Pilot Knobs and Teewinots

They were once called the Pilot Knobs because fur trappers from a hundred miles around oriented themselves using these shark-tooth mountains. Long before that, an unknown tribe built the 'Enclosure,' a radiating dish of monolithic slabs impossibly arranged on a spire just shy of the tallest peak, where warriors or medicine men would climb to and meditate or seek spiritual orientation.

All of us here still orient to these mountains like the trappers, and like the Indians before them. I lamented that I would eventually get used to the Tetons. Surely they would fade into the doldrums of everyday life. Not so. Every time it's like seeing these mountains for the first time
Some days the top of the Grand is a stone's throw away. It's the way the light catches every fleck of mica. Its because i'm feeling invincible and euphoric. Other days its seems to be in a faraway dimension. It's the way the light shrouds the highest reaches. Its because i'm feeling humble and conquered. Every experience out here happens in the attention of the Tetons. Everything is mapped and cataloged onto the mountains such that every view is an orientation and reorientation. 

This particular view is the punctuation mark of many of my seasons. Trucking up to this rounded hilltop with a picnic and a bottle of wine, looking down at wolves rolling around in the meadows below. Barking Sandhill Cranes echo off the hills over a mirror-still ranch reservoir, cutting through a thick silence dusted with singing cicadas and whistling sagebrush.

My first grizzly is out in that meadow somewhere. Mom was foraging on gopher caches, trying to provide for her two cubs as summer was running out of steam. The two cubs stood on their hind legs to inspect and harass a pair of cranes that towered over them. The next year I canoed to that island with a friend shortly before she moved away. Many people here are as ephemeral as these short seasons. 

Photographers come here every hour of every day. I took this in October 2011, and this shot hasn't been possible since. In October 2012, wildfires throughout the Rockies rudely dumped smoke into the valley all Autumn, obscuring visibility of the mountains entirely. In October 2013, the aspens never turned this bright,and the rain clouds never lifted off the peaks. Outdoor photography is 90% about showing up. Again and again and again. 

Here, elk and horses, bison and cattle share pastures, bridging the gap between wildlife and livestock management. One summer day, we photographed pronghorn here all morning then walked up to the fence and hand-fed grass to the horses. One winter day, we went on a beautiful cross-country ski to a secluded lake where a coyote howled and howled from shore. We were awarded with this view on the return trip.

On the shortest days of the year, its best to just accept the long nights. The full moon illuminates the frost on grandfather cottonwoods before setting behind Buck Mountain. This is near the most popular summer destination in the park in the summer. I had never photographed here for that reason. I came here alone early one morning last week. The moon was blinding, and the snowy grass sparkled.

Seen Through the Looking Glass

If you had to run into a burning building to retrieve one of your possessions, what would it be? There are very few items I own that are imbued with enough significance to be irreplaceable, like the spotting scope left to me by my late mentor, Jeanne Fossani. This little post is a tribute to Jeanne and her continuing legacy of environmental advocacy around the world.

All the following photos in this entry were taken through the eyepiece of her scope.

Resplendent Quetzal
Elegant Trogan

Jeanne was the leader of a teen naturalist trip to Costa Rica through the North Branch Nature Center in Montpelier, VT. I was interested in nature, but not to the extent that I wanted to build my career around protecting it. She encouraged me to wake up at 4AM that first morning in the rainforest to experience the dawn chorus. As I understood it, no teenager had ever seen 4AM unless they hadn’t yet gone to sleep from the night before. Begrudgingly, I got myself up and walked out of the bungalow. Birds were dripping from the trees, and the cacophony of their calls seemed deafening. She pointed her old Swarovski spotting scope on a high canopy. Little blue and yellow and red gems were flitting through the acacias like a scene out of Fern Gully. I saw a Resplendent Quetzal, South America’s most beautiful bird. I realized that the landscape is full of hidden treasures that are only really apparent if you already know what to look for and have the right tools for the job. I was hooked.

Arctic hare

754M of Lamar Canyon Pack

Phantom Springs pack

I returned to Vermont and kept up the same attitude to birdwatching. Jeanne taught me everything she knew. She was fighting cancer and needed some help, so I would come over and water her plants and fill her bird feeders. She took me birding along Lake Champlain, and we saw rare gulls and ducks through that scope.

Jeanne died in 2007 and I had her scope in my car when I first heard the news. Her friends and colleagues encouraged me to keep the scope because they thought she'd want me to have it, and I didn’t know how to get in touch with her family anyway.

