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Red Foxes of Jackson Hole

Red Foxes, with their distinctive white pointed tails, roam most areas of the Jackson Hole valley.

Red Fox in Winter

The bulk of the visitors to Grand Teton National Park come here in the late Spring, Summer, and Fall, seasons. Foxes are around, of course, but aren’t seen that often by the average tourist. I believe there are several factors. Foxes are usually hunting very early and very late—and that’s not the same time of day the average tourist is roaming the valley. Much of the year, single Foxes only need to catch enough food for their own needs that day, then can rest and sleep the day away until they are hungry again.

Foxes

When the Vixen is in the den with her new Kits, she seldom leaves for long periods. In reality, half of the Fox population is out of sight altogether for a month and a half or so. As the Kits grow and begin appearing near the den’s entrance, news typically spreads quickly. The Park Service puts up “Do Not Enter” yellow tape around the den area. Adults come and go, hunting often to feed the youngsters. That’s probably the best time for Summer visitors to see scruffy adult Foxes and cute little Kits. Winter visitors probably have a better chance of seeing Foxes with their stunningly beautiful coats!

The Seasons

Sleeping Fox

Winter Foxes have beautiful, flowing coats. Days are much shorter, so odds go up that you might see them hunting and moving about. Sometimes, they find a sunny spot and curl up for long periods— hiding in plain sight!

Alert Red Fox

Winter visitors also have an advantage of shooting almost eye level with Foxes. Snow banks can be four to five feet high in some areas. With less tourists around, they seem more relaxed and less likely to flee into the forests.

Summer Foxes are typically scruffy as they shed Winter fur and replace it with short, sleek fur. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t see them too often other times of the year. They are forced to hunt more during daylight hours when trying to feed 4-6 Kits. By the time the kits are weaned, they seem to disappear again.

Foxes: In General

Fox on a Fence

Foxes are canines, but display some cat like qualities. For example, I’ve never seen a Coyote or Wolf willingly walk down a buck rail fence, but I’ve seen lots of Foxes do it.

Red Fox

At least to my eyes, Foxes eyes remind me more of a cat than a Coyote, Wolf, or dog. While they occasionally bark to notify their mate they are in the area, they are typically much more quiet.

I wrote this page to highlight my experiences and observations. I’m “just a photographer”—and not a biologist! You can read more about Foxes by doing Internet searches and through the numerous books in the local bookstores. Check out this page: Red FoxNational Wildlife Federation

Morning Fox

From what I’ve read, all of our Foxes are “Red Foxes”—regardless of whether they are mostly blonde, red, gray, cross, or black. They all feature a white tipped tail. Gray Foxes may also have color variations, but have black tipped tails. You might relate the color variances in Foxes to Black Bears that can be blonde, cinnamon, brown, or black.

RedFoxLazyOnSnow_Mar22

Habitat

In most cases, Coyotes and Wolves shy away from humans. Outside the Park, Coyotes can be shot as a pest without a license. Wolves that stray into area cattle ranches can be shot, too. Coyotes and Wolves can kill Foxes, so they tend to fill voids left by the two larger canines. Wolves often kill game animals, feed for a day or two, then move on. Coyotes and Foxes move in on the carcass, but Foxes move out of the zone when Coyotes are present.  That’s when Foxes are in “scavenger mode”. Otherwise, Coyotes and Foxes hunt mice, pocket gophers, voles, and ground squirrels. Last year, I watched a Cross Fox that specialized in catching ducks. In other areas, Foxes can become adept at stalking and catching upland game birds.

Cross Fox Hunting

I mentioned earlier that Foxes fill in voids left by human fearing Coyotes and Wolves. That’s another way of suggesting that Foxes are often found around humans and human activity. In short, they are usually safer around humans than their wild canine counterparts. They are plenty adept at scavenging a carcass and capturing small prey, but they are also smart enough to recognize a free meal when it’s offered. Foxes are also smart enough to recognize human habits and patterns—showing up a the right time for handouts. (More on that issue later in the page)

Morning Fox

Foxes can show up near campgrounds, visitor’s centers, gas stations, employee housing zones, and in towns. Dens can be found in culverts, under porches, under the corner of a barn, or in holes in back yard settings. Within Grand Teton National Park, populations of Foxes have been seen regularly at Flagg Ranch, Colter Bay, Signal Mountain, and the Teton Science School. Around the valley, they are fairly common in the towns of Wilson, Jackson, and Kelly. I am sure some are regulars on the Buffalo Valley Road, and around Slide Lake.

Karnes Meadow Foxes

Prior to 2008, I had only random chances to photograph them, but in 2008, a Vixen set up shop in Karnes Meadows, not far from the Snow King Avenue. The den was only about 30 feet from the sidewalk! For several weeks, dozens of photographers lined up for their chance to watch a family of Red Foxes.

If I remember correctly, the Karnes Meadow Fox raised five Kits that year. I don’t recall ever seeing the adult male helping her raise the Karnes Meadow Kits.

