It all started with some caribou. It was our first morning in Denali National Park & Preserve – I was there with fellow photographers Chris Beck and Matthew Brown. We had overslept because someone who was in charge of the morning alarm thought he would sleep in for another five minutes, which turned out to be nearly an hour and a half. We gathered our senses and headed into the park. Somewhere about halfway between the park entrance from the Parks Highway and Savage River, we saw another vehicle pulled over, and a photographer out of his vehicle. Sure sign that there was wildlife afoot.
We saw quickly he had focused on three caribou that were grazing in rocky wash, downhill and to the south of the road. I captured a few images, but was really waiting for the caribou to do something other than grazing. Heads up, perhaps profile shots, even better looking toward the cameras, but not as much grazing and certainly not the classic “butt shot.” Then, Chris’s rather intensive whispering and gesturing got my attention, and I looked ahead of me on the road to see an adult lynx, just sitting upright, taking in the morning’s events. He was maybe about a hundred yards down the road from us.
I quickly ignored the caribou and turned my 500mm toward the lynx. Slowly, the other photographers started to follow suit, and then it was just a bunch of shutter clicks and mirror slaps as we all captured this beautiful animal, just sitting there without a care in the world. Then, something got his attention, and he went into stalking mode – something I have seen my own cats do on countless occasions. I could not see what he was after, but he was focused, on a mission, ignoring the world around him. Once the lynx got a little more than halfway across the road, he just … stopped. Then he dropped to a crouch, and just sat; watching, waiting. I saw what had drawn his attention, the thing that is top of the menu for lynx in Alaska – a snowshoe hare. Nibbling on some willows on the edge of the road, this hare was completely oblivious to the photographers, the caribou, and the lynx that had its sights on a morning meal.
As the lynx waited, Chris, Matt and I worked to get closer, closer and yet closer to the lynx and hare. We would move twenty feet, then stop and wait, capturing a few more images. Then we would get up, move closer and stop. Neither the hare nor the lynx noticed or cared. Then, from behind us came what seemed like a cacophonous electronic squeal – the other photographer ( we came to call him “DB” for the rest of the trip) had opened his car door with the key in the ignition, letting out the “your key’s in the ignition and your door is open STUPID” warning sound that we all know so well. But never had I ever heard it seem so loud before, nor had it ever had such adverse consequences.
Immediately, the hare started, stood up, realized it was in peril and ran into the thick of the willows, spruce and alder that lay just feet beyond the road. Disappointed, the lynx got up, crept toward the edge of the willows where the hare had disappeared, and then lept into the thick of it, hoping to still have some success with his hunt. One minute we were all waiting with the lynx for the expectation of the hunt, elated to be in the position to watch such a dramatic natural event, and then, because of the complete cluelessness of another photographer who had captured the images he wanted, it was over.
As much as we lamented the loss of the kill, it was hard to be disappointed for the opportunity to watch and photograph the lynx in action. And it likely would not have happened had we got out of bed on time.