This shot took place only two miles from my home in upstate NY, and for me is a wonderful reminder that grace, beauty, and the wild are all around, even close to home.
That morning I hadn’t been up long. I was drinking coffee and soaking in the warmth from the wood stove on yet another cold and snowy morning. Still in my bathrobe, I was catching up on email when the phone rang. It was my naturalist and tracker friend Steve Fast, who simply said, “Get over here. I’m near the highway department and there are 3 bobcats here feeding on a roadkill deer!”
You have never seen anyone move so fast. I was out of my bathrobe and into pants and a sweater in under a minute. I grabbed my big lens and jumped into my car. Pulling up by the highway department a few minutes later, I quickly saw them. A mama bobcat and her two kits, sitting back at some distance from the deer carcass.
It had been a hard winter with lots of snow and the last thing I wanted to do was scare them off. I wanted them to continue to feel safe feeding at the deer. I took a few record shots and then backed up so I was a good distance, even though I didn’t have a great line of sight. When they returned to the carcass to eat, I very slowly drove forward until I could see them well, turned my engine off, and began to photograph them. I was absolutely awestruck. I wanted to make sure they knew I was no threat, and I watched them carefully to see whether they would react to my presence or the sound of my camera’s shutter. They seemed cautious of me but kept feeding.
I was using a 500mm telephoto lens with a 1.4x teleconverter attached. The lens is long and attracts attention when it sticks out of a car. Every single time a car came from either direction, I quickly pulled my lens in and looked away from the bobcats. I did not want any attention whatsoever to be drawn to them. Trapping of these animals, for their pelts, is still common in this state. Many people also just see them as varmint. They are afraid of them, or they mistakenly worry these wild cats might hurt their children or pets. I wanted more than anything to make sure they were safe.
Regardless of common misconceptions, bobcats should not be candidates for fur coats or target practice; they are not vermin posing deadly threats. They have a place in our ecosystem that is valid and valuable. They lend magic to our landscapes, as well as provide ecological services--they are a great source of rodent control, as well as carrion cleaner-uppers.
I had a few opportunities to photograph this family over the course of that day and the next. I took a few hundred photos. This photo, of one of the kits nuzzling her mother, was my absolute favorite. It revealed that these creatures have familial bonds. They can express affection, and tenderness. I felt so privileged to have this intimate look into their lives, and to be able to document this relationship. I saw it as both a gift and a duty to use these photos to awaken others to the truth about these animals. I will be forever grateful for this sudden surprise on a snowy Saturday morning.