Migration Time

Barker-Ewing, Rafting, Wildlife

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Last weekend at my home in Bozeman, I was startled to awareness by a distinct clattering that reminded me of summer afternoons on the Snake River. Except much, much louder. Entranced, I listened for a moment, wandered to the backyard, and gazed skyward for the source. Turns out the cacophonous clattering was emanating from a large flock of at least 60 Sandhill Cranes. They wheeled above me in giant circles, calling out in unison while rising higher and higher into the sky. I was mesmerized. Though I’ve often seen Sandhill Cranes along the Snake River, I’ve never seen more than five or six at a time. And here I was, seeing dozens and dozens, right in the middle of town. It was migration time.

Sandhill Cranes have many distinct vocalizations, but the one we most commonly associate with these majestic birds is that trademark squeaky clatter. The Cornell Bird Guide tells us that the tone is derived within the bird’s long trachea, which serves to lower the pitch of the vocalization and creates multi-layered overtones. To hear such an enormous flock calling out together was a truly memorable experience.

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Birds of Jackson Hole

Barker-Ewing, Environment, Jackson Hole, Wildlife

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Black Capped Chickadee on a snow bank.A respectful “hats off” to the multitude of birds and animals that stick it out in frigid Jackson Hole for our long, long winters. And some of Grand Teton National Park’s heartiest winter residents are also the cutest. The chickadee has stick-to-it-iveness and cuteness in spades!

Here in Jackson Hole we have two varieties of chickadee: we enjoy seeing both Black-Capped and Mountain Chickadees on our forest ski trails, by our suburban feeders, and along the Snake River.

During the summer months it’s easy to hear the chickadee’s distinctive call, a two-tone whistle that sounds a bit like “fee bee.” It is easy to imitate, even for a novice whistler like myself, and I used the “fee bee” whistle for years to call the kids in from the yard, or locate them in a crowded store.

Mike Y., who guided for Barker-Ewing all through 70s and 80s, used the “fee bee” to communicate with his young daughter, too. One day, while she sat patiently waiting for daddy to return to the boathouse, a flock of chickadees flew overhead with a chorus of “fee bee” whistles. That little girl jumped up and ran off down the driveway, yelling “Daddy, where are you?” Poor thing: her daddy was still an hour away on the river! It took quite a bit of explaining when we brought her back to the boathouse: she thought that “fee bee” was her dad’s distinctive call, and didn’t realize that he had appropriated it from a chickadee. …continue reading Birds of Jackson Hole