What was your best experience in the field covering this story?
When I received a call that the female lynx I had chosen as the main character for my story was probably denning, I dropped everything and headed down to the San Juan Mountains. Biologists from the Colorado Division of Wildlife were tracking the reproductive success of the reintroduced lynx and needed to go into the dens to count the kits.We set out on snowshoes, bushwhacking through dense spruce-fir forests in late spring and following the beeps emanating from the mother lynx's radio collar. After an exhausting search, we located the den under a pile of downed trees. There, four little furballs mewed at the human interlopers, while their mom snarled at us from about 20 feet (six meters) away.
Tanya Shenk, the lead biologist, positioned me next to her to be the "thermoregulator" as she quickly weighed, examined, and documented the kittens' gender and health. After each inspection, Shenk dropped one of the kits on my chest, and it was my job to keep them warm until it was time to put them back in their den and leave them to their mother. At one point, I had four wild-born lynx kittens on my chest, and I felt the enormous privilege of being able to witness such an extraordinary scene.
What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?
On a beautiful winter day I flew with two Colorado Division of Wildlife officials in a small Cessna, traversing some of the wildest and most stunning scenes that the Rocky Mountains have to offer. Mountain range after mountain range unfolded below us, each capped in winter white and framed by the crystalline blue horizon. Our task was to pinpoint the locations of radio-collared lynx and report their positions to ground crews below.
Using radio telemetry to track wildlife from a small plane is not a chore for the weak of stomach. When the pilot and tracker received a signal from a radio-collared animal, they flew steep descending circles to pinpoint the exact location using receivers fastened to each of the plane's struts. Each time we pulled out of a lynx-seeking dive, I felt my stomach tighten and my face break out into a white, bloodless sweat. They said that I'd get used to it, but it didn't happen that day.
What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?
While photographer Amy Toensing and I were in Quebec, we spent several days running trap lines with Luc Farrell and Pierre Fournier, two quintessentially French-Canadian trappers. Their quarry was live lynx to be exported to Colorado, but during our visit we had only snared grouse, gray jays, and a marten, all mortally wounded by snares set for a larger animal. On the last day, we were quite literally skunked.
As we approached one of the traps, we were excited to see that we had snared a relatively large animal by the foot. Unfortunately, it wasn't a lynx. The black and white creature was a moufette, a skunk, and it appeared to be scared but otherwise unharmed. Farrell and Fournier looked at each other with an, "After you, Alfonse" glance, wondering which one would get the dubious assignment of trying to free the skunk without getting sprayed.
After an unspoken agreement between the two trappers, Fournier gingerly approached the frightened animal as the rest of us kept a spray-free distance from the endeavor. With a long pole and a gentle touch, Fournier managed to free the moufette, which scurried off into the forest. We were all immensely relieved.