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Best of the Tetons

Critters

Maybe they don’t have the “mass” of the large game animals and predators, but they are equally fun and equally challenging to photograph!

This page contains photos of some of the smaller mammals found in the Jackson Hole valley and Grand Teton National Park. With few exceptions, I don’t go out looking for the critters. Instead, I am usually out taking photos of something else when I catch a glimpse of something moving nearby.

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Short-tailed Weasel or Ermine

I’ve only see a few Weasels or Ermine while out in the valley. They are elusive and seem to always be on the move. This page contains lots of facts about them. Weasel (Short Tailed) or (Ermine) . There are possibly some Long-tailed Weasels in the valley.

Weasel

Weasel: I photographed this Weasel along the Gros Ventre while searching for moose. I’ve seen photos others took inside the Gros Ventre campground. Other photographers have been known to capture images of them along the road on the National Elk Refuge, though I haven’t been so lucky.

Ermine

Ermine: Needless to say, seeing a small white mammal in an ocean of white snow is not an easy task! This one happened to run across the top of the snow along the Snake River south of Hoback Junction. I’ve seen them on numerous occasions along Spring Gulch Road, but I have never been able to capture one in my camera. A few years ago, I caught a glimpse of one running across my back yard. I’d love to get thousands more photos of them!

Great Gray and Ermine

Great Gray Owl and Ermine: I’ll take that back. I captured this shot of a Short-tailed Weasel (Ermine in winter) along Spring Gulch Road, but only after the Great Gray captured it first.

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Coyotes

You might find a coyote about anywhere in the valley at any time of the year. They are leery of humans as they are shot as pests outside the park.

Coyote

Coyote: Occasionally, a coyote will stop long enough to get a few shots. I photographed quite a few of them in the National Elk Refuge, along Mormon Row, and at Elk Flats.

Coyote Pups

Coyote Pups: During the past couple of years, coyote raised a litter of pups under one of the buildings along Mormon Row. These two were close to the Moose Visitor’s Center.

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Wolves

Despite the fact there are numerous packs of wolves in Grand Teton National Park, I seldom see them and almost never get to photograph them.

Wolf

Wolf and Coyote: Knowing wolves are near the top of the food chain, I was hesitant to include them on this page, but I thought this photo merited the inclusion. This large black wolf was milling around on the east side of the park. The Coyotes were amazingly brave around him—possibly trying to lure him away from their den. Watch for Wolves along the Snake River, around Willow Flats and Oxbow Bend, and near Uhl Hill on the east side of the park. Some are seen in the Buffalo Fork river bottom and housing areas.

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Porcupines

A lot of farmers kills porcupines on sight. They strip the bark and kill trees and can cause a lot of damage. Inside the Park, they are protected.

Porcupine

Porcupine: I photographed this Porcupine along the East Boundary Road a few years back. It seemed out of place with no trees anywhere near.

Porcupine

Porcupine: This Porcupine had been killing a valley resident’s trees next to his house on West Gros Ventre Butte. A friend of the homeowner trapped the animal. I went with the trapper to release it along the base of the mountain north of Wilson. We had expected it to move slowly out of the trap and get into the closest clump of trees, but instead, it took off like a thoroughbred racehorse coming out of the gate.

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Badgers

Watch for badgers anywhere there are Uinta Ground Squirrels and soft dirt. A few dig holes around the Gros Ventre Campground and around the Mormon Row barns.

Badgers

Badgers: I photographed these along Mormon Row a few years back. I also seen them in the pastures near Elk Flats and near the Kelly Warm Springs.

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Red Squirrels

Most of my shots of Red Squirrels were taken in my back yard. One has been building nests and stashing food there for years. However, they are commonly seen in almost all wooded parts of the valley. At certain times of the year, Red Squirrels harvest cones from the various Spruce and Pine trees.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel. This mother was moving her six babies from one hole to another.

Baby Red Squirrel

Baby Red Squirrel: A few weeks later, the youngsters came out and explored their surroundings before being run off by the mother.

Jumping Red Squirrel

Jumping Red Squirrel: One of the advantages of having a resident Squirrel is being able to get shots like this. I put peanuts in a tree trunk for her. She’d go back and forth getting the peanut and returning to her nesting cavities. I set up with a couple of strobes for some high speed-sync action. She’s an athlete, but she doesn’t wear Nike shoes!

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River Otters

River Otters can be found in about any of the valley’s waterways. But, that’s easier to say than it is to actually find them and photograph them. They are constantly on the move and can travel large distances in search of fresh food sources…fish!

Otter Family

Otter Family: I photographed this family a few years ago along Flat Creek. Another group is often photographed on the snow near Oxbow Bend and around the Jackson Lake Dam. I’ve photographed them along the Gros Ventre River and along Pacific Creek.

River Otters with Catch

River Otters with their catch:

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Muskrats

These critters are quite a bit smaller than otters, but are often found in the same areas.

Muskrat

Muskrat: I photographed this Muskrat from the observation platform along Flat Creek.

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Chipmunks

This might be a “least Chipmunk”, but actually, I believe there are at least three species of Chipmunks in the area. They are common in almost all parts of the valley. Watch for them in the tops of the sagebrush and scavenging for food and seeds around campgrounds and pullouts.

Chipmonk

Chipmunk: I photographed this one along the Gros Ventre river as it heads out of the Park and into the Slide Lake area. Again, they are common everywhere.

Chipmonk

Chipmunk: I took this photo along the Moose-Wilson road a few years ago. Black Hawthorne berries attract a variety of animals including Black Bears and Grizzly Bears, along with many species of birds.

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Yellow-bellied Marmots

Marmots are fairly common in the Jackson Hole valley. Watch for them in rock piles along the road.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot: They spend much of their day sunning on the rocks. They are quick to hide if a hawk or predator is in the area. A good place to find them is in the rocks at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. They hibernate in the winter.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot: Occasionally, you’ll find a Marmot in a large tree trunk. This one was near Pilgrim Creek in GTNP. Obviously, they are difficult to spot.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

Yellow-bellied Marmot: As far as I know, this is still a Yellow-bellied Marmot. I’ve seen a few pockets of the dark ones in the valley. This one was photographed at White Grass Ranch a few years ago. I went back to photograph them again, only to be told the Park Service trapped them out and moved them to another undisclosed location in the park. They were interfering with preservation efforts. Another group  of dark Marmots can sometimes be seen at the base of the mountain near the Cascade Canyon and Hidden Falls boat ramp.

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Red Foxes

These sly little critters inhabit much of the valley, but are not always easy to find or photograph.

Red Fox

Red Fox: A few years ago, Red Foxes were plentiful in the Wilson area. This one is “mousing”.

Red Fox

Red Fox: They can be very agile while chasing their prey. I’ve watched them capture a mouse or vole, then bury it, mark their spot, and continue hunting. On the way back to the den, especially when they have kits, they gather them up and carry a large mouthful of food to their young.

RedFoxSnowBank_Mar24

Red Fox: I prefer Winter for photographing Foxes while their fur is long and full. I photographed this one in the north end of the Park. Lots of people photographed a Red Fox in Karns Meadows a few years back. Some can be seen along the fence lines around Kelly. Check out this earlier Feature Post showing more of this Fox. Red Fox: A Spring Vixen

Red Fox

Red Fox: By late spring, Foxes begin to shed some of their winter coats. While this one might look like a black fox or a silver fox, they are still Red Foxes and will have a white tip on their tail. I photographed this in the pastures in Wilson.

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Uinta Ground Squirrels:

Uinta Ground Squirrels are plentiful throughout the sage flats of Jackson Hole. Hawks, owls and other raptors feed on them, along with Badgers, Foxes, and Coyotes. Interestingly, they spend roughly eight months of the year underground or hibernating.

Uinta Ground Squirrels

Baby Uinta Ground Squirrels:  You can see them on almost any summer day around the Mormon Row barns.

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Pikas

Pikas are usually found in the higher elevations. Watch for them in rock piles gathering clumps of grass and vegetation.

Pika

Pika: I photographed this little Pika on my way up to Cascade Canyon: One of the Teton’s Many Gems

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Beavers

The American Fur Traders came to Jackson Hole to trap beavers during the time span of 1825-1840. They could have effectively trapped the entire population in a year or two. Populations of beavers are now well recovered. Watch for beavers in the river bottoms and see more images on this Feature Post: Beavers of Schwabacher Landing

Beaver

Beaver:  I photographed this beaver at Schwabacher Landing. They can also be seen along the Gros Ventre river and Pacific Creek.

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Ground Squirrels

There are a few different species of Ground Squirrels in Jackson Hole. At slightly higher elevations watch for Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels.