Kits

Initially, the Kits stayed inside the den while she was away, but they became braver as they got older. One day, we came back to the spot and they were gone. Since then, I’ve seen quite a few other dens, but none as close, nor as photogenic as that group. As you might expect, I took thousands of photos of the family and it kindled a desire to continue looking for them.

The Area Foxes

Fox with Mallard Duck

In 2016, a “Cross Fox” showed up along the Moose-Wilson Road. That fox was comfortable with people around, but never appeared to be expecting a hand out. She (some people suggested it was a male) hunted for voles, as most Foxes do, but she also developed the necessary skills to capture ducks that winter in the small spring creeks along the roadway.

Cross Fox Resting

I always thought a Cross Fox was a cross between a Red Fox and a Black Fox, but a Best of the Tetons reader (thanks Michael), let me know the name reverences a cross pattern across the Fox’s back. In March of last year, I made a Feature Post called The Cross Fox of GTNP. That post has more photos of this fox, plus a lot more information about Cross Foxes.

Cross Fox

The 2016 Cross Fox had a lot of personality, along with a couple of missing teeth, a large scar on its muzzle, and a cut in it’s right ear.

Cross Fox Approaching

Late in the year, there were reports of this Fox showing up at one of the residences near Teton Village. Unfortunately, it had a broken leg. We heard of attempts to capture it, but I never heard of any positive results. It hasn’t been seen since.

Photographing Foxes

Posed and Watching:

Photographing Foxes isn’t much different than photographing other animals. We still face issues of stopping action with shutter speed, depth of field with aperture settings, and dealing with resulting high ISO and digital grain. Unless people are accustomed to photographing subjects in snow, Winter can require a bit of adjusting within the camera. Many Winter images will need up to a full stop of EV compensation, otherwise images with a high percentage of white will be underexposed. Yes, you can still adjust the Exposure slider in your favorite RAW converter, but I much prefer getting it right in the camera to avoid excessive noise in the dark areas.

Goals

Fox Cover Image

If you can find cooperative Foxes (or any animal for that matter), you will likely fill a card with numerous “good, but average” photos of them standing, sitting, sleeping, or casually walking from spot to spot. Everybody eventually collects lots of them—but they are “just Fox photos”.

Yawner

While we still take the basic shots, I have four or five “catch words” loaded into the back of my brain, just waiting for the right opportunity. I am watching for “action and interaction”, along with “personality and behavior”. Lastly, I know that not all images need to be up close and personal. Wide shots that include more of the animal’s surroundings or the weather conditions many tell a bigger story. These kinds of events happen on a daily basis, but not always with photographers there to capture the moment.

Lounging Fox

A Fox can sleep for hours! Even in their most lazy modes, they can be photogenic.

Stretching Red Fox

Once a Fox wakes up from a long nap, they almost always stretch. It’s not fast action, but it’s action!

On the Move

Foxes are usually quick to react to another fox or a dog in the area. They can go from a stretch to a run in seconds.

Watching Fox

Foxes spend a lot of time moving from spot to spot in search of food. On bright days, Foxes tend to squint A LOT! It takes at least some skill and a lot of luck to capture that split second while their eyes are open. Since I have a lot of images in which their eyes are open now, I usually delete the ones with squinted eyes.

Flying Fox

A shot like this can catch most people off guard. I’ve missed a lot of them, too! They seem docile and sluggish and then can burst into a dead sprint. Luckily, winter shots allow me to keep the shutter speeds fast. (1/1250 second or faster)

Pouncing Fox

Occasionally, you will find a Fox “mousing”. This kind of action is much more predictable. They will likely be in “mousing” mode for a while, so you just have to be ready when they stop, and prepare to pounce. I composited this shot from a burst of images, taken at a long distance near Kelly Warm Springs. In reality, a Fox jumps high into the air, and then into the snow to capture a mouse or vole only a couples of yards out.

The Meeting

Interaction can be between two animals of the same species, or by more than one species.

Skunk In Snow

Occasionally, a third party can enter the scene.

Skunk and Fox

It would be difficult to predict how two different species will react. On this day, the Skunk stood its ground and even chased the fox. Still, the Fox appeared to be more curious than scared of the smaller critter.

Zoom lenses are great for such encounters. It is easy to pull back on the zoom to include two animals. Surprisingly, the Skunk charged the Fox, catching it off guard.

Face To Face

Up close and personal! This was a fun day, probably not to be repeated anytime soon. I happened to be the only photographer around that day, so I came home with unique behavioral and action shots. We all wait and hope for similar experiences. In the end, no fur flew, though there was a pungent odor lingering in the air for hours.

Fox with Flakes

I tend to like these kinds of shots the best, but it takes a lot of discipline to get them. With a 150-600mm lens, I often have choices if I tell myself to take advantage of the situation.

Little Prancer

These kinds of shots are harder to get, but are typically more memorable and tell of a much larger story.

This would be a nice shot of just a fox, but the addition of the Mallard Duck feathers makes it special, at least to me.

