"Like finding a needle in a haystack," says Dr. John Squires with a wry grin, as we plunge off the dirt track into the boreal forest of northern Montana.
The "haystack" he's referring to is an almost impassible tangle of storied deadfall and snow, trees stacked like pickup sticks bristling with broken branches, deadly in a fall. And the "needle" we're seeking? A radio-collared female lynx and hopefully her den site and a litter of kits.
Lynx do not dig dens or use caves. They prefer stashing their young underneath this fortress of downed trees. But this is familiar terrain for Squires. For ten years he's headed up one of the most comprehensive lynx studies in the nation, based out of the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Montana.
Squires' research is now at the center of a strategy to protect the cat and its forest in one of the biggest conservation deals in history — a joint project between The Nature Conservancy and The Trust for Public Land (TPL) to purchase 310,000 acres of land from Plum Creek Timber Co. for $490 million.
And I'm along to photograph his work for Nature Conservancy magazine. (See more photos and read the article about their search for the rare Canada lynx!)
Holding his telemetry antenna high, Squires moves deliberately, quietly, one hand free, careful not to spook the lynx from its den. He moves like a tightrope walker down the length of one tree onto the next, pauses, listens to the subtle variations in signal strength coming from the collar, makes a slight change in direction, and presses further into the forest knot.
It seems like water witching to me, more art than science, because in this enormous mess of a forest I can't imagine finding one of the stealthiest animals alive.
But as I'm photographing Squires cross a log seven feet off the ground, suddenly he yells, "Ted, there she is!" He bounds up the log to the top of its rootball.
"Ted, she's running away. Hurry!" he says again.
Though I'm only seconds behind him, the female lynx has fled her den and vanished. I can't believe my luck.
How will we ever find the den now, I think?
I'm standing on the ground below Squires as he listens to the rapidly fading signal when I notice a small opening at the base of the rootball Squires is perched on. Inside I could see two balls of fur.
For a second I think I might be seeing the remains of a snow shoe hair, the lynx's favorite food. Then it strikes me.
"John, John" I interrupt his listening. "We found them. I see the kits. And you're standing right on top of the den."
Inside are two lynx kits, no more than two weeks old. We had found our needles.
I captured this photo with a Nikon D300 camera, using a 17-35mm lens.
Ted Wood's photographs appear in publications worldwide, including Nature Conservancy Magazine, Smithsonian, National Wildlife and Vanity Fair. He's a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers and Aurora Photos. See more of his work at http://www.tedwoodphoto.com.
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