Canada Lynx in the Minnesota Woods – A Rare Sight

We don’t often see the Canada lynx in our woods, so we tend to cherish the brief glimpses we get. I’ll share a few of those brief glimpses I have had in recent months and a full set of photos from a recent, unbelievable lynx encounter with a family of five. I’ll also add a few comments that could help you prolong and enrich your photo excursions into the woods if you encounter wildlife from your vehicle.

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Five Canada Lynx on the prowl in the forest…

The population of lynx in our forest tends to fluctuate with the population of the snowshoe hare, the primary food source for the lynx. Hare seem to be plentiful in the woods this winter.  Lynx will also dine on grouse and other small critters like mice and squirrel. I have been seeing a lot of grouse and hare in recent months and my lynx sightings have increased this winter for sure. I have had many fun grouse photos this year. The hare photos below are from last year.

You really never know when a great wildlife sighting will occur. This past summer I had a very close, brief encounter with a lynx at a boat landing.  I had just finished canoeing on a remote, inland lake and was tying the canoe onto the truck. I came around the back to sit on the tailgate for a minute and as I rounded the back of the truck, a Canada lynx walked right by the back of the truck and past me. It was within 10 feet of the truck. It walked slowly by and looked at me like I wasn’t even there. I rushed to grab a camera and was able to snap a couple quick shots before it disappeared into the woods. Although my camera was in the truck, it was ready to go with a long lens for wildlife and settings for the light of day. I always keep the long lens on my camera when I am driving hiking, canoeing. If I want to shoot landscapes, and wide angle, I can always switch lenses for that. You won’t have the time to change to your long lens if a moose or a lynx walks out of the woods, most of the time.

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Summer lynx – a fleeting chance and an off center snap as it slinks into the woods…

I don’t know a lot about the lynx, as I just don’t see them a lot and they aren’t always on my radar. I am learning more this winter and with this recent experience, though. I have had a couple encounters this winter just prior to the family group. Below is a recent lynx photo shot from waaaaaaayyyy down the road. I could have tried driving up closer to take shots, but that rarely works out with wildlife. Slowly pull over and shut off your vehicle whenever possible. I tend to assess the situation quickly to determine if my subject is about to run, or if they are going to be comfortable enough for a photo shoot. Sometimes you get close, and sometimes you just have to take the long, landscape type shot.

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Canada Lynx Roadblock – Winter 2018 in Superior National Forest

Often times, if you are lucky enough to see one cross a road in a flash, they will lurk in the woods not too far off the road and offer you a quick glimpse through the trees. While they avoid us when they can, they seem to be curious like any cat and not necessarily threatened by us. Another step you can take to prolong a wildlife experience is to stay still and don’t wander too far from your vehicle. The animal may already be nervous about the car, now with a couple people out milling about in the road you tend to look like a pack of predators. Sometimes the wildlife won’t seem to mind our presence, but more often than not, they do.

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Briefly through the brush – Winter 2018 in Superior National Forest

On the morning of February 3rd, a very cold, sub-zero morning, I headed out to look for grouse and a possible moose to photograph. I had been seeing moose tracks in a few different areas in recent days and weeks. I had an uneventful morning and was retracing my drive after turning around and heading back home. As I rounded a corner I had just driven by minutes ago, I saw a solitary wildcat in the middle of the road.

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Lone Canada lynx stares into the woods…

I was able to pull off and shut the truck off without scaring the cat off. I was amazed. It was immediately evident that it wasn’t put out by my presence. It was locked on the woods and sat down in the middle of the road as I planted myself in a snowbank just in front of my truck. I was certain this forest feline was honed in on a hare. I waited for the action. To my surprise and amazement, a second cat came over the snowbank and onto the road to join the other lynx.

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A second, smaller lynx joins the first…
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Two lynx in the road…

The two lynx interacted for a bit. It was obvious that there was a size difference and there was a difference in attitude in the two as well. The second was more playful, curious and energetic, it seemed. The larger cat still seemed intent on the woods. Never really moving much and paying me little attention. The smaller cat was a bit unsure of me at times.