Ground Squirrel

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel: These are larger than the Chimpmonks found in the valley. I photographed this one near Inspiration Point on my Cascade Canyon: One of the Teton’s Many Gems hike.

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Raccoons

Raccoons are mostly nocturnal feeders. They are not native to the region, but have moved in and are thriving.  While fly fishing, I saw a family of Raccoons working their way along the bank of the Snake River.

Raccoon

Raccoon: I photographed this Raccoon in my back yard one night after our dog ran it up a tree. They come around looking for leftover bird feed.

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Pine Marten

I have so little experience with Pine Martens…here’s a link with more info: Pine Martin | Wilderness Classroom

Pine Marten

Pine Marten: I took this photo of an elusive little Pine Marten while waiting for a mother Moose and Calf to stand up near Taggart Lake Trailhead. I’ve seen them on the road going into the Laurence S. Rockefeller Preserve, but didn’t get shots. For a while, a Pine Marten was hanging around the parking area a the Pacific Creek boat launch near Moran Junction.

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Others?

Oh yes! There are lots of others! This guide will give you a much longer list of animals in GTNP: Mammal-Finding Guide via the Grand Teton National Park web site. There are mice, voles, shrews, bats, rabbits, wolverines, ferrets, woodrats, gophers, and the list goes on! As I have the opportunity, I spin my camera around and try to capture them.

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Elvis—King of the Gros Ventre

Some of it’s magic—some of it’s tragic.

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Elvis 2010

In the fall of 2010, this big bull moose I called “Elvis” established his dominance along the Gros Ventre in Grand Teton National Park.

Gaston with Cut

For many years prior to Elvis’ “hostile takeover”, this bull I called “Gaston” had been the dominant bull in the area. On this particular morning, I found a group of familiar bulls and cows along the Gros Ventre—but something was different. Another big bull was going from cow to cow, yet Gaston was standing off to the side letting it all happen. At the time, I was confused by what I was witnessing. Eventually, Gaston stepped into the light and everything made sense. Half a dozen of the tines on Gaston’s antlers had been broken off and he had a large gash in his shoulder. The battle apparently happened overnight or earlier that morning, but unfortunately, I missed it. For the rest of the fall, Gaston backed away from Elvis if he approached.

Elvis at the Dumpster

Elvis in 2008: In years prior to the 2010 changing of the guard, I saw Elvis on quite a few occasions. The bull on the right is no slouch, but this shot shows how much bigger and bulkier Elvis was even then. The other distinguishing features were his long, “all-business” tines.

Elvis at Water

Elvis at Water in 2010: With a rack like this, it was easy to identify Elvis from afar.

Wide AntlersMany moose have antlers that sweep out from their skulls like this one. Elvis’ antlers reached almost straight up. Between the long, intimidating tines and the reach, Elvis presented himself as a formidable opponent.  Compare the antlers of this large bull to Elvis below!

Elvis Resting

To the Victor: I took this image in the evening following the “changing of the guard”. I knew at the time that things would be different and I’d be taking more images of him going forward. Gaston hung around most of the fall, but wasn’t a factor in the rut.

While some people don’t like the idea of giving human names to wild animals (Anthropomorphism), I do it! It helps me keep track of them while out in the field and it definitely helps me find specific animals in my Lightroom catalog when I need them—as was the case for this post. Originally, I called him “Emporer”, but it just didn’t seem to fit. I was thinking about his regal crown like set of antlers. “King”…? No. But that led to “Elvis…(King of the Gros Ventre)”.  I told a few other friends what I had been calling him and the name stuck. I am sure other people had a different name for him. Over time, we had fun with the name. “The Elvis show is at 9:00 am” or if he crossed the river, “Elvis has left the building”.

Elvis and Cow

Most confrontations between two bulls require only a stare down. This little bull was more of an annoyance than a threat.

Web_ElvisInSnowStorm2008

There was plenty of potential for good shots of this bull all the way back to 2008. Over the next five years, he grew even bigger and more powerful.

Elvis in 2010

Elvis in 2010: You can see the growth in his antlers over two years. It was time! Elvis enjoyed a couple of years as the top breeder along the Gros Ventre. He roamed around three miles of it regularly during the fall.

Elvis in Willows

Elvis in Cottonwoods and Willows along the Gros Ventre River.

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The Beginning of the End

October 13, 2011

October 13, 2011: In the fall of 2011, Elvis and a few other cows in the Gros Ventre contracted Pink eye (conjunctivitis). The link will take you to the Mayo Clinic. His right eye became extremely swollen and eventually closed up, with drips of puss streaking from the eye. At the time, I thought it could have been from a fighting injury, but other cows began to show similar symptoms.

Elvis Eyes Sept 18, 2013

October 20, 2011: It was difficult to watch as things seemed to get worse on a regular basis. I deleted almost all shots of Elvis if I could see his swollen eye, and then began to only photograph him on his good side. I feared the worst for him during the winter.

Elvis, Washakie & Slim Jim: August 28, 2012

Clear Eyes 2012: A year later, Elvis appeared with clear eyes. I was relieved, along with other photographers familiar with the earlier infection. This is Elvis (right), Washakie (left) & Slim Jim (back): August 28, 2012

September 2013

In 2013, his eye turned milky white. I don’t know if he could see out it?

Elvis Eyes Sept 18, 2013

Elvis Eyes, Sept 18, 2013: Within 14 days, his velvet had been stripped, but his right eye was sealed again.

Elvis Eyes Sept 18, 2013

Elvis Eyes Sept 18, 2013: Now, both eyes were infected, with fluids dripping from his left eye.

Elvis Crossing Oct 22

This is the last photo I took of Elvis at 7:30 am on September 22nd of 2013. A day later, Elvis was dead.

Elvis Necropsy

The necropsy was conducted in the afternoon on September 23rd. I heard a few reports of the death of a large bull, then managed to get a photo and some information from the WY Game and Fish. This is a post I made on Best of the Tetons Daily Update Page for October of 2012:

Oct4. News: Elvis has left the building: One of my favorite bull moose has died from an apparent fighting wound on the National Elk Refuge. This recent photo, supplied by Wyoming Game and Fish Wildlife Biologist, Doug Brimeyer, shows a Wyoming Game Warden, conducting a necropsy. Doug Brimeyer reports, “We did confirm that this moose had two large puncture wounds in the chest and abdomen that likely caused it to bleed internally.  We skinned the animal and  looked at the injuries.  We ran a metal detector over the area and the injuries were consistent with trauma caused by blunt force and punctures from antlers.”

Elvis, an un-numbered bull, has been a fixture along the Gros Ventre river bottom for four or five years, or longer, and been a popular subject of many photographers and tourists at the pullouts. The big bull was often seen crossing the river and courting the cows of the Gros Ventre river bottom. While I know I will miss him, I will have a favorable lasting memory of him going down in a battle over a “hot” cow. Thanks to biologist Mark Gocke for helping me obtain this photo and permission to use it! Of course, thanks to Doug Brimeyer for supplying it.

Elvis: Late October 2010

Elvis: Late October 2010

Looking for a Silver Lining:

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of this magnificent animal. It is difficult to look too long at the necropsy photo. Still, I saw Elvis breeding with numerous cows over his two or three year reign as the top bull. Undoubtedly, his genes are now being shared with the new crop of young moose in the area. It will take a few years to start seeing his distinctive rack showing up again. Less Eye Infections: During the same period, at least two other cows fell to the eye disease. One was seen circling blindly in the Gros Ventre River before being put down. During the 2014 fall season, I only saw one cow with the eye problems. That cow eventually damaged her leg in the GV campground after being chased through a campfire grate by a bull during the rut. Hopefully, the worst of that contagious disease is behind the moose of the Tetons. Despite the loss of one of the patriarchs, everything seemed back to normal this year. Washakie filled in, sharing space with Cody and Custer. Another big bull, Lewis strolled through after spending his summer along the Snake River at Moose Junction. There are links to additional pages for Washakie and Custer below. I feel so fortunate to able to witness this yearly pageant, even though I get more attached to them than I know I should!

Elvis Video on YouTube:

Gaston 2007

Gaston: After comparing photos in my Lightroom catalog, I don’t think I ever saw Gaston again after the 2010 rut season, even though other bulls look similar to him. Hopefully, he just moved to a different part of the valley and is still passing along his genes to calves there.

Other Featured Moose:

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Embracing Fog and Low Clouds

Always Challenging—Sometimes Rewarding!

Alpenglow

It’s easy to want to roll back over in bed and sleep through a foggy morning. That could be a mistake!

Fog usually settles into the lowest portions of the valley. If the weather reports forecast fog, I can usually count on it, but we regularly get fog without their forecast. During the summer and fall months, I can almost always anticipate fog in the morning after a late evening or overnight rain. Throughout the winter and spring months, fog can be “generated” by the relative “warm” waters of the Snake River, Gros Ventre, Buffalo River, and Flat Creek. Some mornings, the entire Jackson Hole valley can be blanketed with a thick layer of fog.

