I’ve made something like ten trips to Point Reyes by now. I’ve gotten some great coyote, harrier, hawk, quail, and heron photos, among others. One thing that’s eluded me so far is the iconic Point Reyes Bobcat.
In the summer, I did an outing with Daniel Dietrich of Point Reyes Safaris. Daniel says he sees a Bobcat on about 75% of his tours. We had a brief glimpse of a Bobcat during that trip, but I wasn’t able to get any photos. After striking out on my own over the past 6 months, I decided it was time to get more guidance from a pro. So, on the final Sunday of January, Daniel and I headed out to search for Bobcats.
It took a while for things to warm up. We found some Great-Horned Owls, but they were way up in a tree, out of reach for a decent shot. We found a Red-Tailed Hawk on a fence post, but it flew off before we even had a chance to stop the car. It’s possible most of the wildlife were staying somewhere safe and cozy out of the howling wind.
Eventually we got some action when Daniel spotted a Coyote in the road ahead of us. I’ve gotten a lot better at spotting wildlife in Point Reyes, but Daniel sees it when it’s practically a smudge in the distance. The earlier we see the animal, the better we can observe its behavior and plan an approach that keeps it calm and willing to put up with pesky photographers.
One of the odd things about this Coyote is that I never got a shot of it with its eyes open! It spent a lot of time facing away from me, so it’s likely it just squinted when facing into the blustery wind.
The Coyote was hunting in a field filled with dead branches, which gave me an opportunity to work on my manual focus technique. I can normally rely on autofocus, but with so many obstructions the only way to prevent the camera grabbing onto something in the foreground is to switch to manual. I’m still not great at manual, but this was one of my best efforts yet.
I really liked the photo of the Coyote meeting one of the ranchers’ cows. The wildlife usually treat the cattle more or less like part of the landscape. From my experience, this degree of acknowledgement is a rare sign of respect towards a dairy cow.
Things got even more exciting when Daniel spotted our first Bobcat. See if you can find it in the photo above. Here again, heading out with Daniel was well worth it. I’d give myself less than 50/50 odds of spotting a Bobcat at that distance. In fact, I’ve probably seen them at this distance on multiple visits without even realizing it!
Unfortunately, the Bobcat moved off towards a restricted access section of the park, so we had to keep going. Still no bobcat photos, but we were getting warmer.
It was getting close to 11 am and I was getting hungry after our 7 am start, so I took out my sandwich. Naturally, as soon as I started eating, Daniel spotted another Bobcat, this one much closer.
Closer is a relative term. To the naked eye, the Bobcat looked like a dark smudge in front of some dead grass. Looking through my 200-600 mm lens, I had my first recognizable photo of a Bobcat!
The Bobcat was sitting on a gopher hole, alternating between staring intently at its potential next meal and giving us disdainful looks. We hung back at the car so as to not spoil the Bobcat’s meal and our chance for a photo of a Bobcat with a gopher in its mouth. (The photos are cropped more tightly than the first shot).
Eventually the Bobcat gave up on the gopher hole and started coming our way a little. It wandered around a bit, briefly staked out the gopher again, and then headed over the ridge. We were able to follow it for a bit, but it eventually disappeared without allowing any more photos.
On our way back down the road, we spotted an American Kestrel. I’d only just gotten my first good kestrel photo the previous day. This looked to be an even better opportunity, with a surprisingly tolerant bird against a nice and distance background. Sadly, someone blasted by going way too fast on a dirt road and scared the bird away before I could photograph it facing the right direction.
It was getting towards 11:30 so I started in on my sandwich. Naturally, as soon as I started eating we spotted the Bobcat again. After we’d lost track of it, it had headed over to the adjacent field.
This time we got a little closer to the Bobcat. While we continued to get disdainful looks, it didn’t seem too fussed about our presence. After sitting for a bit, the Bobcat decided it had more important business to attend to, and headed down into a ravine.
We spotted one more Bobcat on our way of of the park. We didn’t get a great background and the the noon heat was starting to create significant haze. It was still great to get to watch one of these wild cats go about its business, mostly indifferent to our presence.
Daniel had graciously offered to spend a little bit of extra time with me to make sure we found a Bobcat. Having found not one, but two, we wrapped up our tour. I’d been in Point Reyes for the whole weekend, so I headed back to the city with a full memory card and some more unforgettable memories.