Magical Mustelids

Environment, Jackson Hole, Wildlife

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Grand Teton National Park is home to many types of small mammals, including the Magical Mustelids. This family of fearless carnivores includes badgers, fishers, martens, mink, river otters, wolverines, and three weasels: the least weasel, the long-tailed weasel, and the short-tailed weasel or ermine.

A nice brown coat for summer.

The short-tailed weasel measures between 7 and 13 inches including the tail, and despite their diminutive size, they really believe themselves to be quite tough. I remember one little guy I saw while hiking with some clients along the river – he bravely held the trail against four much-larger mammals, and would not let us pass. It turns out the weasel symbolizes courage in many Native American cultures. Even though they are small and only weigh up to 12 ounces they will readily attack larger animals. They are effective hunters, preying mostly on mice and voles. (Researchers rely on the presence of weasels as an indicator of an abundant rodent population.) They are also terrific climbers, so our avian friends are not immune to their predatory survival strategies.

How does the little short-tailed weasel survive the long cold winters in Jackson Hole? Food, shelter, and companionship are critical. With their long bodies, low weight, and lack of body fat, weasels have some distinct disadvantages during the long winter months. They must keep warm by eating up to 40 percent of their weight every day, and may occasionally engage in “killing sprees” so that they can storing leftovers as a hedge against days without any kills. They use up a lot of energy during a hunting day, covering as many as three miles in their quest for prey. How does the Small-tailed weasel negotiate the winter landscape? …continue reading Magical Mustelids

Our River Guides are on the Move

Barker-Ewing, Jackson Hole, Rafting, Recreation, Uncategorized

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lesser-canada-geese-female-bird-with-brood-swimming-in-water-branta-canadensisAs the summer rafting season on the Snake River slowly fades to autumn, we hear the cry of the wild geese as they fly in squadrons overhead. With winter approaching, these mighty birds wing their way southward in massive v-shaped wedges. Some geese will remain in Jackson Hole, finding the few choice spots of wintering habitat that our valley has to offer. But most will fly to wet grasslands in the southern United States to enjoy rich vegetation, fish, and insects throughout the winter months. …continue reading Our River Guides are on the Move

Please slow down

Barker-Ewing, Jackson Hole, Rafting, Wildlife

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I hope this Pocupine makes it!

For the last several years, I have spent the early summer driving back and forth between my adopted hometown of Bozeman, Montana and my original hometown of Moose, Wyoming. I relish the opportunity to spend three to four weeks of the summer guiding rafts along the Snake River, and renewing my relationship with Jackson Hole – a place of immense importance to me.

These early weeks of summer are fun. The river runs fast. The nights are chilly. The wildflowers are abundant. And the moose and elk calves are taking their wobbly first steps. But danger lurks here, too. …continue reading Please slow down

When Interpretation Goes South

Barker-Ewing, Jackson Hole, Rafting, Wildlife

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When Interpretation Goes South

River Otter
Last seen swimming the “otter way.”

Over the years I have witnessed and participated in the famous Western propensity to spin yarns about almost any subject. “Where is the hole?” is our version of the age old Snipe hunt. And though tourists may expect some measure of abuse at the hands of “the locals,” I’m keenly aware that the captive audience in my raft is experiencing something truly magical for the very first time, and hopes to learn something from it. My job? I’m a Barker-Ewing boatman. Which means that, in addition to navigating the river safely, I’m also an entertainer. And a tour guide. And a teacher. And it serves me well to remember this.

I confess to having occasionally invented a tale or let loose a pun in a less-than-ideal situation – a habit I may have picked up from one of the many experienced purveyors of bad taste who ply these particular waters. If I’m lucky enough to spot a river otter from the raft, I’ll share loads of information about their habitat and behavior. But I also might mention that otters are rarely sighted, due to the meandering characteristics of this riparian environment. By which I mean that we’re floating one way, while the otters are swimming the otter way. Boom! Yes, puns are the lowest form of humor. And my poor captives never seem to see them coming. …continue reading When Interpretation Goes South

Wapiti Wilderness

Barker-Ewing, Environment, Jackson Hole, Rafting, Wildlife

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Olaus_and_Mardy_MurieI grew up in Jackson Hole in the shadow of the Tetons, and spent vast stretches of my childhood wandering the wapiti wilderness. I waded through Ditch Creek, explored the caves and crags on Blacktail Butte, and rode my little horse for miles across sagebrush flats. Lucky for me, my neighborhood north of town was also home to some of the most famous naturalists and anthropologists of the time: the Craigheads, whose decade-long study of Grizzlies in Yellowstone pioneered advances in wildlife ecology and conservation; the Laubins, who studied the lifeways of the Plains Indians and wrote several famous books about tipis, dances and archery; and Mardy Murie, considered by many to be the founder of the modern conservation movement; all lived within a couple of miles of my house, and were as much a part of my childhood landscape as the mountains themselves. …continue reading Wapiti Wilderness