Lynx on parade: Woodland man photographs elusive cats

Harry McCarthy sees a lot of wildlife around his Aroostook County home, and his Facebook page features plenty of photos of his frequent visitors.

“I do live right up in the woods,” the Woodland man said on Thursday, explaining his most recent visitors. “I really don’t have any neighbors.”

Living at the end of an 800-foot-long driveway, isolation often pays off, as it did on Tuesday morning.

Canada lynx on parade. (Photo courtesy of Harry McCarthy)

“I was walking from my living room into my kitchen and just happened to look out the window and something struck me funny,” McCarthy said. “Something didn’t look right.”

After taking a second glance, he noticed four Canada lynx walking up his driveway.

“I grabbed my camcorder and was able to get fairly focused shots,” McCarthy said. “I probably took 10 pictures but only six of them really came out.”

Lynx in the Aroostook County town of Woodland. (Photo courtesy of Harry McCarthy)

McCarthy posted the photos to his Facebook page. A friend suggested he share them with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s page, which he did.

“It just went viral from there,” he said. “I really didn’t realize how interested people were.”

Canada lynx are listed as a threatened species by the federal government.

McCarthy said he had never seen lynx around his house before, but had heard that there might be at least one lingering nearby.

(Photo courtesy of Harry McCarthy)

“Another Facebook friend of mine was driving down the Thibodeau Road [during the summer],” McCarthy said. “He told me he had seen a lynx, and I thought he was crazy.”

Maybe not.

Jennifer Vashon, a wildlife biologist at the DIF&W, has studied lynx extensively.

She said that seeing groups of the large cats is not uncommon, even though the statewide population of lynx is not large.

“Collectively our data indicates that Maine’s lynx population is at historic high numbers  and today likely number more than 1,000 lynx,” Vashon wrote in an email. “The surge in lynx numbers is in response to an abundance of snowshoe hare in northern Maine’s spruce/fir forest that were clearcut following the 1980s budworm outbreak.”

(Photo courtesy of Harry McCarthy)

After seeing the photos, Vashon said they definitely showed Canada — not “Canadian,” as many people mistakenly refer to the cats — lynx.

“If there are four cats in the picture, it is most likely a female and her three kittens,” Vashon wrote in an email answer to questions I posed. “At this time of year, you still should be able to distinguish the 8 -to 9-month old kittens from their mother. The kittens should be slightly smaller than their mother and all three kittens should be roughly the same size. Most female lynx have litters of one to three kittens, but we’ve seen female lynx in Maine with as many as five kittens.”

(Photo courtesy of Harry McCarthy)

While lynx sightings aren’t as common as some other wildlife interactions, Vashon said they’re not exactly rare, either.

“Although lynx photographs aren’t common they are more common than one would think,” Vashon wrote. “Lynx by nature are pretty tolerant of human presence, leading to great photo opportunities. Every year, we receive photos of lynx and they are more often females with kittens.”

McCarthy said he wishes he had a better camera — the photos are a bit fuzzy — but was pleased that he got the shots he did.

“The camera that I have, it’s a Sony Handycam, and I usually have a shooting stick that’s more like a tripod,” McCarthy explained. “I left that darned thing in my truck. So I was trying to take the picture of these darned cats walking across my yard, and I was shaking.”


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John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.