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Two Canada Lynx in the Minnesota Woods – One a little more curious than the other…
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Two Canada Lynx in the Minnesota Woods – Paying attention to the woods in front of them…
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Two Canada Lynx in the Minnesota Woods – Number 2 is a little unsure…

I knew the opportunity could end any second, and I didn’t have a lot of light to work with, but the subjects were cooperating so well! I couldn’t believe it! I boosted the ISO a little and tried to remain still while I took pictures.  The two at one point locked on to something in the woods and stared for a few seconds. I thought about switching to video, but the tripod was in the truck and I knew with the long lens it would be shaky at best. My cell phone was in the truck charging or it would have made great video.

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The pair of lynx are locked onto something in the woods. I wait for what’s to come…

With the camera to my eye, aimed at the pair, I notice movement and realize there are more cats entering the road from the woods. I took a few photos and lowered the camera and watched, amazed.

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A third and fourth lynx join the scene…

 

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One, two, three, four…

Right away I noticed the difference in size between the first lynx and the three who joined. The three were smaller than the first and similar in size to each other.  The four cats nuzzled, cuddled and circled with the larger cat. At this point i’m thinking it’s a family unit, but know so little about them. They seemed to check in with and not stray far from the larger, adult cat when in the road. They stayed in a tight group together.

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4 Canada Lynx checking me out in Superior National Forest

 

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Always seemed like they were watching in all directions, as a group.
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The smaller kittens were a little curious, but playful.

The four cats milled about, circled, checked me out a bit. It seems like they were curious, but also attentive to all directions around them. When they grouped up in the road, in the open, they got in a pile and were all looking in different directions it seemed. 360 view. Maybe I am imagining that, but when I look at the photos it looks like that is what they were doing. Maybe the fact that they were in an open clearing(roadway) and my presence triggered an instinct they have as a family unit? Huddle together to look larger and watch in all directions while we are exposed in the open. Anyway, that’s what I observed.
As I was photographing and watching the group of four another animal appears!! Number 5 enters the scene and explains what the others were still looking at in the woods. Looking for their other sibling. It’s now fairly certain this is a mother and 4 kittens nearing a year old. I have since learned that this is the time of year that the lynx will mate. At that time, almost year old kittens will go out on their own, away from mother. It’s known that a mother  lynx will have up to 6 or so kittens  and will teach them to hunt and nurture them for their first 9 months or so. It’s great to see that 4 healthy looking lynx have made it almost through their first winter and are strong and smart enough to be on their own. Here are some of the shots of the group of 5 Canada lynx.

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A 5th lynx enters the scene!
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number 5, another smaller cat, joins the gang in the road.
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Still a little unsure about me over in the snowbank….
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It seemed like one was almost always watching me. It was like a group defence posture to look large and watch in all directions when out in the open. At least that’s my theory.
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One final group pose and cuddle huddle before continuing on up the road.

Whenever I can I get out of the vehicle for roadside wildlife photography, especially in winter. The heat from the truck can cause blurry waves as it hits the cold outside air and can make photos difficult. Also any vibrations can cause problems. If you have to shoot from a vehicle in winter, try to keep the heat down and open other windows to balance the temperature when shooting. That will reduce heat blur. Some will use a beanbag type setup on their window or door for comfort and balance. I find it too constricting and tough to make a good composition from a car, so I avoid it at all costs. I’m not sure I could have captured this encounter as thoroughly from the truck window. It always just feels better to be out there, too. I often snowshoe or hike to look for wildlife in winter, but some 20 below mornings are better suited for a drive 😉
When the group of lynx had enough of my gawking, they all got up at once, in unison, and headed up the road together in a little pack. Their movements in that group, and as they stood up, and as they marched down the road looked like a polished, practiced routine they have played out many times. This looked to be a strong, healthy, and I like to think happy family group. I hope you’ve enjoyed this encounter and maybe learned a thing or two. I am using this experience to learn more about this mysterious mammal we have roaming, and I like to think playing, in the woods of Minnesota.

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The gang of 5 head off to hunt in Superior National Forest.

For more you can visit me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ThomasjSpenceImages/
For prints – https://thomasjspenceimages.smugmug.com/Lynx-Family-in-the-Minnesota-Woods/
Photo Tools
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4 thoughts on “Canada Lynx in the Minnesota Woods – A Rare Sight”

  1. Thanks for all the info….very enlightening, and I loved the photos….my first lynx encounter was with one on the Gunflint, years ago…poor lynx didn’t fare too well, but have since loved them animals.

  2. Such s wonderful story. There have been lynx sighting up by Caribou lake as well. You are one lucky man to see so much beautiful wild life. Thanks for sharing your story.

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