A man captured a rare sight last week — a quartet of cougars along the banks of a famed Southwest Washington salmon and steelhead river.
Three approach the Cowlitz just downstream from the Blue Creek ramp and appear to take a drink or smell something on the gravel bar, while the fourth sits in the treeline.
The scene was filmed by local resident Ed Torkelson late last Wednesday afternoon and posted to he and wife Gladys’s website, Cowlitzriverlive.com, billed as “The fisherman’s window on the river.” The video lasts five minutes.
Gladys says that Ed had been watching a beaver acting oddly, sniffing the air and swimming in circles before slapping its tail.
Several ducks can also be seen moving off the bank into the river.
As Ed focused on the beaver he saw four paws on the rocks and raised the camera to see a single cougar strolling up the bank.
“He was all eyes,” Gladys says of Ed.
The cat walked a bit further before cutting into the trees, and then two minutes later a pair come out and walk over to the river.
A third joins them while the fourth watches from cover.
“Who ever sees four cougars in the wild? You hardly ever see one,” says Gladys.
She says in the four years they’ve run the camera on their property located a river bend downstream from the famed steelheading boat launch and at which they’ve lived on for a decade, they’ve seen deer, sea lions and otters, “but never a cougar.”
Brian Kertson is WDFW’s cougar researcher and says he’s “pretty certain” the Torkelsons’ video shows a family group.
“That would be my first guess. Litter sizes are typically two to three,” he says.
The area is a rural part of Lewis County with scattered homes, a few farms and logged-over hillsides nearby.
What makes this more unusual, though, is that the group was viewed in real time rather than recovered later from a stationary trail cam, as with the images of eight cougars that a Wenatchee hunter found on his device posted in Moses Coulee in early 2011.
Kertson says that that was likely two related lions and their litters meeting where their ranges overlapped. He says that GPS collars are also revealing that the big cats interact more than previously believed. He says that while they are loners, “they’re not necessarily asocial.”
He relates story about how an adult female killed a deer and shared it with not only her three subadults but likely their father.
Cougars have been in the news a lot in recent years, for killing a Washington bicyclist and Oregon hiker last year, turning up in the wrong places — Mercer Island last month and a Spokane neighborhood last week — and their impact on Idaho elk herds compared to wolves.
Now they’re giving a pair of local residents and others reason to pay closer attention to their wildlife cams — and not just for river and fishing conditions — and help shed more light on the Northwest’s critters.