Nature October 02, 2017
Only In Alaska Can You Wake Up To A Family Of Wild Cats
An Anchorage photographer awoke to a sight that was both adorable and frightening: a whole family of lynx were on his back deck. Seven new kittens and a fierce mother made a long visit to the back porch of his home in Flattop. This is the amazing story of this extremely rare sighting of a large lynx family. These awesome photos are the result of the lucky combination of a gifted photographer and a chance wildlife encounter. Enjoy this story of a rare peek at the elusive lynx in Alaska.
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Tim Newton awoke on the morning of Tuesday, September 19, 2017 to an unfamiliar sound on the porch. Something was making a strange flapping sound as it walked around. He was just waking up, trying to decipher what kind of animal had paws that would sound like velcro on the wooden deck. They had seen bears on the porch before and moose in the yard, but this was different. He slowly cracked the window on the north facing side of the house and peeked through.
Just two feet from his face were three kittens playing on the deck. A first he thought they were house cats, but they were a little too big. Then he saw the tell-tale black tufts on the ears and realized they were lynx. Lynx are wildcats that grow up to 40 pounds and live in the forested areas of Alaska. The kittens had very large paws with sharp claws, which lynx use to travel on top of the snow like snowshoes.
The kittens disappeared and he snuck around to the south side, where the curtains were already open, to try to see more. The three kittens played and posed for about 5 minutes and Tim got about 20 photos of the three kittens he saw. The kittens wandered back to the north side and he thought that the experience was over, and he felt lucky to have seen the lynx for much longer than ever before.
Lynx are elusive creatures that hunt snowshoe hare and live in all of the forested regions of Alaska, all but the islands and Southeast. They are usually spotted by those who are quiet and far out in the wilderness, not usually at a house near Alaska's largest city. Newton went back to the south side of the house for one last look at the kittens.
That's when he saw the momma lynx sitting in the grass in the yard. Her color had been the perfect camouflage and he hadn't been able to distinguish her from the bushes. The momma cat let out a short mew and then a longer one. Newton reported the grass below the edge of the deck started stirring "like Jurassic Park!" It was thrilling when he realized the stir was a whole litter of kittens. The mom boldly led her babies up on the porch of the house.
Newton was hidden behind the screen door with the camera in front of his face. The kittens heard the clicking of the camera and looked in his direction. When he got the full family portrait, he realized there were seven adorable lynx kittens with the momma. Lynx litters are usually 2-4 kittens, depending on the abundance of snowshoe hare. A litter of seven is rare indeed.
For over 20 minutes, the lynx played on the porch. They ran back and forth, wrestled each other, and leapt great distances. Newton took photos from both north and south, even running upstairs and getting overhead shots. After he had accessed every angle that he could reach from inside the house, he decided that he had to try to get closer. He'd already taken over 200 photos and wanted to see if he could get some actual close-ups.
He headed out to the porch and snuck behind the bushes, hoping the lynx wouldn't see him. The momma lynx noticed him immediately and his clicking camera, but he kept his eyes hidden and she didn't seem to be alarmed. Two of the kittens realized he was a threat and bolted away from him, but the rest of the group just thought they were playing.
After a few more minutes, the momma mewed again and all the kittens followed her into the forest, where they calmly disappeared. The whole encounter was 40 minutes of candid wildlife photography of the secretive lynx.
Lynx mate in March and early April and give birth 63 days later. Kittens open their eyes at one month old and are weaned at 2-3 months old. The litter will stay with the mother through the late winter or until they are ready to survive on their own. She will teach them to hunt snowshoe hare, their primary food source, throughout the winter. Newton said he was very surprised that the lynx were so playful. Usually they are photographed as stealthy, keen hunters stalking prey across the snow. But these photos show that however wild, they are still playful cats.
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Have you ever seen a lynx? Tell us about in the comments below.