Out on a mountain bike ride, my friend and I were just commenting on the fact that we'd seen just about every type of animal there is to see in Colorado, including moose, which don't even belong here in a strict ecological sense (they were introduced)[1], but neither of us had ever laid eyes on a puma, even though their 'sign' was all over the place. Just then we looked down and, right on cue, noticed a deer arm next to the road.

It's fairly common to see graphic signs of puma kills in the Front Range forests. (Note: Pumas are commonly referred to as mountain lions in Colorado.) There are quite a few pumas around, and that's what pumas do: kill and eat deer. Usually about one per week. They feed on the carcass 'til it gets gross, then they go and jump on another. Often a hiker's dog, or a coyote, fox, raccoon, or some other sniffy beast, will grab a piece of a kill, which might lie 20 or 30 yards off in the woods, and haul it back to the trail. 'Drop it, Max!' Many years ago a friend's golden retriever brought the entire bloody head of a buck back to his master. So it tends to be courtesy of exuberant dogs that many Coloradans get their first up-close looks at the pumas' (and human hunters') real handiwork.

Less colorful signs of pumas' existence are everywhere, in the form of scat, tracks and claw marks on trees. Due to pumas' top-shelf eating habits, their turds tend to be dark in color and substantially without hair -- a hairy scat probably belongs to a coyote, even more ubiquitous beasts in these parts. Both animals like to leave 'em on the trails and forest roads. Check the ground for tracks as well; cats usually walk with their claws tucked in, so their tracks don't show claw marks, while dog tracks do.

So, as of yet, no puma sightings. I've seen moose, elk, tarantulas, porcupines, mountain hobos, bobcats, bears, coyotes, foxes, eagles, owls, beavers, marmots, hippies and everything in between ­ except the elusive puma.

Today we saw a good-sized herd of mule deer; they looked extra cautious, and skittered up a steep slope to get away from us. I took it as a good sign.

[1] To read more about a peaceful moose stand-off and the introduction of this beautiful beast into the southern Rockies see MOOSE ENCOUNTERS and MOOSE BLOG 2 on the Falcon site.

Photos by Robert Reid.