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, April 30, 2008

I downloaded our first remote digital camera photos of our collared Pumas yesterday! The photos are from a camera I placed on a kill made by LF-1 around April 12th, represented in the map by the cluster of points. The first photo is of LF-1 revisiting the kill site on the 14th. The second photo is of LF-2 visiting the kill site on the 17th. LF-1 was still returning to the general area of the kill up until the 19th based on GPS data. We noticed that LF1 repeatedly left this kill and then returned to it. It is possible that LF2 was repeatedly moving LF1 off of this kill.

Although we haven't found any more large kills made by LM-1, he made a small kill sometime in the late night of the 25th or the early morning of the 26th at GPS point 40. He killed and nearly completely consumed a Gray Fox (Urocyon cineroargenteus) right along Animas Creek, where I found only a bit of its tail and fur leftover.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On Monday Harley and I found that LF-2 had made another kill at the cluster of GPS points 193-195. The prey was a yearling Mule Deer probably killed in the wash near the first cache site, where we found the rumen. The kill was then moved up the wash to a second cache site where we found most of the remains. Part of the kill was then moved up to a third cache site where we found mostly discarded hair. The overall photo was taken from up on a ridge in a rock outcropping where LF-2 day-bedded while still on the kill, represented by GPS points 192 and 196. The second photo is of the first cache where the rumen was removed. We also found a scat pile up the wash where she made 2 scats in the exact same spot.

Also on April 22nd I visited the area where a TESF employee had a run-in with our collared LF-2. I was able to confirm LF-2's presence from her strong radio signal in the area and also her tracks. I found two tracks, in the photo the one by the calipers was more defined and the one above, by the pocketknife, indicated that she was moving quickly because claw marks were present. The Puma was seen in the upper fork of a Cottonwood tree overlooking Animas creek which I have indicated in the photo with a red dot marking her location. Harley and I searched the area up stream yesterday and could not find any evidence of a Javelina kill.

On April 22 I checked out GPS points 30 and 33 for LM-1. This was a daybedding spot that LM-1 visited 2 days in a row (19th and 20th). I found his tracks side by side in a nice shady spot under a couple of boulders and a small tree.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

By an extraordinary stroke of luck one of the TESF employees heard what was apparently a cougar dispatching a javelina yesterday. Upon closer inspection it turned out to be LF2 doing the dispatching. Later Megan returned to the area and confirmed with the radio receiver that LF2 was in this location. Currently, LF2 only has a radio collar (not a GPS collar) and our data on her movements and prey are limited. The map above shows the location where LF2 was seen.

LF1 is proving to be a very efficient predator. It looks like she almost certainly has one more kill, and possibly two. She spent over 15 hours at points 188 and 189, indicating that something of note likely occured here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

It looks like LM1 and LF1 have either been rubbing elbows or doing their best to avoid each other while hunting the same ground. The map above shows LM1 in blue and LF1 in red. Each location is labeled with the date it was recorded. I have used a circle and arrows to indicate the places where these two cougars were the closest in terms of distance and time. It is possible, that LM1 moved LF1 off of her kill. That would explain why she left this kill several times over the last week, unlike her previous four kills. But, because we have so many gaps in LM1's data it is difficult to tell for sure.

LM1 has been spending the last few days in Animas. Unfortunately, we are receiving fewer locations per day as well as fewer days of data for this cougar. This makes it harder to locate kills. Locations 30 and 33 may indicate a kill site.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