Foggy Basin

Much of how you experience a foggy morning depends on where you are at the time. (Click this image to see it much larger!)

The image above might shed some insight on foggy morning opportunities. It illustrates three “zones”. On the far right, there’s a thick layer of fog in the river bottom across from Triangle X Ranch. Anyone there, or at Cunningham Cabin, Moosehead Ranch, and probably Elk Flats would think the entire world is socked in with fog. Their chances of getting a sunrise shot is almost non-existent. The center section of the image above is the area I’d be searching for on most foggy mornings. I think of it as being along the “edges” of the fog. There are lots of possibilities for photography there. Lastly, the area on the upper left has very little fog. Someone standing of the sage flats might have no clue there is fog anywhere in the valley. They’d be looking at the featureless blue sky towards the mountain range.

Moose and Elk

Thick Fog: The photo above shows a few of the possibilities while in the thick fog. The following four or five images were taken at the “edges” of the fog or as the thick fog is lifting.

Cunningham Cabin

Fog can come in many colors, depending on the time of the morning and how the sunlight is being filtered. About 30 minutes before first light on some mornings, Alpenglow light is often lavender, rose, and pink. It takes a half mile snow shoe hike to get to Cunningham Cabin in the winter.

GrosVentreSunrise (1 of 1)

Aiming through fog and back into the sunrise can bring out both cool and warm colors. This period doesn’t last long. Interestingly, I have very few fog images with clouds above the mountains. The areas near Triangle X and along the Gros Ventre might be the two best places to get both in the same scene. This image was taken along the Gros Ventre River.

Fence Line

As the sun clears the eastern hills and mountains, the light is often amber or gold for a few minutes and the fog picks it up beautifully. I believe this shot was captured next to Cunningham Cabin.

Bison Herd

By mid-morning, fog is often a variation of neutral gray. Detail is removed as distance increases. Taken along Mormon Row road.

Steam

Even small bodies of water can create steam or some form of morning fog. Taken along the East Boundary Road.

Gros Ventre River

This isn’t your normal summer, mid-day tourist’s shot of the Grand. At the edges, fog can become a welcome ally. With no wind, it can linger in the valley for hours, and it can change from light fog to thick fog and back again over periods of only minutes. Taken on the Gros Ventre River near the town of Kelly.

Wrangler

It takes a little patience and luck to get the elements to work. I waited for the fog to start lifting to expose the Cathedral Group, but there was no guarantee the tops of the peaks were going to be visible. Many fog shots are called “high-key” images. In other words, they are heavily weighted towards the white or light side. On those kinds of shots, the camera is trying to average all the white down to neutral gray, resulting in underexposed images. It’s a good idea to check the histogram on the back of the camera regularly and add some “plus EV”…as much as a full stop.  Still, I don’t like overdoing that step as there usually isn’t a lot of noise in the lights and most fog shots have a fair amount natural grain. Taken at the Old Patriarch Tree east of String Lake.

Set Black Point

This is the exact same image as the one above it. Besides the initial capture, which is an artistic endeavor all by itself, I later get to take some control of the image in post processing. Without seeing he bottom image, you’d know there is a layer of fog between me and the wrangler in the top image. That’s the more natural version. In the lower image, I simply adjusted the “black point” slider in the negative direction. In some images, going too far with the adjustment can strip the fog element out of the capture in a negative manner.

Bull and Cow Moose

This bull moose was roughly 40 yards away. Details are missing, but that’s exactly the point on a foggy morning shot. Taken on the floor of the Gros Ventre River bottom.

Pondering Wrangler

Fog is a fairly important “player” in this shot. It helps emphasize the buck rail fence and thus the cowboy way of life still going on in the Tetons. Taken of a Triangle X wrangler.

Running Horses

There are no “wild mustangs” in GTNP. These trail horses were photographed near Triangle X Ranch a few years back. I have lots of photos or running horses, but adding fog, Mt. Moran, and buck-rail fences can help “build” an interesting shot. Normally, I’d want to hold some details in the black horse, but on a foggy morning, I can live with losing some of the features.

Bull Moose

This Bull Moose was in the Kelly Warm Springs. I’ve lived here 28 years and never seen that before. Bison—yes. Geese, White-faced Ibis, kids, and kayakers—yes! I shot away, as anyone else might have done that morning. I like the shot, and I am happy to have it, but the photo leaves me wanting “more” information.

Flying Geese

Personally, I like this simple shot better. It puts the tiny flock of geese in a huge environment. Taken from the highway across from Triangle X Ranch.

Sterile BarnI walked out into the opening back in 2007 and snapped this sterile looking image of the barn. It might be the perfect shot of the T.A. Moulton barn for some purpose (like a blog talking about fog), but similar to the moose in the springs above, I think it needs something more. (click the image if you want to see it larger)

Barn with Foot Bridge

This was taken the same morning, but I chose to include some foreground subject matter. Close elements are full of detail and saturated in color, but both are reduced by the fog as the elements fall farther back into the scene. Taken at Mormon Row.

Peach House

I am always watching for this kind of fog opportunity. The fog layers various “zones of elements” in the scene. Fog can also used to simplify otherwise cluttered scenes, even in town! Of course, I captured this on Mormon Row.

Spring Gulch Horses

These domestic horses were photographed along Spring Gulch Road on my way North. Another herd is commonly seen across from Elk Flats near Moosehead Ranch. This is another example of adding something recognizable to the bigger landscape scene, even if the mid-ranged subjects are still partially featureless.

Hoar Frost

On many cold, foggy mornings, hoar frost clings to branches and twigs. This image was taken only minutes after the fog lifted along Mormon Row. Distant low clouds and fog turned blue that morning, complimenting the orange hues in the old homestead. I also like to do close-up shots of leaves, berries, and branches on mornings with hoar frost.

Oxbow

Fog can lift and reveal all kinds of hidden treasures! I captured this one at a “secret spot…er…Oxbow Bend.

Foggy Valley

I drove up Shadow Mountain on this morning to find an “ocean of fog” below. Anyone on the valley floor would be seeing white fog for quite a while, yet it was clear above it all. Skiers are always talking about inversions. They can get above the fog and cold along the valley floor and stay above the cloud line for a much warmer day. While I covered mostly ground fog on this page, it is possible on some days to drive up Teton pass and get “into the clouds”. I am sure there are plenty of distinctions between hovering clouds and low ground fog, but most of it is the same for photography.

Blacktail Butte

Thick fog can turn into ribbons of thin clouds before quickly disappearing. “At the edges” conditions change quickly. The hillside is Blacktail Butte along the Gros Ventre Road.

Shooting Comments: I don’t think there are too many special considerations for taking photos of fog. I watch the histograms on the back of my camera to make sure I am not blowing out highlights.I normally shoot with Custom White balance set to around 5200K, but Cloudy or Sunny would work, and if shooting in a raw format, I can always change it in post production. Many fog shots are taken early in the morning, so having a solid tripod gives me a few more options as far as shutter speed goes. Most of the shots on this page were taken with a 24-70 lens, though a few might have been taken with a 70-200mm mid range telephoto. The last shot above was actually taken at 200mm on a 200-400mm lens. I was out in the sagebrush taking photos of a nice bull moose when I saw this lifting fog.

barn in fog

Final Comments: Foggy days are a “great equalizer” as it strips the majestic Teton Range away. Fog can occur at various times in just about all areas of the country, so you don’t have to live in Teton County in NW Wyoming to capture it. Similar scenes to the one above are abundant across the US. This is the T.A. Moulton Barn at a slightly different angle.

Watch for the Edges!  Sometimes you can get in the vehicle and drive a few miles up or down the valley to find the edges of the fog. In most instances, that’s where most of the interesting shots will be. >>MJ

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Swan PlatformIf you are going to be in the area and are interested going out with me on a One-On-One Photo Excursion, check out the link and let me know! There are now 4, 6, and 8 hour options including a new PRO option.

Please note: Images on this page are fully protected with an official copyright at the US Copyright Office.  No unauthorized use is granted.

If you like this post, please take the time to click any of the Social Media icons below and share the page with your friends and associates. Hope you enjoy the images and comments. Cheers! Mike Jackson

Flehmen Response or “Lip Curl” in GTNP Moose

During the fall rut, Moose commonly display a Flehmen Response—or lip curl. Anytime a moose bull smells the urine of a cow, you can expect a Flehmen Response to follow. Savvy photographers click away!

