Yellowstone Reports

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Remember The Prey

Something To Ponder
by Dan Hartman

Feb. 4, 2012

Many years ago in Alaska, Cindy and I were photographing at a beaver pond. During the morning and into the afternoon we were able to grab a few shots of the beaver at work. Then I noticed a youngster approaching from a side channel. Quickly I picked out an ambush spot and waited quietly in the willows. A few minutes and there he was just a few feet below me dragging an aspen branch. What happened next was so unexpected I donít think I even took a shot. The young beaver spotted me, dropped the branch and began to shake. I still remember the fear in its eyes.

Later that evening, the tables turned. Cindy and I were standing on the bank watching the beaver repair the dam, when we heard something running behind us. Turning we were stunned to spot a charging grizzly. Luckily he stopped when I yelled. The grizz even backed off a bit but then charged again. I remember thinking, ďthis is how it endsĒ. Once more my yelling stopped him and this time he let us back away.

We had gotten to feel what it is like to be prey. Just like the beaver a couple of hours earlier.

In Yellowstone we tend to attach our feelings to predators. A favorite bear, wolf, coyote or fox family or maybe a family of owls.

As there are obviously far fewer predators than prey, they are much easier to isolate and observe in day-to-day life. I think if we could follow an elk calf growing to adulthood and its struggle to survive winter after winter, we would feel a little different when its time came. When wolves have it surrounded and it is fighting with its last breath to survive.

Everyone wants to live.

I was scoping bears one spring with several others near Boulder where we had spotted seven grizzlies moving across Mums Ridge. As we watched, one of the bears located an elk on a high ledge. The cow had backed out to a cliff edge and had no place to go. The grizz moved in and grabbed the elks head with its claws, slamming it to the ground. A cheer exploded from the people around me. While fascinating to watch, I couldnít join in. They had all taken sides, like rooting on a favorite prizefighter.

Donít even begin to presume I donít understand the predator prey value. Of course elk herds, deer, ground squirrels etc need to be thinned out. If left unchecked they would starve. But I admire a clever escape. The ways pursued eludes the pursuers.

Two nights ago our grouse plunged into the snow near our back door just after dark. The next morning he was still there, poking his head out finally around 10 A.M. The interesting thing was, fox tracks passed within five feet of him during the night. I know these foxes. Knew their great grandfather. I pull for this years pups to survive the winter. At the same time, Iíve come to love this old grouse. Heís made winter pass a little warmer with his presence.

Nature has no right or wrong. It just is.

When one gets to know both the predator and the prey thereís no taking sides.

Last evening our grouse walked to an untracked spot in our front yard and burrowed in. I thought it strange because he always plunges in at night. It was still a couple of hours till full dark, maybe he would re-emerge and plunge in somewhere else. Darkness came and around 7P.M. three foxes suddenly appeared out of the night. Instantly they rushed to the grousesí hiding spot and feverously began digging. With all the moving bodies and poor light we werenít positively sure what happened. We went to bed hoping our grouse had already moved.

The next morning we saw the feathers.


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Stand Off

All That's Left of Our Grouse