Dens

I mentioned earlier that news of a Fox den travels quickly through the valley. Inside the Park, expect the area to be cordoned off to give the parents and kids room to move around and play. A Vixen can give birth to a litter of kits with a variety of color variations.

Red Fox Kits

The Kits are usually active and extremely fun to watch, but are quick to return to their underground den at any hint of danger.

I’ve seen a dozen or two dens over the years. Most are dug in a hole in the ground, while some take advantage of a porch or corner of a barn. Interestingly, I’ve never seen them use the same den twice. It probably does happen somewhere? I’ve heard of Coyotes moving their babies to a new den if the first one becomes flea infested, but I am not sure about this behavior in Foxes.

Kit Foxes

When the parents allow them to play, Kits can be rambunctious. To get 10 minutes of action, plan on spending hours waiting and hoping!

Curious Kit

Unlike their shaggy parents, the Kits are always clean, sleek and “cuddly”, much like a baby kitten!

Great Light

Morning Fox

It’s probably worth mentioning that great light can turn “just another Fox photo” into a memorable one.

Red Fox in Motion

Early mornings and late evenings create long shadows and beautiful light. The sun is usually very low in the sky during the mid-Winter months and snow bounces light back to the subjects, so it usually possible to shoot all day.

As I mentioned earlier, I like the idea of taking a lot of images, including ones where the Foxes are just sitting around or standing, but my goal is to capture shots that are harder to get and unique in some form or another.

The Changing Fox Populations

Outside the National Parks, Foxes and Coyotes are not protected from hunters and trappers. Hunters and trappers don’t even need a license or permit. Town regulations prohibit firing a rifle inside town limits. Hunters and trappers need permission to be on private land. They can’t hunt and trap in closure areas, but that’s about the limit on the controls.

The open season on Foxes and Coyotes probably explains why some of them are leery of humans. In 2008, there were numerous Foxes in and around the town of Wilson, but they aren’t seen too often now. Perhaps they were killed or trapped out once news of their numbers got out. Possibly, it is cyclical, based on the amount of voles and mice in the area, or they move to areas where food is more plentiful? All I know is you can’t count on similar numbers from year to year in any one area.

Dumpster Fox

Inside the National Parks, Foxes may face unforeseen dangers. They are protected from hunting and trapping, but dangers still exist. A few of the Foxes around Colter Bay and Flagg Ranch had apparently been fed over the years.

Fish Heads

Foxes were quick to learn the sound of a vehicle slowing down and the sounds of a potato chip bag being opened. They could be seen waiting for food as snowmobilers and fishermen returned from their day trips. Eventually, several populations of Foxes became what the Park Service calls “habituated” to humans.

Free Food

CUA permit holders (licensed guides) received emails announcing a 2017 program to tag and collar “habituated” Foxes around the valley.

Full Reach

Prior to the 2017 Study Program, the Park Service put up portable signs in many areas frequented by Foxes, letting people it was illegal to feed them. One of the senior Park Rangers in the Colter Bay area recently told me the signs, along with the tagging and collaring of the Foxes has slowed their begging and roadside behavior. Since the program began, Foxes in the targeted zones seem to have essentially disappeared. Few of the tagged and collared Foxes have been reported or seen. Other photographers and tour operators are reporting similar observations.

Red Fox with Snow On Her Nose

I have no first hand knowledge of the Park Service “removing” any of the habituated Red Foxes. If they removed a few of them, the Ranger I spoke with didn’t know about it.

Hunting Red Fox

If you are in the Jackson Hole area, you can help all of us, and the Foxes, if you read the signs and “Don’t Feed the Foxes”. You’ve probably heard the saying, “A fed Bear is a dead Bear”. I’d hate to think a “A fed Fox is a dead Fox” in Grand Teton National Park. Foxes are fully equipped to find their own food, but they are also opportunistic feeders. Potato chips and cookies may seem like harmless offerings, but they could cause their demise if one becomes overly aggressive or bites a tourist.

Unlike Bears and Wolves (100 yards), other animals like Foxes have a minimum viewing distance of 25 yards. The rules are on this page: The 100 Yard Rule(s). For photographers with 400mm to 600mm telephoto lenses, that’s normally not an issue. People with shorter lenses and cell phones, tend to want to be much closer.  In the past year or two, the Park Service has become more strict about the minimum distance rule with the Foxes, just like they did with the Bears. Occasionally, a Fox will walk right by a group of photographers standing alongside the road, like the one above. The rules state people are to stay back 25 yards, and some officers may enforce it.

Loose Ends

The photos below were queued up to be inserted within this post, but weren’t needed. Hope you enjoy them!

Resting Fox

Downhill

Black Cross Fox

Curious Lazy Fox

You simply have to love the Red Foxes!


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“The Cross Fox” of GTNP

Curled Up

Grand Teton National Park was home to a bit of a “showboat” fox in January and February of this year. I use the word “was” instead of “is” because it appears her activity in the park is largely over for this year.

In contemplating how to write this post, it became clear there were three story lines: A Fox in the Park – A Male or Female? – & What Happened to It?

