Best of the Tetons

Flat Creek Wetlands

Flat Creek Wetlands: My St. Vrain

Jackson’s Year Round, But Often Overlooked Asset!

Flat Creek Wetlands sits on the north edge of the Jackson Hole & Greater Yellowstone Area Visitor’s Center. It couldn’t be more convenient for any Jackson Hole visitor or resident, yet most people drive right by it! Yep, I get it! People are lured to Grand Teton National Park with hopes of seeing a Grizzly, Moose, bugling Elk, Wolf or Bison (short list).

Flat Creek Wetlands is my “St. Vrain”. I’ll explain that near the end of the page!

Flat Creek Westlands

Spring is usually a very active time at Flat Creek Wetlands, but actually it seems that something is going on there all year. While I take photos at Flat Creek Wetlands year round, photos on this page were all taken on May 2nd, 2017. To be more specific, I spent roughly an hour in the morning and another hour in the mid-afternoon. I came home with a couple thousand photos! You might call it a “target rich” environment, yet I was the only person there taking photos! In the photo above, I captured several Canada Geese, a pair of Trumpeter Swans and a group of Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Flat Creek Westlands Sign“”

MapMuch of Flat Creek Wetlands sits on the National Elk Refuge. The Town of Jackson maintains the picnic pavilion, picnic tables, and trash cans. The sign above is on the small viewing platform, while another sign identifies the Murie Family Park. Click this thumbnail map to view it larger. Click Google Maps of North Cache to get the interactive satellite map.

Flat Creek Wetlands and Park

This photo should help visualize the intimate location. When standing next to the bank, birds and waterfowl are usually relatively close. (I took this one on May 3rd)

Yellow-headed Blackbird

The cattails along almost all edges of the small pond attract numerous nesting birds, including Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbirds share the cattails with the Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Red-winged Blackbird

The males steal the show, but the females are mixed in. This is female Red-winged Blackbird.

Marsh Wren

Some of the residents are tiny, like this cute little Marsh Wren.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The larger birds like Canada Geese and Trumpeter Swans are easy to spot. Little birds like this Yellow-rumped Warbler are not so easy!

Greater White-fronted Goose

It seems each year there is a unique visitor. This year, I’ve been seeing a Greater White-fronted Goose. I went there immediately when I heard about it— fearing it might be gone a day later—but this one has been hanging around for a couple of weeks.


Each year, Coots spend time in Jackson Hole and some of them nest at Flat Creek Wetlands. On any particular day, you could expect to see a few Mallard Ducks, Golden Eyes, Swans, and a variety of waterfowl.

Green-winged Teal

You might also find a few surprises. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Green-winged Teal, but a pair was in the pond today.

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal are a bit more common here. Both are beautiful ducks!


Birds seems to be the big attraction, but over the years, I’ve seen Beavers and River Otters in the pond. Today a Muskrat swam by. Moose and Mule Deer frequent the area in the Fall and Winter. Just over the fences, thousands of Elk winter on the National Elk Refuge, although most of them have left the refuge by early May.

Hawk in Flight

Overhead, it is not too uncommon to see a variety of Hawks, Harriers, Golden Eagles, Balk Eagles, Osprey, Great Blue Herons, and so forth. I didn’t see them this year, but I’ve seen White-faced Ibis in the area. I also got shots of Magpies & Brewer’s Blackbirds. Crows, Ravens and Starlings are also fairly common.

Fence with Blackbirds

Today, the National Elk Refuge fence was lined with around fifty Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Some will move on, but others will nest at Flat Creek Wetlands.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

The mating calls of the Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds fill the air, along with the calls of the little Marsh Wrens and the distant sounds of Sandhill Cranes.

Fighting Geese

Flat Creek Wetlands is my “go to” spot to practice and fine tune my skills. Action like this happens fairly often, but just like other wildlife photography, it happens fast and without much notice. Most readers at Best of the Tetons know I offer One-On-One Photography Tours here in Jackson Hole. While some of my clients have been fully skilled pro photographers, many fall into the beginning intermediate to intermediate skill levels. Some clients need instruction on how to set their camera to stop action and some need instruction on “how and when to practice”.

