This great-horned owl sat contently in the soft light of sunset tonight as it scanned the nearby fields for mice or voles.
Recently, our wildlife safaris have witnessed several of these species including a few species of waterfowl, rough-legged hawks, bald eagles, shrikes and this hairy woodpecker who visited a feeder today.
The word “common” can be misleading when it comes to wildlife names. This vibrant duck seen on yesterday’s safari is a good example of this, as its name is “Common Goldeneye,” but is fairly unusual here in Jackson Hole.
The Barrow’s Goldeneye is much more typically seen, so this was a fun addition to our day’s species list. Currently, we have lots of great behaviors to observe and on yesterday’s trip we watched coyotes hunting, bighorn sheep chasing one another, moose foraging, an eagle scavenging and bison grazing.
Looking out the window today the snow is falling and I found myself thinking of spring. One thought that stuck in my head was last April when I went with our Naturalist, Kurt Johnson on a Dawn Wildlife Safari. We went out past the National Elk Refuge, to Kelly and around the loop to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, then back to Spring Creek Ranch.
The wildlife were out in numbers and we photographed Bison, Elk, Moose, Mule Deer and Bighorn Sheep. The birds were also returning to Jackson Hole. We saw thirteen varieties of birds including: Trumpeter Swans, Red Tailed Hawks, Mallard Ducks, Bald Eagles, Canada Geese, and an American Kestrel.
My favorite bird was the little American Kestrel. Not much bigger than a Robin, this bird inhabits our valley between April and September. We saw it at the art museum perched on one of the rock ledges eating a mouse. These birds don’t usually eat anything bigger than a grasshopper, so this was a major score. We tried not to scare it away, so this picture was taken with a telephoto lens. What a magnificent little bird! These animals and birds are all out there just waiting to be seen and photographed.
Once bull moose shed their antlers, they always look a little like they aren’t wearing clothes anymore (or like a female moose.) Almost all of the bull moose have shed their antlers, but there are one or two small bulls that are still carrying their mini-antlers around proudly.
This image was taken on yesterday’s safari and if you look closely on the skull in between the ears and the eyes, you can see the pedicle which is where the antlers had attached to the head. This bull will likely remain “naked” for another couple of months before beginning to grow new antlers.
Each of our wildlife safari excursions offers unique wildlife sightings and today’s full-day trip was no exception. The vast majority of raptors (birds of prey) have migrated South of Jackson Hole, but we were able to view four species of raptors throughout the day.
Northern Harriers and Red-tailed hawks are unusual to view in winter months here, but we had great sightings of both earlier this morning. Rough-legged hawks and bald eagles were also seen including this eagle who had recently scavenged on the National Elk Refuge. Other interesting sightings from the trip included close views of elk, moose, bighorn sheep and mule deer.
On one of last week’s safaris we counted one of the highest number of bighorn sheep ever recorded on the National Elk Refuge: 61! As the snow keeps falling more and more animals are moving on to the Refuge including thousands of elk, bison, coyote, bald eagles and bighorns.
Our photo safaris are designed to enhance every nature photographer’s technique and opportunity. Jackson Hole is a playground for wildlife photographers and today’s snowy safari provided opportunities for great shots of bighorn sheep, moose, bald eagles and this small herd of mule deer bucks.
Photographers thinking about a visit to Jackson Hole should consider Spring Creek Ranch as THE destination for their base-camp for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks photography.
UPDATE: Whenever we can, we like to post comments from our guests. Click here to view comments from today’s trip.
Every wildlife safari offers both expected and surprising sightings. Today we were fortunate to watch a golden eagle perched near a group of rocky mountain bighorn sheep. After scowling at us for 20 minutes, this enormous predator flew off demonstrating its impressive agility and majestic presence. After sightings of coyote, elk, moose and mule deer we traveled to an area where a porcupine has been spending time.
This porcupine appears to be young and very cooperative for observation and photography. These medium-sized rodents have a very low reproductive rate which is compensated with a low mortality rate, since very few predators are willing to risk confrontation with their thousands of specialized quills.
By late December, only the toughest and resilient wildlife remain in this wintery Jackson Hole region. Most of our breeding birds are long gone and the remaining animals deserve our respect for there adaptations allowing them to survive here. We have observed many examples of these animals in recent safaris including bighorn sheep, moose, bison, elk, mule deer, red fox, coyote, golden eagle, bald eagles and trumpeter swans. These two swans somehow looked comfortable as they sat on the frozen ice of Flat Creek yesterday. Moose sightings have been phenomenal lately and for the past two days we have seen bull moose with antlers as well as bulls who have shed their antlers already. Like other antler-bearing mammals, moose shed their antlers yearly, but moose shed earlier than our elk and deer.