When I realized the racing white blur on the side of the road was a Snowshoe hare, my gut exploded with anticipation…
A Snowshoe hare running along the side of the road in the middle of the day – that could only mean one thing:
PREDATOR IN PURSUIT
I was driving through an area of the Canadian Rockies where I had seen hundreds of Snowshoe hare tracks, many of which intertwined with the tracks of their key predator – the Canadian Lynx.
The presence of the hare instantly linked my psyche to visions of the lynx – the ‘ghost cat’ of the forest.
In some timeless space, a story unfolded in my mind…
I saw the piercing amber eyes of a mystical feline locked on to her prey, massive snowshoe-like paws thrusting her contoured body onward.
In my mind, the space between the lynx and the hare shortened, ending in the tragically beautiful climax of the predator/prey relationship: death of the prey, life for the predator.
In my mind, I was both exhilarated and saddened to have witnessed this divine paradox.
I was suddenly aware of the distance – the Snowshoe hare was about 50 to 80 meters ahead of me on the side of the road.
Lynx are silent, stealthy hunters, using the surprise attack method of capturing prey.
Finely-tuned for the rapid bursts of intense energy, they typically take out hare with a swift pounce, not a lengthy chase.
In my mind, I realized the predator chasing the hare could not be a lynx.
In my reality, I shifted my gaze sideways and found myself face to face with a Pine Marten.
The ferret-sized weasel propelled his sleek, oblong body across the escapement of snow flanking the side of the road.
Equipped for ‘the chase,’ Pine Marten not only have the uncanny ability to take down prey twice their size (or bigger), they can (and often do) out run Snowshoe hare.
When the marten saw my vehicle, he veered off into the trees. The hare continued racing along the side of the road for a few moments before doing the same. Chances are, my presence helped the hare escape.
It all happened within seconds, on a road, while I was driving.
Obviously, there was no chance of capturing any images.
Luckily, the road was not busy, so I was able to safely pull over and process what I had just seen.
It was early March 2020 and I was on a Pine marten seeking mission in the Canadian Rockies. I was in the final hours of my final day when I spotted the racing hare.
Despite the lack of photos, I felt like I had witnessed something magical.
Not only had I seen the animal I had been intensely searching for over the previous three days, I got to see my first-ever Snowshoe hare in the winter, in the Rockies. (Note: I had seen one in the winter in a Calgary park years ago – photo included.)
I have seen several Snowshoe hare in the summer, when their coats have transformed from wintery-white to summery-brown.
But in the winter, I had only seen tracks – hundreds and hundreds of tracks.
They keep themselves ‘extra’ hidden in the winter, for good reason.
What a treat it was to see the actual animal who created those intricately beautiful trails through the snow.
A few days later…
I was back out in the rockies on a drive with my friend Jamie.
While ‘aways’ from the scene of my marten/hare encounter, the area we drove through was overflowing with potential.
My imagination summoned the usual suspects – I envisioned lynx, marten, cougars and wolves imprinting themselves on the landscape in various photographable scenarios.
Instead, I happened to notice the now-familiar racing white blur crossing the road just behind the vehicle.
The Snowshoe hare ascended the snowbank on the opposite side of the road, paused at the top, hopped away from us a few meters, descended back down to the road, and raced back in the direction he had come.
This time, I was able to pull over, and both Jamie and I were able to capture several photographs of the action. I was ecstatic!
How odd that I should come across another Snowshoe hare – in day light hours – within a week of the epic marten/hare showdown!?
And this time, I managed to capture a bit more of a visual story:
The light was dull and flat, none of these images will win me any awards, but I am so grateful to have been given a glimpse into the life of this remarkably resourceful rabbit.
These experiences got me thinking about the dynamics of the predator/prey relationship.
Canadian lynx and Snowshoe hare are bound together in a particularly interconnected cycle of survival.
Every 8 to 11 years, hare populations plummet (for a variety or reasons) causing lynx populations to follow suit.
As specialized hunters who thrive on one primary source of prey, lynx populations decline as hare populations decline.
And of course, the opposite is also true – increased Snowshoe hare = increased Canadian lynx.
It is a natural process – population spikes of ‘prey animals’ are often linked to population spikes of ‘predator animals.’
The lynx/hare scenario, however, gets a lot of attention in the world of biology (and beyond) because of its predictable, recurrent nature.
There are a lot of layers to this relationship – it is a beautiful expression cyclic harmony.
When I was doing research on lynx a couple of years ago for a school project, I came across the following quote, in reference to the lynx/hare dynamic, in a book called: Wild Cats: Lynx – Bobcats – Mountain Lions:
We can perceive the surfaces that keep things apart, but not the interactions that hold them together. The connections within the forest are real, as substantial as the nerves and arteries that unite our own bodies. (Savage, 1993)
This is a fantastic summation of the divine simplicity/complexity of the predator/prey relationship, in my opinion.
Until next time, continue loving life and everything wild. 🙂
Source: Savage, Candace, 1993. Wild Cats: Lynx – Bobcats – Mountain Lions. Sierra Club Books: San Fransisco.