Garrett Love, a Republican who served in the Kansas Legislature from 2011-17, now owns and operates Western Kansas Pheasant Hunts on his family farm near Montezuma in Gray County. He said he was surprised when he saw an image from a trail camera on his farm of what appeared to be a young mountain lion prowling around. The sighting is, so far, unconfirmed.
Love is no stranger to having unusual wildlife on his farm, however. Last December, for example, he bagged a 17-point mule deer still in full velvet.
Love posted the image, which unfortunately only captured the top half of the cat, on the Facebook page Kansas Hunting and Fish. Within three hours, it had 58 comments, with speculation ranging from it being a cougar to a bobcat to a regular old house cat or Savannah cat.
The positioning of the photo makes it difficult to get a judge on the size and scope of the cat, but it does seem fairly small for a cougar. One commenter thought it was a bobcat because he could see spots in its fur — I’m not sure if they’re spots so much as pixelation — but I actually think that makes a better case for it to be a young cougar if they are. Adolescent mountain lions have very subtle spots, while bobcats and Savannah cats have much darker spots along their body. The cat’s face also doesn’t look much like a bobcat to me, so I personally think we can safely rule that out.
When I offered my two cents to Love via text message, he agreed that it didn’t look like the bobcats he typically catches on camera.
“That’s what I was thinking.. I’ve seen a lot of bobcats on trail camera, and they look more like bobcats lol,” Love wrote. “That was the only picture of him.. it was along the Arkansas River, which would be a travel corridor. But also doesn’t seem just real large.”
Again, having the bottom half of the cat’s body in frame would make identification much easier, as you could see its tail and get a judge on its size, so it’s difficult to say whether it’s a small mountain lion — it could be a young female, which would be quite a bit smaller than a full-grown male, maybe 60 or 70 pounds — or just a big domesticated cat. But it does seem to have the dark markings on its face that a young cougar would. Love added that his brother-in-law had reported seeing a mountain lion north of Love’s house earlier in the year, as well, so it’s possible one or more could be roaming around in the area.
After all, there have been 21 confirmed sightings in Kansas since 2005, and many more unconfirmed because of a lack of evidence. In February, a female cougar was found dead in Rooks County, and in 2016, Rene Tinajero captured an image of a cougar in southwest Shawnee County that likely was moving eastward toward Missouri.
But I’m certainly no expert, and I fully admit I don’t know exactly what it is. I’m interested to hear what you all think, so send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org let me know what you think it is and why.
It’s always interesting to hear about wildlife oddities, and while there are certainly a lot of tall tales coming from people who are just out there looking for attention — for the record, I’ve known Garrett for about a decade and can tell you with good certainty he isn’t one of them — some strange things do happen in the wild, like the near state-record elk shot in Jefferson County last fall. I’ve learned to have an open mind in this industry.
Turkey on the town
Another unusual, though not nearly as newsworthy, moment occurred to me this week as I was driving west on S.W. 29th in Topeka.
Right as I passed the Brookwood Shopping Center, I had to hit on my brakes as I noticed a good-sized tom turkey with a long beard walking across the street at the intersection of 29th and Oakley.
I would say we need a turkey crossing sign, but it apparently knows how to use the crosswalk. Now I’ve seen it all.
I watched as it crossed in front of my truck and another vehicle to my right — I was worried they wouldn’t see the bird and stop — and as it made it safely to the other side, it poofed out its plumage and began strutting. It was a beautiful bird with deep, rich coloring.
It’s pretty common knowledge that there’s a flock of wild turkeys that lives in the Big Shunga Park across the street from Brookwood, as they can regularly be seen feeding from the high-traffic roadway. I’ve actually stumbled across their nesting area by accident while fishing on Shunga Creek, but I’ve never seen them cross the street and go down into the Oak Parkway Park before. It makes sense, though, as Shunga Creek crosses under a bridge and goes down way back behind Misty Glen Apartments.
The population in the area is pretty strong. Scott Wilson, a bird watcher and photographer from Topeka, said he’s seen as many as a dozen turkeys in the Big Shunga Park at one time, with other birdwatchers saying they’ve seen as many as 18 in the area.
With all of the bustle of city life, it’s kind of nice to have a little refuge for them in the city limits where you can watch them go about their day without the fear of hunters.
Of course, those birds that live outside the city are fair game! Turkeys are a blast to hunt and are great table fare, and I hope to see more photos of youngsters with their first birds soon.
Along with the turkeys, Wilson added that a single bald eagle hatchling at Lake Shawnee had fledged on Wednesday and was getting ready to fly. More good news for you birders out there.
Vultures on display
Speaking of Lake Shawnee and birdwatching, I spotted 42 turkey vultures along the bank and on a nearby roof near the spillway while fishing Tuesday at Lake Shawnee.
With all of the noisy construction going on in that area — the bridge recently opened over the spillway, but now S.E. West Edge Road is closed coming off of S.E. 29th — maybe they’re getting stirred up.
Wilson said he thought they were upset by the new bridge, as the old one was a popular hangout for the vultures.
Despite the heavy construction, the lake might become even more busy than usual this spring as many of the reservoirs in northeast Kansas — including Perry Reservoir — have closed down to boaters because of flooding. I saw a surprising number of boats for a Tuesday morning, both anglers and joyriders.
Despite the high water, boat traffic and construction, I did manage to catch a pretty decent largemouth bass while bank fishing with a red and chartreuse Rooster Tail.
Largemouths seem to be doing better at Lake Shawnee this year than in past years, which is a great sign. I also saw a ton of big freshwater drum swimming in the shallows near the dam, and heard the crappie bite has been decent there late in the day.
I’ve heard a lot of people say the crappie spawn is over in the lakes, but I don’t think that’s correct. People are still catching fish with eggs, and most of the crappie being caught up shallow have been males. I’d expect the next two weeks to be pretty hot for crappie in lakes as the water temperatures increase.
In a previous article I wrote that the trout season in Kansas was set to end April 15, with a sentence saying that “Lake Shawnee anglers also have just a few days left to catch a big rainbow trout before the season ends.”
The Kansas Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Commission later discussed that topic at its April 25 meeting in Colby and clarified that while the season does indeed end on April 15, anglers can still catch trout without even needing a trout license through the rest of the year until the season begins again in November 2019, at which time a trout license will again be required. Stocked trout, like the ones at Lake Shawnee, typically die off during the hot summer months, so the state encourages anglers to take fish — though creel limits still apply and a fishing license is still required for anglers ages 16 to 74.
I apologize if I caused any confusion to my fellow trout enthusiasts out there, and it sounds as though the state will look to make that rule more clear on its signage and regulations materials in the future, as well.
Now go catch a trout!