Friday, July 8, 2011

The Lynx

I think that I have probably already told most everyone that would read my blog about the encounter I had with the Lynx in Kanuti NWR, but I am going to write about it all the same.  This was no small thing for me and it will likely linger in my mind for years to come.

Ever since I was young I have had an affinity towards cats.  Both wild and domestic, large and small.  I can not help but love every cat that I see and often times they like me too, in that cat-love kind of way.  Growing up we always had cats and more than just a couple of them.  That is, I'm sure, where it began for me.  As I aged my interests became more diverse.  I payed attention to dogs, amphibians, reptiles, birds, insects and was fascinated with them all but still I had this place in my heart for cats.  If you had asked me then what my favorite animal was... or my favorite cat, the one I would most like to see, I would have said a Lynx.

I probably learned about them from a Zoobook or on a nature show but they just seemed like the most amazing cats.  They are extremely secretive and difficult to observe in the wild.  They feed mainly on the Snowshoe Hares during both the winter and summer months.  As it happened this year, 2011, was the low point of the Snowshoe Hare's population, which runs in a ten year cycle.  When there are many Hares the Lynx can feed easily and so their population grows too, but when the Hare population drops and the Lynx no longer have such abundant food bouncing around they must travel further and search more often to feed themselves.  That is the time to see them as they are breaking their normal habits of stealth and  secrecy.  I was told about this before we went out though I didn't dare get my hopes up to see something so unlikely.

A basic population ecology concept of predator prey relations

We had made it through 17 days, we were on the second to last plot.  We had arrived, set up camp at lake Minnkokut earlier in the day and we were just sitting down to rehydrate ourselves some delicious food in a pouch.  I was pouring the water in my pouch and Tim was telling me how the Arctic Circle ran across the lake only 70 meters out from our camp when I glanced up to look at the lake just over his shoulder.  I ran my eyes along the shoreline, as I did a million times a day hoping to catch some flicker of movement, when I saw it working its way toward us about 150 meters away.  Quickly I pointed it out to Tim as i fumbled for my binoculars.

Click To Enlarge, It is the dark spot in the center. 

"Looks like a Fox" he said squinting at it.  I already had my binoculars up and instantly I knew it,  "I dont think so... Thats a Lynx, for sure."  The words tumbled from my mouth.  I reached down for my camera, already wishing I had a nice telephoto lense to really get the shot but deciding to do the best I could with what I had.  The Lynx kept working its way toward us along the shore.  Later on Tim said that it was probably searching for duck nests among the reeds.

We continued to watch it slowly work its way closer and closer.  I would watch it through my binoculars for a bit then it would be much closer so I would take a few photos and then get annoyed at how little of it I could see so I would switch back to binoculars.  Eventually it was less than 50 meters away, then 40, then... it had walked into a patch of dense shrubs but still coming our direction.  Tim and I stayed silent, unwilling to move to swat at mosquitos or even acknowledge their presence.  We were both focused and waiting, adrenaline pumping. I think that I held my breath though to be honest I can not be sure, every ounce of attention I had was being focused on my vision to catch the first few photons that might give away the movement of the Lynx.

We waited motionless for what seemed like an hour but was probably closer to a minute.  Then it walked out, looking right at us.  It hadn't seen us before it walked into the shrubs but now it was quite aware that we were there, it must have smelled us.  It did not appear frightened, only curious.  As we watched it, it watched us.  The most amazing thing was that it didn't seek shelter, but instead revealed itself to us as if to say, "Yes, I see you and you see me, this is my territory. Are you friend or foe?".  With our continued silence and unveiled posture out in the open I hope that we answered back, "We are nothing to worry about, only passing through."

The best shot I was able to get.

I think that it got the message because it did not flinch, did not run.  In fact, it walked out even further into the sun and sat down.  I took as many photos as i could hoping that some of them might be in focus, that I might get the shot to remember this moment by. Then I stopped with the camera and decided to remember it the old fashion way.  I studied its face through the binoculars.  I could see its beautiful eyes, the tufted ears, the defined jaws and the bearded face.  Its fur looked thick and insulating, though it already had its summer coat. I just couldn't take my eyes off of it.

Unfortunately the resolution and zoom weren't enough to get the defined image

After a few minutes of this two-sided observation passed and the Lynx decided we were no longer of interest, it turned and walked away.  It was a slow and precise movement without a hint of fear as if it was just going to continue on with its hunt.  After waiting for another ten minutes in case it returned, Tim an I sat back down to our now well rehydrated food in a pouch.  There was only one subject to chat about that night and I'd say we did our best to cover the issue thoroughly.

Now, I know that this story might seem dramatized or embellished but I assure you it is not.  That is how I experienced it. That is how much it meant to me.  When you experience something that leaves both the child you were and man you are left in wonder it is not a just fleeting moment.  That experience will live in me every day and it will be a very long time before it fades from my mind.

1 comment:

  1. This description makes me feel like i was sitting there with you and the Lynx, and knowing how special those moments must have been for you gave me goose bumps just reading it.

    The photos are perfect, a mysterious slightly out of focus picture seems somehow correct for such a specter.