Looking for Lions in the New Year!

Looking for Lions in the New Year!

Happy New Year!   We were out checking cameras on the day after New Year’s Day.   Our team is more committed than ever to finding a lion and also to learning about how all the wildlife on the Preserve uses its resources and habitats.

Though the ground was dry, there were high clouds that kept the sun from shining through and a low layer of ground mist when we first started out.  Sometimes the cameras pick up this early morning fog and mist and it makes for fuzzy images.  Sometimes it’s so damp the moisture gets into the camera and then the fuzzy effect is actually coming from condensation on the camera’s lens.  Today, though, it was on the ground and gave a soft, timeless quality to the landscape.

Early morning ground mist Erin Hauge

We’re pretty sure this is the year we’ll get a lion on camera! And we’re looking forward to getting to know more about the local communities around the Preserve who have lion sightings and occasional depredations to the east. A lot of Cosumnes River Preserve staff and volunteers live in these communities and are invested in engaging local residents to come out and enjoy the Preserve’s many recreational opportunities and learn about how the Preserve is promoting wildlife and habitat right in their own backyard!

A pond on the Preserve in the early morning. There’s a fine layer of ground mist in the background, just below the treeline. Erin Hauge

In addition, learning from the community about their experiences with mountain lions not only promotes a sharing of information for better understanding, it can provide valuable input towards how lions are managed in the Central Valley.

Whether folks love mountain lions or hate mountain lions, they’re here. They’re native and they’re the largest cat on the North American continent.  They’re also the cat species most closely related to our domestic cats – our mousers, barn cats, lap cats and furry companions.

Mountain lion. Creative Commons

If our volunteer project crew can capture a mountain lion on camera, the Department of Fish and Wildlife will attempt to collar the animal so we can track his or her movements and behavior. If a depredation occurs, we’ll know where the lion was in relation to the event.  And we can learn more about the challenges lions face and the decisions they make as they encounter human development across the Valley’s landscapes.  This can all better inform long-range management decisions for the best benefit of lions, livestock, and humans.

In the Field

Crew members Rick and Jim changing out the SD cards in a trail camera. Erin Hauge

So far all of our cameras have remained in place during this dry winter weather.  No flooding or soft muddy roads have made our access difficult or impossible.  This is good news as we can keep our ‘eyes’ on the Preserve for winter-dispersing mountain lions. Lions can disperse at any time of year and one of the things the CRP lion project is hoping to do is provide some information on when lions may be more likely to travel down the Cosumnes River corridor looking for territory.

Of course, since we haven’t seen a lion yet on camera, we have no data but we know there are mountain lions in the foothills and Valley to the east so it’s just a matter of time before we have a collar on a cat!

The low flow dam on the river is still completely dry and we’ll be getting a camera up to monitor this passage in the next few weeks.  There are many tracks of coyotes, bobcats, deer, raccoon, river otters, opossum in addition to lots of scat laid right on the dam itself, mostly coyote. Since the year has been dry so far, wildlife is still using the low flow as a major passage across the river and we’ll be getting some pictures soon!

Crew members Rick and Jim take a look at the outflow side of the low flow dam on the Cosumnes River.   Erin Hauge

We saw lots of coyote scat and tracks as there is a pack family out this way who looks to be doing well. Below are two pictures of coyote scat. The first one is dark, twisty and smooth with relatively little hair in the scat itself. The dark color and lack of hair indicates this individual was likely feeding on a fresh kill. The image below that shows a twisty, hairy scat, likely from a coyote who’s scavenging an older carcass that doesn’t have a lot of meat or moisture left. We’re also noticing differences in coyote scat size, an indication that there are size and age differences among the family pack now active in the area.

Fresh coyote scat. The dark color and lack of hair or fur indicates this animal likely fed on a fresh kill recently. Erin Hauge


Dry, twisty and lots of hair. This coyote was likely smaller to medium size and has been scavenging off the remains of an older carcass. Erin Hauge

We’ll deploy another camera on one of several telephone poles out near one of our more remote cameras that are being used for scratch and rub. Either bobcat or buck may be the likely culprits here but once we get a camera on the most active pole, we’ll hopefully get some solid information on who’s doing what!

Fresh markings on a telephone pole out near one of our cameras. This may be antler rubbing by bucks who are marking territory and working with their large antlers before shedding. There are also scratches on these poles that look as though they could have been made by bobcats. We’ll set up a camera and see what we get! Photo Courtesy of Richard Larson

One of our teams came across a raptor in some low brush, about eye level and were able to approach fairly closely, allowing for some great photos. Our crew reported that the hawk appeared entangled in the brush and they worried one of it’s wings may have been damaged. As they watched, though, the hawk disengaged and flew away to safety.

Juvenile Red-tailed hawk. Photo Courtesy of Richard Larson

When we presented the photos to a CRP expert birder and naturalist, he said it was an immature red-tailed hawk.  He commented that young raptors face lots of challenges for survival, one of them being learning how to land and take off quickly and safely.  Like all hunting and mobility skills, it takes practice and good judgement to be able to pick a sturdy, accessible, safe perch.

Once more we’re reminded about how hard all wildlife must work to learn the skills they need for hunting, foraging, defense, and finding shelter and mates.  For wildlife, it’s a full-time job to stay alive.

Onward in 2018!  We’ll be looking for lions and finding them in all the right places!

Mountain Lion 411

Kittens grow to youngsters, and then to young adults – 18 to 24 months is dispersal age for mountain lions – it’s when they’re kicked out of their birth family by Mom because she’s likely expecting a new litter of young ones.

Yearlings must then go it alone – figuring out how to survive as they move out to unknown territory.   The decisions each individual makes will determine whether they live or die.

Note how this family is aware of the camera.

View the video here: https://vimeo.com/214261367

Meet the Crew

Our amazing crew is out in the field looking for mountain lions and other wildlife rain or shine!

Meet Jim Grimes, CRP Volunteer Naturalist and Citizen Scientist

Crew member Jim Grimes

Jim says, “I am a volunteer naturalist at the preserve.  I began in 2007 shortly after retiring from the  Superior Court of California, Sacramento County as a Senior IT Analyst.  My area of expertise was with computer infrastructure and networks. I became involved in the preserve because of my interest in conservation and to be part of saving one of the “Last Great Places.”  As a member of the Mountain Lion Camera Crew, I enjoy working with the great people who have taught me so much about wildlife identification and being able to see places on the preserve that I had not seen before.”

Some ‘best of’ Critter Camera Captures

Bobcat. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Buck in full velvet. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Coyote. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


North American river otter family. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Bobcat eyeing the camera. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management


Skunk giving stinky what-for to a doe. Photo Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management