowcoach. Almost three years later. I would photograph him stalking the mallard. frostbite had taken half of his tail. bony stump of an already short tail. lost tail We awoke to a bitterly cold morning near Canyon Junction on February 6. 2014. leaving an exposed. Fur and flesh had fallen off. But he couldn’t dry off his tail. He sat and groomed his fur in the weak sun. draping himself on a tree to dry. 20 . which was encrusted in ice balls.

M O N TA N A Q U A R T E R LY 21 .

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