Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl - Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole, WY
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!!!

Owl Vs. Weasel

Great-Horned Owl - Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole, WY
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.

Our Predatory Songbird

Predatory Songbird - Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole, WY
Predators have always held a certain fascination with wildlife enthusiasts and while we are often fortunate to see predatory behavior in action on safaris, the robin-sized northern shrike is an unlikely killer compared to its larger cousins. During Winter months, we frequently observe the subtle yet deadly shrike perched upon wires or posts while seeking its next victim. Like birds of prey, such as hawks and eagles, shrikes have hooked bills to facilitate tearing of flesh. There are only two species of shrikes in North America and both are sometimes referred to as “butcherbirds” due to their carnivorous habits and tendency to impale prey upon thorny shrubs for later consumption.

Elite Winter Predator

Fox - Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole, WY
One of the coolest wildlife behaviors to see during Winter months is a red fox stalking and diving after its prey and today we had the good fortune to witness (and photograph) this on our safari. The fox begins by walking carefully on the packed snow so as to not alert rodents underneath. Once it hears or smells activity underneath the snow, it tenses its entire body, leaps high into the air and lands, jaws first, into the snow. If it is lucky, it emerges from the snow with an unfortunate rodent within its teeth. This action-packed sequence was a lot of fun to photograph and fortunately this fox gave us a couple of opportunities for trial and error.

Big Bad Wolf

Big, Bad Wolf - Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole, WY
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.

Tree Weasel

Tree Weasel - Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole, WY
I was able to spend the last day of 2010 doing one of my favorite things…photographing a beautiful and relatively uncommon critter.

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!

Masked Mammal

Raccoon - Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole, WY
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.

Steller Feathers

Steller's Jay - Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole, WY
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.

The Jackson Hole Pronghorn Migration

Jackson Hole Pronghorn - Spring Creek Ranch
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.

Wolves and Bears of Yellowstone

Yellowstone Wolves & Bears - Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole, WY
This month’s multi-day safaris have been excellent in terms of cooperative weather and cooperative wildlife. Our primary objective on these safaris is to see predators and we were able to watch several species of predators on each of these including gray wolves, grizzly bears, eagles, coyotes, weasels and black bears.

During one evening, we witnessed a pack of gray wolves and a grizzly bear chasing one another as they all worked to establish dominance over the remnants of a kill. This sow grizzly bear and two cubs were seen in Hayden Valley and eventually swam across the Yellowstone River.