owltalk 2002


14 March 2002


Our paths have crossed three times in less than two weeks. Unmistakable footprints on freshly fallen snow; headed into the thickets where prey hides from its fate. They are the consummate predators. Loners. Efficient. Moving on feet designed to walk where winter is a rule and not an exception. Stealth in a landscape made for silence.


Canada lynx (Felix canadensis) are associated with large tracts of boreal forest. Their primary food sources are snowshoe hares, and when hare populations increase, so too do lynx populations. They approach 3 ft in length, and weigh between 12 and 36 pounds. Their feet are made to walk in snow, with heavy fur and pads and toes that spread to facilitate movement. What's more, they are primarily nocturnal, which if nothing else, increases my chances of having a close encounter of the lynx kind.


In my accumulated years here, I have seen one big cat. But it was a fleeting glimpse near a frozen river with an easy escape route. Hundreds of boreal owls, only one big cat. I continue undaunted. I know that my time is coming.


Word of the lynx has spread rapidly on the North Shore. Soon, as is the tendency of humankind, the cats will be blamed for the disappearance of car keys and tethered house pets. Unintelligible mumblings of "those darned wolves" will be replaced by unintelligible mumblings of "those darned lynx." When all else fails, blame nature.


In a way, the presence of the lynx defines my metamorphosis in the Arrowhead. Years ago, I was focused only on the owls. Yet, when I realized that owls were merely a vocal manifestation of intricate relationships in a vast ecosystem, my eyes opened. Stumbling onto something is one thing. Looking for it another matter completely. Now, on nights when nothing seems to speak and nothing seems to move, I know that somewhere, likely very close to where I pause, ears have me measured.


Owls have become a bit more vocal over the last few nights, despite temperatures that have dropped below zero. Five boreals and a couple of saw-whets sing in the night now, although they seem to be unenthusiastic. That will change, as will I.


W.H. Lane