Nature Notes

Vol. IV August 18, 1926 No. 8

By: J. B. Flett, Former Park Naturalist.

During several years experience in Rainier National Park in the State of Washington, I have been fortunate in having opportunity to study the life and habits of the Mountain Goat on Mount Rainier. Three peculiarities of this animal are little known, and a detailed account of my observations may be of interest.

The following experience will illustrate the first characteristic. One late afternoon in July a party of five mountain climbers came rather suddenly upon a small flock of Mountain Goat feeding above timber line. The goats ran down the slope in nearly the same direction as we were traveling. The party, having crossed two glaciers had spent a rather strenuous day, and were just recovering from a bad "spill" in their first attempt at glissading. The goats did not receive the attention which they would have otherwise. The party was more intent on camping for the night than chasing goats, as each carried a heavy pack. After a good meal and a little rest I called for volunteers to go "goating". There was no response except from Calvin Phillips Jr., who responded with great enthusiasm, so we left the other members at camp. Phillips went the long way round the crags bordering on the glaciers (the goats were in a semicircle), and I chose the diameter as it was their probable exit up the mountain after being driven from the top of the crags. The surface of the semicircle abounded in knolls -- an ideal place to get on the goats at close range for photographs.

I sighted the goats first and had two photos taken before Mr. Phillips came in sight. I signaled to him where the goats were and then began to crawl away slowly from my hiding place over the snow in order to attract the attention of the goats while Phillips was coming up behind them. One beautiful large "Billy" occupied the highest position on the ridge nearest to my fried. The other goats disappeared gradually down the slope. I kept on crawling slowly over the snow, not in a straight line for the goat, but for a point about one hundred and fifty feet ahead of him so that he would not suspect that I was after him. As I began to draw near he stamped with his fore feet and showed some signs of nervousness. Whatever motions "Billy" performed I tried faithfully to repeat. By this time Mr. Phillips was right behind him. I had taken ten photos of him in the meantime and I was sure Mr. Phillips had been busy. I could see "Billy's" eyes and long flowing beard. In fact I became so envious of his beard that I took out my handkerchief and tucked it under my shirt collar so that Billy might not have anything on me in that respect. Just then a little, icy rill obstructed my progress and in crossing it I fell in. Billy noticed this and no doubt though how much better he could have negotiated it. As I got up again Billy began to jump on all fours. I found this to be rather troublesome to imitate, and my hands were becoming cold. I made one last bound on all fours, giving a loud "embah" which caused Mr. Phillips to laugh audibly. Billy also heard this and turning his head saw Mr. Phillips right along side of him. He simply "took off" by leaping into the air, and hit Mother Earth some distance down the slope. The next bound was a similar performance. This second bound brought him right in front of me, as his way of excape was down the crag and across the glacier. His first two bounds reminded me of a skii jumper. I could see his legs dangling in the air as he went through space. He ran, after the stiff-legged bounds, and soon disappeared toward the glacier. We followed down a short distance until the crag became dangerous. No man could ever have followed the trail of these goats, but, young and old, they seemed to make it all right. All but big Billy had crossed the glacier and had nearly reached the top of the crag of Weer's Rock on the opposite side. We could see him come out and cross the glacier. He stopped several times and looked up to see that strange animal, such as he had never before seen.

This goes to show that the mountain goat becomes so absorbed in one direction that he never looks for danger in another.

(NOTE: To be continued next week.)

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