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Cougar ah-ha moment

An ah-ha moment. I might have read about it, studied it, even thought I totally digested the information. But then, out of the blue, everything comes together and sinks in bodily. I ‘grok’ it, or understand something so thoroughly that the I become a part of the observed.

And this is exactly what occurred last week while hunting around for new lion scrapes.

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Cougar scrape. The depression was made with the cougar’s back legs pushing back

I wandered into a small meadow above Dead Indian canyon, the river 200 feet below. This field narrowed into a jumble of massive boulders that funneled to a cliff overhang. Noticing an animal route that looked easy, I descended a rib of rocks into a small U-shaped gulch near the river. I know this canyon. It’s a wonderful hidden gully that the river carved out ages ago, but is now overgrown with Limber Pines and Douglas firs. Bears use this corridor, as do cougars. There’s an old Indian lean-to and a trapper’s whiskey-still was once hidden here.

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Ancient native lean to by river

Today I had approached from the north side of the river, yet the approach to this canyon from the south is extraordinary. Two massive shelves of rock form a tunnel less than six feet wide. Water collects in this tight space, and the passage is overgrown with dogwoods and rose bushes.

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Entrance to the hidden passage

It’s too wet to enter except in the fall. I noticed this anomaly and decided to explore it several years ago in late September. At the entrance, a muddy print of a grizzly greeted me. Obviously, this hidden tunnel was known to the wildlife. I pushed through brush for about fifty feet, the fissure of rock opening just a few feet above an unusually easy crossing of Dead Indian creek.  That’s where I saw the Crow shelter. I crossed the creek, and it was then I discovered the U-shaped gorge.

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Dead Indian creek at the crossing

Today I was looking for other animal routes, specifically where cougars might pass from low to high above. Walking along the cliff escarpment I noticed an opening that might be easy to navigate. I followed the narrow passage uphill and 3/4 of the way up, under a large tree, was an old puma scat and scrape. Once at the cliff edge, back into the light, I noticed another scrape. This was obviously a cougar common route.

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Route from below to above for animals

So, what about that ah-ha moment? I traversed back to the large fields leading to the car, then decided to take a last side trip to look for mountain goats. They winter in these canyons and I usually spot them clinging to narrow shelfs and rock ledges.

Mountain goats

Mountain Goats on the cliff face

Walking the cliff edges, I came to a steep gully that dropped 1000′ down to Sunlight Creek. It would not be a trip I’d want to take, but animals could do it. And there, at the opening to the narrow defile, under a large Douglas Fir, was a scrape. And then it hit me. Scrapes are placed at corridor routes!

Of course, I’d read this. In Cougar Ecology & Conservation Kenneth Logan and Linda Sweanor write:

Male cougars seem to scrape throughout their territories. The scrapes are usually located along cougar travel routes, such as ridgelines, canyon rims, drainage bottoms, under large trees and ledges, and at kill caches.

And my notes from Toni Ruth’s cougar class in Yellowstone last year noted the same. But now I had the information viscerally, and will never forget it.

Female cougar

Female cougar checks out a scrape

 

 

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2 Responses

  1. Sue Morse has found (and I agree) that cougars often scrape at junctions, where two roads (they like to travel dirt roads in the desert) or two canyons, etc. come together.

    Like

    • Thanks Chris, I have thought a lot about scrapes in desert areas (treeless) and what I would be looking for. I look forward to tracking cougars this spring in the Canyonlands area

      Like

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