ELEMENTS: Wanderers of the Lower Salmon River
Our Elements series is a close-up look at the natural world through the eyes of river guide Codye Reynolds. This time she introduces us to several hoofed creatures you might meet along the banks of the Lower Salmon River.
Mule Deer – Big Ears and Listening Close
I didn’t see them start the crossing. But out of the corner of my eye, as I finished chopping the vegetables for that night’s dinner, I saw a splashing near shore. Upstream of the boats, some hundred yards, the mother mule deer scrambled for footing, with her two fawns eagerly following. She clamored up onto the shore and nervously watched and listened to our band of boaters . Once she had assured herself that we weren’t coming for her or her babies, she stepped more casually up the hill and behind our camp. Her two fawns were born a few months prior, and still retained their tell-tale baby spots. They followed their mother without question, with complete faith in her judgment regarding people.
Mule deer are excellent swimmers, but I had never seen fawns swimming, and was impressed they held their “ferry angle” like the best dory boatmen. The current didn’t sweep them by our camp; instead they stayed right on their mother’s white and black tail, and reached shore almost exactly where she did.
Mule deer are common in the Lower Salmon River corridor, where we saw the little family. The plentiful grasses, forbs and shrubs make for fine browsing. Leading her twin fawns across the river, the doe must have known where the grass was greener.
Bighorn Mountain Sheep – Agility and Assurance
Late this summer, a large group of female bighorn mountain sheep were spotted on the banks of the Lower Salmon River, just shy of the confluence with the Snake River, in Idaho. Some of the ewes were wearing radio collars to assist researchers in learning about these fascinating ungulates.
Both male and female bighorn sheep grow horns. This is a distinction of note as male mule deer grow antlers (not horns) that they lose every year. Further, bighorn rams’ horns grow large and curly as they age, whereas the ewe’s horns remain shorter.
These sheep saw us coming down river and didn’t hesitate. They walked right towards us, came down to the river and drank without concern. They had seen rafts and dories before and knew they could easily outrun us. The rocky hillside was their sanctuary, providing easy escape from wolves, bears, and people. A clever eagle or well-placed cougar could make a meal of a sheep, but not without some hassle. Even their lambs, who could keep up with their mothers on rough terrain less than a week after their birth, were unworried.
We floated by, took pictures and quietly called, “good morning.” The sheep didn’t call back, but with the cool breeze and sunny sky, we were sure they felt it was a good morning.