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Cougars, cats and coyotes (and what does the fox REALLY say)
November 7, 2013 - Jordan Travis
Don't pet the cat backwards. Words of advice for any feline lover. Especially if it's a 100-pound cougar stalking through your hunting property.
The Department of Natural Resources recently verified yet another trail-cam photo of a cougar, this time sauntering along a two-track in Marquette County. News reports say the photo was taken in mid-October, and if you've seen it there's no mistaking this big cat for the neighbor's woods-romping tabby. (As an aside, there's a cat that spends most of its days in a vacant lot across from my place; I've dubbed him/her "Kitty Alone.")
There's no doubt we have more than a few of these animals prowling around our Upper Peninsula. The site MichiganCougar.com has a collection of trail-cam photos, including a beautiful shot of a puma in profile, also taken in Marquette County. Many have been confirmed by the DNR, others not. A few even insist we have cougars on our side of the bridge, including some in Northeast Michigan. It gives one pause to think about being followed through the forest by an apex predator that weighs up to 180 pounds and moves silently on padded feet. As if coyotes and defensive mama black bears weren't bad enough.
It brings me back to a camping trip in Pigeon River Country, two separate ones, actually. The first was an ill-conceived backpacking trek around the High Country Pathway, an 80-some-mile loop through everything from cedar swamps to planted forest to grasslands to wooded hills. My college roommate was there as well, and on our first night we had a visit from a group of coyotes. They ran yipping and yowling through our camp, and one paused by my roommate to have a sniff (he opted to sleep under the stars, a choice he would regret later that trip).
The next morning he told me that as our canine friends closed in, he pictured a tightening noose in his mind. My second encounter was at Pine Grove State Forest Campground, when during a late-night campfire I heard a blood-curdling scream in the woods. By chance (and due in no small part to Ylvis' "What does the fox say?") I discovered this is known as the vixen's scream, one of a set of sounds the red fox makes. I didn't know it at the time, but suspected it was wildlife-related.
The point is, we're not alone in the woods. Sometimes on my hikes I see little more than chickadees, or get cussed out by a squirrel. Others, I scare up deer or the occasional grouse or Cooper's hawk. A few times I've been lucky and spotted something more unusual and reclusive, but I'm never alone.
Neither are you, fellow hiker.
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