If you happen to be the impatient type, here’s the punch lines right up front: Yes, we had a beautiful, somewhat battle scarred Red (Cross) Fox hanging around the Moose-Wilson Road. I believe it was a female. Lastly, there are several reports of her showing up south of the Park, begging for food, and with a broken leg. The rest of this post will be devoted to filling in the three topics with more information.

The Cross Fox

Hunting Fox

Lacking biologist’s numbers, it seems many people like to name a commonly seen animal. I never heard a name given to this one…only “The Cross Fox”. Some of the grizzlies have local name like Blondie, Ashes, and Raspberry, while others are known as 610 or 399. Another Cross Fox was seen last summer near Jenny Lake and some of the nearby buildings, but numerous people tell me this one is not the same fox. I’ll take their word for it. Aside from it’s color markings, this particular fox has a scarred, ragged right ear, a scar on the right side of it’s muzzle, and is missing a few teeth.

A Cross Fox? I searched around on the Internet for an authoritative site to explain the facts about cross foxes. I expected to find a good site by Audubon or National Geographic, but didn’t find one. Interestingly, this site by the National Trappers Association contains a lot of useful information.

Addition March 9th: Michael Seiler saw my original post and supplied me with some additional information on fox genetics:

Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Conservation, edited by Feldhamer, Thompson and Chapman. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, 2003.

“The polychromatism in red foxes is genetically based and is determined by three alleles (…) that produce the three color phases (red, silver/black, and cross) observed in red foxes. All three color phases can occur in the same litter (…). There are (…) behavioral traits that appeared to be consistently associated with each color phase. For example, red-phase individuals appear to be more wary than silver/black- or cross-phase individuals.”

Michael Seiler adds, “The latter is quite interesting, as it might explain why the cross fox did serve you guys well as a wildlife model. I had the same experience with a cross fox that we saw up in Jasper last year. Fascinating that a gene that determines color also seems to have behavioral effects! The book also mentions that the dark color phases are more common in the colder regions and up to 25% of individuals can have it. Also interesting to note that the name cross fox does not stem from “cross” as in “crossbreed”, but because there usually is a dark cross pattern on the shoulders.

Cross Fox 2009

Cross Fox 2009: Over the years, I’ve seen and photographed several Cross Foxes in Jackson Hole. This one was near Teton Science School between Jackson and Wilson. Notice the white tip on its tail, common to all of our “red foxes”.

Cross Foxes 2008

Cross Foxes 2008: This is an old image, taken along the outskirts of Wilson. It is tightly cropped in an attempt to show the color variables. The kit in this shot is almost all black, but would still be considered a red fox. I have a few very old digital photos of a Cross in the Aspens, on the west bank of the Snake River. Another one roamed the residential area at the end of Pacific Creek for a few years. In other words, they don’t seem to be limited to just one area or zone of the valley. Adult foxes shed their long fur as summer approaches. They are not particularly photogenic as they come out of the dens with their kits, but winter never seems to be that far off.

Hillside Cross Fox

My first shots of this Cross Fox were taken on January 22nd, 2016 (The one at the top of the page in which she is curled up on the snow). The image above was the last one I took of “her” on February 13. A few photographers got images a day or two before and a day or two after my captures.

Fox with Mallard Duck

The Cross Fox apparently cached the wing of a Mallard Duck. The two of us there that day watched it dig into the snowbank and pull out the prize.

Morning Fox

The fox was active a few days, then disappear for a few days. That’s my experience anyway. Some people cruised the area for long hours daily. I typically went during the morning hours, then occasionally for an hour or two in the afternoon. Mornings were generally better and more dependable.

On the Move

This fox was a model citizen! I never saw it beg for food from tourists or visitors—and I never saw it jump into the bed of a truck in search of food. It used the roadway for quick access, but would move to the snow to hunt for ducks and small critters.

Fox Jumper

The Sex of the Cross Fox?

Marking

The Cross Fox regularly marked objects as “scent stations” and often hiked its leg in the process. Like many other photographers and viewers, I would have assumed the fox was a male as a result of the behavior.

Another View

One morning, a few of us got a lot of shots of the fox after it jumped into the creek in an attempt to catch a Mallard duck. The image above and the one below might suggest this is a female? I’ll admit I am not a biologist, and I could easily be wrong. (I can, and will, change this post if that turns out to be the case.)

Back Side

For now, I am considering this to be a female. I’ve read where others have reported seeing male genitalia. Same fox? I don’t know.

Marking Post

This image shows a fox marking a sign post in Grand Teton National Park. It is obviously hiking its leg while urinating from an opening far to the back side of it’s body. I’ve seen the same fox squat to urinate, and most people consider it to be a female. The male in that area is larger and darker red.

Status of the Cross Fox?

