|Puma delicately poses on huge paws at the Dipper Ranch night of October 4, 2015.|
Max Allen, a researcher with Santa Cruz Pumas Project at the University of California Santa Cruz, posted an interesting piece called How Pumas Communicate Through Scent Marking on the National Geographic Wild Cats blog. In the 15+ years I've worked outdoors in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I've seen four pumas. But I've seen lots of puma sign now that I know what to look for: scat, tracks, scrapes, kills and scratching logs.
Los Trancos Open Space Preserve in 2010 (Lion About). In 2013, I saw an adult puma and her juvenile as I was walking back to the Dipper Ranch house. Five seconds of astonishment after weeks of clues. In October this year as I was opening the front gate at 7:30 on a foggy morning, I saw something in the pasture below me. A four-legged tan critter blending in with the dry grass. No mule ears sticking up, that's not a deer, I thought as I reached for binoculars.
|A puma sits down and watches me open the squeaky gate, October 6, 2015.|
In three minutes when I was back at the gate, the puma had moved farther downhill to the corner of the pasture and was standing over a dried-up carcass (Big Red is Down). After a few sniffs of the carcass, the puma melted under the fence, gave a high rough call, and slipped into the forest. As I was asking myself Did I really hear that? Did I really see that?, I realized I forgot to attach my long lens and take a better photo. But no matter, I probably already had a photo of that very puma.
|October 4, 2015 - Cat tracks with toes pointing towards my hand - toes offset, heel pad has two lobes on top and three on the bottom. With a heel pad that is 4.5 to 5 cm wide, this is too big to be bobcat and is a smaller size puma. (Elbroch)|
|A smaller size puma pauses while drinking at the Newt Spring, October 9, 2015.|
|A puma passes the wildlife camera on March 9, 2013.|
|On March 11, 2013, we find a scrape nearby even showing the outline of toes.|
"I'll be back by dark" or "Leave some hindquarters for me."
|Between a carcass and the nearest source of water, we find two scrapes on March 15, 2013. The scrape on the right has two sets of scat - above is scat full of hair; below is dark, oily scat indicating a recent meal of organs.|
|The night before, this puma follows the same wildlife path on which we found the above scrapes.|
Those are the big paws that make the scrape marks. Photo by Random Truth.
|Pumas continue to visit the carcass and leave scrape marks nearby for many days.|
This scrape found on March 26, 2013 at nearly the same location as the two above.
|Two scrapes found at a trail intersection on the Dipper Ranch on December 9, 2014.|
Dark scat is sticking out of scrape on right.
|After brushing aside the mound behind a third scrape nearby, we find deer hair and a deer hoof dissolving out of a scat.|
|On December 22, 2014 two adult pumas pass a wildlife camera near the same trail junction.|
Probably adult male and female pumas getting together for a few days of breeding.
|Each foot leaves a scrape mark 8 cm wide. Above Peter's Creek, April 6, 2013.|
|A large puma track above Peter's Creek on April 23, 2013.|
|A puma scrape on the north side of Peter's Creek, March 10, 2014.|
|Puma tracks on the other side of Peter's Creek on June 16, 2014. This could be the same puma which left the scrape marks above, or the creek could from a loose boundary between two pumas' territories.|
|Two scrapes showing signs of aging: the mound of leaves at the back has started to collapse and the soil is not moist. Found on December 2, 2015.|
|Could those old scrape marks been left by this puma passing nearby on October 26, 2015 at 10 am?|
|Or by this puma passing nearby on November 12, 2015 at 5 pm?|
|Tracks are the most reliable sign of pumas especially if you measure them.|
Max Allen, How Pumas Communicate by Scent Marking, National Geographic Cat Watch, accessed December 28, 2015, http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/10/22/how-pumas-communicate-through-scent-marking/
Maximilian L. Allen, Heiko U. Wittmer, Paul Houghtaling, Justine Smith, L. Mark Elbroch, Christopher C. Wilmers, The Role of Scent Marking in Mate Selection by Female Pumas (Puma concolor), PLOS, October 21, 2015.
Mark Elbroch, Mammal Tracks and Signs, Stackpole Books, 2003:
cougar pad widths: 4 - 7.3 cm
bobcat pad widths: 2.5 - 4 cm