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.
I am always thinking about the relationships between humans and wildlife, and ended up thinking about patriotism as a result of seeing these American kestrels on today’s safari. Most of us would associate the bald eagle with the U.S.A. since it is our national symbol and they do look really cool and majestic.
Nonetheless, the American Kestrel is not only the only bird-of-prey with the word ‘America’ in it but also actually displays all of our red, white and blue colors. These little falcons are quite small and easily mistaken for a robin or other medium-sized bird, but are as deadly as any other raptor. The male (on the left) is a bit more colorful, but the female also has charismatic markings.
This month is outstanding for wildlife watching in general, but one of the highlights is the unique courtship behavior by our local sage grouse. Males and females gather in specific areas called leks, and the males work very hard to impress the female grouse by prancing around, raising their sharp tail feathers, beating their wings and inflating their yellow air sacs on their neck. Throughout this entire display they are vocalizing loudly with a voice that is unlike anything else in nature. We have seen this behavior several times on recent safaris and this image was taken earlier this week.
I’m also happy to report that the bald eagle nest on Spring Creek Ranch’s property remains active and the female was observed today laying low on her nest, likely incubating eggs. This nest has had varying success in fledgling eaglets in recent years, so we remain hopeful that it will be successful this year.
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.
Lots of moose activity has been seen on recent safaris and this moose was particularly entertaining to watch as it eagerly browsed on a spruce tree. Spruce are probably not a moose’s favorite food, but long Winters limit available forage and require them to diversify their diet. Moose are often the highlight of a wildlife safari since they are so unique looking and seem to have a lot of personality. Signs of Spring continue to take place and today I saw my first Osprey which had returned to Jackson Hole after its long migration South (often as far away as South America).
Mountain bluebirds have made their return along with red-winged blackbirds and the largest bull elk have dropped the antlers that they worked so hard to grow last year. Each Spring, we hope that our pair of bald eagles that nest on Spring Creek Ranch will return for another attempt at nesting, and yesterday I was happy to observe both adults perched on the nest. I’ll continue to watch this nest to monitor the pair’s progress. The largest (but, not heaviest) owl in North America is the great gray owl and we are fortunate to be one of the few regions that this owl calls home. We actually found two on today’s safari and I really liked how this one looked thanks to the surrounding snowfall. Moose were also on the move today and we ended up with a total ten moose sightings throughout the day.
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.
Wildlife watching began early on today’s safari since we encountered a red fox hunting within about a minute. This fox has been seen frequently around Spring Creek Ranch lately, taking advantage of the vast undeveloped land within this property. Another highlight came toward the end of the safari when we found this bald eagle perched in Grand Teton National Park. The warm, sunny weather today enhanced the experience even more.
Lots of interesting wildlife sightings on today’s safari including a shy porcupine perched cryptically in a cottonwood tree. These large rodents are fascinating and their unique ability to discourage most predators from bothering them thanks to their thousands of protective quills.
After a full day of wildlife watching, I returned home to find this little owl perched on my wife’s skis, which leaned against our house. I had only seen a Boreal Owl once before so to see one in my yard (and seemingly happy to be photographed) was a fantastic close to the day!!!
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.