Web_HuntingFox_Feb7

Since my last photographs of the Moose-Wilson Cross Fox, I’ve driven up and down the road many times hoping for more images. It has been quiet, and there have been almost no footprints in the normal hunting areas. On March 6th, Lisa Wan posted two photos on Facebook of the fox on her back porch. She lives a fair distance south of the entrance station near the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort at Teton Village. I don’t know exactly where Lisa lives, but it is outside the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park. One of the wildlife preservation groups has reportedly been involved in trying to live trap the fox, and if successful, hopefully can rehabilitate the creature. I am sure they will also be able to positively determine the sex.

Scared Fox

My Sentimental Comments

It is doubtful anyone knows what kind of critter the fox tangled with to get the torn ear, scratch and lost teeth. It is seen in the image above running from some sort of danger—probably coyotes we heard that morning. We’ll probably never know if the fox was hit by a car, much less whether that happened inside or outside of the Park. Only time will tell if she can be helped and if we ever see her hunting again. I was deeply saddened to hear she was seen with a broken leg, yet there’s still hope. We’d be much more saddened if someone found her dead beside the road. We’re lucky she turned up outside the Park. The GTNP policy is to let Nature take its course—a hands off policy. She is a beautiful creature, with tons of character. Many of us spent a lot of time with the fox and a lot more time waiting for the possibility of seeing it. I’d like to hold on to the notion “she’ll be back”—and better yet with a litter of kits.

“Don’t it always seem to go? You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Anyone following this blog should have already noticed I tend to move from subject to subject throughout the year, concentrating on a few of them in short bursts.  My time with this fox came and went all too quickly! I have lots of “keeper” photos of this fox. I know…I’m lucky to live here and have a chance to see the world of Nature on a daily basis. It is difficult to keep from becoming emotionally involved with some of the creatures, but it is inevitable with some of them. If you never saw it, check out: Elvis—King of the Gros Ventre


Additional Links:

Facebook:  Bernie Scates
Facebook: Lisa Wan
Facebook: Mike R. Jackson

National Geographic: Red Foxes
National Trappers Association: Red Foxes

 

 

“Don’t it always seem to go? You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

Lyrics from “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell ~ 1970.

Moose-Wilson Status

Joni’s words seem to ring true lately. I spent quite a bit of time with the black bears along the Moose-Wilson road this year. There have been more in the area than some years. For maybe a week, photography was great. As of last Tuesday afternoon, we are prohibited from seeing and photographing them along the road. They are not gone, but the opportunity has been severely thwarted. The Park Service probably made a good call on it. And, it might reopen soon? Who knows? The Moose-Wilson Road and Black Bears – My Experiences

The challenge, and focus of this post, is to acknowledge “what you’ve got” while it is happening and get out and photograph it while it is there.

There are always yearly trends and cycles. Leaves turn color and drop in the fall. Snow falls and remains on the valley floor around Thanksgiving. Bison rut in August. Many babies are born in early June. Grass turns green and deciduous trees add new leaves in May (or so).

But there are always little gems that fit between the common phases. Many are short lived and often don’t repeat.

Great Gray Owl

Three or four young Great Gray Owls appeared along the Spring Gulch Road at about the same time the Government Shutdown closed the Parks. It was good…really good… for a week or so. The owls eventually moved off the roads and one of them was hit by a vehicle. They haven’t been back. Great Gray Owls of Fall

Foxes 2008

A few years ago, a family of foxes showed up only a few feet off a main road in downtown Jackson. It was great, and it lasted a couple of weeks. She hasn’t been back. Red Fox: A Spring Vixen

River Otters

River Otters have been seen in some years along Flat Creek near the Visitor’s Center. But, not every year.

Chaning Beaver Terrain

Beavers can dam an area, creating a new pond that kills a beautiful stand of trees. The same pond might create spectacular reflections and habitat for numerous animals. Yin Yang.

Beaver with Willows

Beavers of Schwabacher Landing

Pfeiffer Homestead, On Antelope Flats Road

Forest Fires can change a landscape within only hours. The historic Pfeiffer Homestead, On Antelope Flats Road, burned to the ground during a prairie fire.

Shane Cabin

Time, decay, and the elements are constantly wearing down man made structures. The Luther Taylor cabin (the Shane Cabin) is now classified as a “ruins” site, and if I understand it correctly, will be allowed to fall down. The Shane Cabins: Authentic Homestead in Grand Teton National Park

In 2017, you may find it will be illegal to lightpaint the barns and structures inside Grand Teton National Park. The use of “artificial light” may trigger the requirement to acquire a Commercial Photography Permit.

