Nature Notes

Vol. II October 1st, 1924 No. 13


The way not to see wild animals in their wilderness retreats is to ride thru the woods or meadows on horseback and if you want to be fairly sure not to see any wild life at all drive a string of noisy pack horses down the trail before you. However, a pack outfit cannot prevent one from seeing the trails and reading the stories recorded in the sand or snow along-side, and fortunately for us there were occasional chance encounters along the trail and other animals seen on distant hillsides so that hardly a day went past but what some red letter event was recorded.

As we packed early the first morning at Longmire Springs a yearling buck with well polished spikes was browsing in the edge of the woods and a mile below the Nisqually glacier as we followed the auto road for a way, a large black-tailed doe with two fawns stepped down before us before us and regarded us with wide eyes and erect ears. For several seconds the balance between curiosity and fear held the little family before us but native shyness won and they dashed away thru the heavy forest of noble fir. The fawns stood half as high as their mother but thru their drab autumn coat the white spots of their baby days were still noticeable.

At Narada Falls a year old cub of the brown color phases was lurking around the cook-tent of the road camp. Huckleberries are very scarce this year and the bears are not adverse to asking charity under such conditions.

Down Stephens Canyon a half dozen Sooty Grouse were disturbed at their morning dust bath in the trail. These big members of the grouse family are very abundant everywhere below snowline and were seen almost every day. In Sunset Park, where snow lay a foot deep on the ground, a large bunch were found early on a morning roosting in the Alpine firs. At this time of year they find plenty of food in the way of berries, seeds and the tender tips of twigs.

Most of the way our trail was too high to cross the range of Ruffed Grouse and none were seen but high upon the ridges Ptarmigan, the smallest member of our grouse family, were numerous. One day crossing the divide at about 7,000 feet elevation between Mist and Spray Parks in a wind so strong that at every opportunity our horse turned tail and drifted off the trail with the wind we flushed a covy of about a dozen of these interesting birds. At this season they are rapidly changing from the mottled summer coat of brown and white to the pure white of winter. In flight they gave the impression that they were already entirely white but upon closer examination we found there were still numerous brown feathers in the wings. After the horses started them they flew only a few yards and dismounting we found them quite fearless. Mr. Lindsley, the photographs of the party, enjoyed himself immensely for an hour taking photographs of individual birds in all sorts of positions. He took sixteen pictures, some of them at a distance of less than four feet.

During the second day of the trip we crossed some of the finest goat country within the Park. As many as forty goat have been seen in one herd around the Cowlitz Chimneys but altho we examined every likely looking white spot with the glasses we found no goats. Most of our imagined goats proved to be patches of snow or white rocks. Everywhere there were well defined goat trails and fresh tracks were numerous. Where the trails led thru the scrubby timberline trees there were handfuls of wool but no goats. Apparently they had all been driven to shelter by a blizzard that had raged thru Panhandle Gap early in the day. Little squalls and flurries of snow still continued. During the afternoon and a thousand feet lower down on a steep rock slide under the cliffs that guard Summerland, two full grown goats watched us pass on the trail a quarter of a mile below but disappeared in the edge of the woods before all of our party had opportunity to see them.

Several days later on the northwest side of the Mountain as we were viewing the great Natural Bridge of basalt which spans a two hundred foot cleft in the cliffs above Lake James, a big billy, probably the lookout for a band of goats feeding out of sight below, walked out upon a crag away to the north and stood white against the sky as he surveyed the surrounding country for signs of danger. An hour later as we moved down the trail we saw him still on the alert, this time turned directly toward us. No doubt he had seen us all the time down there in the canyon altho we were a full half-mile away. On our way to the Natural Bridge, on a grass grown rock slide below the trail, we found five hoary Marmots upon rocks watching us. We whistled to them and they answered back, some of them standing erect to secure a better view. At Glacier Basin, early on a sunny morning, the great-grandfather of all Marmots, if his immense size and hoary appearance indicated as much, ambled along the trail beside me as I went to the spring for water and at a little lake nearby a water ouzel courtesied to me from a stone not six feet distant. I have rarely seen this little denizen of the mountain streams so fearless and returned soon after with Mr. Lindsley for some pictures of him. At the same time he secured a picture of a lone Brewer blackbird found near the lake. This is the only species of Blackbird found in the Park and the second individual I had seen during five years.

This was a great trip for birds. Besides the numerous common birds seen everywhere we found a small lake of the Reflection lake group three ducks. Ducks are rare visitors to the Park. One was a pintail without question. A pair of smaller ducks along with him I took from general appearance to be Buffelheads but this species has never before been listed in the Park. They may have been Harlequins which are more often seen. In Indian Henry's Hunting Ground with a foot of snow on the ground, I saw a great flock of the beautiful little Snowflakes, or Snow buntings, a bird found occasionally in the winter thru the northern states but never before noted on the Mountain.

Owls, hawks, eagles and scores of smaller birds were seen almost every day.

The trip up Mount Ararat, near Indian Henry's, aside from giving us a glimpse of this flock of beautiful White buntings, was particularly fruitful. In fact, to me at least it was the climax of the entire trip. From the top, with some of the clearest weather I have every seen, the view was magnificent. Not only does the peak itself appear to advantage but away to the east and south a hundred miles of the Cascades are in view with snow clad Goat Rocks, Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood dominating the view. To the West, Lake Kapowsin and parts of Puget Sound were spread out like a map and beyond the entire range of the Olympic Mountains resplendent with new snow floated above a banner of smoke from the cities of Seattle and Tacoma. While we stood absorbing this view a fox carrying an immense black brush with a white tip ran across an open snow covered slope about one hundred yards away. We had seen the tracks of these foxes everywhere in the snow but this is the first one I have seen in the Park.

It was not the ordinary Cascade Red Fox but some color phase of it. I judged it to be the Cross fox by its gray color and black tail.

Everywhere in the Park there are countless smaller animals such as the Cony, squirrels, chipmunks, wood rats and various mice that are not afraid and furnished a great deal of amazement while in camp. At Indian Henry's the Gray Jays were particularly tame and were photographs, perched upon the horses and upon the heads of members of the party.

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