“Sheep go where men don’t go. Goats go where sheep don’t go.”
– Joe Rahn (Montana Wildlife, Fish and Parks)
Word is that there are mountain goats at Bernard Peak on Lake Pend Oreille. Validating the rumor, Farragut State Park across the bay has spotting scopes to look for them. I can’t believe there are mountain goats just a few miles from my home! Every time we go out in the boat, we cruise Echo Bay past the peak looking, looking, looking, mistaking white boulders for goats way up high. A couple of times, I heard rocks tumbling down the slopes as if kicked loose by critters up high. Yet, no goats.
According to Idaho Fish and Game’s (IDFG) Mountain Goat Management Plan, from 1960-1968, twenty mountain goats were brought in from a population north of Bonners Ferry, Idaho. The population has remained stable since then and is currently managed for “non-consumptive wildlife viewing.” That means no hunting.
There’s a yacht company offering wildlife cruises on Lake Pend Oreille. They often share pictures of goats along this shoreline. I’ve been tempted to call to ask what time of day they cruise to help me in my quest without spending $500 to actually go on the cruise.
Fun fact about mountain goats. They are not goats. They are more closely related to antelope than goats. (If you want to learn more about mountain goats in a really fun way, listen to this podcast with wildlife biologist and goat researcher Julie Cunningham).
Then, one late afternoon, I spy one up high. “Stop! I see a goat!” Definitely larger than the white quartz rocks. She was grazing on the point’s edge but soon laid down to rest. I thought it’d be a short encounter if she were going to sleep. And I was grateful for it. To my delight, after only a minute or two, she was up and moving again.
For the next hour, we watched as she slowly grazed the mountain face across vertical, bald slopes that seemed inevitable she’d have to go up around. Each time she strolled straight across the precipitous cliffs without hesitation. I envy her sure-footedness.
I had my heavy long lens on my camera, but we were in a small boat on a wavy lake. I used the fastest shutter speed that I could to try to get sharp pictures. It was a fun challenge.
Eventually, she worked her way down to the water’s edge. At this very moment, the yacht company vessel comes cruising in, pulling between us, another boat that’d also been watching for a while and the goat.
They pulled right up to the shoreline (the sheer peak continues under water plunging to depths of 700 feet in short order), putting pressure on this goat who needs to drink. The fact that she didn’t flee doesn’t mean she’s comfortable. It’s a matter of survival. Also, what’s up with this timing? Is this goat on a regular schedule? On the yacht company payroll? Did someone call and say, “The goat is coming down. Time to launch.”? Fortunately, they were grab-and-go. Their passengers got a couple of close pictures, and they left.
The goat climbed up away from the shore continually her feats of athleticism.
At the next rock slide, she grazed her way down to the water again, stopping at every lone clump of forage. She came down to feed at the edge here but didn’t drink.
She meandered back up along a grassy, treed, well-trodden goat path moving steadily northward, and we left her to the mountain.
I’m so excited to have been able to have spent this time with a Bernard Peak mountain goat!
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