LF1 has left her most recent kill. She was about 5 Km (3 miles) south of it when we located her last. However, she may be back soon. Over the last week she left this kill 4 times, traveling two to three kilometers one-way, up Animas Creek and over to Bell Mountain.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Although we didn't receive any data for LM1 for the 13th, 14th, and 15th, we can see where he's been since 22:00 on the 16th. He as been traveling east along the north side of bell mountain; and, as of 4:00 am the morning of the 18th he was about 1km SW of LF1's most recent kill. We hope that these two cougars don't show up on the same kill. One of the primary sources of cougar mortality is death by other cougars. Usually the perpetrator is a large resident male, like LM1. If he should find LF1's deer kill there could be trouble.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Last Wednesday I examined the mule deer kill made by LF-1 around April 2nd, that Harley had found. There was little left at the site other than fur, ruminant material, a leg and a jawbone. The kill was probably made at the top of a grassy and shrubby ridge, then dragged down the slope approximately 50m, and cached three separate times under small shrubby oaks along the way. The cache sites were about 10m from each other, the above pictures include a close up of the second cache site which contained most of the exposed ruminant material, the drag mark from the 2nd to the 3rd cache site, and a view of the slope where the kill was found (the probable kill site is marked with a "K" and the cache sites are numbered). I also found that the intestines of the deer had been dragged away to a nearby fourth site. She was on this kill for at least 11 days and it seems she spent a lot of time moving and caching the kill.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Today's collar download from LF1 contained very little data. In fact we only received four satellite fixes for the last three days. We have no data from the collar on her whereabouts for the 14th and only one data point for the 15th. Fortunately, we had enough to know that she was still on the mule deer kill that Megan recently verified (see photos below). One data point, number 170 is interesting. It shows that she was apparently a few kilometers from the kill on the 15th, but has since returned.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Yesterday I found LF-1's most recent kill in a narrow and steep wash draining into Seco Canyon (indicated in the photo by a red dot). The kill was a male Mule Deer that had apparently been choked by a bite to the throat. The animal was partially covered and had been dragged down the wash 30-40m. I placed a remote digital camera at the site, so hopefully we will get a picture of LF-1 revisiting the kill. Today her VHF signal was very strong around the kill site, so she is probably still using this kill.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The most recent LM-1 kill was an adult male Elk. The kill was in a wash draining into Animas Creek. I could not determine the exact point where the animal was killed, but it was dragged 40-50 m down the wash as was evident from the drag marks in vegetation and blood stains found on rocks. The kill wasn't covered, but this is likely because there was not much material to cover it with in the area. There was evidence of heavy elk traffic in the area, and there was plenty of stalking vegetation for pumas around the wash.

Last Friday, April 11th, I checked out the last location (point #161) we had received from Ladder Female 1 (LF-1). The spot was along a prominent game trail at the very base of some cliffs overlooking Animas Creek. About 10m down the trail from the GPS point I found her tracks headed south along the trail. The trail was well traveled, provided a good view of the valley, had several shady spots for day bedding, and there was evidence of mule deer activity on game trails just below this one in elevation. It might be a commonly traveled path for this puma as well as others in the area, and a good place to check for puma sign in the future.

It appears that LF1 has yet another kill. There is a cluster of GPS fixes from her collar in the northwest quarter of the map above. ALSO, Megan confirmed an elk kill by LM1 on Animas Creek yesterday. Photos soon!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

It looks like LM1 also has a kill on Animas Creek. He remained in this location for at least 3 days, but has since headed back north. Hopefully, Megan will be able to report back to us on this possible kill site soon.

Harley has solved the mystery of LF1's 11 day stay in one spot. In the area indicated by the southwest cluster of dots he found the remains of two mule deer carcasses. The collar download we received the day after Harley's visit shows that LF1 had left this area the day before and took a round-about trip back to the farm. Given the distribution of points in this cluster, it is possible that LF1 actually had three kills in this location. Harley has also noted that this female is consuming 90% of her kills, leaving only a few of the largest bones and the feet.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

It appears that LM1 (Ladder male 1) has a kill on Animas Creek (see map above). LF1 (Ladder female 1) has not changed locations in 10 days now. Optimistically, she may have multiple kills, or she may have given birth to a litter of cubs. For the moment, we will remain optimistic. Hopefully, Megan will be able to tell us something definite in a few days.

Orvel Fletcher and Steve Dobrott have managed to do it again! We now have a fourth collared mountain lion. Unfortunately, we did not have a GPS collar available at the time this female was captured. She was fitted with a VHF collar which will be replaced with a GPS collar in the near future. As our number of collared mountain lions has increased, we will need to pass on our formal naming scheme to blog readers: Armendaris Ranch male (collared April of 2007) AM1; Ladder Ranch female (collared Febuary 2008) LF1, Ladder Ranch male (collared March, 2008) LM1, and Ladder Ranch female (collared April 2008) LF2.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

On the Ladder Ranch our collared male was last mapped heading north from Animas Creek in nearly a straight line. It appears that our female has been in the same very small location for 8 days now. Perhaps she has a large kill or even multiple kills.
Another recent development is that Megan Pitman will be moving to the Ladder Ranch soon to begin her field education. She's lucky to have the combined experience of Orvel Fletcher, Harley Shaw, and Mike Root to learn from. Megan will also be making regular contributions to the blog - and hopefully lots more photos!