Lamar Canyon Pack

Grizzly at the edge of the woods
Black bear cubs

So for the last 6 years I’ve used the scope the same way she did: to excite people about our world’s most amazing creatures. I treated it not as my scope, but as a tool for paying forward what Jeanne was all about. I think about all the things that scope has been trained on. Photons have actually bounced off a snowy owl, funneled through the lens, and hit people in the eye.

Bighorn sheep

Northern Hawk Owl

Polar bear mom and cub

Trumpeter Swan  and ducks

I upgraded my equipment after the polar bear season, but I wanted Jeanne’s scope to continue being used to show more people amazing things. Natural Habitat guide Brad Josephs over at www.alaskabearsandwolves.com is now responsible for Jeanne’s scope. Provided that a coastal Katmai grizzly doesn’t literally eat it, it will be in great hands in an incredible place. 

Big Griz

Mountain goats

Ruddy Duck

If you want to know more about Jeanne, go here:

Polar Bear Wonderland

My friends and I were watching “Shaun of the Dead,” a parody on the zombie apocalypse, and began asking ourselves where we would go if we actually had to escape zombies. It occurred to us that Churchill, Manitoba may be one of the best strongholds around. Why? Because the whole town is defended against polar bears. What’s a zombie or two compared to a few hundred of the largest terrestrial carnivores on earth?

Some of my video footage of bears beating the stuffing out of each other.

Churchill sits at a point geographically where the sea ice freezes first on the Hudson Bay. If a polar bear knows one thing, it’s where to find sea ice, because sea ice means seal hunting. So bears are drawn to Cape Churchill by the hundreds in advance of the freeze up, sitting with their heads on their paws staring longingly at the cold but open water beyond the shore. On the air of a swift northwest wind wafts the mysterious scents of a nearby civilization.  Bacon at the Seaport Hotel, transmission fluid leaking in the shop, fresh laundry tumbling around the dryers in the residential district, donuts frying at Gypsy’s bakery. With nothing better to do, the bears get up and follow their noses.

Napping patiently on a partially frozen pond

Two cowboy conservation officers with the Polar Bear Alert Program see an inbound bear. They extinguish their cigarettes, hop into a big pickup with a winch rig and a spotlight on top and fishtail out of the turnout towards the bear with a shotgun loaded and pointing out the open window. Cracks and Pops explode over the bear’s head with clouds of sulfury smoke, and the bear gallops for cover. The bear recognizes the truck and the firecracker shells that are booming over him. He dodges into a spruce thicket and hunkers down. The cowboys circle him on the side roads, but can’t see him anymore. Every few minutes the bear dashes to the next ridge or the next willow thicket, trying to escape his pursuers, who have loaded their rifles with tranquilizers. The bear leaps out from a copse of rocks and is shot with a shoulder full of Telazol. Dazed and disoriented, the bear collapses onto the snowy road, and the cowboys winch him into the truck bed. They flip him onto a flatbed trailer and back him into D-20, an old military hangar known as “Polar Bear Jail.” Here he stays in his concrete reinforced cell until the sea ice freezes and the officers airlift him to the bay in a cargo net.

polar bear airlift out of the jail. There is a "small" 400 lb bear wrapped in the cargo net

Polar Bear Alert has saved the lives of countless bears and people since they began in the 80s, but once in a while a bear makes it past their defensive line. Generally once a week my guests come to breakfast complaining about the locals shooting fireworks at all hours of  the night, when in fact it is the cowboy officers chasing polar bears down main street past the hotels. Unfortunately bears do slip through the cracks. A couple weeks ago we returned to a very different town than the one I had just left. Right from the tarmac, Churchill was very quiet and nobody would explain why. Just a few hours before we landed a bear had sent two locals on a life-flight to the Winnipeg hospital. It took shovels, guns, and a truck to get a bear to let go of a poor girl’s head.
Later that week I was sitting in the Seaport Lounge during Open-mic night. The singer, Eli, silenced everyone in the bar and asked for a moment of attention. He opened up his iPad to reveal one of the bear attack victims, head wrapped in bandages, on the other end of a Skype video call. The entire bar began singing “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” over Eli’s guitar, and the iPad passed from person to person to wave hello and wish a speedy recovery. The girl is in good shape now and is back in Churchill.

Curious, clever, and an incredibly acute sense of smell. There is a pot of soup inside that last window.

