Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Kinnelon Critter File: Mountain Lion or Large Bobcat?

One recent dark rainy Smoke Rise evening, we had a visitor to our porch.  Although silent, our visitor left tracks that looked both familiar and eerily different...

So different that I ran for my camera and called to my husband to get a tape measure.

Our three domestic cats were inside, fast asleep.  
The tracks impressed us.  No claws meant that these weren't dog tracks.  We checked, although we knew from having seen our own cats' footprints that these were feline.

Furthermore, the only prints were at the top of the porch which meant that the animal had jumped up rather than taken the steps as a dog would have.   

Their size was truly impressive.  From the bottom of the pad to the opposite toe, these tracks measured 3 inches each.  Not your average house kitty cat paw print size, which is closer to .5 to 3/4 of an inch.  What could this visitor be?

Mountain Lion paw print courtesy of iStockphoto
I consulted the animal track reference books from the Pyramid Mountain Park visitors' center. The characteristic scallop at the rear of the main pad and the radial toe placement indicated that the most relevant and closest animal - per the guide - was either Bobcat or Mountain Lion... three inches being at the very top of the range for a bobcat, and just a little small for a mature mountain lion.

Per our daughter's classmate's dad, we learned that mountain lions have been spotted in the area, one possibly even on the soccer field.

Interestingly, last weekend's 9/28/08 New York Times article titled The Preservationists' Trails by Christopher Brooks refers to bears and an elusive bobcat, but no mountain lion in the Pyramid Mountain Park vicinity.  It's still definitely worth a read.

For example, did you know that Pyramid Mountain Park encompasses more than 20 miles of trails "encompassing two significant hilltops [i.e., Pyramid Mountain and Turkey Mountain] and some of the most impressive boulder fields and glacial debris in the region, this park is hard to beat."

At the same time, I was stunned to learn that the park almost never came to be. A touch over 20 years ago, both mountains were ear-marked to be quarried - similar to what you see at exit 52 of 287 South.

Imagine losing such gems as Bear Rock and Tripod Rock, two huge boulders — "granite erratics left behind by the retreating Wisconsin glacier some 20,000 years ago" — that lie alongside the trial on the Pyramid Mountain side. And, on the Turkey Mountain side, trails pass by the remains of mid-19th century quarries, "the great birding by Botts Pond, which is frequented by indigo buntings, scarlet tanagers and various warblers, there is a crackling waterfall that drops about a dozen feet and a couple of atmospheric cabin ruins (festooned in spring with colorful columbine) atop the namesake peak.

Just think, all of this only 35 miles from midtown Manhattan, New York City! That's what makes this part of Northern New Jersey so very magical, including the Kinnelon critters.

Added 10/6/08 - I've just come across these other references:
+ From The New York Times, Deer Draw Cougars Ever Eastward, dated 11/12/2002 by Blaine Harden
+ Commenting on that article, Cronaca with copious commentary from New Jersey-ites...


Noel E. said...

No surprise. In 1990 I had a clear view of a young mountain lion near the foot of my driveway at 60 Tower Hill Lane. Its eyes glowed yellow and huge in my car headlights. As I approached, it raised from a lieing position, revealed a compact head,pointed ears and long tail. It was lean and had long legs for its body, much longewr than a dog or other type cat. The color was golden brown. As I approached closer it sauntered off into the Jersey City and Newark Watershed acreage, never to be seen by me again.

CB Whittemore said...

Noel, that's some experience! Thanks for sharing it with us.


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