Michele Richardson has seen a lot of different critters during her nearly weekly trips to her lot on Poplar Hill on Brassua Lake.
There’s the raccoon that visits each night, eager to find a way into the trash can. There were the mother bear and her three cubs that decided to take a dip in the cool waters of Brassua, which sits between Rockwood and Jackman, northwest of Greenville.
But last week, Richardson saw something she’d never seen before. Luckily, she had a camera with her.
“We were probably 50 feet away [from the animal], sometimes less,” Richardson said via email. “I cropped and zoomed a few. The best [photo is attached]. It is the best view of the whole animal.
“It appeared to be gray, had long tufts on its ears and looked to be about three or four feet maybe?” she wrote. “It was swimming in the middle of the lake, quite far from shore; we hope it made it. Id didn’t seem scared of the boat, sometimes swimming toward us. We think it was a lynx.”
Brassua Lake is a big piece of water, sprawling over more than 8,000 acres. An animal swimming in the middle of the lake must be a pretty accomplished swimmer, I figured. So I sent the photo along to Jennifer Vashon, a biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Vashon studies the federally threatened Canada lynx, and I figured she’d be the best person to properly identify Richardson’s swimming feline. She’d also be best to answer another question: Do lynx typically go for long-distance swims?
Vashon was quick to reply, and her input was helpful.
“Well, it is likely a lynx,” Vashon wrote back. “Unfortunately, the feet and tail (most distinguishing characteristics) are not visible in the photo. What is apparent is that it is a cat (you’re welcome) and it is either a bobcat or a lynx given the ear tufts; if the ear tufts were short [less than one-half inch] it would clearly be a bobcat, but because the tufts are longer it could be either lynx or bobcat.”
Still, Vashon opted to call the critter a lynx … almost.
“Given the location (Brassua Lake), longer ear tufts, and grey coat (we call it pelage) I would say it is more likely a lynx than a bobcat … nice hedging,” she wrote.
And Vashon said that the big-footed cats seem to swim quite regularly.
“I have received several photos over the years of lynx swimming. So it appears that they don’t mind taking a swim,” she wrote. “Lynx appear to be good swimmers, but during our study of lynx in northern Maine, we found a lynx that had died after apparently trying to swim across a fast-moving river following a recent fall rainstorm.”
Richardson did end up with quite a tale to tell, though: There just aren’t that many lynx out there in the Maine woods.
Vashon said the DIF&W thinks there are at least 750 to 1,000 adult lynx in northern and western Maine, and the cats appear to be expanding into eastern sections of the state.