Mousing Bobcat in Yosemite Valley | Yosemite Winter Safari


W
hen it comes to photographing bobcats there are a number of techniques you can use to improve your chances for getting great images.  All feline predators, like bobcats, are extremely difficult to photograph.  Unlike high country lynx and ghost-like mountain lions, bobcats are the most numerous feline we have in North America, particularly in California where I lead Bobcat Safaris.  While luck is hard to quantify beyond just hours searching, these are the other tips that will help you be successful.
 
LOCATION  
Your first tip is to spend your time in areas where you have seen bobcats in the past.  If you haven't seen any, then go to areas where others have seen them.  I've shot bobcats in Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park, and the foothills on both the east and west sides of the San Joaquin Valley, along Highway 1 south of Carmel, around San Simeon and Cambria, and around Pinnacles and south on Highway 25, and in many other places, like Highway 58 from Bakersfield to Tehachapi, then north along the Eastern Sierras.

SEASON 
My bobcat safaris all run between mid-September and mid-March.  Why? Because the bobcats seem to be more active hunting in the daylight during these months and are easier to find.  The hot days of late spring and summer result in fewer bobcats out hunting in the heat, spending more of their time hunting at night when it's cooler.  I did photograph a bobcat in July once in 103 degree heat (sitting in the shade hunting - caught a squirrel), but just once.  So fall and winter are going to be your most successful months.

UNDERSTANDING FOOD SOURCES 
While all predators will feed on voles and gophers, here in California the number one meal is the California Ground Squirrel. They are numerous, much larger than voles, and slow when compared to the speed of a bobcat.  While I do see bobcats early, I have far more encounters about 9-9:30am when the squirrels come out of their holes.  Generally speaking, no squirrels equals no bobcats during the day.

USE YOUR VEHICLE AS A BLIND 
Unless a bobcat goes up a tree (rare), or runs into a culvert (rare), or simply ignores me for a period of time in my truck (also rare) - I will never leave my vehicle to photograph them.  Having said that, there have been times when I've tripoded up, but only on rare occasions when they were too preoccupied hunting, eating, or just ignoring me that after I have already shot hundreds of images, then I'm willing to push them a bit and try for a closer approach.  That is very rare.

BE PREPARED TO SHOOT 
The minute I get into bobcat country I make sure that my camera equipment is completely ready to go.  The right (longest) lens is on my camera of choice, iso is set for the current light conditions, and I'm shooting wide open at the lenses maximum f-stop.  Why? To start an encounter with the highest shutter-speed at my given exposure settings.  I can always stop down some if speed isn't needed.  In my truck I have my camera resting on the center seat shelf created by the center front seat being folded down.

THE FIRST 15 SECONDS 
Bobcat encounters are sudden, and create a flurry of motion initially.  The window goes down (if it isn't down already), the camera comes up, focus, and shoot.  Concentrate, or even practice, at getting the camera on line with where you want to aim - so that initial second where the camera focuses is on-target.

THE MOUSE SQUEAKER 

This little $8 dollar predator call, from Knight & Hale, is worth it's weight in gold when it comes to stopping a bobcat in its tracks, or a coyote, or an owl - or anything that preys on voles.  Once a bobcat turns away from you it will not turn back unless you have a call like this.  It may only stop for a second or two, but that's another dozen images of a bobcat looking back at you.  Good Luck.  

If you have a great tip that I haven't mentioned here, send it to me and I will add it to this TIP Page. BRP
 

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