Flehmen Front View

In reality, “Flehmen is performed by a wide range of mammals including ungulates and felids.” (Click the link for more information at Wikipedia or do your own searches for technical definitions). Images on this page will include Moose, Wild Mustangs, Mountain Goats,  and Bighorn Sheep.  Elk and cats like Mountain Lions also perform a lip curl, even if I don’t have photos. The image above is typical of a bull moose in a Flehmen Response. The mouth is open with his head pointed high into the sky. Often, their eyes close, as in a trance. The whole event can last a roughly minute. According to Wikipedia, “The behavior facilitates the transfer of pheromones and other scents into the vomeronasal organ located above the roof of the mouth via a duct which exits just behind the front teeth of the animal.”

Bull in Velvet

Moose in Velvet: From my experiences watching moose in the fall, the big bulls show little interest in the cows before they strip their velvet. Bulls seldom spar or fight while still in velvet. Still, this bull felt the need to do an early season lip curl.

Early Fall

Early Fall: Most moose strip their velvet in September—a few days or a week either side of Labor Day. Leaves are still usually lime green as seen in this morning capture.

Fall Bull and Cow

Fall Bull and Cow: As fall progresses, a bull finds a potential mate and stays with her until she goes out of season, then he moves on to find another cow.

Young Bull

Young Bull: This bull is probably three years old and is already getting into the act. Prime cows will not let him breed, but he will still play out the fall routine. It is always nice to have a young bull in the area. They have much more energy and keep the larger bulls active running them away from their potential mate.

Fog

Fog: Weather doesn’t deter the fall rut. Rain, fog, snow, sleet…it doesn’t matter!

Moose Rut in the Stream

Moose Rut in the Stream: I’ve always been able to get my best moose images in the early mornings. They are active for about the first hour of light, then bed down for most of the warm and bright hours. Early morning steam added some character to this shot.

October Bull

October Bull: Bull moose cover a lot of ground searching for ready cows. This bull spent much of the early fall under the Snake River bridge at Moose Junction. Later, I found him at Schwabacher Landing, and again at the Shane Cabin. A few days later, he was along the Gros Ventre. I last saw him out in the sagebrush near Ditch Creek.

December Bull

December Bull: I photographed this nice bull on December 7th of 2013. Most of the rut is usually over by then, but bulls still display a Flehmen Response if they smell the urine of a cow.

Mountain Goat

Mountain Goat: Many other ungulates display a Flehmen Response during their fall rut.

Flehmen Response

Bighorn Ram: Both young and old rams do a “lip curl” as seen here.

Mustang

Wild Mustang: I photographed this beat up old Mustang stallion near Rock Springs, WY.  Watch for a Flehmen Response in hooved animals (ungulates) and cats.

Bison Lip Curl

American Bison: (Sometimes still called Buffalo) Bison are usually into the swing of the rut period during the month of August.

I am probably prejudiced, but I think Flehmen Responses in Moose and Elk are probably the most dramatic. Their large antlers roll back as their noses reach for the sky.

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Please note: Images on this page are fully protected with an official copyright at the US Copyright Office.  No unauthorized use is granted.

If you like this post, please take the time to click any of the Social Media icons below and share the page with your friends and associates. Hope you enjoy the images and comments. Cheers! Mike Jackson

Bighorns of Miller Butte

A reliable place to see wintering Bighorns—close to town on the National Elk Refuge.

Ridgeline Watcher

Each November, a herd of around 70 Bighorn Sheep move to Miller Butte on the National Elk Refuge. Exactly when they move in seems to be related to the area snow pack and severity of the early Winter. In 2013 and 2014, the first Bighorns appeared around the middle of the month. In light snowfall years, the first few show up around Thanksgiving.

Bighorn Pair

Besides simply finding a home to spend the Winter, the Bighorns use the area for their seasonal rut. Tourists and photographers are allowed to watch from the refuge road.

 

ImpactWatchers (1 of 1)

Prior to the actual mating, rams gather to determine dominance or a pecking order by bashing their heads together. The distinctive sound echoes across the valley floor.

Impact (1 of 1)

Capturing the head bashing isn’t exactly easy, but if they go at it long enough, you can usually get a few.

Down Hill Chase

While the largest rams do most of the actual mating, young rams chase ewes across the sage and rocks.

Ram in Charge

The largest ram in the immediate area spends part of his time running other smaller rams away from his ewe.

Group Chase

Once in a while a ram gets a prime ewe to run, causing rams from all around to follow in the chase. The most dominant ram is usually immediately behind the ewe, but he will occasionally turn to bash the next closest ram. Doing so lets the rest of the herd get close to the ewe and some of the smaller rams get their chance to mate until the bigger ram catches up again.

Popular Gal

This ewe attracted a large crowd of interested rams.

TiredEwe (1 of 1)

At times, you have to feel sorry for the ewe. A herd of 10 or more rams can chase her to the point of exhaustion for an hour or longer.

Jumpers

Both ewes and rams are adept at high speed chases across rocky terrain.

Cliff Jumpers

“The Show” is free! Best deal in town if you catch it on a good day.

Rock Face Up

When love is in the air, a Bighorn can climb almost vertical rock walls.

Down

Down a shear rock wall is no problem either.

Rocky Chase

The ewe covers large areas of the refuge trying to get away from the relentless rams.

High Ground

Occasionally, a ewe finds a spot that seems to perplex the rams. This one found a small ledge and stood on it for an hour or longer as rams tried to knock her off.

Resting

Action is usually limited to ten or fifteen minutes at a time, followed by longer periods of resting.

White Out

Winter storms can pound the region. Stiff winds and sheets of snow can make photography challenging, but still worth it if you are dressed and ready for the cold and wind.

Portrait

Bighorns often feed near the road, allowing for some wonderful opportunities for close-up images. I’ve never seen one charge a person and the Refuge rangers don’t seem to worry about people being close. Of course, I have telephoto lenses, so even though I can capture images like this one, I am still a reasonable distance. I always worry about a point and shoot photographer pushing the limits that could result in rigid and restrictive viewing distances.

Flehmen Response

Bighorns, like Moose, Mountain Goats, and wild Mustangs will often display a Flehmen Response following smelling the urine of a ewe. Glands in their upper lips help them determine if a female is ready for mating. Some people also call this a “lip curl”. A couple of the rams at Miller Butte are “respectable” in size, but I haven’t seen any really large ones in a long time. Maybe we’ll get one or two this year. Biologists can usually age a ram by distinctive divisions in his horns. As with most “horned” mammals, they keep them all of their life. Antlered animals, like Moose, Deer, and Elk shed their antlers yearly and begin grown new ones. Many of the largest Rams will “broom” the tips of their horns once they grow to a full curl.

Mating

Actual mating can be observed regularly during the rut.

The Chase Crew

Rut activity can begin after Thanksgiving and can continue into early January.

Lamb and Ewe

Ewes with lambs of the year watch as other ewes are chased during the rut.

LambWatching (1 of 1)

Lambs usually stay somewhere near their mother, but still have plenty of freedom to explore and practice their climbing skills.

Lamp On Ledge

Lambs seem to be gifted at birth.

Digging

By mid-Winter, most lambs forage for themselves. I seldom see them nursing.

The approach

Rams move from ewe to ewe and approach each one in this classic position.

Lone Ram

Bighorns are reported to have incredible eyesight. They are aware of all movement.

Snow Faces

After a heavy snow, Bighorns are forced to dig through the deep, white powder to get to clumps of grass. Sometimes it sticks to their face and horns.

March Rams

Bighorns remain on the National Elk Refuge into March. By that time, their winter coats are bleached out and beginning to thin. The snow on the south facing rock faces is usually melted. By March, I have usually taken plenty of photos and am out looking for new subjects.

Photographing Bighorn Head Bashes

I am sure everyone has their own way of photographing the bashing rams, but I’ll attempt to explain how I’ve been doing it for the past few years. First, let me explain the problem. At the point of impact, the heads of  the two rams are typically somewhere near dead center in the frame. That’s the plan anyway. However, if you set your focus point in the center and let the rams move to it, the camera will be attempting to focus between the two rams and usually somewhere in the distant sagebrush.

Focus Point

Normally, when two rams are facing off, one of them will rear up onto it’s hind legs. Actually, both of them rear up at about the same following some signal only they seem to recognize. I try to focus on a spot just above center of the frame. Depending on the specific circumstanced, it could be on the neck or head of one of the two rams, as seen in red circle in the image above. This image was shot at ISO 320, F/8, and a shutter speed of 1/2000th second. Luckily, between the late November days and snow, I can get shutters speeds in this range. To keep the shutter speed up, I don’t have a problem pushing the ISO up to 800 or even 1250 if the action calls for it on. I also like to use a camera with a fast frame rate, like my Nikon D4. The last sequence in this post will illustrate why!

