Pinnacles National Park with its rolling oak woodlands and the surrounding ranchlands of San Benito County are prime bobcat habitat. Over the last month I have spent three days in this area searching for bobcats with Brent Paull, one of the few wildlife photographers who specializes in photographing these elusive animals in California. After many years of experience in the area, he knows when and where to find bobcats and can even recognize individual animals. Also he is an excellent spotter and can find bobcats where most people would drive by, completely unaware of their presence.
On my first attempt to photograph these cats at the end of December, our group counted fifteen bobcat encounters, but none of them yielded excellent photo opportunities. In wildlife photography it’s all about time in the field, a good guide (if one is unfamiliar with the area), and some luck. The best way to maximize opportunities for quality encounters is to be out there, so I decided to return for another two days of bobcat safari with Brent. This time we had fewer sightings but better photographic opportunities and were able to capture images of these beautiful cats engaging in a variety of behaviors.
Bobcat prey differs according to what's plentiful in the habitat; in the narrow valleys of San Benito County, ground squirrel, cottontail, and quail are primary food sources. Limited hunting and trapping plus the abundance of these prey animals contribute to the high numbers of bobcats resident in the area. We were lucky to observe several cats stalking or waiting near burrows for a squirrel to emerge.
Finding a cat in the open and at close range happens infrequently but we were lucky to see this female bobcat peek out warily and then walk along a fallen log.
Bobcats are similar in appearance to and only slightly larger than domestic cats. Hunkered down in grass with only its face visible, a bobcat could easily be mistaken for a domestic cat except for the distinctive dark tufts at the tips of the ears.
All in all, a very satisfying photo adventure to start the new year.