Churchill is a big community that is fully intact for only 6 weeks each year. Lisa, one of my favorite rover drivers, spends the rest of her year on movie sets in Winnipeg. No surprise she is drawn to this town. Like a film set, Churchill is a place where hundreds of people gather to work on a common project for a short amount of time. Favors are granted, and reciprocity is not expected but it is always given. The hotel staff gives Karen a set of batteries for a dead flashlight in a pinch. She brings up a few copies of the Sunday paper from Winnipeg. Ramón puts his Parks Canada work on hold to come translate for our French guests all evening. We invite Brittany out on our rovers after her 6 weeks of nonstop catering to our travelers at the Churchill Hotel. Many street-facing doors are left unlocked in case a bear is sharing your sidewalk.
When the ice freezes, the bears disappear and this strange community evaporates until the next year. Some hardy souls stay in Churchill all year round, providing next year’s stories. “Did you hear, a polar bear stole Bill’s moose? Yeah, ripped the shed door right off the hinges and dragged away a hindquarter!”

That bus has no idea there is a polar bear laying in the willows 20 ft away.

On my final flight out of Churchill, another guide and I realized that we may be among the last of the polar bear guides. Our guests may be some of the last people to see polar bears in the wild. There are no roads into Churchill, and the train into town derails all the time, yet Churchill is still the most accessible place in the world to see these bears. Populations at the fringe of their species range are often the most vulnerable because they endure more hardship to survive. The Western Hudson Bay polar bears are no exception. Bears need sea ice to hunt seals. They cannot survive on anything but seals. They hunt in the winter and spring when the bay is frozen, and they fast in the summer and fall when it is not. In the last 3 decades, the window that the bay is frozen for shrank by 3 weeks, and this trend will continue.

Bruiser bear. The scars indicate he's an older bear that's fought for his place in the breeding pool. The ear tags indicate he's probably paid a visit to the Polar Bear Jail.

Something strange happened this season with my travelers. Nobody questioned me on climate change. Nobody tried to change the subject. Nobody was playing devil’s advocate. Wheat farmers to Shell Oil employees to vegetarian teachers to journalists. People in their eighties or thirties. From Ontario, Iowa, Montana, Texas, California, Atlanta, North Carolina, or Kansas. Already polar bear mothers are not producing as many cubs as they once did. The adult population is already down and declining. By 2050 there won’t be enough ice to make a living on, and the bears will be gone. Soon there won’t be enough bears to support this community and the travel companies that come here. Anyone who comes to Churchill leaves humbled by this reality. Seeing a polar bear in the wild is now equally euphoric and melancholic. My travelers leave carrying the responsibility to explain what is happening in the Hudson Bay to those who ignorantly dismiss climate projections and CO2 graphs in their own insulated worlds. And while we watched polar bears, the largest typhoon in recorded history was whirling across the planet.

Polar Bear mothers used to have 3 cubs. Now they can only support 1 or 2.

Someone asked me what a polar bear is worth. An Inuit community can sell one of their harvest tags to a sport hunter for around $40,000. But what is a Churchill polar bear worth alive? Considering the 4,000 or so travelers arriving each year, the exorbitant prices they pay, and figuring that about 300 bears wander through Cape Churchill each year, my rough estimate is that each bear generates about $46,000 per year. Considering that a bear can easily live to 20 years old, that’s around $1 million that each bear is worth over the course of its life. Food for thought.

Whether you are interested in seeing polar bears or scouting locations to survive the zombie apocalypse, I hope you all one day find your way up to this offbeat and peculiar town. For me, some rest and recovery in Vermont, then back to Jackson for the long Yellowstone winter.

photographing the northern lights at the edge of town

Halfway Around the Yellowstone Sun

When we last left off, I was wishing Mother Nature to provide us many bears and wolves over the summer. Indeed, we had a great season for bears. Our famous “399,” now approaching 20 years old, had a new set of triplets that awed visitors all season. Scarface was out in northern Yellowstone eating whatever his worn teeth could still chew on. Wolves are scarce and seem to be getting scarcer as hunting pressure along the borders increases and elk populations decline. Though wolves were hard to find, we had amazing experiences with all the other wildlife.

My late mentor, Jeanne, taught me that the best shows in nature happen early, early, early in the morning. Though I try to explain this to my travelers, they don’t always have the drive to wake up before dawn, and as a result they miss things like bison being born in the sunrise over the Absaroka Mountains. Twin moose calves were raised happily in a big campground in the park this year. In the dawn light the calves spent all summer wandering unnoticed between campsites in the hour of dawn light before the humans stir. I came to check on them in October, and they are still doing just fine at their regular campsite in Loop B. The National Park Service should probably approach them about paying campsite fees.

