"Ghost Cat" Mountain Lion, Warbler Pond, 5/6/2012, Los Alamos, NM

 

Mountain lions are very difficult to see in the wild which is a good thing since they exist close to many populated areas in the western US and on rare occasions have attacked humans. In fact, they are harder to see than tigers, lions, cheetahs and leopards all of which can be seen on safaris in national parks with some luck. We have been lucky enough to see these big cats and the pictures are on this website. Although mountain lions exist in our home town of Los Alamos, most people will go an entire lifetime without seeing one. When they are seen it is often a fleeting glimpse as they cross a road. A friend ran into one on a hike and had to throw stones to chase it away. I assumed we would never see a mountain lion. Then in the spring of 2011, one of our neighbors on our street saw a mountain lion and a cub in their back yard. This lion was later seen drinking from a pond in the back yard of another house a few days later right in the middle of the day. Children were playing in the same backyard raising major safety concerns. We heard that the mother lion was trapped and relocated but it wasn't clear what happened to the almost fully grown cubs. We then heard very little news about mountain lions after these incidents.

We saw this mountain lion named Willow at a wild animal park where she had an area that closely resembled her natural habitat making for this natural looking shot   (Click). . When I turned my back she even pounced at me hitting the fence of her enclosure. I saw first hand why one is told to never break eye contact if a mountain lion is encountered in the wild. Instead, one needs to shout, throw stones and slowly back away while keeping eye contact. Running or turning your back could easily result in activating the lion's chase instinct resulting in an attack.

In the summer of 2011, the Las Conchas burned 150,000 acres in the forests around Los Alamos prompting a one week evacuation of the town. The town was saved but the forests were badly damaged. Wildlife sightings greatly increased in the months following the fire with deer, elk, bobcats and bears being seen around town. I saw a bear in our neighborhood eating out of a trash can. I also saw a bobcat outside my parent's house. This is how I got pictures of these animals for this website. However, there were no reports of mountain lion sightings in town. Then on Dec 24, 2011 (Christmas eve) our family had a tragic encounter with a mountain lion that we will never forget. Our wonderful pet dog Gwennie was attacked and killed by a mountain lion in our backyard that borders a canyon. According to Game and Fish, this was extremely rare for Los Alamos county and we were the unlucky ones. We wondered if perhaps one of the grown cubs was responsible. Other cities such as Boulder, Colorado have had problems with mountain lions snatching pets but this had not occured in Los Alamos to my knowledge. I had read a book called Beast in the Garden by David Baron a few years ago about Boulder's problem and it seemed like Los Alamos had similar conditions. Los Alamos, like Boulder, is in the middle of cougar country and canyons provide corridors for wildlife. The book left me wondering why Los Alamos didn't have problems. There were suspicions that some missing domestic cats in town may have been killed by mountain lions but nothing was known for sure since coyotes also kill many domestic cats. Here are the details of this sad and traumatic encounter:   (Click). After Gwennie's death, my parents decided to get a trailcam to see what wildlife actually visited their house at night. After about 2 months of having the trailcam this enormous mountain lion came to the back pond at my parent's house (above picture)! It came in for a drink at 2 am on May 6, 2012. It happened to be a night of a super moon (the largest full moon of 2012). As we suspected these stealthy creatures are around more than we think After he took a quick drink he melted away back into the canyon. We decided to get a white flash critter cam to see if we could get color shots of the wildlife that came at night. Fox, bear, bobacat, deer, racoon all proved to be fairly common visitors. However, it took a full year and 12 days before this gorgeous cougar decided to come by for a drink   (Click)  (Click)  (Click)  (Click).

UPDATE 11/9/2013: After almost 2 years a mountain lion returned to our backyard at 1800 Camino Redondo on Pueblo Canyon. Expert James Brookes believes this is a sub-adult due to the large ears and fading spots. But he/she looks healthy. Time will tell if this cougar (Click) will make our yard part of his/her territory or just a fleeting glimpse reminding us that even though the previous couagar was killed another one will eventually replace it in Los Alamos which is prime mountain lion habitat. Unlike the cougar sightings at Los Pueblos, this fellow has been visited every two to three weeks and visited a total of three times. He then moved on confirming that our backyards do not seem to be in the heart of a cougars territory: (Click) (Click) (Click). In March, another cougar, maybe this same one, made its way to Los Pueblos. Suprisingly, it went to the front pond, where we never had camera before. This pond is right next to the front door in a fairly well lit area. There is a lot of human traffic here but it didn't seem to make a difference. Here is a great shot where you can even see the reflection that doesn't show that he is litreally at my parent's front door: (Click). But as he walks away you can see he is right next to the house! (Click). On May 6, 2014, a cougar again made it to Warbler Pond at Los Pueblos showing that early May (5/6/12, 5/18/13, 5/6/14) results in a regular night visit. I was suprised at how regular a visit this is turning out to be meaning this same cougar is likely moving from his winter ground to this summer ground (Click). On September 30, 2014, a majestic male mountain lion came in for a drink and came to the perect spot to get a beautiful sequence of him taking a drink: (Lo-Res Sequence) (Hi-Res Sequence) . In the winter of 2015, we put in some cheap efficient dicers into the ponds to prevent a small sections of the ponds from freezing over. This resulted in our first winter time visit and it happened at my parents front pond on January 9, 2015 (Click). Here are the best cougar shots at high resolution but these are still from critter cams and cannot compare to the other pictures on this website that were taken with a DSLR: (Hi-Res) (Hi-Res) (Hi-Res) (Hi-Res) (Hi-Res) (Hi-Res) (Hi-Res) (Hi-Res).

UPDATE 9/14/2015: All of the pictures so far had been taken by critter cams. After capturing the black and white picture above and then progressing to better and better color critter cams, I was able to get some nice photos of this elusive predator that makes very infrequent visits. Over this time period, I was able to capture fox, bear, deer, racoon, bobcat and coyote using Phototrap that allowed for much higher quality photos using my Canon 7D DSLR. However, my Phototrap setup wasn't water proof requiring good weather in addition to making morning and evening trips to my Parent's place to set it up. After studying the mountain lion sightings and when they occured, I decided to try my luck at capturing the cougar using Phototrap in the summer of 2015. I knew it would require a dedicated effort to better weather proof my setup and to patienty set up day after day until successful. Luckily my wife Gowri allowed me to go forward with this time consuming endeavor to capture the cougar at Warbler Pond with my DSLR Phototrap setup. I also got a lot of help from my parents in helping me setup as well. Here is a description of our attempt: (Click).


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