PreImpact

This is the same ram a split second later. I panned to the right, keeping the focus point on his shoulder or head. The second ram moves into my frame.

Actual Impact

Impact! The second ram will usually meet the head of my subject at approximately where I placed my focus point in the scene originally. (scroll back up to see the location of the red circle)

Impact

I miss some of course, but I manage to capture a lot of them. It takes a little practice, and a lot of patience!

Snow Bash

It’s hard to beat Bighorns bashing in the snow!

Locked up

You never know when something like this will happen. It took them a while to unhook their horns.

Too Many Rame

One of the most difficult aspects of capturing bashing rams is getting a clean shot of the event without distracting additional rams.

A Full Sequence

While this might seem a little redundant, I am including a sequence with this ram from beginning to its unique climax.

Shot 1

shot 2

Shot 3

Shot 4

Shot 5

Shot 6

Shot 7

While I included seven images in this sequence, I actually captured 14 images. That’s the beauty of the D4. It can capture up to around 90 raw images at 10 FPS before beginning to hit a memory buffer. If my buffer had filled after 11 or 12 images, I would have missed the last few important frames. With 14 captures, I had plenty of frames in between and was able to capture the most import shots.

Miller Butte Satellite Map

Click this image to see it much larger

If you head out to the National Elk Refuge, you might want to know a few ground rules. First, the area is a “refuge” and not a “park”. The animals get first priority—not tourists! Currently, pull-outs are very limited along the Refuge Road (shown in red above). If you plan on stopping to photograph the wildlife, you MUST use one of the pullouts. I don’t know if they will be passing out tickets, but refuge rangers regularly pull over with lights flashing and run illegally parked vehicles on down the road.  There is a 65′ county easement for the road running through the Refuge. The Refuge Rangers prefer that people stand off the actual county road when possible, but only a few yards off the road bed.  Posts with signs mark the boundaries fairly well. Hikers and joggers use the road, along with refuge trucks, FedEx trucks, UPS trucks and snow plows. It can feel quite congested and even a little dangerous at times with impatient drivers and slick, snow covered roads. I added Big Rock, Amphitheater, and Saddle to the map. Those are my terms for a few of the spots…not official. A few of us use the same terms. If someone says the herd was coming off the “saddle”, we know about where they are talking about. Miller Butte on Photographer’s Ephemeris.

This page might help with more specific rules and regulationsRefuge winter travel restrictions announced – National Elk Refuge – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Other Bighorn Opportunities

Camp CreekMiller Butte is a very short drive from my home in Jackson. I can go there a couple of times a day. There are a few other places to capture images of Bighorns in the area. Occasionally, a few Bighorns hang around the red rock cliffs at the Slide Lake campground. A herd can also be found around Red Rock Ranch farther up the Gros Ventre, however that road is locked after December 1st. Another herd can sometimes be found near Camp Creek Inn, a few miles “up the Hoback” from Hoback Junction. I’ve seen bighorns farther up the canyon, near “stinking springs” pullout. Regionally, there are several herds in the Dubois area and quite a few on the North Fork of the Shoshone River outside Cody. That’s a long drive from here in the winter. Likewise, several herds of Bighorns winter around Gardiner on the north side of Yellowstone.

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Custer: Majestic Bull Moose Along the Gros Ventre River

Moose are one of my favorite subjects—especially around the Tetons. I have digital photos of the Gros Ventre moose in my Lightroom Catalog going back to 2005 and had quite a few on film before that. One of my favorite bulls is one I call “Custer”. (Okay, if you don’t like someone naming an animal, just call him #7. Some people will understand the number). I usually try to come up with a name that makes sense to me, even if no one else uses the same name or no name at all. This bull lacks the traditional long dewlap. To my eye, it looked more like a goatee. I tried to come up with historic names of a figure with a goatee. Buffalo Bill came to mind, but that didn’t seem to fit a moose. Custer seemed to fit. Now, after assigning the name with keywords to his photos, I can find just photos of him (more on this at the bottom of the page).

Custer in Velvet September 11, 2011

Custer in Velvet September 11, 2011: I may have photos of Custer that predate the 2011 series, but that was the first year I really started paying attention to him. I have lots of him stripping willows, eating in the sagebrush, resting, sleeping, and interacting with other moose, but for this page, I thought it might be nice to document him with similar shots over the past several years. It’s hard to beat a nice bull moose next to, or in a stream.

Custer Stripping Velvet September 14, 2011

Custer Stripping Velvet September 14, 2011: Catching a bull moose stripping his velvet is not an easy task. The bulk of it can be stripped off in less than an hour, so being there when it happens is a challenge.

Washakie and Custer in November of 2011

Washakie and Custer in November of 2011: This cropped image was taken in mid-November of 2011—after the rut. There’s another image from that day at the bottom of the page. I include this photo to show the relative size of Custer to one of the venerable old bulls in the region. Ironically, I spoke with a tourist who was describing Custer. He had seen him earlier in the day. He told me he was “huge..the biggest bull moose he’d ever seen!”.  That was probably a true statement, but it is balanced with the fact he probably hadn’t seen too many moose. Custer would be no match for Washakie in 2011 as evident in this image. As two bulls approach each other, they swagger and sway, snowing off their antlers to the other bull. This allows them to size up the other bull. The smaller bull usually backs down quickly without a fierce confrontation. Light sparring like this is common after the rut.

Custer in Velvet August 29, 2012

Custer in Velvet August 29, 2012: Antlers grow back in a similar pattern from year to year for each moose, making it fairly easy to identify them. Custer’s lack of a dewlap can give me a clue earlier than some of the other bulls.

Custer Losing Velvet September 3, 2012

Custer Losing Velvet September 3, 2012: I was at the right place at the right time again in 2012. While I have lots of photos of moose in sagebrush, I’d much prefer getting photos of them near the water. I probably have more river crossings of Custer than any other bull moose. There are very few locations along the Gros Ventre where you can include the Grand Teton Range, but otherwise it can be very good shooting.

Custer in Velvet with Spots August 23, 2013

Custer in Velvet August 23, 2013: Notice anything different in 2013? The bottom 2/3’s of his body was covered in white spots. At first, I thought they might be splashes of white mud, but it became clear the white spots were actually white fur. Besides the normal identifying features, Custer was easy to spot.

Custer in the River September 8, 2013

Custer in the River September 8, 2013: I was on my stomach well upstream for this shot, using a telephoto lens. I got “lucky” again that year and was around the same day he stripped his velvet.

Custer Sparring October 31, 2013

Custer Sparring October 31, 2013: Young bulls often spar with each other for years prior to maturing into the top breeders. Custer is seen here sparring with a smaller bull, yet when a larger bull was in the area, he normally backed away from a confrontation.

Custer in Velvet August 28, 2014

Custer in Velvet August 28, 2014: This year, Custer emerged with only half a dozen white spots on his fur on either side. I was curious about him all through the early summer. Would the white spots be more numerous and larger? Apparently, the new coat replaced the previous one and the spots went with it. I can’t say what causes the spots, but I now wonder if he doesn’t bed down in some patch of the valley with the ability to bleach some of his fur? This year, Custer grew a new and distinctive “drop tine” on his right antler, making him even easier to identify.

Custer with Clean Antlers October 11, 2014

Custer with Clean Antlers October 11, 2014: I missed Custer stripping his velvet this year, but I guess I had a pretty good streak going and I can’t complain.

Custer at Evening Rest

Custer at Rest October 22, 2014: Over the past few years, I have been fortunate to witness this bull moose grow into one of the premier bulls along the Gros Ventre. In the early years, he backed away from confrontation, but he now has a “swagger” when other bulls enter his territory. I’ve never seen him fight, but he now has a gash on the left side of his muzzle and a fresh one on the top of his muzzle you can see in this photo. There was blood showing around the edges when I zoomed in tight on an image on my computer. Still, Custer probably needs another year or two to know he is a powerhouse. Other large bulls will have more fighting experience and probably an advantage he can sense. The small gashes he is getting now will give him experience for future battles.

Check out this accompanying Feature Post: Photographing Large Game Animals in Grand Teton National Park: 

Moose Gathering November 13, 2011

Moose Gathering November 13, 2011 : Custer is second to the end on the right.

Gaston and Custer Sparring

The photo above was taken in late October. Custer is now large enough to challenge most of the other large bulls and certainly large enough to keep smaller bulls away from his cows. These two bulls were just sparring and not actually fighting.