Fighting Geese

When in the field, it can be extremely frustrating to be fumbling around with settings while a Moose is crossing a stream or a Black Bear cub is walking across a log. Occasionally, a client and I are standing near a Bald Eagle in a tree that I know is going to fly soon—only to have them looking through a menu to change the shutter speed. I want them to get the shot, but short of taking the camera out of their hands, I am helpless!

Excited Goose

While I typically refrain from being too “preachy” on this site, this post is a good place to comment on the need to practice!

Excited Goose

Find a place to practice! Find a place where you can shoot thousands of photos in a day, yet feel fine at the end of it if you delete every single one. Even if you don’t have a Flat Creek Wetlands near you, the odds are very high that you can find a little league soccer field with hundreds of colorfully clad young athletes running, kicking, and blocking. Use the practice shots to determine a shutter speed necessary to stop action. Watch for speeds that introduce unwanted blur. Find out whether your lens is sharp when wide open. Shoot at various ISO settings and learn where your “pain tolerance” ends! When back at home on your computer, analyze your photos and try to figure out why some are better than others. The shooting data embedded in all digital photos can give you a lot of clues!

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Many people dust off their camera and charge their batteries as they plan a trip to a place like Jackson Hole. But really, they need to head to the soccer fields or to the local duck pond long before the trip. Other than the fleeting Alpenglow light, most landscape photographers have the luxury to working slowly and deliberately. Wildlife photographers typically get very little notice of upcoming action, and in most cases, a missed opportunity seldom reoccurs. That’s where the practice pays off!

Yellow-rumped Warbler“I’d fish anyone’s St. Vrain”

I had considered using that as the title for this post, but I was afraid some people might not click on the page unless they were fishermen.  I chose “Flat Creek Wetlands” instead. It is probably a better choice, but I like the ring and message of the alternative title.

I’ll end the page with this observation. The quote above is a direct rip-off of a chapter title in one of John Gierach’s books on fly fishing. John is an outdoor sports journalist that lives along the St. Vrain River in Colorado. His books and columns are full of stories from his time spent fishing on the St. Vrain. Gierach explains in the chapter that another fisherman invited him to come fish his local little river—sheepishly suggesting it was a fun, but underwhelming fishing spot. The fish weren’t going to be big, but were cagey and required a fair amount of skill to catch them. It was “his” river—his “go to” fishing spot when he just needed a fishing fix. John Gierach was passing the story along to his friend, A.K. Best, who then said, “I’d fish anyone’s St. Vrain”.

It would be easy for me to suggest that Flat Creek Wetlands is “my St. Vrain”. It’s on my way to and from Grand Teton National Park. Some days, I never make it to the Park because of it. Some days, the Park is slow and I stop there because I know I can always get a few shots. It’s only three miles from my house, and if nothing else, I get to practice!

I hope you can find your own St. Vrain!

All of the photos on this page were taken on one day. I could have stayed there all day and probably captured another couple thousand shots! I know I can go back anytime, and if I did so regularly over the summer, I’d improve on many of them. Every day is different. There are different birds, different stages of the life cycles of the baby geese throughout the Summer, and different weather and lighting conditions. A one time pass through any new area is never enough! It usually takes two or three visits to expect to start filling a portfolio.

The photos were taken with either a Nikon D5 paired with a Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens or a Nikon D500 paired with a Nikon 200-500mm lens. Most of the action shots were captured at 1/1000th second to 1/1250th second shutter speeds. Given the choice, I would prefer to use a tripod, but for various reasons, I didn’t use one.

Teton Photo Excursions

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Comments (5)

  1. Lynn

    Excellent post Mike. I’ve been loving the birds in my area this spring too.

  2. I like to stop there. The swallows are probably my favorite though. I love how they line up on the fence, and I can shoot the colors of the marsh in the background.
    Do you use back button focus? I have been using it when I go shoot the wild horses. When the action is happening it really helps.

  3. Craig Knecht

    Thanks again Mike for great photos and an excellent tutorial on how to take better photos.
    Our Jackson Police Department Citizens Mounted Unit has started our training at the Heritage Arena on weekends with the Old West Days Parade being our first formal activity for the year. See you around town.

  4. George Norsworthy

    Mike, great photos, and great sentiment!

  5. Everything opens…Thanks Jean

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