Yellowstone is a place where seasons are short. Except for winter. From week to week everything changes. One wildflower starts to bloom as another curls up and fades until next spring. It seems like by the time moose calves are steady on their feet, some of the migratory songbirds are already itching to leave. The elk have just started growing their antlers when the fall colors are upon us and bugling fills the woods. No such thing as stasis. The earth seems to hurtle around the sun so fast this time of the year.

Suddenly, pronghorn are already galloping around the summer sun-dried pastures of the park, and the bison are rolling around in the dry dirt. American Dipper chicks have begrudgingly surrendered to diving into the cold, swift mountain streams. Until now, they stood at the water’s edge and beg for food from the increasingly impatient parents. Before we even recognized that summer was in full swing, huckleberry season was over and the serviceberries were producing like never before. Grosbeaks, chipmunks, waxwings, and black bears swarm these bushes, and I can’t resist grabbing handfuls of berries as I pass on my mountain bike.

Now the leaves are turning and the photographers line up in processions at Oxbow Bend. Grizzlies return to the valley floors, patrolling the park in search of whatever can be digested. As Dan Hartman stacks cord after cord of firewood in preparation for a long Beartooth winter, pine martens dart in and out of the cracks between logs, looking for the perfect cranny in his woodpile to use for winter quarters.

Tourists empty out of the park, leaving the geysers and hot springs open to our peaceful sunset enjoyment. The grizzlies and black bears wander into the hills to find a place to hole up until March, and the residents of Jackson prepare their own dens for the big winter to come.

"Diesel Smoke and Dangerous Curves..."

...sang Norah Jones, just in front of me, on the blue and glowing stage of the Stagecoach country music festival on this hot evening in the Mojave Desert. This moment was a long time in coming. I've been eager to see her perform live since I first heard her smoky voice years ago. More importantly, it had been over a year and a half since I saw my sister, and to watch this show with Ellie was a great reunion, and the ultimate destination of a 3,150-mile road trip from Wyoming to California, via Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. So here's a recap of some of the wonderful experiences along the way.

"Where the deer and the antelope play":
The weather was mostly fine the entire trip. I left south, driving through the Pinedale corridor with the  colossal Wind River range out the driver side window. I was welcomed by some of the pronghorn that will arrive in the Tetons sometime this week. As I migrate south to escape the emotionally taxing dregs of winter, they begin their own migration back north.

The first planned stop was in Sinclair, Wyoming. Not a place where one normally expects to stop. It is a huge oil refinery in the middle of the high sage desert. I had it on good authority that the small community here boasted the best Mexican restaurant in Wyoming, so I had to stop in. Deep fried bean burrito covered in green chili sauce? Yes please. The products of this refinery may be slowly killing us all, but the products of this Mexican dive will certainly accomplish it much faster.

(borrowed from somewhere on the interwebs)

"Miner's gold and mountain men
is the best way for us to begin
to describe the greatest state we love so well.
Where rivers flow, huge pine trees, 
and mountains as far as you can see..." - Paper Bird
First, Denver, to reconnect with a friend neck-deep in medical school. She is in the habit of working about 400 hours a week, and was having a hard time downshifting for her first two-week break in years. She has taken up fanatic knitting as her methadone, so I may have a new winter hat to look forward to.
Then it was on to Boulder, where myself and a few colleagues officially met the office royalty at our partnering company, Natural Habitat Adventures. This organization is a world-class eco-tour provider, and we operate their week-long Yellowstone expeditions. If I play my cards right, I may find myself back up in polar bear country under their flag this fall. Many cocktails were shared, much snow accumulated, and I left the next morning for warmer environs.
The drive was spectacular. This was a marked difference between this road trip and past ones. By avoiding the interstate, I found myself winding and twisting over many mountain passes and through the most beautiful country in the Rockies. Like Wolf Creek Pass, for example, coming down into southwest Colorado:

Day at the Beach
The destination tonight was Mesa Verde N.P., where a good friend was waiting for me at twilight with a fresh fire and a cold beer. Here's the thing about our National Parks: they are often ruined by their own popularity. To prevent the overuse of the natural and cultural resources, everything is paved and fenced. Recognizing this, we happily camped at Mesa Verde, but quickly went next door to the undeveloped and secluded Canyon of the Ancients. Here we could walk around all day without seeing a soul, and wander into alcoves with 1,000 year Anasazi cliff dwellings. We laid around on the hot sandstone like lizards, and while there is no beach in Colorado right now, this whole environment was once oceanfront property. So we enjoyed this petrified beach for all those who were too busy to visit about 50 million years ago.

