The Cats have been on the Prowl - Bobcats That Is

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November proved to be a banner month for sightings of these elusive felines at the park. Lake James staffers had at least three (maybe four) encounters and a park visitor reported another.

Bobcats are the only remaining native wildcat in North Carolina (Eastern cougar was extirpated from the state by 1900, though it is still listed as an endangered species here and there is evidence of range expansion eastward by some western populations).

Though they are found across a wide variety of habitats and their population in the state is considered stable, bobcats are rarely seen. Truth be told, we humans are just too loud to sneak up on a wary bobcat. Most sightings come from behind the steering wheel as the cat slips across a quiet roadway.

The bobcats at Lake James State Park are opportunistic and solitary predators, catching and eating animals as small as mice and as large as deer fawns. Their presence as top predators is a testament to the over- all health of the ecosystem within November was also an interesting month for birdwatchers, as several unusual species made appearances. Most interesting perhaps was the influx of Bonaparte’s gulls and a the single white-winged scoter in the days following Hurricane Sandy as the “superstorm” churned its way up the Eastern seaboard. Bonaparte’s gulls are small, tern-like sea- birds, found typically in nearshore coastal waters during the winter. The white-winged scoter is a large seaduck, also more common to the sounds and surf. A quick check of the official Burke County bird list indicates the scoter’s one-day visit constitutes a new county record.

Equally as exciting are the prospects to adding additional species to the park’s growing bird list. Many locations throughout the Southeast are experiencing an irruption of winter finches. It has been many years since the last irruption occurred – sending boreal species like red crossbill, white- winged crossbill, common redpoll and evening grosbeak much further south than they typically go during the winter. With reports of these birds all around us, it seems just a matter of time before some lucky birders focus their bin- oculars on yet another first for Lake James.

Interestingly, our fall survey of the park’s Eastern and Carolina hem- lock trees did not turn up a single hemlock wooly adelgid. Apparently, the overall weather conditions leading up to the fall were not to the adelgids’ liking and they have disap- peared for the time being. Only time will tell whether or not the chemical campaign against these foreign invaders decimating our native hem- locks will have to be resumed in the spring. Keep your fingers crossed.

Hope to see you out on the trail.