We are conducting surveys, monitoring, and research on cougars (puma, mountain lion) on the Ladder Ranch in south-central New Mexico. Here, cougars are of particular interest given their effects on state-endangered desert bighorn sheep and other valuable big game. These projects are also resources for training and education, most notably through the Cougar Field Workshop.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Obtaining a photograph of a wild cougar is a relatively rare event. I was considerably surprised to find a second photo of a cougar the same day. This photo was taken on the 8th at an artificial water catchment about 3 miles south of where the photo was taken on the 9th. This is almost certainly the same individual. This photo reveals that the individual is severly underweight and is likely either, old, ill, or injured. Again, a thorough search of the area produced only a faint track. The remote cameras are proving to be an extremely valuable monitoring tool. Recently, the Portland Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers generously donated an additional camera to this project. THANKS!

Above are two graphs of front (lower graph) and hind (upper graph) constructed from over 100 heel pad width measurements taken from the book "Desert Puma: Evolutionary Ecology and Conservation of an Enduring Carnivore", by Ken Logan and Linda Sweanor, Island Press, 2001. The red arrow indicates where the heel pad width of this cat falls. The y axis is in centimeters. The black horizontal line in the dark blue box indicates the median the whisker bars and the blue box indicate the quartiles. As you can see, based on the measurement, whether a front or hind foot, this cougar was likely a male.

We have, or had, another cougar on the mountain. A new camera was set at Summer Spring in the north central part of the range on the 4th of March. While checking this camera on the 12th I discovered the photo above. The photo was taken on the 9th of March at 10:41 pm. I was able to find one track that was clear enough for an accurate heel width measurement (a common bit of information used to determine the sex of the cougar that made the track). The width was 58mm. Unfortunately, due to the paucity of tracks on this rocky substrate is was not possible to determine whether the measurement came from a front or hind paw. In either case the track, given its width, was mostly likely made by a male.

One of the interesting benefits of using the remote digital cameras to monitor cougar activity on the Fra Cristobal range is that we get a rare look at the other wildlife in the area. Above there is a photo of a ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) and a bat! The bat is a little hard to see and is indicated by the white arrow. Although it's difficult to tell from the photo, the bat is likely a pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus). We also managed to get several photos of a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) bathing in one of the wildlife drinkers. The best of the series of eagle photos is posted above.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The river continues to be an active corridor for cougar movement. Thus far we have averaged one cougar photo per month at this camera set since November.

One of our remote cameras picked up this gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) trotting down the canyon with a packrat (Neotoma sp.) in its mouth. Most of our photos from this camera are of a gray fox, likely this one, or possibly its mate.

Lambing season has begun here on the Armendaris. The first lamb was seen in early January. Two were seen together in early February and this photo of 5 was taken just this week (arrows indicate the little buggers); you can see one of our collared ewes in the foreground. A very wet summer and a relatively wet fall may make this a very productive year for the sheep herd.