Whose Antlers Are Those?

Jackson Hole, National Parks, Wildlife

Tags: , , , ,

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.

Rare Video: Moose Loses an Antler | National Geographic

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 21st of August

Barker-Ewing, Jackson Hole, National Parks, Wildlife

Tags: , , , ,

Eclipse Sunset

The 21st of August was a truly magical day in a valley that has its fair share of magical days. We see glorious sunsets, bitter cold blizzards, gale force winds, towering thunderstorms, majestic mountains, spectacular views of the nighttime skies, and a wide variety of wildlife and bird life. In short, it’s perfect here. And by what feels like dumb luck (though is actually due to the patterns of planetary motion), Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park won the cosmic lottery and were in the path of totality for the total solar eclipse of 2017.

Eclipse Totality

I’ve seen pictures of total eclipses through the years, and have heard about people who, having gazed upon the sun’s corona, make valiant efforts to see it again. And now it all makes sense. Totality was one of the most beautiful and peaceful phenomena I have witnessed in my first 56 years. In person, it defied rationality, and left me with a bewildered child-like longing for more. …continue reading The 21st of August

Long Hikes, Short Hikes, Birds, and Squirrels

Barker-Ewing, Hiking & Climbing, Jackson Hole, National Parks, Wildlife

Tags: , ,

Marmot at Phelps Lake is one way of seeing squirrels.

Like many destination resort communities, Jackson Hole has its share of trophy homes, five-star restaurants and Range Rovers. But what makes this place a destination in the first place? Grand Teton National Park, mountains that look like mountains, world class skiing in the winter, abundant wildlife, wild and scenic rivers. And the folks who live here year round really know how to enjoy these amenities. From professional ski bums to recreation enthusiasts, Jackson is full of people who have logged their 10,000 hours in all four seasons. They climb up and ski down our biggest peaks, bike or ski the entire circumference of the valley, run rivers in the morning and run marathons in the afternoon. I know one local gal who, at age 103, still straps on her skis every winter!

Jackson Hole is a land of extremes populated by extreme athletes. But there is plenty of room in this valley for those of us who don’t care to push ourselves quite so hard. Perhaps we’ve allowed our level of fitness to taper slightly as we’ve aged, or we’ve devoted big chunks of time to other pursuits (like kids and commuting.) We might start our outdoor season with a short hike to Taggart Lake. Or a slightly longer walk to Phelps Lake. We put in time on the trails – just not at the Olympic level. …continue reading Long Hikes, Short Hikes, Birds, and Squirrels

Magical Mustelids

Environment, Jackson Hole, Wildlife

Tags: , , ,

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

When Interpretation Goes South

Barker-Ewing, Jackson Hole, Rafting, Wildlife

Tags: , , , , ,

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