The First Species of the Critter Challenge
Last week I introduced my project and the 70 species of mammals that I’ve set out to photograph here in Colorado. I had planned on easing into things this week and launching with something unassuming, like a cottontail or a ground squirrel.
Eating lunch at my desk today I received an alert – a mountain lion had been spotted in a tree. I hear about these types of sightings every couple of weeks but by the time I get the news it is usually well after the fact. This report had promise. The cat had been up the tree for a few hours and being near residences and busy roads there was a good chance it would stay put until it could move out of the area under the cover of darkness.
I track down my boss in the hallway.
“Steve, would it be alright if I bugged out early this afternoon?” I ask, trying to be nonchalant.
He’s concerned. We are already running on a skeleton crew with two of my coworkers out and he’s on his way to board a plane. He inquires just what it is that I’m up to.
“If I tell you, you’re going to want to go, too!” A devious smile betrays me. “There is a mountain lion in a tree near Golden.”
Steve has done his share of searching for mountain lions, but he is also one up on me, having seen one on Mount Sanitas near a few years ago. He gives his approval. “Go get some good photos!”
My heart is beating out of my chest. I draw upon my experiences responding to emergencies as a mountain rescue volunteer. Get there safely. Don’t speed. I’m paranoid that everyone else on the road knows about the mountain lion and they are all heading there now. With Friday afternoon traffic, it takes me an hour to make the drive. Adrenaline still surging, I find the cross street, not too far from the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison. From here it is just a matter of spotting the blue Division of Wildlife pickup that I know will be posted nearby.
Photographing a wild mountain lion has been a dream for me since I first picked up a camera. I’ve spent untold days following tracks, scanning hillsides with binoculars, and hiking along ridges hoping just to get a glimpse. And now, at long last, a beautiful, healthy adult mountain lion is poised in a cottonwood tree just a hundred yards away. It moves about on it’s perch about 30′ up and a couple of times it seems to look right at me. It’s dark eyes are haunting. It’s paws are as large as my face. It turns around once and I’m able to identify it as a male, although I had suspected it already based on size alone.
As a wildlife photographer, a wild mountain lion is like making it to the super bowl. Thank you to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, my understanding co-workers, and to ProPhoto Rental of Boulder. I’m really thankful to have had this opportunity and to be able to launch into my project with such an amazing animal. Even though this could have been a once in a lifetime event, I hope that it is not.