This question has been popping up on social media a lot this winter, probably because lynx sightings appear to be on the rise. At least there have been more sightings this winter in my area of the Upper Midwest.
Positive identification is tricky; these wild felines have a lot of similarities, and it’s difficult to tell them apart if you aren’t used to seeing them. I’m lucky enough to live in an area where their ranges overlap, so I get to see both species on occasion. But then I spend a lot of time looking for them, too. Usually all I find are tracks.
Both lynx and bobcats are secretive animals and are rarely seen, especially in daylight. They are primarily nocturnal hunters, feeding on a wide variety of small mammals, birds, and even reptiles in the summer. Lynx tend to specialize in Snowshoe hares, and the lynx population rises and falls with hare populations, but like most predators, they will eat whatever they can catch. Bobcats are less picky and will hunt a wider variety of prey. Both lynx and bobcats will occasionally tackle prey that is much larger than themselves, up to and including deer-sized animals. It all depends how hungry they are.
To add further to the confusion, bobcats (Lynx rufus) and Canada lynx (Lynx candensis) are known to interbreed, but since that’s a rare occurrence we’re going to stick to the differences in pure examples of their species.
The first thing to note is that the size of the animal isn’t a very good way to determine what it is. A big male bobcat in my area can weigh 30 pounds, that’s easily in the weight range of lynx here, too.
Much more telling if you only get a glimpse is that bobcats are noticeably shorter than lynx, in length, and especially in height.
Lynx have very long legs – particularly their hind legs. A lynx almost appears to be walking on stilts compared to a bobcat. Lynx also have a much grayer look to them than the reddish brown of bobcats.
Around here some people call lynx the “Gray ghost,” both as a reference to their reclusive, silent nature, and the color of their coats. Lynx may show some spots and speckling, but compared to a bobcat, which is generally highly spotted, lynx look much more uniform.
Ear tufts also can help with ID, since lynx ear tufts are generally much longer than a bobcat’s. But since both species have the tufts, unless they are standing side-by-side you may not be able to perceive the difference. The same holds true for the ruff around their faces. Lynx ruffs tend to be more pronounced, but unless you can see them next to each other, the difference will be tough to see.
Besides the length of the legs, the size of the feet is one dead giveaway. Lynx feet are gigantic compared to the bobcat’s. Let’s face it, lynx feet are huge compared to a lot of things. Relative to their body size, lynx feet are among the biggest in nature. They have to be. Since lynx primarily feed on snowshoe hares, those big, furry feet are a real asset in chasing prey through deep snow.
But probably the easiest way to determine which cat you are looking at is by checking the tail. Both cats have “bobbed” tails, but a lynx tail is tipped in all black fur. Bobcat tails have white undersides and distinct banding. So, if you only catch a glimpse of a wild cat darting across a road or through the forest, focus on the tail. If you see white on the underside of the tip and bands of darker fur along its length, it’s a bobcat.
If the tip is all black, you have yourself a lynx.
Of course, it also helps to know if you are even in the range where Canada lynx are found. They are primarily a Boreal forest species, found only in the northern tier of U.S. states, Canada, and Alaska. There are a few lynx in the high country of the Central Rockies, but if you want to see lynx, go north.
Bobcats, on the other hand, are much more widespread and are found pretty much across the lower 48 states of the U.S. and much of Mexico. The population of bobcats is much higher overall than the lynx population, so if you see a wildcat anywhere other than deep in the Boreal woods, chances are it’s a bobcat.
But there are plenty of lynx out there if you know where to look. And if you are really lucky, you may just get to see something like this:
Here is that side-by-side comparison one more time. Click to enlarge (opens in new tab):
All photographs and text appearing here are copyrighted. No unauthorized use of the text or images is allowed without written permission from Keith R. Crowley and Lodge Trail Media.
I recently had an opportunity to photograph the interaction of a lion and a Cape buffalo in Tanzania, East Africa. Since the photo below was published, I’ve had several requests for the backstory, and for more images from the series, too.
So here’s the short story:
This male lion had a girl in the rocks that you can’t see in the first image. The pair of lions started out that morning at first light, very close to the Rover I was in. I was lucky to get some close-up mating images, and I can tell you now that lion mating is a noisy, snarly affair.
Gradually the lions worked their way over a small rise, heading towards a rocky outcrop next to a river. The lioness leading the way, of course, and he followed her closely. They mated occasionally on the trek, as lions often do.