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Lightroom and Keywords:

Custer Search in Lightroom

At the very beginning of this page, I mentioned how and why I name the moose I photograph. This screen grab is added to let you see how it actually works. The keywords for the right image look something like this: “1-994352512, animal, antlers, bull, copyrighted, Copyrighted Image, Custer, Fall, GTNP, Jackson Hole, mammal, Moose, official, rut, tassels, VAu 1-149-749, VAU001149749, wildlife, willows, WY”. The strings of numbers are something I added during my copyright submissions to the US Copyright Office. Initially, the list looked like this: “animal, antlers, bull, Custer, Fall, GTNP, Jackson Hole, mammal, Moose, rut, tassels, wildlife, willows, WY”. There are lots of ways of adding keywords in Lightroom. I usually add them once I cull the big shoot down to a tolerable level. My images are subdivided into “old school” folder names as seen on the left which allows me to go to just the moose folder and do the search within that folder, or I can search for moose or Custer from the entire catalog. Having a name that correlates with features on the moose helps me identify them in the field and later organize them for searches over the years. For this Feature Post, all I had to do was enter Custer in the Text search field and all of them came up in one single grid view. Out of the 19709 moose images in the catalog, 1900 of them contained the keyword “Custer”.

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More Moose Images:

Here’s a list of additional Feature Posts on Best of the Tetons with moose, and even a link to my artistic images as Teton Images. There will be plenty of moose images, including quite a few of Custer on the Daily Updates pages from August to December, too.

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Copyrights and Sharing:

Please note that the images on my sites are copyrighted and protected by the US Copyright Office. You are welcome and encouraged to use the Social Media Icons below to share the pages on the site, but please do not take/borrow/steal the images—and absolutely do not use them for any other purpose!

 

Beavers of Schwabacher Landing

Schwabacher Landing 2008

Beaver with BranchesBeavers have been a fixture at Schwabacher Landing for many years. They are responsible for the beautiful pool of water found in most of the images there. A slow moving branch of the Snake flows in front of the Teton Range north of the parking area. Beavers dammed the flow years ago. When we moved to Jackson Hole in 1986, a channel of the Snake River cut across the river bottom allowing boaters to launch from the parking area. It fed back into the main channel of the Snake. I an not sure of the year, but at some point, the channel was cut off at the main river, restricting the flow at Schwabacher Landing to only a trickle of water. Each year, the beaver families attempted to dam up the old branch of the Snake, but during high water, the dams were washed away.

South Dam - November 2013

Busy as Beavers: The family of beavers have now built several new dams in the old channel and they appear to be holding up well…at least for now! Who knows when the Snake will change it course again, jeopardizing all of their recent work. For now, they are busy adding to their dams and cutting down large cottonwoods that once stood along the river banks. The image above was taken in November of 2013 from the south, looking north towards the big parking area. There are at least three more dams above this one in the old channel. None of the cottonwoods above are “safe” from these aquatic rodents!

Schwabacher Landing Satellite View

Schwabacher Landing via The Photographer’s Ephemeris: The map above shows most of the dams (in red) with a few of the important locations identified. Much of the area of the river bottom is braided with small channels. You can see how the old channel could have been used by boaters for many years—giving Schwabacher Landing its original name. (Note: click the map image to view it larger, or click the link to go to the interactive map where you can move around and zoom in as desired). The Park Service graded and added an asphalt road at the top of the bench in 2013, making travel down to Schwabacher Landing much better, safer and easier. I don’t recommend going there is a large camper or with a trailer, but people do it on occasions. The turnaround might be tight on some days.

Reflected Beaver

By late summer and fall, it seems the beaver family’s primary mission is to store up food for the winter, yet they must maintain their existing dams. This beaver, with its bright orange teeth, is headed back to the main lodge with some of this winter’s food supply. At many beaver ponds I’ve been to, beavers are skittish when people are around. They often hit their tail hard against the water to create a loud splash as they go under and usually stay. This family of beavers is more tolerant of all the tourists visiting Schwabacher Landing. Possibly there are fewer predators in the area with all the human traffic? At any rate, the beavers go on about their business with little regard for people. If you want to read more about beavers, check out this informative link: Beavers: Wetland & Wildlife

Dogs in the Area: While there are no signs at either parking area to let people know, dogs are not permitted out of the parking area….EVER! Even while in the parking area, they have to be on a leash. People have been seen taking their large dogs down to the side of the stream—spooking the beavers. A barking dog inside a vehicle can change their behavior. Pets in the Park: and Pets in GTNP: These two official pages explain the pet rules in GTNP. The short version is you can only have a pet where you can drive a vehicle. Pets must be on a leash at all times and you are required to “scoop the poop”.

Leary Beaver

Beaver on Land: It took quite a few trips to get a shot like this one. It was a bit of a self imposed challenge. I was hoping to capture a shot out of the water, with eyes open, a bit of its front feet and at least some of its tail. I got lucky that day with all the pieces falling into place.

Beaver with Branches

Beaver with Branches: This is probably the easiest kind of shot to get of the beavers as they swim by with clumps of willows and cottonwoods.

Web_BeaverByGrass_Oct18

Just Swimming By: Of course, they swim by often with no branches.

Beaver at Sunset

Red Sky: I took this one late in the evening while I had a red sky. As I mentioned earlier, getting swimming shots is relatively easy. For a photographer, the tougher challenge is to capture images showing at least some of their tail—otherwise, they can look like just a large wet rat!

Aftermath

Dead Spruce Trees: A few years after the beavers built their dam and lodge, some of the existing spruce trees died. They are now systematically taking down the big cottonwoods in the vicinity. Needless to say, a family of beavers can drastically change a large area of the landscape to the benefit of a lot of other species of plants and animals.

Cottonwood Trunk

Cottonwood Trunk: The beavers do half the work and the winds finish the job. Only a few yards away is a tree the beavers attempted to take down. Instead of falling to the earth, it fell into another tree and is still standing. I’d be curious how long it takes a group of beavers to chew through this much of a tree trunk. Once you see all the down cottonwoods, you’ll know to be especially alert while walking around the area on a windy day!

Stripping Bark

Once Felled: After the wind completes its half of the felling, the beavers strip the bark and eat it like candy. The smaller branches are carried back to the lodge area.

Dinner Time at the Cottonwood

Cottonwood Bark Feast: After stripping off a chunk of the bark, they sit back and dine away. One site I read suggests a beaver can grow to up to 60 pounds. This one is definitely a tubby.

Teeth Marks

Teeth Marks: Their teeth are perfectly adapted to do the job.

Cottonwood Pattern

Evening Light on a Downed Cottonwood Stump: These teeth marks were on the tree trunk I included earlier. It is a beautiful pattern.

Beaver on the Dam

Heading to the Main Channel: Actually, the main channel of the Snake River is a good half mile away, but in this case, the main channel is the old river landing channel. There are ample supplies of cottonwoods downstream.

Beaver Crossing a Dam

Young Beaver Returning with Branches: Some of the larger beavers return to the lodge with huge clumps of branches, often covering their entire face. This one had just the right amount. They often hold the branches in their mouth and one paw, then hop across flat areas like this on the other free leg.

Beaver with Clump of Branches

A Bigger Meal: I got lucky with this shot. The clump was large, but I got a small opening to capture the eye. I’ve deleted a lot of images in which the face was completely covered.

Late October 2009

Late October 2009: The current dam at the old “landing” is about 60 feet south of this 2009 dam. I always thought it added a nice touch to the composition.

Late November 2006

Late November 2006: Not that many people get to see Schwabacher Landing in the winter time. The large pool freezes over solid enough to walk across. The entire river bottom is closed to public entry after the 15th of December, but the road down to the parking area might be closed even sooner. In many previous years, the road was kept open to aid the elk hunters, but the area was closed to hunting last year. Currently (it’s late October as I write this post), you can still drive to the “landing”. The crowds of summer and fall are gone now. The beavers have been active all summer, but I was hesitant to make this post any earlier. It’s your chance to really experience the area, but it won’t last much longer!

Black Kettle

The Beaver Trade: Beavers played an important part in the history of the Jackson Hole valley. During the period between 1825 and 1840, trappers entered this valley to harvest beaver pelts to be used for fashionable top hats in Europe. French trappers were responsible for giving the Tetons their name. This area was originally called Jackson’s Hole for the trapper Davey Jackson while much of the west side of the Teton range was called Pierre’s Hole.  The rugged mountain men spent the late winter and early spring trapping beavers before taking their bounty to the regional rendezvous. Some of the depictions in popular movies like Jeremiah Johnson, show a solitary trapper in a vast, dangerous world. In reality, large brigades of trappers moved into an area as a team to trap the beaver population. They trapped an area out, then moved on with little regard for sustainability or the damage they might have done to the ecology. Some of the same trappers later became guides for the army and wagon trains as they expanded West. After 160 plus years of recovery, I suspect much of the a Schwabacher Landing looks similar to the mountain man days. The Jackson Lake dam may have played its part in changing the downstream ecology, but that’s an entirely different story.

