I do love reading wildlife encounter stories. Particularly of the hilarious kind. I have more wildlife stories than I can count, but this was the first one that came to mind, a "one that got away" tale. If this thread takes off I'm sure I'll have a few others to contribute.
Several years ago I was working in the mountains in Colorado, doing a study on forest management practices and their effects on populations of rodents, particularly tree squirrels. A major aspect of the study involved live-trapping squirrels. I had ~100 live-traps spread out across 24 ha, and every morning before daybreak I'd go out and open and bait the traps.
I was working by myself that summer, which is dangerous and not something I typically like to do, but funds for the project were so low I couldn't afford to hire a research assistant.
I'd been working different areas for a little over a month, and was then in a location that had undergone heavy thinning of trees. As a result, the area was nearly devoid of tree squirrels. Live-trapping without catching anything is tedious at best. At worst, it's horrendously boring!
These were my pre-DSLR days, where I typically carried a Sony DSC-W50 round in my field pack.
I was out one morning walking the trap lines baiting and opening traps. I'd been running behind, so I'd dropped my pack at the outset and was carrying just the bait so I could jog the lines and get all the traps open before the sun was fully up. I was about halfway through, going along nicely. I stopped and bent down to bait and open a trap, and when I stood and looked up the hill to where my next trap was positioned, I caught a glimpse of movement to my right.
Judging by its size I thought it initially to be a coyote, but as it moved in front of me, I was stuck dumb with shock. It wasn't a coyote at all-- it was a cat! I edged forward as the feline broke though the grass into the area in front of me. It was a male, no doubt, passing less than 20 m away. I was downwind and wasn't moving, so he didn't see me.
As he passed I mentally ran through the "which cat?" checklist in my head. Long legs, huge feet, well-defined facial ruff, ear tufts greater than 1", tip of tail completely black, no obvious banding or spotting on legs. Was it possible? Really? I kept blinking and running over the list again and again. It couldn't be, could it?
But it was- Canadian Lynx, a species that had been extirpated from Colorado since the early part of the twentieth century. An incredibly rare sighting, one of only fifty or so lynx in Colorado at the time.
As he moved on I followed him as silently as possible, watching as he marked his territory, scent-rubbed some young aspen, playfully crouched low in the grass, terrorized some ground squirrels. I patted all of the pockets on my pants, wistfully hoping that somehow I'd transferred the camera to a pocket, but with no hope. It was in my pack, which was at least a mile away. This became particularly upsetting when he stepped into a patch of early sunlight and stood regally, stock-still, while I kicked myself for missing a perfect shot.
I followed him as long as I could before he picked up speed and took off in earnest, and I had to return to trapping. I later contacted the fish and wildlife department, wondering if I was out of my mind thinking it was a lynx. It wasn't great habitat for a lynx. The guy informed me that it was likely an offspring of one of their earlier releases that had made its way south and east, and that there had been sightings of lynx in that area before, and it stranger places, too.
He then proceeded to say that, had I gotten a clear enough picture for the department to confirm it was a lynx, I could have gone along with them to trap and collar him.
It is to date one of the neatest wildlife sightings I've ever had. From that day I always carried the camera in my pocket, with the result that the camera took a serious beating that summer and I never saw anything as cool.
I started my DSLR search in earnest after meeting up with the lynx. You might say that the lynx was the main reason I have my camera today. I rarely carry my K200 in the field, because it can't compete with the 30+ lbs of field gear that I have
to carry, and I still haven't found a good way to hike miles each day in rough terrain with both the field gear and the camera. Some day, I'm demanding a pack-horse.
Nikon D300 / 35mm f1.8 / 300mm f4 / TC-14E II
Pentax K200D / DA 18-55mm / DA 55-300mm