Eventually they reached the rocks and the two lions were having a smoke, metaphorically speaking, when a large herd of cape buffalo started milling around the scene. There were probably 300 or so buffalo in the the herd. Most of the buff continued on across the river, but a few didn’t want to leave the lions alone.
The lions were completely ignoring the buff, right up until a particularly voyeuristic bull decided to test the male lion’s resolve. The old bull slowly got closer and closer to the big cat until the lion actually took a swipe at him. At one point they were less than two feet apart. You can see the lion’s displeasure in the photos. The roaring was constant and intense.
Coitus Interruptus Syncerus
The buffalo, satisfied that he had ruined the party, stood his ground. Eventually the lioness got tired of all the testosterone and left the rocks. The lion followed, as they often do, and they both wandered out of view.
Wish you could’ve been there.
All images are copyrighted and available in hi-res for licensing.
It’s time once again for an annual “best of” post. Again this year I have limited the gallery to a dozen of my favorite images and I added a few comments about each shot for some backstory. I hope you enjoy them.
They’re arranged roughly chronologically and clicking on a photo will take you to the full gallery with many other favorites from 2016 that didn’t quite make it into this post.
I spent much of last week cruising the Boreal forests and lakes in far northern Minnesota, in places that just beg for a canoe and a paddle. I took a kayak and a paddle instead.
Mostly I went there to fish and ruminate – election years do that to me – but I can’t go anywhere without a camera, just in case.
While I didn’t catch a lot of fish, there were enough. And there were critters I don’t get to see very often in my home country of scrub oak barrens and white pine.
I camped next to beautiful little lake with no one else around and one morning I woke up to see a moose swimming out to a little island in the lake. When she got out of the water I could see she was wearing a radio telemetry collar, and she appeared very pregnant.
I suppose she swam to that island to give birth. Islands are just a little bit safer for newborns in this land of hungry black bears and gray wolves. Anyway, that why I think she was there. Minnesota moose are having a tough time right now, so I hope she is successful in raising a calf or two this year.
I also saw three Pine martens in a 24 hour period, but none paused long enough to have their photo taken. I stumbled along through the spruce bogs trying to keep up with them, but that’s an impossibly tall order for this old man.
I did photograph a couple of Spruce grouse, one male and one female, but the lighting wasn’t very good for the male, I’m afraid.
There were lots of Snowshoe hares, all wearing their summer coats of brown.
Just their feet kept the white fur of winter. I found part of one unlucky hare that had been a recent meal for a… I don’t know… the romantic in me wants it to be a Lynx. It could be, they live there with the hares.
There were too many ruffed grouse to count, the males all busy proving why they’re called “ruffed grouse.”
I also came across a Sharp-shinned hawk that was busy consuming a very long-tailed rodent of some kind. He gulped it down in a hurry when I arrived, and flew off to parts unknown. I know how he felt. I’ve gulped down too many meals in a hurry – very few of them were rodent though… so far as I know.
Since, in the past, I have steadfastly and openly refused to bait owls for photographic purposes, (see Of Mice and Owls), I’m feeling a little guilty about this.
Actually, that’s a lie. I don’t feel guilty at all, since:
I didn’t know the owl was there.
I wasn’t carrying a camera at the time.
The “bait” was a stainless steel hex nut.
So here’s the story, winnowed down to the barest details, since it’s really not that interesting.
I was trying to fix a fishing reel that hasn’t worked quite right in about two years.
After I generally made things worse by attempting a repair which involved many tiny parts and lots of profanity, I figured I should test the reel.
I put new fishing line on the reel, strung the line through the guides on the rod, and tied a stainless steel hex nut to the line so I could test my surgical skills. The nut was handy and weighed about 1/4 ounce, near as I could figure – just the right weight to simulate a small fishing lure.
I heaved the nut down the driveway and it bounced in the sand. I began retrieving the surrogate lure and all was well. Damn reel worked like a champ.
Then a barred owl pounced on the nut and wouldn’t let go. I swear this is true.
I had no idea their was an owl nearby, although to be fair I should have; they’re here every year.
Anyway, she hung on, but thankfully didn’t try to fly away with the nut. That would have gotten sporty real quick. Instead she just sat there holding on until I scolded her like you would a naughty puppy. “No, no, no…”
The owl eventually let go and flew up to a perch about 20 feet away, and she stayed there long enough for me to grab my camera.
That’s her in the photo, still trying to figure out what the hell that was all about.