National Geographic : 1935 Aug
WITH WILD ANIMALS IN THE ROCKIES BY LUCIE AND WENDELL CHAPMAN With Illustrations from Photographsby Wendell Chapman O UR close association with many spe cies of wild animals during the past two years came about in a curious manner. In the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE and in books we had read much about the remarkable fauna of the United States. During vacations spent in the western moun tains we had made the acquaintance of some of these unique animals, and had been fas cinated by the strange realm in which they live. The call of the wild plus the universal de sire to get away for a while from the strain and worry of everyday life led us to that land within our own country where peace and contentment can be found. The home land of the American eagle, symbol of freedom, beckoned as an escape from the grind which makes men old before their time. Accordingly, we obtained an indefinite leave of absence from business, and left with complete outing and camera equipment for the mountains of Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, on a two years' jaunt. Many of the most interesting wild crea tures, we found, are slow to accept man as a member of their communities. Some are nocturnal, the heat of day as well as fear keeping them under cover until evening. Superb senses of sight, smell, and hearing enable animals to avoid such a noisy, odorif erous, and conspicuous being as man. During the evenings and early mornings, the best times to see them, the air currents in the mountains usually shift, broadcast ing man's presence regardless of how well hidden he may be. A BEAVER'S APPETITE RUINS A BLIND Blinds are satisfactory for observing birds; "out of sight, out of mind" generally applies for them. But most mammals can detect a man readily unless the wind blows steadily in his favor, a condition not to be relied upon in mountain haunts. Elk and moose steered clear of our blinds. We were no more hidden than a goldfish. One evening a beaver tore a hole in our blind of aspen branches, sniffed knowingly at us, and then proceeded to wreck the structure and haul it to storage for winter food. No matter what we did, we were as con spicuous as a cat with a bell, and so we gave up trying to hide. Then we tried camera traps, but had no better luck. A bear knocked the camera over, a badger nearly buried it with the dirt he showered out of his burrow, and a pine marten ran off with it. He got the trout which was used for bait so tangled with the string tied to the trigger that he dragged the camera twenty feet, and probably would have carried it farther had not the string broken. He evidently had no intention of abandoning the meal. From the zigzag streaks the camera had made on the ground, we judged the marten had entered into a savage tug of war, weav ing back and forth as he leaped away with the fish. FRIENDLY ADVANCES SUPPLANT STRATEGY Now that blinds had proved unsatis factory, not a single good photograph had been obtained by the camera trap method, and stalking had given but fleeting glimpses, we decided upon another course. Perhaps the animals would respond to friendly ad vances and go about their normal activities, just as they do when harmless wild neigh bors are present. The idea was suggested to us by the beaver who wrecked the blind, and that evening came up and walked over our feet, sniffing us with her cold nose and touching us with her damp paws as she pulled the branches away. Subsequently her colony disregarded us while they went about the harvesting of quaking aspen trees for stor age under deep water in the winter food pile (see pages 239, 241). At another time, we had been quietly stalking a beaver along a river bank, but were unable to approach before he dived and swam upstream. Finally, tiring of be ing shadowed, he whacked the water with his paddle tail and swam about impatiently. Realizing that stalking was futile, we de cided to walk boldly out and if possible take a picture of him splashing. When we did so and began talking to him, he stopped "slaplunking," approached within a few yards, and crawled onto the shore to cut and eat a willow twig.