Saturday, 8th December, 2012.
I almost didn't see them. My brain registered two little fir-tree shapes, either side of the clearing we'd just driven past. Except, something wasn't quite right. Did those fir trees have eyes? And perhaps pointy ears? Could they have been cats? Wild cats... lynx maybe?
'Stop the car!', I yelled at my partner, 'I think I just saw some cats.. lynx!'. He thought I'd imagined them. After all, we'd just been talking about how cool it would be to see some lynx out here, in this winter wonderland that was Banff National Park. And we had lost count of how many rocks had looked like bears, and tree stumps had looked like wolves, on our numerous drives in the mountain parks. It tends to happen when you've been out for a few hours without seeing anything. It's pretty easy for your imagination to run wild when you're staring deep into woodland, seeking out that next wildlife encounter.
I wound down the window, and threw the beanbag over the doorframe. My camera was ready on my lap, switched on, with settings ready to go. You never know how long your presence will be tolerated, so it pays to be ready to shoot. We reversed slowly back to the clearing, and sure enough, there they were; Two beautiful Canada Lynx - one adult, one young - sitting a few metres apart, on either side of the small clearing.
It was about 3pm, on Saturday 8th December, 2012. The sun was already low in the sky, and the clearing was surrounded by tall trees, so the light wasn't great. I went to increase my ISO, and managed (as I often do) to end up changing the quality instead. I was panicking somewhat as I was convinced the lynx would leave as soon as we showed up, and the mother had just started moving towards her kitten.
Once I had my camera settings sorted again I realised that I needn't have worried. The lynx didn't seem remotely bothered by our presence, and they started moving around, doing their thing. The pair were quite comical at times, especially the mum who seemed to particularly like sticking her bum in the air and her face in the snow, leaving the kitten with a "Mum you're embarrassing me again" look on its face.
At this point the pair separated for a bit. The kitten wandered off out of sight, behind some trees, and the adult walked over to the front of the clearing, just a few metres from where we were parked. She proceeded to spend the next 5 minutes digging out a hollow in the snow. She twisted herself in knots a couple of times as she turned her front half around without moving her back half. I had to try not to laugh out loud for fear of startling her.
When the pair finally joined back up again, it seemed it was bath-time. This was really sweet to watch, and such an intimate moment between mum and kitten. First it was mum that gave her kitten a good licking, and then the kitten returned the favour. Every now and then they would stop to look up and watch a car go past, and then it was back to having a good mutual wash. I still can't believe no other cars stopped while we were watching these lynx. Usually we can't stop to look at a chipmunk without everyone else stopping for a look as well. Admittedly there were very few cars on the road that afternoon, not too many people venture out when it's around -20C outside. We felt so privileged to have such a personal and intimate moment with these two lynx.
After several minutes of close mother-kitten time, the adult lynx moved off towards the back of the clearing, followed soon after by the kitten. The young one didn't get very far before deciding to sit down again, and engage in some copycat (pardon the pun) behaviour, copying the adult's snow-shovelling technique, before heading off again.
As they wandered off, kitten following mum, towards the cover of trees, we were pleasantly surprised one last time, when the mum suddenly turned on the kitten and initiated a play-fight. The look said it all.. You'd better be ready, I'm coming for ya!
And then they were gone. Most likely heading off in search of some Snowshoe Hare for dinner. And so ended the most magical wildlife encounter I've ever had. I should point out that at no time did we interfere with these beautiful creatures. All viewing and photography was from within our vehicle, and when they decided it was time to leave, I thanked them for their visit and said goodbye.
A month or so later, these two started making headlines. Someone else spotted them along the Bow Valley Parkway, they closed ski runs at Lake Louise, and brought the Trans Canada Highway traffic to a halt as they showed Parks Canada that they would not be fenced in. I have not seen any other photos or reports of them being seen before January 2013, so I'd like to think that they showed themselves to us first.
Of course it is possible that this is a different mum and kitten pair, but considering how close they were to the other locations where they were seen, it seems unlikely. 2013 seems to have been a bumper year for lynx sightings. These usually shy animals have been seen on several occasions, in various locations, including this one in Kananaskis, seen just a couple of months ago by local photographer Kerri Martin .
I'll leave you with these video clips which show a little bit of mum and kitten interaction, as well as why I'd love to have a lynx at home during winter (they would make short work of shovelling my sidewalk). Apologies for the video quality, I'm still a complete newbie at making videos..
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