Lynx B.C. coronavirus

The wild goes on

With the vast majority of the globe's population under lockdown, it can feel as though the world has come to a sudden halt. And yet, in the farthest reaches of northern B.C., there remains a world that has, through all the COVID-19 turmoil, quietly and profoundly gone on as it always has

I encountered a lone Canadian lynx in mid-March as much of the world was becoming gripped by the coronavirus pandemic.

Seeing this creature lope silently down a deserted forest road, I thought to myself: a whole world of people scared of each other and yet life in the wild carries on.

With so much turmoil and uncertainty surrounding the effects the virus was having on our planet, it was hard to not be pessimistic.

Until I snapped the photo.

Oblivious to it all, this single lynx gave me a sense that life will carry on. I could instinctively tell that the only concern it had in this moment was the moment itself.

Likely searching for its next meal, nothing else mattered. Simple as that.

Life in the wild. Carrying on.

The following is a gallery of photographs from northern B.C. expressing the profundity of the remote and the wild.

Dropping down into the the Tetsa River valley, as conservationist and wilderness guide Wayne Sawchuk and I near the end of a 14-day expedition in the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area. Many, many years ago, Indigenous prophets marked this area as a sanctuary to preserve for when their people faced hard times. Wooden structures called dechin, placed on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, signified this boundary.

Muskwa-Kechika moose antlers

Deep in the Muskwa-Kechika and at the head of the Toad River, we stumble upon a moose antler, likely shed only a few months before. Moose are a highly adaptable species and can thrive almost anywhere. Each year, males drop their antlers in late fall, which helps them preserve energy through the cold winter.

Truly wild animals are shy and cautious in nature. I’ve found success in creating images that embody more of the environment around them by staying far enough away that animals feel safe to carry on with me in their domain. For example, this cow moose was able to continue feeding as I was at a distance where she did not perceive me as a threat to her yearling, who gazes inquisitively in my direction.

The Indigenous people of Fort Nelson have always had a strong connection to the land. Historically, and still to this day, much of our culture revolves around the moose and everything it provides. Nothing goes to waste. The meticulous process of tanning moose hide is an art form seeing a resurgence in recent years thanks to workshops hosted by the Fort Nelson First Nation. The hands-on process involves having Traditional Knowledge Keepers and Elders working with younger generations to ensure this valuable skill is carried on.

An aerial perspective above the Toad River valley exposes a striking landscape at the confluence of Yedhe Creek. With much of the winter’s snowpack still hung up in the upper reaches of the tributary, low water below provides a visual of the vein-like interconnection between mineral-rich soils and the sub-surface flows of a river system that holds great importance to the people and wildlife in the area. From this perspective, our planet is perhaps the greatest work of art that I know.

Sometimes winter comes without warning. On a cold day in October, lakes freeze over and migratory birds are left to improvise. I watched as this lone trumpeter swan was foiled by the frozen water when it came to set down for rest while on its way south. Coming to a sliding stop, it stood back up, gathered itself and ran off and took flight to find a more suitable place to recharge. Nature’s ability to overcome is what makes the wild world go around.

The cross fox is a black-colour variant of the common red fox. My photography journey has taken many turns over the years, but I have always found a way to bring it back to wildlife. It is where I began several years ago. As an Indigenous person, I have always felt an inherent connection to our traditional territory and the creatures that inhabit it. When I look back at a photo and gaze into an animal’s eyes, I can’t help but want to know what it knows. I certainly believe animals have value far beyond our surface-level existence and much to share. We just have to be willing and compelled to listen.

With a layer of frost on the ground, I unzipped my tent to the snow-capped cathedral of the rugged Henry Creek valley. We had been hunkered down for a couple of days, waiting out the weather in almost zero visibility, so blue skies and a crisp, waning moon were welcomed sights. Times like we face today have me yearning to get back into the simplicity and solitude of the wild.

Observing the great grey owl on the hunt is a captivating experience. This bird of prey has the ability to track unsuspecting prey underneath a thick blanket of snow thanks to its keen eyesight and disc-shaped face that gathers sound at high frequency. Throw in the fact that it often hunts in areas that are more conducive to its camouflage, the great grey owl is as efficient as it is beautiful.

In my experience, spring is often the most productive season for wildlife photography in northern B.C. More specifically, it is the best time of the year to photograph lynx. As they enter their mating period, it is almost as if they are living in a world of their own. They become preoccupied with one thing and seem to have no capacity to worry about anything else, including the stranger wielding a camera. This primal urge in the wild is no joke.

If you spend enough time in nature, you will see things that make your curiosity soar. It was a cold and windy day in December when a trip along the Alaska Highway placed me in the right place at the right time. A coyote sprints across frozen Muncho Lake while a raven continuously swoops down, seemingly nipping at the coyote’s rear end. In Indigenous culture, both raven and coyote are storied tricksters who constantly use their cunningness to outwit the world around them. I wonder what story was playing out before me here?

Over the years, I have learned to expect only the unexpected when it comes to photographing truly wild animals. You can plan to explore a certain area, plan for the time to do so. You can ensure all your gear is good to go. But that is as far as it goes — everything else is out of your control. When it comes down to it, animals operate on their own terms and there is nothing you can do about it. That is what I love about wildlife photography. It is essentially a game of chance. Every time I encounter an animal that actually allows for a photo to be taken, I feel I had a stroke of luck.

My hometown sits just below 50th parallel north and is graced with the presence of the aurora borealis for a good portion of the year. It was just before eight o’clock in the morning when I snapped this frame. A new day just starting to peak over the horizon, pulsating auroras flashed through the sky until broad daylight took over. I’ve come to realize in recent years that growing up with the northern lights is not to be taken for granted. They have a way of making us feel that there is still tremendous beauty to be found in this world.

We ride high in the Muskwa-Kechika above the Tetsa River valley as morning fog begins to break. The peeking sunlight was a welcome treat after enduring an early dose of winter the day before. As we traverse a high plateau flanking the northeast face of Mount Mary Henry, we spot a caribou and a handful of moose from the saddle. It is days like this that keep me coming back for more.

I find that venturing out when the weather is adverse will often lead to the best success in both finding animals and the photographs created as a result. Unfavourable environments often bring out the best in the wilderness — and in us. I enjoy the challenge. Northern B.C. is home to some of the world’s largest populations of stone sheep. This impressive ram was photographed during an early May snow-storm and it luckily still had much of its winter coat.

I spend a lot of time travelling up and down the Alaska Highway near home. From a photographer’s perspective, it is a dream location for capturing nature in all its glory. In the autumn, grizzly bears often come down to the highway to load up on the last bits of salvageable vegetation before heading to their dens for the winter. For the most part, grizzlies in our region avoid high-traffic areas, so any time I get to photograph them is special. They are powerful animals that demand respect from every living thing around them.

lynx

It is pretty incredible how the process of evolution has shaped the wildlife around us. From camouflage colouring, to a thick winter coat, to large feet designed for floating on snow, the lynx is a prime example of the precision of this process. A creature designed to thrive in our harsh northern climate and one of my favourite to photograph.

Ryan Dickie is an Indigenous freelance photographer based in Fort Nelson, British Columbia. Born with strong lineage of Dene and…

Meet the people saving Canada’s native grasslands

This is the third part of Carbon Cache, an ongoing series about nature-based climate solutions. It’s home to bears, elk, coyotes and birds, as well...

Continue reading

Recent Posts