Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Is this the tail tip of a big cat?

When i first checked these pictures way back in febuary the cam had been triggered by something out of shot.The field of view of trail cameras is very narrow and this isn,t unusual,noticing this black streak at the bottom of the (second)picture i thought it may of been a smudge on the lens,again not unusual however a few weeks later i found a badger skull and then clawmarks up a tree(already blogged.Then,2 further sightings one of which the same night and 3 fields away certainly increased the odds of this tail tip belonging to a big cat.The angle is right as big cats do either carry their tail in a slight curve like this or more of a S shape.Chats to fellow big cat researchers revealed that they could see the possibilities as well.As researchers we are a naturally sceptical breed but this is a necessary trait to eliminate all other possibilities in order to confer that something is evidence of a big cat.When flicking the picture to and throw with the second one some sort or black shape is there but it is of course possible that the tail tip belongs to a black feral cat but scaled with a foxes brush would appear to show that it is around 2 " thick bringing it into the big cat bracket.A big cat was due to show up around this time as it had for several seasons but sods law meant i ignored this picture until the other evidence came to light and i had already shifted the cam to somewhere else.Oh well,there is always next year.........

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Sussex big cats and the effect of light levels

Sussex big cats are well positioned as regards to hunting,most have the chalky South downs in part of their home range together with the hinterland north of these hills with it,s mixed woods and coppices.2 separate big cats would appear to be utilising the higher light levels on the downs at night when the moon is low in the sky,small or not out at all. Big cats are mostly low level light hunters,as a general rule they will emerge from their lying up cover like impenetrable (to us)scrub some way through dusk depending on the state of the moon,seasons and weather sometimes on a moonlit night as late as when the woodcock flight or in our terms when the light has dropped so we can,t make out the bark on an oak tree at 100 paces.They will then gear up to hunt through the twilight(crepuscular) and on into the night (nocturnal) sometimes carrying on through to dawn.Their hunting success would certainly appear to be determined by the light levels available as cats need a certain amount of light to see by and also where they have positioned themselves in any given hunting area,thier prey on the other hand like deer and rabbits once the light at dusk has dropped to a certain level are unable to see very well in fact us humans have better low light vision than them and they move around using senses of smell and hearing as well as memory of the places that they are. When the moon rises early in the night and there is no cloud or is thin white cloud then this will give good light to hunt by but on moonless nights sightings are historically few and far between,this is because they can emerge well into dusk and have all night to hunt well whereas on dark nights they are often forced to hunt in the twilight of dusk and dawn,sometimes into the morning and so are more often reported.What is interesting is that witness reports and on the ground evidence gathering often pinpoint a big cat on the open downland part of it,s range on the moonless nights and in the far thicker cover of the hinterland on moonlit ones.As the South downs hugs the coast for a large proportion of it,s length it is well lit by light pollution from the huge urbanised areas that are the seaside towns,couple this with the usual large populations of rabbits that inhabit the town meets downs edges and it,s easy to see the attraction for nocturnal hunters.It certainly seems the case that a big cat would hunt on moonlit nights in the wooded areas that are interconnected with thick hedges and then hunting more out in the open on the downs on the dark nights in fact for the last 4 years it has been possible to predict with some degree of accuracy whether the downs or hinterland would throw up evidence of big cat activity depending on the state of the moon.There are exceptions of course like which season we are in or what weather is hitting us and to be truthful,the only certain thing to be said about big cats in Sussex is that there are no certainties.............(the photo shows a view of the downs to the west of Lewes with Streat hill at the top of the picture)