Last week’s wolf and bear safari was an extremely successful weekend of wildlife watching throughout Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. We were able to find many grizzly bears, black bears and a solitary gray wolf. Although these predators were the focus of this excursion, we also had great sightings of bighorn sheep, moose, river otters and many other birds and mammals.
It is a relatively quiet time in Jackson Hole in terms of people but one of the best times to view wildlife. Ground squirrels have finally emerged from their long hibernation, migratory birds such as bluebirds, cranes, red-tail and Swainson’s Hawks have returned and the large hoofed mammals are on the move toward their Summer ranges.
Today, we watched a pair of coyotes chasing bighorn sheep, a porcupine foraging in an open meadow, and a northern shrike along with over a dozen moose, thousands of elk and mule deer. Elk and moose aren’t typically found in the same habitats but we were fortunate to observe both (the two largest members of the deer family) side by side as they browsed and migrated through Grand Teton National Park.
Today’s excursion was a classic winter wildlife safari here in Jackson Hole with sightings of bighorn sheep, many bald eagles, coyotes, mule deer and thousands of elk. Our local wildlife is very well equipped to deal with snowy days such as today, as this moose photograph suggests. The snow landing on the fur of this moose isn’t melting which tells us that there is a substantial temperature gradient between its skin and outer-most fur which keeps it comfortable even in extreme conditions.
This moose can be determined to be a bull by the presence of its ‘pedicle’ which is the part of the skull from which the antlers grow. It can be seen just in front of the ears. The blizzarding snow surrounding this moose was captured by stabilizing the camera and setting it to a very slow shutter speed. Other interesting sightings from today included a northern shrike and large flock of sage grouse.
Another great Winter wildlife safari today! Highlights included coyotes scavenging, moose browsing, sage grouse flocking and a porcupine roosting. This great-horned owl was serenely perched in a cottonwoood tree turning its head back and forth while studying us. Eventually, we noticed the most remarkable part of this sighting which was a long-tailed weasel clutched in its talons.
Normally its white Winter coat serves as camouflage to prevent such incidents. If you look closely at this image, you can see its leg and tail underneath the owl.
The last few safaris have been absolutely phenomenal with excellent sightings and interesting behaviors observed. This black wolf was seen in Grand Teton National Park along with a gray-colored wolf nearby and was one of many great animals seen.
Other sightings included moose browsing on cottonwood trees, a young golden eagle attacking bighorn sheep, mountain goats navigating steep cliffs, and a porcupine perched in a tree.
Pine martens are one of the only local weasels that regularly spend time in trees (often pursuing red squirrels) and this individual put on a phenomenal show! We commonly encounter their unique track pattern in the snow but only see the animal itself a handful of times each year. Thanks to Lance, Sophie and Steve for the heads-up on this great sighting!
Raccoons are not extremely common here in Jackson Hole so I was surprised to see this handsome critter in my yard the other night. Most trash containers in this area are bear-proof, so it wasn’t able to cause any trouble for us. Winter has arrived in full force and wildlife watching has been great.
We are seeing elk, mule deer and moose on Spring Creek Ranch regularly and many other animals nearby on our safaris including bighorn sheep, coyotes and eagles.
The vast majority of breeding birds have left Jackson Hole in search of warmer climates, but several birds including this Steller’s Jay will remain throughout the Winter. This image taken this morning shows the vibrant blue coloration of this jay’s wing and tail feathers and (simply by good luck) has a six-sided snow crystal which recently landed on this bird.
This lightweight brand of snowflake has landed in abundance during the past week, accumulating to over three feet of snow in the mountains and allowing Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to open all of its ski lifts this weekend.
One of the most unique animals within this ecosystem is the pronghorn (frequently called antelope) so it is appropriate that these animals engage in one of the most unique migrations in the entire continent. Jackson Hole’s population of pronghorn leave our valley each Fall moving south in the general direction of Pinedale, WY.
Their migration corridor is very narrow as it is constrained by their habitat preferences, highways, residential development and oil & gas development. As a result, we were able to watch hundreds of these speedy animals migrate during an outing yesterday to observe this phenomena. It was an amazing event to witness. The pronghorn doe in this image was one of about 140 which sprinted across a small county road bisecting their migration corridor. She was running at about 30 MPH so to capture her motion in this photograph, the shutter speed was set slow (1/50 sec) while the lens followed her from right to left.