Beaver at a Dam

Photography Notes: I used a Nikon D4 and a Nikon 200-400mm lens on most of the photos of the beavers on this page. I also used it for the detail shots. The early landscape shots were probably taken with a Nikon D300 and a 24-70 lens. Some people use 500mm and 600mm lenses there, especially to capture beavers going over the dams or on the lodge. I don’t own one, so it’s an easy call for me. Some shots are difficult because of the severe back lighting at certain times of the evening. The beavers cross through light areas right into dark areas on a regular basis so dealing with a wide range of exposure can cause problems with metering and exposures. Stopping action after the sun goes down is another challenge. The beavers come out to feed, work, and play late in the evening and work until late.

2006I’ve seen them working early in the morning, but not that often. A few years ago, I was set up at the north pool waiting for the morning sunrise. A beaver approached me. I stepped back from the tripod. He walked right under it, then stopped to preen not far from me. I snapped off a few shots, as seen  here in the 2006 image.

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Moose Courtship Behavior

Early Rut and Courting.

Moose are my favorite large mammals in Grand Teton National Park. They are beautiful, majestic and sometimes animated. This morning, I got to witness a behavior I’ve seen several times. I anticipated the action, found a good spot, and managed to capture much of it in my camera. (Note: These images are heavily cropped)

Moose Courtship 1

A mature bull moose finds a soft, sandy area and starts digging a hole. His activity catches the attention of an interested cow.

Moose Courtship 2

Once the hole is completed, the bull urinates (and no telling what else) in the pit. The smell is quite pungent to humans, but it’s like calogne to the cows. It seems to drive them crazy.

Moose Courtship 3

Even before the bull finishes his “business”, the cow is ready to knock him off the scent bed.

Moose Courtship 4

Today, the cow put her muzzle under the legs of the bull and lifted his rear end off the ground.

Moose Courtship 5

After a little touch up to the site, both are ready to lie down in the scented mix.

Moose Courtship 6

The cow is cautious, but motivated.

Moose Courtship 9

The bull is tolerant but keeps an eye on her.

Moose Courtship 7

Today, the pair stayed in the pit for around three or four minutes—both seemingly content.

Moose Courtship 10

At some point, the bull got restless and stood up.

Moose Courtship 11

Once up, the bull proceeded to run the cow off the spot. Later, the bull bedded down and the cow returned to lounge in the scented patch.

I’ve heard this called a Moose Wallow, Rut Pit, or Scent Pit. I’ve only ever seen it with moose. If there are two or more cows in the area, they compete for space next to the bull—sometimes becoming agitated, aggressive, and possessive. You quickly learn the pecking order. If you do a search on the Internet regarding the purpose of the bull’s dewlap, you might understand some of today’s behavior. Some biologists suggest the bulls dig the pit and fill it with their unique scent, then wallow in it to cover their body and the dewlap. Later, the bulls can be seen caressing the flank of the cows with its neck and muzzle—possibly transferring their scent via the dewlap to let other bulls know she is taken. Other biologists are not convinced the dewlap has a specific purpose at all, as some of the other bulls successfully court their cows without one.

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Mountain Goats of the Snake River Canyon:

White Beasts of the Rocky Ledges.

Mountain Goats were introduced in Eastern Idaho for sport hunting between 1969-1971. Since then, a healthy population has settled onto the cliffs and high country along the Snake River near Alpine Junction. During the winter months, some of the Goats move off the high cliffs and closer to Highway 89/191, and sometimes right onto the road.

Goat Rock

Overview: Mountain Goats inhabit the rocky terrain north of the Snake River all year and are occasionally visible at any time of the year. A few people report seeing the young sheep during the summer and apparently a few move relatively low on the hillsides. There were other reports of people seeing them during the October government shutdown in 2013. Still, it is uncommon to see them until winter. In most previous years, the best time to see them was in February, however, in 2013 they appeared near the roads in December and January. Snow pack is probably the biggest determining factor on how soon they come down and when they quit coming down. They goats are grazers, moving around the slopes in search of exposed grass, shrubs, roots and leaves. They often follow avalanche paths down to the road. As the sun bakes the south facing slopes, more open faces appear. At some point, enough open areas are available for them up high they quit coming down. Depending on the year, some can be seen in March and April.

February 11, 2014 Update: For some reason, the Mountain Goats are not as common in the canyon this year. I’ve been down a few times so far this month and got skunked twice and got only mediocre shots of them for a few minutes on another trip. I had to wait until late in the day for them to come down, too. I’ve spoken with a few other photographers having similar experiences. Maybe it will pick up, but I am hesitant to suggest you’ll have a great chance of seeing them right now. Check back on this page. If things pick back up to normal, I’ll make that note.

Snake River Canyon

Getting There: (Click the thumbnail to the left to see a much larger map) From Jackson, go south to Hoback Junction and across the Hoback Bridge—currently under construction. Once you cross the bridge, you’ll be following the Snake River all the way. About 25 miles south of Hoback Junction, the canyon opens up into the Alpine Junction area. I refer to this spot as the “Mouth of the Canyon”. There’s a motel and quite a few businesses within the next mile. The larger map below will show the three turnouts near the mouth of the canyon where Mountain Goats are most commonly seen. The total distance from Jackson is around 35 miles. I typically drive about 85-90 miles on a trip down there, allowing for driving up and down the canyon looking for them. The small town of Alpine has a grocery store, a bar, several restaurants and a few gas stations. It is a winter haven for snowmobilers with access to the Gray’s River. An elk refuge is also located a couple of miles south of Alpine.

WYDOT Travel Information WEB CAM at Alpine Junction: If you’d like to see the weather conditions at Alpine Junction, click the link. Weather Channel Info at Alpine Junction.

Mtn Goat Map

Turnouts and Viewing Areas: (Click this image to see it larger) There are three safe turnouts long the State Highway. The orange areas indicate areas where Mountain Goats are most commonly seen. (Map via The Photographer’s Ephemeris) Nov. 2015 addition: The first turnout on the left is at the mouth of the canyon. Alpine Junction is roughly a mile west of there.

Web Goats Domain Jan24

The Mountain Goat’s Domain: On a trip down on January 24, 2014 I pulled over and took this shot. I was about 8 miles up the canyon looking back towards the West. We’ve had a couple more snow storms since that shot.

Nanny And Kid

Nanny and Kid: Mountain Goats are good “posers”. They’ll often find a rock or outcropping, stand on it, and survey the area before resuming their feeding.

Mountain Goat On Cliffs

I spent some time at the mouth of the Canyon last year on 24 of the 28 days of February last year. They were down at least for a while on most of those days, but it is definitely possible to get skunked altogether. There are several herds in the two or three miles near the mouth of the canyon, some of which move up and down the canyon during the week.

Moving to New Food

I counted at least 60 Mountain Goats on a couple of different occasions last year, but there has to be a lot more. Game Rangers only seem to be able to “guestimate”, though I’ve seen more radio collars on some of the Nannies this year. I have to assume someone is studying them.

Nanny on Fall's Leftovers

I kept hoping to figure out any sort of pattern for their appearance. I had the most luck seeing them between 10:30 am and 3:00 pm or 3:30 pm. I heard stories of people seeing them near the road at sunrise and also close to sunset. Tracks in the snow sometimes confirmed those stories. I drove down early one morning to find them already finished grazing and beginning to head up the hillside. I drove down early quite a few days in a row afterwards and didn’t see them down that early again. After a while, I quit going early. Again, the pattern seemed to be there wasn’t a pattern!

Goats on Rocky Ledges

After observing for several years, it becomes apparent they stay off the steepest ledges when snow is thick. In earlier years, more of the herds started coming down to the roads after the first avalanches cleared a better path for them and exposing fresh grass. In early February of 2014, the snow pack in that area is above what I would consider “normal”, with few open patches on the mountainsides.

Evening Light

The best suggestion I can offer is to plan on being down there for at least three hours. If they are not down when you get there, don’t immediately turn around and head back home. Have lunch in Alpine or check out the Elk on the refuge a few miles south of Alpine. Take a nap or read a paper, but give them a chance if you are down there in February. While a few Mountain Goats have been spotted six or seven miles up the Canyon on occasions, most of the activity and sightings are usually within the first two miles of the mouth of the canyon.

Web Mtn Goat Herd Jan11

Male Mountain Goats are called Billies. Females are called Nannies, and the young ones are called Kids. Their winter fur is absolutely stunning, especially if blowing in the wind. I’ve never seen one attack a human, though I read reports of one killing a human in Glacier. They will often graze up to you if you are still, yet will head up hill if you approach them directly or too fast. But remember, these are unpredictable wild animals! Give them all the respect and distance they deserve!

