Warmer and longer days are obvious indicators that Spring might be around the corner, but Spring in the Tetons is a rather slow and unpredictable process. Snow melts in the southern end of the valley long before it disappears in the northern section—and it melts even later in the high country. Around town you might see high snow banks dissolvling and roads seeming to get wider. You tell yourself, hopefully, you won’t need that heavy Winter coat again until late November! Spring is coming!
Besides the changes to the landscape, we start hearing familiar chirps, screeches, and calls. Robins are some of the first of the returning birds that signal the promise of Spring.
For much of the Winter, I see essentially the same species of birds, including Woodpeckers, Ravens, Crows, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Magpies, and Chickadees. Other than the red on the head of a Downey or Hairy Woodpecker, most of them are mostly gray, black, and white. Sometime around the first few days of March, I usually see the first Dark-eyed and Oregon Juncos in my back yard. They are also mostly gray, black, and white also, but they seem to signal that other songbirds will be close behind.
Mountain Bluebirds are the most colorful of the early birds—usually appearing around the middle of March. Some of the earliest sightings are around the Kelly Warm Springs, but once the big waves arrive, they can be seen about anywhere with open sage.
Meadowlarks often appear, at least in small numbers, at about the same time as the first Mountain Bluebirds. The first Meadowlarks I typically see are north of Kelly and around the Kelly Warm Springs.
Red-winged Blackbirds are usually heard long before they are seen. Their distinctive call seems to announce the coming of spring. I typically see them around Wilson and along the cattails north of the Visitor’s Center. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are usually weeks behind.
Sharp-shinned Hawks may be around the valley all year, but I have a feeling they follow the other migrating songbirds into the valley. This one had just killed an early season Robin. Other Raptors, like Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, Prairie Falcons and Peregrine Falcons also re-enter the valley, pushing out winter’s Rough-legged Hawks.
Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles winter in Jackson Hole. They are often seen around the National Elk Refuge, feeding on winter kills of Elk, Pronghorns, and Mule Deer. Osprey typically start showing up around the first week of April.
Yellow-bellied Marmots are among the many species of small critters that hibernate through the Winter months. This year, I saw my first Marmots near the Gros Ventre River on St. Patrick’s day. Other small hibernating critters such as Uinta Ground Squirrels (Chislers) and Chipmonks should be close behind in the southern end of the valley. Beavers, if you can get close to the river bottoms, will also be active.
Grizzlies can appear about anytime after a long period of warm days. I don’t think much about them until mid-April, but there have been reports of Grizzly tracks in mid-March and actual sightings in Yellowstone. The southern end of the the Jackson Hole valley may actually look and feel like Spring, while the Grizzlies might still be moving around on snow covered hills and river banks.
Many species of mammals do not hibernate in the Winter, such as Foxes, Badgers, Ermine, Weasels, Pine Martens, Porcupines, Skunks, Raccoons, Coyotes, River Otters, and Wolves. My mid-March, many of them begin pairing up and denning for Spring.
Elk, Moose, Deer and Bison can often be seen moving from their Winter zones starting in mid-March and continuing through April. Typically, we don’t see the Bison herd during the Winter months, but they begin moving North of the Gros Ventre by the end of March. A scene like the one above signals a major change on the National Elk Refuge as the 2017 herd of over 8,000 Elk leave the area.
Overhead, flocks of Canada Geese return to the valley. Other migratory birds sneak through the valley, like this Wood Duck. White-faced Ibis may be in the Jackson area for only a day or two. Spring is also a time for returning Pelicans, Sandhill Cranes, and Great Blue Herons. Wintering Swans magically disappear, leaving the area’s breeding pairs to the summer water.
Back at home, I look forward to the Spring parade of migrating songbirds. The drab rust and brown backdrop gradually changes to vivid green as the first of the colorful Bullock’s Oriole’s appear. Western Tanagers, Cedar Waxwings, and Lazuli Buntings will likely be close behind. At some point, I’ll hear my first Hummingbird buzzing around the yard in search of sugar water.
Each year is different! To close this page, I’ll include two images to show how different it can be here in the Northern Rockies. This photo was taken on May 2nd, 2011. Elk, Bison, Moose, and even birds would have still been “penned up” in the southern portion of the valley.
This photo was taken at the Old Patriarch Tree on May 5th, 2015. In 2015, Elk, Bison, Moose, and Deer, could have already migrated to their summer zones. Spring came much earlier that year!
For this page, I dug through some of the images I’ve taken in the Jackson Hole region over the past 10 years or so. They were all captured with Nikon bodies, including D200, D300, D4, D800, D810, and D5. Lenses include Nikon 24-70mm, 70-200mm, 200-400mm, 200-500mm, and a Tamron 150-600mm.
Throughout the year, I offer One-On-One licensed photo tours here in Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park. Visit Teton Photo Excursions for more information!