He just appeared.
I was setting quietly in my deer stand about 14 feet above the forest floor trying to imitate being a tree trunk, when I became aware there was an animal to my right. I never heard him coming as the soft pads on the bottom of his feet cushioned his every step. The wet leaves on the ground hardly gave way as he poked along. As his gaze swept back and forth taking in everything in front of him, he eased over the ground with halting footfall.
In front of me was the extremely rare Canadian Lynx. He was not a large one. I would have guessed his weight at around 25 pounds, but he was a fit one. His skin snugly hugged his athletic body, loose enough for action but tight enough to indicate good health.
I slowly raised my camera and waited. I was not to be disappointed. He halted as if studying something. Then he raised his head and the very tips of the edge of his nose quivered a bit as he vacuumed in the scent that flowed on the gentle river of wind coming up the slope. He knew something was about, but couldn’t quite figure it out. Slowly he turned his head in my direction, staring ahead and below me. Studying the downslope of the ridge we were on, his quiescent body didn’t move for at least two minutes. Then, as slowly as you can imagine, he turned his liquid yellow eyes up and stared at me.
I saw him through the camera lens. He just looked right through me, not scared, curious. He cocked his head a bit to the side as if to get a better angle at this lump on the side of the spruce. It was then I realized I was holding my breath. Slowly exhaling, I gently pressed the shutter. The resulting “click” sounded like a shot to me, but he only kept staring in my direction. Then he licked his lips! I couldn’t believe my luck and kept pulling the trigger.
Somewhere in his brain he knew something wasn’t quite right. Even then he didn’t bound away, but simply turned and ambled down through the trees. Wending his way across the slope he disappeared from view. I didn’t hear him when he arrived and never heard a sound when he left. It was like a beautiful apparition of tawny color flowing through a sea of green.
With shaking hands i looked into the camera viewfinder, scared that I hadn’t had the settings right or that I was out of focus. But there it was in the tiny square, proof that I had seen one of New England’s rarest of creatures, a Canadian Lynx.
The lynx is quite different from the bobcat. If you would see them side by side the differences would be obvious. The lynx has feet much larger than a bobcat. They are designed to be able to walk easily on top of deep snow. The Lynx also have long black tufts of hair protruding from the top of their ears. His tail is solid black and shorter than that of a bobcat. A bobcat has a spotted belly and can have a spotted chest, while a lynx has a solid colored chest and belly.
They both feed mainly on rodents, but are opportunistic feeders. They be found around deer yards in the winter, feeding on downed deer. They generally do not kill deer, but will take a fawn or weakened animal. One deer carcass can sustain a cat for a long time. The problem in the last twenty years or so is that a coyote pack can devour a deer in a night, leaving little for the cats.
Rabbits are a main source of food for the lynx. Unfortunately these numbers have dwindled across New England as well as a result of the astounding multiplication of coyotes. These big carnivores need to be fed regularly and rabbits and deer are an easy source of food for them.
Lynx usually do not range very far from their den if there is an adequate food supply. It does not take much to keep a lynx fed, but any interference in the food supply and they will set off to find a better habitat for themselves.
Breeding takes place anytime from January through March. The gestation period is about fifty-five days with the preponderance of young being born in late April or early May. The litters can range in size from one to five, with two or three the most common. The male does help in the raising of the young and spends time with his mate.
The young are born blind, well furred and spotted. They are weaned at around eight weeks, but stay with their mother through the fall. She teaches them early on about tracking and killing for food. Although they will eat vegetation, it composes very little of their diet.
The sightings of these cats is rare in New England. However, there seems to be a growing population. Sightings were made in every northern state and Canada last year. However, their recovery will be a slow process. Incursion into their historic territory by coyotes has stymied their natural growth. We will probably never see large numbers of them again, but hopefully they will find a way to stay part of our rich New England wildlife scene.