Recently, I was at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, just a short distance from Beaufort, SC for a half day of wildlife photography and slowly cruising along the wildlife drive, looking for anything to photograph. This wildlife refuge is truly one of our Lowcountry treasures and, as a naturalist and wildlife photographer, it is a great place to see an astounding diversity of the flora and fauna that make the Lowcountry so special!
I parked the Jeep and walked one of the many rice field dikes that border the impounded waters and came to a hammock of live oaks, max myrtles, tallow trees, and giant plume grass. After a while, I decided to take a little break, put my camera and tripod down, and scan the area with binoculars. In the distance, a female harrier was methodically searching the edges of the impoundments for prey, sparrows and red winged blackbirds rustled about in the cattails, while coots and moorhens noisily chased each other around, pausing every once and awhile to clumsily dive underwater for a quick morsel. Nothing really jumped out at me at first, so I scanned the forest edges, looking for anything and everything. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little bit of movement. I swung my binoculars around just in time to see two yellow orbs staring at me from the cover of the grasses on the edge of the hammock. There, perfectly camouflaged with its spotted, tawny colored fur, was a bobcat! Rarely do you see these secretive cats, but here was one in beautiful light, almost invisible against the tan colored grasses, glaring at me! And (in my excitement, I almost forgot), I’ve got my camera!!
Trying my best not to spook the spooky cat, I tried to slowly gather my wits and get my camera into position to catch a photo, but the bobcat was intently watching me and was on high alert. No matter how slowly I moved, I could feel the bobcat’s eyes burning into me, its body tightly coiled, ready to bolt. Every move I made caused a flinch in the bobcat, and, in my heart, I knew I had no chance for a photo. At the last moment, I finally got my camera in position. I peered through the lens, focused, and frantically searched for that beautiful, camouflaged face and big yellow eyes, but to no avail. The bobcat finally had enough of me and my intrusion, and in the blink of an eye, it turned and disappeared into its surroundings, completely and silently vanishing without a trace.
At first, I was frustrated to have missed the shot, but then I thought how lucky I was to have seen this “ghost” at all. With wildlife, sometimes that’s all we get is a glimpse, but that’s enough to keep me coming back again and again, that’s for sure! I may not have gotten a photo on my camera, but the image of that Lowcountry wildcat will forever be etched in my mind.