T.A. Moulton Barn

Al Pounian took this wonderful shot around 1964. While the barn is sill there, all of the other outbuildings and fencing are totally gone. Thankfully, some of the fencing and corrals at the John Moulton Barn, a half mile north, have been repaired or replaced in recent years. The “Missing” GTNP Farming and Ranching Photos:

Flat Creek in November

Some wildlife related opportunities have a weather twist to them. Swans migrate through Jackson Hole in mid-November and December. In some years, Flat Creek freezes solid and we miss many of our chances to photograph them taking off and landing. In 2014, a pair of Trumpeter Swans paraded their little cygnets in front of viewers most of the summer. We looked forward to them again this year, but none of their babies survived. Trumpeter Swans: A Family of Swans Along Flat Creek in the Summer of 2014

Lupines

I used to get up at 4:00 am to be at this spot long before sunrise. During high water in Pilgrim Creek, this old gravel pit fills with water adds a few reflections on calm mornings. Around the middle of June, Purple Lupines begin springing up and can cover the ground like a blanket. This shot was taken at 5:40 am on July 1st, 2008. The patch of willows in the middle of the pond are now much taller, and are eliminating almost all reflections. I haven’t gone there early for this shot in years. Ansel Adams took his image at Snake River Overlook in 1942. At the time, the trees were much shorter, giving him a good of the bend of the Snake underneath. Since then, the trees have grown much taller and block views of the bend.

Moose Clan

Some species of animals are on the decline. One year, I found a herd of moose scattered in the sagebrush east of Blacktail Butte. I counted 28 antlered moose, plus plenty of cows and a few bulls that had already dropped their antlers. I haven’t seen those kinds of numbers since. Moose were much more common around Oxbow Bend than now. People saw moose in Yellowstone regularly in the early years, but many never see one on a trip through the park now. See: Montana, Wyoming investigate plummeting moose populations

Jenny Lake Trail

Other times, a governmental agency closes an area we’ve always used. We took it for granted. Sometimes, areas are closed to vehicles because of abuse or overuse, but either way, the vehicle access is gone. People can still hike in. There are several roads up the Gros Ventre that come to mind along with roads back to the Snake River in the South Park Feed Grounds. I have an old fishing guide book here somewhere that mentioned a good fishing spot called “First Creek”. It’s somewhere near the far north end of the Jackson Lake Dam, but that area is completely closed all human activity. I never got to fish it and never will! The photo above was taken at the top of the trail at Jenny Lake. The last time I was there, the trail was still closed, and it has been closed for at least a year. A piece of asphalt broke off, creating a potential hazard.

Kelly Warm Springs

Kelly Warm Springs: In 1927, the natural dam created by the Gros Ventre Slide gave way and flooded much of Kelly. “But, for uncertain reasons, Mud Springs (today’s Kelly Warm Springs) began producing more water after the Kelly flood. Settlers cut the Mormon Row Ditch to the springs and began irrigating dry lands.” See: Mormon Row Irrigation and the Kelly Warm Springs: Sometime starting in the 1940s, people began putting tropical fish into the warm pond and many of them flourished. Currently, there is a plan to poison the entire pond and ditch to rid it of the tropical fish. For many years, families and kids have gone there with buckets and nets, making a sport out of catching them. For better or worse, things will not be the same there soon.

Buck Rail Fence

Shrinking budgets can affect what we are seeing. The photogenic old buck rail fences across from Triangle X ranch showed up in many people’s portfolios, in magazines, and paintings. They have been replaced with less attractive barbed wire fences. Over the years we’ve lived here, many of the iconic old fences have been removed. Wild West in Jackson Hole: Cowboys, Wranglers and Horses

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Over the past 11 years, the spruce trees at Schwabacher Landing’s classic reflection pool have grown considerably. Even though the mountains are the same height, the larger trees are affecting the apparent scale of the Teton Range.

Get it While the Gettin’ is Good!

I could probably come up with another dozen or so examples, but you should get the idea. For the most part, the loss of the photographic opportunities are out of our control. Some are still available, but are slipping away fast. A few opportunities will be gone soon and future bloggers will be reminiscing about them. Occasionally, we get special windows of time to photograph bears, otters, owls, or newborn animals. Those times, to a photographer, are similar to a powder day to a skier or snowboarder or a Green Drake hatch to a fisherman. You have to “get it while the gettin’ is good!

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Different Terrain and Additional Species

Menan Buttes

Eastern Idaho consists mostly of rural farm land and sagebrush covered flats. Rivers like the Henry’s Fork, South Fork, Teton River, flow through the region. Menan Buttes, seen here, are just north of Idaho Falls. Mixed in, Idaho set aside numerous refuges and wildlife preserves including Camas – National Wildlife Refuge,  Market Lake Wildlife Management Area, and numerous other Wildlife Management Areas. Click the link for a complete list. While the Jackson Hole area and Eastern Idaho areas share many of the same animal species, a few additional species are more common there than here. If you are driving through the area—either coming or leaving JH—or if you just want a different look at the region, check out some of the other possibilities! Nikon D4 and Nikon 70-200mm lens.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese: Young goslings can swim soon after birth, but cannot fly for a while. At any danger, they move from the banks to the channels of water. Idaho typically warms sooner than the Teton area and some species nest earlier. Canada Geese are commonly seen along Flat Creek here in the Tetons. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Great Horned Owls

Great Horned Owls are Common to both areas. I haven’s seen many this year in our area, but I’ve heard of a few random sightings. A pair raised some owlets in the Gros Ventre Campground a couple of years ago, but I couldn’t find them this year. They can occasionally be seen in the trees near the Gros Ventre and along the Moose-Wilson Road. I’ve also seen them as Schwabacher Landing. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds

