I’m sure many of you known that cats are among the most difficult of all mammal families to observe in the wild… I’ve got plenty of personal experience here too, having tried and failed to see a number of them: African Wildcat and Caracal in Ndutu, Tanzania; Canadian Lynx in Denali NP, Alaska; and Mountain Lion in Central California and Torres del Paine NP in Patagonia. I’m aware that many are even having trouble finding what I believe is probably the easiest of the ‘Northern Cats’ to see (ie: Eurasian Lynx, Canada Lynx, etc. – a notoriously difficult bunch), the awesome Bobcat. Here are some tips to maximize your chances.
1. Go California! It’s simple – there’s no other place on Earth where your chances to see Bobcats are as good as in California. Out of this whole state though, 2 spots stand out to me: Coalinga/Los Gatos Creek Road and Pierce Point Road in Pt Reyes National Seashore.
Coalinga/Los Gatos Road:
– Coalinga road might just be the best place in the world to see Bobcats. It’s a pretty lonely road running through the Inner Central Coast Range in Fresno and San Benito Counties. Starting in Coalinga, it winds along Los Gatos Creek and the San Benito River until arriving at highway 25, providing some great wildlife viewing opportunities along the way. Best of all, there is a simply huge number of Bobcats crawling in the foothills through which this road passes
– Bobcats in particular are often seen along the whole length, with Hernandez Valley being one particularly prolific area for sightings (around the Hernandez Reservoir).
– On an average day (6 AM-6 PM), you should be able to see 3-6 bobcats and photograph 1-2; I’ve heard of people seeing up to 9 in a day on this road – I don’t think can ever be matched let alone beaten anywhere else in the world (even Pt Reyes!); on a morning or evening drive, you can safely expect to see 1-3 Bobcats on this stretch; I’ve heard of people who have seen kittens here too – this road is a great spot for Bobcat photography for this interested
– It’s also a good road for other wildlife; if you drive it, you can safely expect to see California Ground Squirrels, Desert Cottontails, Black-tailed Jackrabbits, Mule Deer, and Coyotes; if you’re lucky, you might see Tule Elk near Hernandez Reservoir, where there is a reintroduced herd; I know of people who have seen species as rare as Badgers and Pronghorn here (mostly in the Hernandez Valley), but they are quite tricky
• When to look: the best seasons are about late October to early April, which November to February being best
• Positives: a very good, predictable place to see Bobcats; there are LOTS of them and they are rather photogenic too; weather will be decent at this time of the year and rain and hazardous driving conditions won’t be too much of a problem; pretty rangeland scenery and very quiet and remote
• Negatives: the road is VERY remote and really out in the middle of nowhere – you should know what you’re doing; if you’re a little unnerved by the area and remoteness, try taking Amwestphoto’s ‘Bobcat Safaris’ which travel this road in late fall, winter and early spring; no accommodation/visitor facilities; no good hiking easily accessible with marked trails, etc – pretty much limited to road
• The best area is Pierce Point Road on the Tomales Peninsula; it’s a pretty nice road that winds through pastures and brushland, and is a lovely drive in spring or winter. It runs through some scenic pastures and farmlands, which contain enormous densities of gophers. For this reason, it’s a great road for predators such as Bobcats and Coyotes. Even Long Tailed Weasels and American Badgers, normally quite rare, are not uncommon here, though spotting them is a different story and still quite difficult.
• Your best chances will be from November to April
• Drive slowly early in the morning or late in the afternoon and evening and scan the pastures and grasslands for signs of movement; on an average day (both morning and evening spent), you should see at least 1 Bobcat if weather conditions are decent/not bad. It’s a great road for wildlife photography, and even if you don’t see a Bobcat, you’ll certainly see other nice stuff and come back happy either way.
• This is a great road for Black Tailed Deer, Brush Rabbit, Coyote, Tule Elk, and Black Tailed Jackrabbit and you should see all of them; it’s also not bad for Long Tailed Weasel (the end around Abbott’s Lagoon and Tomales Point are particularly good) and one of the better places in California for American Badger (tricky the whole way!)
• Pros: Probably edges out Coalinga Rd in terms of diversity and quality of sightings of other animals (closeness, prolonged) not including bobcats; more scenic and access to nice hiking trails – you’ll be able to get out more (Coalinga runs through private property); not as remote and in a national park with nice accommodation and good facilities/visitor center; the road surface is better than Coalinga Rd
• Cons: If you just want to see a Bobcat, it’s probably not as good and not as predictable; it’s really only a good weather drive; if there’s even a sign of rain or low fog/mist, don’t attempt it as you won’t see anything aside from the guaranteed elk – real risk of bad weather in Winter/early Spring, so you need to be prepared to skip trips at the last minute and reschedule as weather can keep you from seeing anything – besides, the road can get dangerous! Also, you’ll see quite a few people – on Coalinga Rd, you won’t see another soul so this might diminish the feeling of ‘getting out into the wilderness’
Good luck and happy searching!