At the beginning of last month, Wolf Ridge ELC had the sighting of a lifetime. On January 29th 2014, Head- Chef at Wolf Ridge, Barret Stavseth showed me pictures on his cell phone of SIX large gray cats crossing the driveway, down by the proposed Farm site…Rumors and descriptions of sightings began to fill my ears for the next several days. On January 31st, visitor Teddy William told me of a “large cat with black tufts on its ears” that was sitting regally on a snowbank by the Forest Ecology Sign on his drive in. Two days later, Director of Naturalist Training, Joe Walewski confirmed that there was indeed a family of Canada Lynx on property when he saw a group of four cats sitting right in the middle of the driveway on his drive in to work! For the next week, the sightings continued. Needless to say, being an avid wildlife tracker and fascinated naturalist, I went out searching and crossed my fingers. I journeyed to the area of the first sighting and picked up their trail immediately.
The paw-prints of the lynx were slightly larger than if I pressed my fist into the snow (its large hairy paws are well adapted for efficient travel through deep snow). For an animal weighing in the 20-40 pound range, these prints are enormous…I followed the tracks up and down the snowbanks lining the driveway and into the forest, where the intent of these phantom cats became evident. The main prey of the Lynx, Snowshoe hare, had left behind an abundance of tracks in the area. Any twig low enough to the forest floor bore the tell-tale chew marks of these snowy rabbits (their sharp top and bottom incisors create a clean 45-degree-angle cut when they browse). Often the Lynx prints were directly registering in the tracks of a snowshoe hare; the rodents were being hunted…
I trudged through the 40 inches of snow, wishing I had Lynx paws for feet, when suddenly I saw something interesting. The tracks stopped at a large depression in the snow, strategically placed behind a fallen log on the hillside. A Lynx had laid here in wait…On the other side of the log was a frenzy of tracks; a scene which was hard for me to comprehend. But then I found the distinct cat prints once more. Inside one of the lynx tracks was a small tuft of bloody white fur…I continued to follow and picked up small bits of fur as I went. Then I made a gruesome discovery. A severed leg of a snowshoe hare lay eerily on top of the snow. All of the meat had been stripped from the bones except for the foot. Before I left the area, I decided to set up the trail camera in hopes that the Lynx would return to prowl the area.
I came back to the scene the next day and found fresh lynx tracks, directly registering inside my own human snowshoe tracks! I had become the stalked. Another afternoon of tracking and no sighting. On my walk back up the driveway I waved to Fred, the Wolf Ridge Accountant, who was driving home. The next morning Fred says to me “So remember when I waved to you yesterday?”. I did recall. “Well” he says, “I drove around the next bend in the driveway and their were four big cats headed in your direction…Did you see them?” UGHHH! No, I hadn’t.
“People can go their entire lives living in the North Woods of Minnesota and never see a Canada Lynx” says Terry Olson, retired Forest Service employee of 35 years. I later checked the camera and the Lynx had rewarded my diligent tracking efforts with some stunning close up photographs! Turns out the Lynx family soon left the area and I never saw the animals, although I came darn close!