By Andrea Gaines
Loudouners out enjoying nature, whether hiking the Appalachian Trail or taking a walk along a local mountain ridge, might just see sign of a Bobcat (Lynx rufus). It might be a quick dash of a spotted animal with upright, tufted ears … some “scat” (if you know what you are looking for) … or the silhouette of a small cat-type creature sitting quietly on an RV path – taking in all the sounds and scents of the woods – looking for its next meal.
The RV path cat was the subject of a recent Youtube video taken just over the Potomac River in West Virginia, delighting the couple that stopped their vehicle and were lucky enough to capture it on their cell phone.
Described as a medium sized cat with a total length of two to three-plus feet, and a weight of 10-25 pounds (a big house cat!), Bobcats have a very short tail, long legs and long, loose fur. The face is framed with longer cheek fur that forms sideburns, similar to some domestic cats such as Maine Coon. The cat’s upper body is reddish-brown, spotted and streaked with black. The lower body is white, spotted and streaked with black.
Bobcats breed starting in early January – right about now. Biologists believe they are probably monogamous – nature’s bow to marriage, however temporary. Females give birth to one to five kittens, born from April to May, with both the female and her mate bringing them food.
I’ve never seen a Bobcat here in Loudoun, but I did see a glimpse of one out west several years ago, and what they say about Bobcat movement is true. Bobcats have a very recognizable and distinctive, swift and bounding gait, and like all North American wild cats, including Mountain Lion or Cougar, Florida Panther, Jaguar, Jaguarundi, Ocelot and others, Bobcats are very secretive. They are nocturnal – one reason it is so rare to see them. But, they cover a lot of ground and they are hardy: their individual territories range from 5 to 50 miles in diameter and they can live up to 14 years.
Bobcats are not numerous in western Loudoun, but they are here and spotted from time to time and we are richer for it. All but a handful of Virginia counties are counted as part of the cat’s range, with wild, heavily forested, mountainous and rugged terrain best able to support larger populations.
When I look out towards the mountains visible from high spots in western Loudoun I wonder if there is a Bobcat out there, waiting for the sun to go down so it can make its nocturnal rounds in search of food. It’s OK that I will probably never see one. I just like to know one just might be out there.