ELEMENTS: Face-to-Face with Idaho’s Most-feared Wildlife

ELEMENTS: Face-to-Face with Idaho’s Most-feared Wildlife

Our Elements series is a close-up look at the natural world through the eyes of river guide Codye Reynolds. This time she helps us turn our anxiety into respect for two of the most-feared wild animals found along Idaho’s rivers–the black bear and rattlesnake.

Sometimes guests arrive at the banks of an Idaho river with worries of wild, dangerous animals. While both the black bear and western rattlesnake have healthy populations in Idaho, they are unique and fascinating creatures that deserve respect and not fear.

225-Pounds of Crowd-quieting, Discussion-ending Furriness

Our trip leader, Bronco, was finishing up his evening talk at Trail camp and answering questions about the next day’s rapids on the Middle Fork of the Salmon when a black bear cut his lecture short. It was spotted on the opposite shore from camp, ambling downstream in search of grubs and berries. Bronco was heard saying, “Well, I guess the meeting’s over,” as all of the guests’ attention was shifted to gathering cameras and binoculars. We stood on the rocky beach and took pictures of the slender, yearling black bear. We spoke quietly to each other about the rarity of seeing the bear, a perfect example of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness at its best.

black bear middle fork salmon river

The black bear, smaller and without the characteristic hump of a grizzly, can be black, brown, blond, or cinnamon in color. They are omnivores, eating roots, berries, insects, fish, and carrion. Our black bear was likely less than two years old, on his own and finding his way along the riverbank. Maybe he got lucky and found a thicket of ripe and juicy thimbleberries.

Black bears are generally shy and skittish of people. A wild black bear sighting is a treat, getting a few pictures to prove it happened is even better.

The Beautiful and Sleek, Mouse-hunting and Shade-seeking Serpent

This July we were camped along the Main Salmon River nearing the end of a 16-day Ultimate Salmon River Rafting Experience. My fellow guide Jeff was cleaning his dory when a guest noticed a western rattlesnake slithering across the sand under the stern of his boat. Luckily, Jeff stayed in his boat until the snake was gently removed by our fearless guides Jake and Derik. The snake spent the night confused but safe in a bucket until we left the beach the next morning and let it free. Guests and guides alike were awed and fascinated by the serpent, though respectfully we kept our distance.

rattlesnake middle fork salmon

The western rattlesnake is a poisonous pit viper (they have heat-sensing pits/nostrils, to help locate prey) found throughout Western North America. With its characteristic rattle (you know it if you’ve heard it), rattlesnakes usually make it clear if you are too close for their comfort.

Since rattlesnakes eat birds, bird eggs, and small mammals, it wasn’t looking to eat our friend Jeff. The snake, being cold-blooded, was likely seeking shade and relief from the hot summer’s rays. Perhaps it thought there would be a mouse hiding under the dory, too.

Have you come face-to-face with a wild animal you’d rather avoid?  Share your story below.


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