A beautiful (and very up-close) moment with a bobcat


A young bobcat sits in a meadow, listening for the tiny, soft sounds of rodents. © Jaymi Heimbuch

A young bobcat sits in a meadow, listening for the tiny, soft sounds of rodents. © Jaymi Heimbuch


Every so often, wildlife makes things easy for you.

Early one morning at sunrise I headed up to photograph some river otters. Or at least I'd hoped to. They were a no-show that morning. It seemed like most everything was a no-show. Some mornings are just annoying like that, and there isn't much you can do to fix it except recognize you're getting skunked and go get a cup of hot coffee. So, I was driving back out to head home when a shape walking across a field caught my eye. A gorgeous young bobcat was strolling across a meadow.

I stopped a little way up the road and opened the car door and paused to make sure I didn't scare her off. She didn't even acknowledge me. I got out, grabbed my camera and walked back toward her. She paused to look at me but didn't change direction at all, and a second later resumed her stroll.

The bobcat walked slowly across the field, pausing every so often to have a listen and staying entirely unconcerned about the photographer tagging along behind. © Jaymi Heimbuch

The bobcat walked slowly across the field, pausing every so often to have a listen and staying entirely unconcerned about the photographer tagging along behind. © Jaymi Heimbuch

I followed, moving mostly parallel to her, pretending I wasn't looking or paying any attention to her, and slowly closed the gap between us. When she paused, I paused, and the little game of shadow went on for a few dozen yards until she stopped to sit and listen to the ground for any sounds of potential brunch.

When she stopped, I stopped, maintaining a distance far enough that I wouldn't put any pressure on her to move away. Turns out that distance wasn't much. This cat's personal space bubble was practically nil. © Jaymi Heimbuch

When she stopped, I stopped, maintaining a distance far enough that I wouldn't put any pressure on her to move away. Turns out that distance wasn't much. This cat's personal space bubble was practically nil. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Ultimately, she let me come to within about 15-20 feet of her and it felt like, had I wanted to, I could have walked up and plunked down next to her to enjoy the morning together. She was so calm, so confident, so unconcerned -- so everything cat.

In this particular park, wildlife is fairly habituated to humans. People pour onto the trails in the afternoons and on the weekends. There had also been road construction in the area recently which, rather than driving wildlife away, seemed to make them even more used to the presence of people and noise. But habituated or not, wild bobcats don't typically let people walk right up to them as if it's nothing. This was a really amazing moment. I knew it, and was doing all I could not to spoil it.

After a few minutes of half-hearted listening to the ground, she decided this was a good spot to just rest awhile. She settled down in a little ball and her eyes drooped, and drooped some more, until she rested her head on the grass for a solid snooze. I took a few photos but when I'd click, her eyes would open slightly. Not wanting to bother her more when she was resting, watched for just a couple minutes more before I quietly backed away and headed to the car, my stomach in a tight knot holding in a squeal of joy.

Eventually, the bobcat decided it was time to stop hunting and take a nap. She curled up in the grass, head up for awhile until her eyes drooped shut and she settled down to sleep. I took my last couple shots and then left her to catch 40 winks in peace. © Jaymi Heimbuch

Eventually, the bobcat decided it was time to stop hunting and take a nap. She curled up in the grass, head up for awhile until her eyes drooped shut and she settled down to sleep. I took my last couple shots and then left her to catch 40 winks in peace. © Jaymi Heimbuch

It's been said to the point of cliche, but it's a beautiful cliche so I'll say it again -- it is a profound honor to have a wild animal be calm and comfortable enough to let you get close, to let you be around to watch as it goes about its business. But to let you be around as it falls asleep? That's really something special.

Related posts:
A nod to nene: How Hawaii's native goose is returning from near extinction
The epic flight and worrying plight of monarch butterflies
An animal of extremes: How the northern elephant seal barely dodged extinction
River otters and their incredible comeback in California's Bay Area