"...Well there's nothing left to say to you. 
See you later if you're passing through. 
Have a good time as you're traveling on. 
With wild forests and a golden sun, 
you've left just enough time for us to have our fun."-Paper Bird

Onward through Arizona!

That town is rad!
This is what my friend, Maria, said of Jerome, Arizona, four years ago, when we were stranded in a lighthouse off the coast of Maine. She explained, over the cacophony of 6,000 terns and puffins squawking outside, that Jerome was the one place I had to check out if I was ever in the southwest. Somehow this out-of-the-way artists' retreat was conveniently located right along my route, so I was able to fulfill my long-standing quest to investigate this place. The entire community is  perched precariously on the side of a mountain, with a winding road cutting fierce switchbacks east past front doors, and west by the roofs of the same houses. Every home was painted in bright colors, with ivy and marigolds growing over entrances, and murals adorning every side wall. Zoning seemed experimental, as if half these homes had fallen sideways or upside-down onto the homes beneath them, and their strange residents simply adapted by rotating the front door in its frame and planting a new herb garden.
I stayed long enough to have some bitchin' fish tacos at an offbeat Mexican place and walk past some antique shops and art galleries, then drove up the pass and camped near the top, right about here:

I continued on my way, stopping in Prescott, AZ for a coffee and croissant at the first coffee shop that caught my attention. Then I pressed on to California, with a fuel light indicator that was shining, unnoticed, until I was halfway into the Prescott National Forest, about 29 miles to the next gas station. Thank goodness for downhills and Neutral.
I recall listening to a podcast through this section recounting tales of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Running out of gas in the mountains of northern Arizona seemed trite compared to spending an entire unplanned winter holed up in Mandan tepees in the blustery Dakotas while trying to free frozen boats from crushing ice jams. Chief Sheheke's best reassurance to the Corps. of Discovery was "If we eat, you shall eat. If we starve, you too must also starve."

Well, I didn't starve. Instead, I rolled into an In-n-Out burger at the border of California. This chain is probably a more appropriate port-of-entry than the mandatory agricultural products checkpoint at every highway into the state. Being the first red meat consumed in over a month, this "animal-style" cheeseburger was a lovely indulgence that I validated by considering it a symbolic gesture.

"I hear them all, I hear them all, I hear them all"- Old Crow Medicine Show
I pulled into a gated, adobe-sided rental estate in Cochella Valley and met my sister who I hadn't seen in approximately forever. She informed me that her 15 friends that were also staying at this house this weekend were all female college seniors, and the guy friends I was expecting to see were not coming. I was definitely not prepared for this, but I suppose there are worse problems to have. 
The reason for the season was the Stagecoach Festival, a 3-day country music festival featuring some of the industry's greatest: Toby Keith, Lady Antebellum, Trace Adkins, Dierks Bentley, Phil Vassar, Zac  Brown Band, etc. No, I don't particularly love country music, but the point was to hang out with Ellie for a few days, not critique the frustratingly over-accessible lyrics and simplified musical structure of this genre. But Old Crow Medicine Show threw some fabulous musicianship into the mix, and Norah Jones' country outlet, The Little Willies, followed up OCMS.
My birthday coincided with the festival, and I was promptly thrown in a swimming pool by my sister and her friends at midnight. This is a sort of birthday tradition at her college. 

The festival location was apparently chosen because it was the hottest place you could throw a party without the Solo cups physically melting. I was eager to move to a more moderate climate, so I re-packed my car and headed north.

"This is where Mylar balloons go to die."

Before leaving the Mojave desert completely, I had the opportunity to meet up with some biologist friends in Las Vegas. The Vegas Strip was probably the least comfortable place I had ever been, but the experience was tempered by an early bedtime and the company of these particularly quiet and relaxing friends. I wasted a dollar on a slot machine, drank a beer on the street (that is legal, you know?), and saw a free, cheesy, lusty stage performance about pirates and sirens outside of the Treasure Island casino. 
We woke up at 4 am --which was fine, because the temperature of the apartment prohibited sleep anyway... I swear the heater was on-- and drove two hours away from Vegas into the middle of the desert on old BLM roads. We began the hunt for the threatened Desert Tortoise. Since they were all radio-tagged, doing so was not difficult. They don't move very fast. It was nevertheless fascinating to see a rare species going about its business in an extreme environment.

