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Animals I haven't Known

Some moose too
by Dan Hartman

Sept. 25, 2010

Animals I Haven’t Known ( at least not well)

    Kelly and I were looking for a spot to paint Pilot-Index Peaks last week when we stumbled apon a rutting bull and cow moose. Yesterday I was out at dawn and watched another pair of moose in Round Prairie. Other than that, it was kind of slow last week. I thought I write about some animals I haven’t had much luck with. Actually I’d call them the ghosts of the forests. Animals that are hardly ever seen by anyone. But they’re also the lure that keeps me searching. Hoping to day will be the day. I’m speaking of the illusive wolverine, fisher and lynx.

   Years ago Cindy and I were in Glacier, Logan Pass to be exact. An excited fellow told me he had just seen a wolverine cross the road! I’d been fooled before. A shuttle bus driver in Denali, Alaska once pointed out a wolverine that turned out to be a porcupine. In Yellowstone, people are always confusing badgers with their larger cousins, especially when they’re wet and dirty. Anyway, we rushed to the location described to us, and there he was climbing a high snow covered slope. Thirteen years later, I had my scope set up in Silver Gate looking for mt. goats. I thought I had spotted a golden eagle sitting on a high ledge. It was peering down at a goat with a newborn kid. I was wandering if it might make a try for the kid, when it bounded away. It was then I realized I had been watching a wolverine. Thirteen more years went by when I happened to be watching avalanches across the valley from our cabin. It was April and one would let loose every 5 minutes or so. I was using my scope to follow the ice and snow flows until they spilled over hundred foot drops, when I saw something squirming in the onrushing slide. As I watched, it seemed to be trying to swim out of the churning snow that appeared to be 2 – 3 feet deep. Suddenly it sprang free and dove for a pile of boulders and safety. The avalanche slid on by and out climbed the black beast. Now I got a good look at it. A wolverine.

    In the early summer of ’92, I was hiking up a dry wash leading up to the steep slopes of Barronette. My camera was tucked in my backpack, a fact I would regret later. Anyway, I was passing by a deep spot in the gully, when a bird slipped out from under an overhang across the wash. Looking closer, I picked out a nest tucked in the soft, green moss. It was a junco nest containing 4 eggs. I was thinking I would come back after they hatched when movement caught my eye up slope. A black blurr dropped out of a spruce to the ground  with a thud. There an animal, looking like a cross between a marten and an otter, glared at me. Then It was gone, bounding up the steep slope. I tried to follow but didn’t have the lungs. It’s still the only fisher I’ve ever seen. A couple of days later I returned to check out the nest. Eggs were scattered about, the broken shells licked clean. Fisher tracks were here and there in the mud.

   On a New Years Day in ’09, my family and I were returning from a shopping trip to Bozeman. We were approaching The  Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone, about 2 miles from our cabin. It was getting dark. From the top of a hill we saw something with long legs crossing the road. By the time I stopped our car we had slid on by the cat that was now peering at us from the timber. I grabbed my camera and climbed out. He was moving up slope. I could just make him out through the underbrush. I plunged into the deep snow, following the cats big tracks. Finally I crested the top of the slope. His tracks headed east. In the gathering darkness I post holed back to the car. I had seen bobcats before. This fella was different. We were all sure it was a lynx.

   Some day I might be lucky enough to photograph one of these rare three. Until that day I’ll  have to live fleeting memories.

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Moose and Coyote