Taken in 2016, this cam-trail shot of a bobcat behind the Golden Gate Bridge remains as enchanting as ever.
The Marin Headlands were among the first verdant bastions maintained by the Golden Gate Recreational Area (GGRNA) I hiked when I came to San Francisco back in 2015. It was my inaugural visit to the city; my first hyperlocal baptism by way of Karl The Fog; a five-mile-long trudge that afforded me wells of serotonin — at the expense of my lower body coursing with lactic acid. I distinctly remember pausing at Hawk Hill and taking a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge with my gender-reveal-blue iPhone 5c at the time. (Remember that awkward era of “affordable” iPhones that both looked and felt more like a Fisher-Price plaything than a pocketable computer? Simpler times, short battery lives, slower refresh rates.)
Denmark, a country not much bigger than the Bay Area, has over 200 such wildlife crossing structures. Why not here?” https://t.co/IYRNzzYSPb
— Sierra Magazine (@Sierra_Magazine) November 16, 2022
I still have that picture saved in my iCloud account, the first pillows of Karl shrouding the Golden Gate Bridge in a cool embrace. That digital still will forever elicit a warm affection in my otherwise reptilian heart. But I must confess: My out-of-focus, elevated snap taken atop Hawk Hill pales in comparison to the sheer amazement enspelled by this grainy picture — that features not only a clear evening view of the Golden Gate Bridge, but a goddamn bobcat just minding its own business in the foreground.
Taken by photographer Steve Winter — who is a co-founder of the conservation organization Big Cat Voices and has his work regularly featured in National Geography — in the fall of 2016, the still was recently re-shared by Winter on his personal Instagram account, highlighting the striking nature of the cam-trail shot.
“An outtake from my cougar story,” Winter captioned the IG upload after plainly writing “here is a bobcat overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.” (When the deliverables are *this good,* there’s no need to say anything other than what’s literally in front of you.)
Winter had set up a collection of cam trails along the Marin Headlands as part of his work with cataloging and researching mountain lions, also known as “cougars,” in the Golden State. Up until 2014, populations of the big cats had been unstable and decreasing; some estimates showed there were less than 2,000 cougars in the state in the 1990s. But due to successful conservation efforts, there are now thought to be around 5,000 of these big cats in California, with most of these animals documented in SoCal.
As Winter wrote, this bobcat selfie was taken just before he set up in Griffith Park — and captured that famous Hollywood cougar picture.
“I had cameras above the Golden Gate Bridge on a ridge line in Marin County overlooking San Francisco,” he continues. “Though there were signs of a cougar – I never got an image of one — so I moved the cameras to LA.”
Had he maybe set those cameras up, say, in San Mateo or elsewhere in the peninsula, Winter might’ve gotten a still of them… albeit maybe with a yard fence in the background. As for bobcats, these smaller felines, which rarely get more than 30 pounds — roughly a fifth of the size of a mountain lion — they’re found in higher numbers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
But yes: Back to this fantastic pic.
Behind pristine headland hills, one of the region’s apex predators casually meanders about as a city teeming with 880,000 residents sits in the background miles away; bipeds beneath city lights and breathing inside stacked cement — reachable by crossing arguably the most iconic bridge in the world that sits between.
It’s breathtaking; it’s captivating. It’s, perhaps, the magnum opus of serendipitous wildlife photography (as far as the Bay Area is considered, that is).
I feel like I’ll be sponging up the grandeur of this photo for some time. And I’m happy to add it to my iCloud folder dedicated to Bay Area landscape photography… where it will rightfully cast a large shadow over my 2015 still taken from a similar vantage point.
Feature image: Courtesy of Instagram via [at]stevewinterphoto