Whose Antlers Are Those?

Jackson Hole, National Parks, Wildlife

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Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park host annual animal and bird surveys – and the Christmas Bird Count was one of my father’s favorite events of the year. It seems as though birds and other residents of our ecosystem would be easier to spot in winter, when the seasonal background is mostly white and grey. You’d think that the mighty Bull Moose would be the easiest to spot. And they’re definitely here. Wildlife-spotters can find them around Blacktail Butte, along the Gros Ventre River corridor, and along the highway from the Wilson Bridge to Teton Village (an especially hazardous area for moose due to heavy vehicle traffic). But the Bull Moose, like many antlered animals in our neighborhood, wears a winter disguise.

Flashback to 1992, when my wife was working in a jewelry store on the Jackson Hole town square. A visitor from some coastal city stopped in to shop, and commented on Jackson’s famous antler arches. “How horrible,” she lamented, “that so many beautiful creatures had to be killed to make those disgusting arches!” Eager to set her mind at ease, my wife happily informed this out-of-towner that members of the deer family – like elk, moose, and mule deer – shed their antlers after the fall rut and regrow them the following spring. This visitor’s eyes widened in disbelief. “That’s completely ridiculous. What kind of fool do you take me for?” Needless to say, she left the store empty handed. …continue reading Whose Antlers Are Those?

The Greatest American Invention

Barker-Ewing, Environment, Hiking & Climbing, National Parks

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Families are important. Vacations are important. Our National Parks are important. And taking our families on vacations to National Parks might be the most important thing we do. As a culture, Americans enjoy a “love/hate” relationship with our jobs. We value hard work and industry to the point that we as individuals feel diminished when we step away from gainful employment. For some, there is a perceived threat that our value as an employee drops when we take a break and a co-worker does not. It’s a dilemma – but there is scientific evidence that taking time off to recharge and rest helps us approach our work with energy, efficiency and creativity.

And it’s not just vacations we need. We also can help recover from the demands of work by spending time outdoors, preferably in a natural setting. Over the last few years, studies have shown that something as simple as a walk in the woods can improve memory and performance. Time spent in forest settings improves mental and physical energy, relieves stress and reduces inflammation. When woodland walkers return to work, they feel better, perform better, and even exhibit calm during their commutes. …continue reading The Greatest American Invention

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

Tiny Invaders

Barker-Ewing, Environment, Rafting, Recreation, Uncategorized

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f3167b23161a6d79c27bbe8902ac6b82Summers are warmer now compared to when I started rafting in the early 1980’s. And we have less water. To the untrained eye, Grand Teton’s Snake River looks fast and deep, but it’s deceptive. At Dead Man’s Bar, our float trip launch point, the river is confined to one narrow channel and moves along quickly due to an eighteen feet per mile gradient. Once the river starts braiding and splitting, the water gets quite shallow. At this time of year, we’re often navigating river flows that are around 3,000 cfs (that’s cubic feet of water per second). In contrast, during the spring snowmelt in late June, we might see flows of up to 14,000 cfs. Why the large difference? The Snake River’s flow is regulated by a dam built in 1916, prior to the formation of the park. The flows we see are maintained in a complicated balancing act between flood control to protect local subdivisions along the river, recreational needs in Jackson Hole, and agricultural uses in Idaho. …continue reading Tiny Invaders