Tortoise, check.
Andrew explained that the number of silver Mylar balloons draped over the cacti seems to be directly correlated with the survey point's distance to Las Vegas. After holidays like Valentine's day and graduation, the desert is decorated with the matching balloons. Nine so far collected at this one site this year, about 100 miles from the city. The record was 22 in one day at a site a bit closer. I know that sea turtles meet a terrible death when they confuse a drifting Mylar balloon husk for a jellyfish. How ironic that even our desert tortoises can't escape these things, even if they don't eat them.

It was a great experience to walk through the wild Mojave for a morning and enjoy its diversity and peculiarity. Edward Abbey wrote in his Desert Solitaire:

"It seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in spareness and simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass, so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock. The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom."

Then onward to Moab.

Red Desert Baptism

The wind roared outside the tent and went through fits and frenzies for an hour. I envisioned my tent stakes being ripped out and thrown across the campsite by the maelstrom, but I could not check. I buried myself under a blanket with a shirt across my face. Your eyes filled with blowing sand if you tried to peek. So I waited until morning, and unearthed myself from a quarter-inch of red desert deposited over everything in my tent. This is not the first or second time I have heard of this happening here in Moab, Utah, so perhaps it is a rite of passage. The morning was crisp and beautiful.

We shook sand from our ears and hair and headed for a coffee shop. Some travel the U.S. from diner to diner. John Steinbeck does this in "Travels with Charley" and finds the American condition dissatisfying and homogenized. I think coffee shops make for a better social barometer. Every town has a coffee shop. The care that goes into individualizing that shop is indicative of the town's commitment to their own culture. In Moab, Wake & Bake was frequented by at least a few jacked-up, sandy Jeeps and some VW vans. Healthy border collies and shepard mixes sat outside waiting for some adventure. At Wild Iris in Prescott, AZ, folks sat on couches, whittling away at early morning emails, and talking about their friends in the city marathon beginning outside. The barista was warm and friendly for 6:30 am, and woke us up more cheerfully and naturally than the caffeine.  At the chain coffee shop,the only coffee shop, in Indio, California, a yappy terrier-thing barked at me from a golf cart parked in the handicap space. They didn't have ceramic mugs there, and refills cost 75 cents.

Mountain biking, hiking, eating, relaxing. Then the final stretch back to Jacksonia.

 "Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam"

Reinvigorated and ready for an oil change or two, i'll be heading headfirst into a busy spring and summer starting this week. I'll relax mid-October if I'm lucky. Until then, may the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem bless us with many bears and wolves. 

Transitions: Part II

These are all critters seen in the last week in and around Grand Teton National Park. As you can see, the weather has been oscillating quite a bit lately. Enjoy.

Grizzly 610 and cubs

OK, this was taken in Yellowstone 3 weeks ago,
but we have seen wolves and bison in the Tetons this week!

Transitions: This Week in the Tetons, Part I

Spring is attempting to break through the intermittent snows. Slowly but surely, the hillsides are melting off, exposing bare soil and sagebrush buttercups. Birds are arriving right on cue, and the winter residents (humans included) welcome back these migrants after months of absence. Red-winged blackbirds are singing in the middle of blizzards, and must wonder if they picked the wrong week to return. Swallows are flying around the open ponds and under bridges. Bears are waking up and starting to wander around in search of winter casualty carcasses. Elk and Bison are migrating off their wintering grounds to reclaim their pastures throughout the ecosystem. All of the following birds were seen in the last 24 hours around Grand Teton National Park. Stay tuned for mammals.

Trumpeter Swans have been resisting the cold all winter, but the muskrats have finally stepped out from under the ice

Ring-necked Duck (right) and an American Wigeon. Ducks of all species are paddling around  in shared ponds.

Great Horned Owls are incubating eggs right about now.

Mallards weathering a storm

Barrow's Goldeneyes

A Bald Eagle, a winter visitor or a yearlong resident, watches Pacific Creek for a meal.

Trumpeter Swan slowly becoming an igloo as American Wigeons preen.

Clark's Nutcrackers are beginning to harvest some of the 25,000+  seeds they  cached last fall.