If local naturalist Dick Newell gets a report of a fearless bobcat strolling casually across the path of cyclists riding around Upper Newport Bay, or dropping in on a well-manicured Newport Beach backyard, he knows it’s probably Babe.
Babe, a 17-pound female bobcat Newell guesses is about 5 years old, is easily recognizable by the distinctive pattern of her spotted coat and identification tag in her left ear.
“She’ll just walk down the path right past you,” Newell said.
It was a group of wildlife researchers who named Babe. The researchers tagged her four years ago with a white ear tag and a radio tracking collar.
They called her Babe because of her affinity for the Back Bay, where she stalks rabbits and coots, a small black bird favored by local bobcats because they are easy to catch.
Similarly, a male bobcat the researchers tagged around Buck Gully was dubbed Buck, and a female discovered in a marshy area was given the name Marsha.
Babe’s tracking collar has since fallen off and her tag has yellowed with age, but Newell, a docent for Newport Bay Naturalists and Friends, still spots her every now and again.
“Newport naturalists get reports of cougars all the time, but there haven’t been cougars around here in many years — it’s probably Babe and offspring,” Newell said.
It’s not uncommon for people to spot Babe, because she seems to have little fear of humans, sometimes walking right past them, Newell said.
Newport Beach animal control officers will occasionally get a phone call about a bobcat who seems unafraid of humans in their back yard, said Sr. Animal Control Officer Eric Metz.
“Every once and while, we’ll get a call about Babe, and we’ll tell them about her and it pretty much makes them happy,” Metz said.
Newport Beach resident Michael Fleming, 16, recently snapped a few photographs of Babe as she walked within four feet of him one day, while he was out riding his bike around Upper Newport Bay.
“’He said, ‘oh, I saw a cat,’ a really pretty cat,’” Michael’s mother, Penny Fleming, said. “I said ‘That is a really pretty cat, but it’s a really serious cat.’ It’s not something I would want to put down kibble in the kitchen for,” Fleming said.
Newell identified Babe in Michael’s photos from her ear tag and the pattern of her coat.
It’s around the time of year Babe typically goes on the prowl for a new mate, digging in the dirt and spraying trees to let male bobcats know she’s available, Newell said.
Bobcats usually breed about once a year and Babe’s two surviving kittens from this year’s litter are getting old enough to leave her side.
There’s no need for residents to call animal control if they spot Babe, or another bobcat in Newport Beach, unless it appears sick, Metz said.
Metz cannot recall any instances that bobcats have attacked a pet or human.
“It’s just part of the local wildlife,” he said.