I've already begun training at the Cave Creek Canyon Visitor Information Center (V.I.C.). I spent yesterday morning and all day today at the V.I.C, and many people - mostly serious birders - stopped by to chat. The Friends of Cave Creek Canyon (F.O.C.C.C.) is a non-profit, volunteer-operated service contracted by the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Coronado National Forest, to autonomously operate the gateway to the Chiricahua Mountains.
The Chiricahua Mountains is Arizona's largest sky island range, some 40 x 20 miles in area. Its incredible diversity of flora and fauna occupies six life zones from desert scrub to mixed conifer forest. Influenced by the Rocky Mountains to the north, the Sierra Madre Occidental to the south, and at the confluence of the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts, the area is also affected by the low elevation of the continental divide between Animas and Deming, New Mexico, which allows connection to the Great Plains. The Chiricahuas host half of all North American bird species and half of its bats. From 4800 feet near the VIC up to Barfoot and Rustler Parks between 8000-9000 feet, the Chiricahuas reach their apex at 9763 ft. Visitors can start at the VIC and spend 1.5-2 hours on a primitive single lane mountain road to crest the Chiris and head down the other side through Pinery Canyon to visit the Chiricahua National Monument, a completely separate park. It is a rugged drive worth taking, and although the prime spot for birders is the easily accessible South Fork Road only 1.5 miles from the VIC, many ascend the mountain road in search of higher elevation species like Mexican Chickadees and Red-faced Warblers.
But this post is about cats. Because as much as those I encountered this weekend had finding 'lifer' species among the more than 250 species of land birds on their minds, the topic of discussion was cats. Two separate incidents had campers buzzing. Saturday morning a mountain lion was seen crossing the road between Idlewild and Stewart campgrounds by a reliable source. This brazen stroll was unusual in the canyon, and campers needed to be warned to keep a closer eye on children and pets. Mountain lions are secretive and seldom seen, and are more a threat to deer and occasionally livestock. Word of the lion didn't cause great concern.
But Friday night a more unusual event took place, and today I was sent up canyon to Herb Martyr campground to post notice about what campers were calling a "bobcat attack". Apparently a bobcat actively was hunting pet dogs and contacted campers in their tent. I spoke to four separate parties and their stories agreed that despite screaming and chasing this bobcat did not want to be deterred from the scent of Fido. It moved about the campground focused on areas where dogs had been present. In fact, it would repeated return to a spot underneath a parked vehicle where scared campers secured their dogs during the fright. All campers reported that the cat was not seen again on Saturday night, but I hung a warning on the camp outhouse nevertheless. We left messages for Arizona Game and Fish and the Forest Service and went about our day. The highlight of my drive up to talk to campers and post warnings was stopping to photograph a Whiskered Screech-Owl that has become known to birders. Now that I know where it is I am hoping to get a better image, but here's a first glimpse.
Tuesday morning I am joining a nature walk focused on birds, plants and trees led by a local expert who gives private guided walks to guests of Cave Creek Ranch. Sadly, few people who stop by the VIC want to know about rattlesnakes and tailless whipscorpions.