A Pittsfield nature photographer's close encounter with a bobcat family off South Mountain Road – Berkshire Eagle

The smaller of two bobcat kits photographed by Thorne in Pittsfield, left, and its larger sibling. 
A female bobcat off South Mountain Road in Pittsfield looks back at two kits this weekend. 
Wildlife photographer Mark E. Thorne.
Thorne, 66, has been shooting pictures since he was 10. He has spend decades shooting wildlife in Berkshire County.  

Investigations editor
The smaller of two bobcat kits photographed by Thorne in Pittsfield, left, and its larger sibling. 
PITTSFIELD — “Almost never.” That’s how often Pittsfield nature photographer Mark E. Thorne gets close enough to capture a bobcat, the state’s only wild cat.
This past weekend, Thorne got lucky. He spent more than four minutes documenting a female bobcat and two of her kits as the animals paused off South Mountain Road, within the city limits.
After decades photographing wildlife in Berkshire County, that in itself would be notable for Thorne, a self-employed electrician. His latest encounter wasn’t fleeting, as it typically is with this elusive creature, which is more common in Western Massachusetts than people know.
Thorne, 66, has been shooting pictures since he was 10. He has spend decades shooting wildlife in Berkshire County.  
Bobcats are about twice the size of large domestic cats and can weigh 15 to 35 pounds and reach 2½ to nearly 4 feet in length, according to the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. Females and juveniles are on the smaller side.
“They actually turned around to look at me,” Thorne said. “They heard the motor drive on the camera. To see them in the wild and to get their picture, it’s hard. It’s that difficulty that makes it so rewarding when you get something like this.”
Thorne, 66, has been shooting pictures since he was 10, starting with a Brownie. He long since has made the jump to digital, after years spent developing film and printing photos in a makeshift home darkroom.
In November 2012, photographer Mark Thorne found this adult bobcat resting near a brook in Pittsfield and captured the image by shooting from behind his truck.
This bobcat does not yet see the photographer hiding in 2010. 
In March 2018, photographer Mark Thorne came upon this large male bobcat eating a beaver caught out on the ice at a beaver pond off Barker Road. Thorne said he was 400 feet away lying flat in snow. The bright sun on show produced extremely high contrast.
The same male bobcat works on the beaver carcass in 2018 on a pond in Pittsfield. 
As the photographer lay watching, a coyote arrived after it had waited for the bobcat to finish — and then took the beaver away.
Thorne shares his best pictures with friends and fellow members of the Hoffman Bird Club. His personal archive contains dramatic photos of bald eagles roosting at Onota Lake. One of his bobcat photos, from 2011, appears on a Massachusetts Audubon blog.
In October 2010, Thorne hid behind a corner of his garage to photograph a prowling bobcat. A year later, he used his truck as cover to capture views of an adult bobcat resting behind a brook. He watched as a gray squirrel made the mistake of coming too close. “The bobcat jumped up and grabbed it.”
Often, friends tip him off to a sighting. In May 2020, Thorne set up a portable photography blind near a Lenox barn, hoping to gather images of a family of red foxes living beneath it.
Thorne recalls that, as he waited in the blind, 50 feet from the barn, that day’s heat came on, turning his hiding place into a “sweat lodge.” He couldn’t open vents, fearing that might reveal his presence. The odor of cow pies in a nearby field kept him company. After waiting inside the blind for a few hours, two pups emerged.
Two red foxes that photographer Mark Thorne captured in Lenox in May 2020. 
A red fox that photographer Mark Thorne captured in Lenox in May 2020. 
A red fox that photographer Mark Thorne captured in Lenox in May 2020. 
A red fox that photographer Mark Thorne captured in Lenox in May 2020. 
A red fox that photographer Mark Thorne captured in Lenox in May 2020. 
A red fox that photographer Mark Thorne captured in Lenox in May 2020. 
A red fox that photographer Mark Thorne captured in Lenox in May 2020. 
Later that day, he shared photos with friends, with a description of his stakeout.
“Despite the blind, they knew I was something that did not belong there,” he wrote.
Thorne says he treasures seeing wild creatures up close; it moves him in a way a zoo doesn’t.
“Just the sense of wonder,” he said of the pursuit. “I have no fancy explanation for why I shoot what I do. I love nature, I love all creatures and I particularly love capturing things that people do not, or cannot, often see. Being curious and patient, and always retaining a sense of wonder towards all creatures are the things that keep me trudging through swamps and woods.”
Wildlife photographer Mark E. Thorne.
Last weekend, his sighting stretched out for an improbable four or five minutes off South Mountain Road in south Pittsfield, as the bobcat kits played and their mother remained on alert. Thorne says he normally sees bobcats in flight, from behind. This time, he was able to quickly assemble his Nikon D500 and shoot before the animals retreated.
“I had only seconds to assemble the camera,” he said. “The two kits came out pretty good because most of the time, they were squared off with me. I was just aiming the camera at the middle of their bodies. You need a long lens to get them to fill the frame.”
“I finally have the type of high-quality camera bodies and lenses I only dreamed of when I was young,” he said.
A female bobcat off South Mountain Road in Pittsfield looks back at two kits this weekend. 
A female bobcat like the one Thorne documented this weekend produces one litter a year, usually with two kits. Mass Wildlife says young bobcats remain with their mother until they are grown, at least through their first winter. People might be seeing more of the cats in Massachusetts.
“Bobcats are adapting to suburban settings and may be seen in backyards and residential areas,” Mass Wildlife says in a fact sheet. “Bobcats rarely cause conflicts with human activities.”
Thorne got within 40 feet of the three bobcats over the weekend. The two kits romped about, particularly the smaller of the two.
“It was bounding around in the bushes, having a great time by himself,” Thorne said. “I was very lucky to get what I got.”
Larry Parnass can be reached at [email protected] and 413-588-8341.
Investigations editor
Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.
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