Yellow-headed Blackbirds can be found in numerous areas of Jackson Hole, including the ponds just north of the Visitor’s Center and in the South Park Elk Feed Ground. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Porcupine

Porcupines live in both areas, but are not easy to spot in the dense trees they prefer. They feed mostly at night and hunker down most of the day. I’ve seen a few along the road to the Shane Cabin this year. Farmers and ranchers typically kill them outside the parks. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Night Heron

Night Heron: I don’t recall ever hearing anyone saying they’ve seen a Night Heron here in the JH area. When I was on Sanibel Island, I photographed similar looking Yellow-crested Night Herons. Interestingly, I saw quite a few in both places feeding in bright sunlight. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Ruddy Duck

Ruddy Duck: Last fall, I saw a male Ruddy Duck along Flat Creek, but his baby blue bill was turning brown at the time. I’ve seen a few of them at Christian Pond across from the Jackson Lake Lodge. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Jack Rabbit

Jackrabbit: Cottontails and Shoe Shoe Hairs are more common in the JH area than Jackrabbits. With that said, I spent a lot of last winter looking for Snow Shoe Hairs and never found one. I am not sure if that’s because they are scarce or if it’s because they blend in with the snow. Jackrabbits are also common east and south of our region. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl: I’ve never seen a Long-eared Owl in the Tetons, but I’ve heard reports of people seeing them in Yellowstone. They are very elusive and live in thick cover. It’s easy to walk right under one without ever seeing it, only to have it spook and fly to a different tree. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl: This shot illustrates again why they are so difficult to spot. While this one is fluffed out slightly, they tighten their feathers to make themselves much slimmer when they feel any sort of threat or pressure. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl: I’ve never photographed a Short-eared Owl until this recent trip. In fact, I’d never even seen one! They hunt very early and very late in the day and tend to stay either on the ground or on low perches and mounds. I captured this one within the first 10 or 15 minutes of morning light. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron: I’ve seen these magnificent birds at Schwabacher Landing, along Flat Creek, along the Moose-Wilson Road and a few other random areas of the Park. They were also common on our trip to Sanibel Island.  Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Northern Saw Whet Owl

Northern Saw Whet Owl: This is a young fledgling. Cindy Johnson, an Eastern Idaho photographer, showed me it’s location or I would have definitely never seen it. It was in dense cover, but wasn’t at all concerned about our presence. I’ve heard of people spotting them in the Tetons and Yellowstone. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Parting Shot of a Flock of Geese

Parting Shot of a Flock of Geese: I have to wonder how well each of these goslings know to find their specific parents once they get jumbled up like this. Nikon D800 and Tamron 150-600mm lens.

Other Birds: I was only in Eastern Idaho for a few hours one Friday afternoon and again the next morning before heading to the Fort Henry Mountain Man Rendezvous 2015: While I was in “wildlife mode” I was mostly interested in photographing owls, so I didn’t have much of a chance to focus on any of the other birds in the area. I saw both Eastern and Western Kingbirds, at least one Norther Shrike, lots of White-faced Ibis, Osprey, Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, White Pelicans, and numerous other species of waterfowl—many of which I couldn’t have identified at the time. Maybe another day! I also spent some time trying to find some Burrowing Owls. With the sandy soil, they are more common there than here, but I was told many of the babies in the area didn’t survive the heavy rains that flooded their dens this year.

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Tamron 150-600mm F/5.6-F6/3 Lens: Completely Rewritten June 3

Lightweight, Relatively Small, Sharp, and Inexpensive!

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NOTE: This is essentially a rewrite of a post I made in early February of 2015, updated with additional photos and comments. I had owned the lens a week or two when I wrote it, so most of my comments then were essentially “initial impressions”. It wasn’t intended to be a thorough review, but simply a list of hands-on comments, observations, and a few actual photos taken with both of my Nikon bodies. I figured there were already plenty of sites evaluating it with DXO scores and bench tests using calibrated charts and targets. This new page is being written roughly four months after receiving the lens, and as before, are simply observations and comments from an end user. And, if it matters, I paid full retail for my lens.

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Evening Light: Taken with a Tamron 150-600mm at 350mm with a Nikon D800.
Evening Light
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 150 mm, 1/100 at f/9, Aperture priority Mode, -1 2/3 EV, ISO 100

The Short of It!

If you’d like to save a lot of reading, I’d suggest: “Buy One”!  I was initially surprised and impressed. Now, I use it regularly.

Red Fox Approaching: 220mm
Red Fox Approaching
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 220 mm, 1/500 at f/8, Aperture priority Mode, -1 EV, ISO 200,

Initial Comments:

I’ve been a dedicated Nikon Lens user all along. My Nikon dealer suggested I check into the Tamron lens, so I started reading reviews. Talk about a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde bag of results! Most were good. Some said it was great. Some said it was soft past 400mm. Some said it wasn’t good for low light shooting. Some user reviews included images the reviewer considered were tack sharp, but wouldn’t have made it past my first cut.  Other quotes were along the lines, “A great lens for the money” and “Super telephoto lenses compromise sharpness”. Then, occasionally, there would be a group of incredibly sharp images. If you’re reading this page, you’ve probably seen many similar comments.

