Wildlife Sentinels

By Dave Hanks

There is a constant need for all animals (human animals included) to be alert to dangers - whether it is in the form of a predator, or other individuals trying to usurp their territory. Armies always post lookouts, and so do animals. As a former cattle breeder, I became aware of baby-sitting cows. The cows would take turns watching over a large group of young calves - thus providing the other mothers the time to graze and take care of their individual needs.

Creatures that live in grasslands make highly visible prey. Prairiedogs are famous for always having a sentinel to give the signal for all to take to their burrows. Likewise, Iíve read accounts of White-Tailed Deer and Bison always staying vigilant. When resting, they may lay down tail to tail and, between them; they can see a 360 degree scope of the countryside. A sentinel is the last to flee the scene, and so is in the greatest danger, but the interest of the group is paramount Ė especially if the group is comprised of offspring that a parent is concerned about. Geese flying in their famous V formation are depending on the leader to lead the flock safely. If that goose is delinquent, the group will noisily vent their frustration and a new bird will move to the front.

I know that it is much easier to sneak up on an individual to photograph if he/she is alone. Itís very difficult to do so if thereís a group. The groupís many eyes will result in some individual sensing your presence and the whole bunch will suddenly be gone.

The HOARY MARMOT (pictured) is found at high elevations, or in northern latitudes. I have observed them in Canadaís mountainous parks, Alaskaís Denali Park, and Coloradoís Rocky Mountain Park. They are referred to as Whistlers. The nick-name is in reference to the shrill alarm they sound to warn their companions. Contrasted with their cousin, the Yellow-bellied marmot; they are not as dark, and their silvery color blends well with their rocky habitat.

(Taking his turn as look-out)