Web Mtn Goa tOn Rocks Jan11

It might occur to a visitor or photographer to climb the hillside for a better angle or view. All I can say is don’t waste your time. They will not let you get higher than them. So, just wait and let them come to you.

Mtn Goat Portrait Dec12

Billy: The horns on a Billy are thicker at the base and closer together as a result, as seen above.  The horns on the Nannies are about the same length, but are usually about a third thinner. Kids will always be close to the Nanny, so it becomes clear which ones are Nannies just by association. Billies tend to stay higher and typically don’t come all the way to the road. Billies might be a tiny bit larger, but that’s only a guess based on observation. They will occasionally display lingering rut behavior by sniffing a Nanny, but by February, most of the rut is over.

Web The Climb Dec21

Roads and Conditions in the Canyon:

I can’t stress this issue any stronger…the road down the Snake River Canyon is a Wyoming State Highway and should not be confused with a road in either of our National Parks. Truckers are zipping along with fully loaded semis and gas tankers—along with snowmobilers and with heavy trailers and impatient travelers.

Web Double Trailer Jan11

The Highway patrol officers are not tolerant of anyone parking or stopping with any parts of their wheels inside the fog lines at any time. The County Sherriff down there runs off all people parked on the side of the roads and not in one of the pullouts. Depending on the weather conditions, all of the officials, including the Wyoming Game and Fish Ranger, can tell you to get off the road altogether.

Web_ Snow Plow Dec21

Snow plow drivers must plow the highway after snow storms. They usually raise their blades as they approach viewers and photographers, but our presence adds danger and stress to an already dangerous and stressful task. In the image(s) above, I was parked off the side of the road as far as I could. The snow plow driver plastered my truck. They usually raise their blades if a photographer is standing alongside the road.

Web Goats On Road Dec12

After being down there so many times over the past four or five years, I can suggest I have “seen it all”. Probably not, I guess! Anyway, it is not uncommon to see people stop right in the middle of the highway. I’ve seen kids (human kids) run right at the goats and chase them up the hill. I’ve seen people pull over, then leave their doors open into the travel lanes of the highway. I’ve seen the goats stop traffic by actually going out onto the road to lick the salt and chemicals. With all of the above, there are times it actually “feels dangerous” to be on the side of the road with a tripod set up. Again, this is NOT a National Park.

Web Game Ranger Dec12

Game Rangers are now shooting fireworks at them to run them up the hillsides before they reach the road. In the shot above, the Ranger was using a popping whip to run them up the hillside.

Ridge Crossing

Canyon Weather: The weather at the mouth of the canyon during the winter months can be brutal. The Goat’s thick fur protects them from it, but conditions can be difficult for  a tourist or photographer.  Calm, sunny days are usually no problem at all. But, if it is overcast and windy, there just isn’t enough clothing to keep you warm! The “canyon effect” can compress and multiply the wind and windchill. Luckily, you can jump back into your warm vehicle since it will likely be close by. On snowy days, flakes can fill the front of your lenses. On warmer days, passing trucks can spray you and your equipment as they zip by. I don’t write this to discourage you from going there, but more to help you be prepared for the possibilities and realities. I like to go down when the weather is the “worst” because there is always a chance of unique and dramatic shots others won’t get.

Elbow: If you look at the first map, you’ll notice how the road travels essentially south out of Hoback Junction, then takes a sharp turn towards the West towards Alpine. That turn is often called “Elbow Bend”.  My friend, Daryl Hunter lives on the Idaho side of the Mountains and travels that road regularly. He points out the “weather bands” that meet at Elbow Bend. Often the weather we are having in Jackson is no indication of what is happening in the other band, and visa-versa.

Web Goat Scuffle Dec13

The Photographic Challenge:

Most people will be tickled pink to see their first Mountain Goats. It is an uncommon sight for almost all of us! If you were to go down regularly, you’d eventually get enough shots of them feeding in the grass alongside the roads, and you’d probably get quite a few face shots and full frame shots to last a lifetime. The challenge after the feeding shots is to get shots of them in their elements—on the rock, moving across the ridges, or doing something showing their behavior.

Shortcut

You just never know when one of the Mountain Goats will do something spectacular! This Nanny walked up to this crevice and jumped it without any hesitation. Before this shot, and since then, I’ve seen lots of them get to the same spot, hesitate and move up or down the mountain to make an easier crossing. Lastly, for this blog page, I posted mostly horizontal aspect ratio images. I like to photograph Moutain Goats in the portrait aspect to be able to include some of the rocks above and below them.

My Gear: For the earlier years, I used a Nikon D300 body and a 200-400mm lens. When I bought my D4, I switched to it for all the obvious reasons. A year ago, I added a Nikon D800 and began using for most of my Goat shots. I have it paired with the 200-400mm zoom lens on the tripod. I often attach a 70-200mm lens to the D4 and carry it around my neck. That gives me options to capture a much wider scene if I need it. Most Mountain Goat shots are slow to develop, so the slower frame rate of the D800 is usually adequate.

Web Power Lines Jan24

Post Processing Notes: There is a power line running the entire length of the Snake River Canyon, along with survey stakes, chain link rock retainers, signs, and posts scattered around the roadsides. I always try to recompose or move around to avoid as much of it as I can, but it is not uncommon to have one of the elements in a photo I like. Without having complete control of the area, I never have a problem removing those distractions in Photoshop or Lightroom.

Mountain Goats in Grand Teton National Park: A few Mountain Goats have migrated into Grand Teton National Park. The officials there are aware of them and are doing their normal “studies” and are taking public comments on how to deal with the issue. Besides not being native to the region, they are reported carrying diseases that are harmful to the native population of Bighorn Sheep in the northern end of the park. You can read more about the issue in this Missoulian article: Mountain goats tiptoe into fragile sheep country in northwest Wyoming

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Late October Wildlife: Owls and Moose

Wildlife from the last couple of weeks of October, 2013

Great Gray and Great Horned Owls:

Great Gray Watching Oct20

Great GrayOwl  in Aspen Tree

Great Gray Claw Up Oct20

Great Gray Owl  turning around with claw up.

Great Gray Owl In Grass Oct27

Great Gray Owl  after missing his prey.

Great Gray on Fence1 Oct27

Great Gray Owl  on Buck Rail Fence

Great Horned Owl Rocks Oct27

Great Horned Owl  atop Granite Rocks

Great Horned Owl in Rocks Oct27

Great Horned Owl  in Rocks

Great Horned Owl Rocks Oct27

Great Gray Owl  hunting from Rocks

Bull Moose

Moose Bull Cody and Cow Oct17

Bull Moose: Cody,  with a resting cow.

Custer Resting Oct18

Bull Moose:  Custer, resting in the shade of a cottonwood.

Custer Pausing Oct18

Bull Moose:  Custer,  pausing at the edge of the shadows.

Cody Lip Curl Oct17

Bull Moose:  Cody,  lip curl or Flehmen Reaction

Custer in Morning Sage Oct18

Bull Moose:  Custer,  in morning sagebrush flats.

Cody Walking Oct17

Bull Moose:  Cody,  walking across sage and cottonwoods.

Gaston Approaching a Cow Oct26

Bull Moose:  Custer approaching a cow.

Gaston's Best Pose Oct26

Bull Moose:  Custer—striking one of his stoic poses.

Washakie Portrait in Snow Oct29

Bull Moose:  Washakie,  resting in fresh snow and sagebrush.

Custer and Shadow Sparring Oct29

Bull Moose:  Post rut sparring.

Washakie and Custer Oct29

Bull Moose:  Custer approaching Washakie while he was resting for some sparring.

Washakie Stepping LightlyOct29

Bull Moose:  Washakie’s left front leg is gimpy right now, causing him to walk carefully and slowly.

Washakie Resting in Snow Oct29

Bull Moose:  Washakie, resting with his injured leg outstretched.

Washakie Resting Under  a Cottonwood Tree Oct29

Bull Moose:  Washakie, stretched out again…

Sparring Moose Oct31

Bull Moose:  Sparring Moose in the cottonwoods.

Washakie Resting Oct26

Bull Moose: Washakie, resting. I was worried about this bull. He’s going better—but still limping. He feeds and moves around, but is quick to bed back down. I have another full page of Washakie: from earlier in the year.

Equipment: Images on this page were captured with either a Nikon D4 or a Nikon D800 and a Nikon 200-400mm lens on a Gitzo Tripod, Arca-Swiss Ball Head, and Wimberley Sidekick.  When action is slow, I use the D800, but switch bodies when it appears there is going to be action.

If you like moose, check out my Moose images at my Teton Images site. Most are presented with an artistic effect.

Please Note: All of the images on this page are fully copyrighted with the US Copyright Office.  ©2009-2013 Mike R. Jackson – All Rights Reserved