Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fifteen Days of Glory

7,712 photographs, 32 videos, 2,221 kilometers driving, 103 kilometers snowshoeing, 2 wildlife photographers, 1 lost shoe, and a lifetime of stories: this is the initial tale of the greatest wildlife encounter of my career, my 15 days of glory with 2 lynx -- a mother and her kitten.

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The first day was the hardest.  I had let myself get soft in the final month of winter here in the Canadian Rockies, watching too much hockey on tv and skipping the gym in favour of taste-testing new beers I had picked up on my travels in the months prior.

"Just...one...more...step.  Just keep going.  You can't give up now. You can't give up NOW."

I was three hours into slugging my way through the thigh-deep, lightly-crusted snow and I was beyond exhausted. In the fluster of excitement at the first sight of the mother lynx and her kitten, I had moved into the deep snow in the forest in just my Sorels (no snowshoes), carrying both my 70-200mm lens and my big 500mm telephoto. Worse yet, I had not yet had a chance to 'gear down' as I normally did as the day warmed -- so I was still wearing my -15 C (0 F) layers, including two pairs of long johns.

Within twenty minutes of following the lynx, I was soaked through in sweat. But as anyone else would do, I plunged onwards deeper and deeper into the forest, the adrenalin coursing through my veins.

Unlike most of my wildlife photography encounters, this time I was not alone. That day, of all days, my wife had convinced me to take her friend's daughter, a Canmore Collegiate high school student, along for a morning wildlife cruise in the hopes of seeing wolves.  Up until 11 a.m., Alex had seen nothing more than a few distant goats.  Five minutes later she was waist-deep in crusted powder following two lynx through a forest.

We had joined up with my friend and colleague, Brandon T. Brown, who had found the lynx earlier that morning and had sent an ominous text that had floated around in cyberspace for two hours before finally landing on my cell phone:

"Get here now!!"

And so there we were, the three of us following a mother lynx and her kitten through the snow, half-expecting the encounter to end at any moment -- but it didn't. In fact, long after our adrenalin stocks had gone the way of the dodo bird, long after Alex had lost her hiking shoe in the snow (we swore we'd look for it when the encounter was over, but we never did come back to find it), and long after I had given up dreaming of water and food and nap-time, we were still plunging through the crust keeping the lynx in our sight.

For an astonishing six-and-a-half hours (eight for Brandon!), we followed the lynx pair through a winding crash course in a-day-in-the-life-of-a-lynx.

It was the most physically-draining thing I have ever done, but it was worth every exhilarating minute of it. On one hand, Brandon and I both came out of the day with more than 100 GBs each of lynx photos; and on the other hand, we were both so tired and sore at the end of that first day that neither of us could get out of bed the next!

But then we did finally get out of bed again two days later, and astonishingly, we found the lynx again. And then we found them again two days after that.  And again five days after that.  And finally, in one last glorious hurrah, I spent four final hours alone with her and her kitten in late March.

The encounters truly have produced a lifetime worth of stories and photographs.  But as I often do, I will save most of both for another day and another time, sharing with you all just a taste of what made these encounters so special for both Brandon and I.

Enjoy!!

'Mom' - the most beautiful lynx I have ever seen

'The Kitten' - the cutest lynx I have ever seen

'Wachful Eye' - the kitten watching a squirrel in a tree above

'On the hunt' - the kitten prowling about the forest

'Together' - mom and the kitten pause for a moment in the forest

'Cuddle Time' - mom and the kitten cuddle up for a nap

Want to see 28 more beautiful, full-screen shots?  Check out my brand new photo gallery section over on my website and look for the What's New - Lynx gallery. 

Thanks everyone, please feel free to leave your 'Comments' below.

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