Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Day 21: Dash away, dash away all!

Much of the experience of floating down the river is taking in the myriad ways the animals react to your presence. On these larger rivers, you often come around a corner and see the many creatures going about their business, and subconsciously are able to guess how close you will get before each species takes off, or how much noise from your paddle is necessary to scare them off. Pelicans take a few long, slow strokes with their wings, and frequently glide out over the water as if to use as little energy as possible. Gulls are less afraid of boats, but when they do leave, what a racket they make! Mammals are often only detectable by rustling in the grass. Not being able to fly away, they must be very careful about being seen.

On the other hand, some birds try to attract your attention. Shorebirds that nest on the ground are very vulnerable to predation, so the mother has an act she picked up from the theatre. She will pretend to have a broken wing, and flop about on the groud to distract the predator from her nest. Some deserve academy awards for their performances.

But now I must speak of one of the most common creatures on the river. It is the fault of many books on animal identification that they simply leave out the animals you are most likely to see. It is all well and good for a book on tracking to inform me that a bison track resembles cattle tracks, but how am I to rightly ascertain the differences if the book is unwilling to show me, in the same artist's hand, the tracks of both bison and cattle? And likewise, why leave out domestic cats and dogs and horses and the other common tracks you are most likely to see? Perhaps they expect the buyers of such books to have these so ingrained that there is no need to describe them.

I, however, for your benefit, will attempt to describe how these most common mammals, cattle, run away. I was surprised that they run away at all, being so used to humans, and in fact when riding my bicycle past grazing land their only reaction is to stop what they were doing, and stare at me as I go past. I am not sure if their expression is closer to blame or curiosity.

But here on the river, perhaps because I am so much slower and in view for so long, the reaction is different. They begin with the staring. Soon one or more break into low mooing, as if to rouse the others. After some time more join in, but rousing cattle must be an involved process. A few cows begin to walk away from the river. The rest of the crowd follows, and just as I am nearly around the next bend and out of site, the last cow leaves her patch of grass, and follows the crowd slowly, mooing her complaint that she didn't see anything worth leaving over.

Day 21 ended: 50*57.715N, 108*30.208W

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