WASHBURN, Maine — Renowned Aroostook County photographer Paul Cyr was out last week between Washburn and Perham when he got close enough to a lynx that he was just a “baseball bat length away” from the once elusive animal.
It is a feat that is becoming easier, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, as the once rarely sighted lynx has increased in numbers over the last decade and begun expanding its core range from northern Maine to eastern and western Maine.
Maine now is home to the largest breeding population of Canada lynx in the contiguous United States, and IFW wildlife biologists are actively monitoring the population, according to a posting on the IFW Facebook page last week that shared some of Cyr’s “fantastic pictures.”
The Canada lynx is “a medium-sized gray cat with a bobbed tail and long black ear tufts,” the Facebook post states. “Although similar in appearance to a bobcat, lynx have a completely black-tipped tail, longer ear tufts and larger paws.”
Those large paws make them especially adept at catching prey in the typically deep snow and spruce-fir forests of northern Maine.
Cyr said on March 11 that he captured the images of the lynx using a camera and short lens, and not a game camera.
“A game camera would not get the quality of the photograph that I got,” he said. “I was actually walking amongst them. You see postings all the time of people getting close to them. They are pretty curious animals. It is not that unusual to get that close to them.”
He said that the animal that he photographed was eating.
“He knew that I was there,” said Cyr. “The animal had very little fear. He didn’t pay much attention to me.”
During an intensive study of the cat conducted between 1999 and 2011, the department captured and radio-collared 85 lynx in one study area and documented the production of 42 litters of kittens. Lynx reproduction and survival data demonstrated that the studied population of lynx in northern Maine was producing an excess number of animals, thus allowing lynx numbers to increase and colonize new areas, IFW reported.
Currently, the department is conducting annual snow track surveys in a number of towns throughout the state in order to detect changes in lynx range in Maine and to calculate population estimates.
“Our last estimate, in 2006, was 750 to 1,000 adults,” said Jen Vashon, Maine’s lynx biologist. “We think the population has grown since then, and that lynx have expanded their range.”