Red Squirrel
Red Squirrel
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 420 mm, 1/640 at f/6.3, Aperture priority Mode, -2 EV with Strobe, ISO 1000

My Needs:

I have a well used Nikon D4 and a Nikon D800 pair of bodies. I have Nikon’s pro list of zoom lenses including a 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm and a 200-400mm lens. I like zooms. What’s missing? Aside from tilt-shift and macro lenses, the obvious gap is from 400-600mm. In Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park, the 200-400mm lens on either of my full frame bodies always worked fine, but I kept watching for opportunities to fill in with a 500mm or 600mm lens. Neither of them ever fit my budget. I suspect my situation in this regard mirrors many others. If a Tamron 150-600mm lens worked better than my 200-400mm lens with a 1.4 TC on it, I’d be happy. I never had much success with the TC, so it wouldn’t take that much to impress me in that range.

Slepping Indian 150mm
Sleeping Indian
: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 150 mm, 1/2500 at f/8, Aperture priority Mode, -1 1/3 EV, ISO 200

Sleeping Indian 600mm
Sleeping Indian:
NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 600 mm, 1/3200 at f/8, Aperture priority Mode, -1 1/3 EV, ISO 200

My Client’s Needs:

Late last summer, I started offering One-on-One Photography Excursions into Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge. Many clients lack a lens much over 200mm. Part of my decision to purchase the lens originally was to let my Nikon clients use it while on the trip. They’d be thrilled.

White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 600 mm, 1/800 at f/6.3, Aperture priority Mode, -1 1/3 EV with Remote Strobe, ISO 1000

My Final Decision:

While still on the fence, I ran across this Flicker page by Kristofer Rowe. The page is LOADED with birds in flight.  His page, along with the many positive comments put me over the top: https://www.flickr.com/photos/coastalconn/sets/72157644820182203/  To be honest, I’m not sure I’d have pulled the trigger without seeing Kristofer’s pages. Possibly my photos on this page will help you.

Swan Squabble
Swan Squabble
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 600 mm, 1/1250 at f/9, Manual Mode, -1 EV, ISO 180

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 Random Musings & Comparisons

  • Lightweight vs Heavy Build: This Tamaron lens weight 4.3 lb and is lighter than my 4.7 lb Nikon 200-400. The Nikon 600mm weight 11.2 lbs! My Nikon 70-200mm lens weighs 3.39 lbs. The Nikon pro lenses are heavier and have a more rugged, long-life feel. Still, light weight is good on some level.
  • Included: The Tamron doesn’t come with a clear glass front filter nor a case.
  • Collar Foot: The Tamron lens has one mounting hole in the bottom of the foot. I would have preferred to see two, as I have on my 70-200mm and 200-400mm.
  • Minimum Focus: On my Nikon 200-400mm, I can focus as close as 6.6′ (or roughly 19 feet with the limiter turned on). The Tamron’s minimum focus is 8.86 feet (or 49 feet with the limiter turned on). Interestingly, a Nikon 600mm f/4 has a minimum focusing distance of 15.7 feet. (5.0 m).
  • Balance in the Tripod: As the Tamaron lens is zoomed out from 150mm to 600mm, the barrel telescopes out an extra three inches. When mounted on a Gimball head or a “sidekick” style setup, the balance changes as the Tamron lens is zoomed in or out. The lens is light enough this isn’t a huge issue, but worth noting. It is also easy enough to slide the camera forward or back in the clamp to balance it again.
  • Wide Open Aperture: At 150mm, the Tamron is wide open at F/5.6 or at 600mm, wide open at F/6.3. The difference is only 1/3 of a stop. A Nikon 600mm and my Nikon 200-400mm are F/4 lenses. That’s a full stop better than the Tamron at 150mm or 1.33 of a stop better than the Tamron at 600mm. An F/2.8 lens, like my 70-200mm is two full stops better than the Tamron at 150mm. You might hear someone suggest this lens in not great in low light conditions. That’s a tricky comment because there’s not enough information to qualify the statement. I’ve shot this lens in very low light conditions for landscapes, sunrises, and sunsets. It (and not many of the F/4 telephotos lenses) is not going to stop the action of a running animal at sunrise either. My original post from last February suggested this lens probably works best when stopped down, however over the past month, I’ve been shooting it wide open regularly on migrating songbirds and other subjects. If low light, action shots are important, I typically start my morning with my F/2.8 70-200 on my D4.  I can switch it to the 200-400 f/4 as I get better light. If none of this makes sense, check out the F-Stop Chart at Digital Camera World.
  • EV Compensation:I don’t know if every copy of this lens works like mine, but my lens overexposes my shots. I add a considerable negative EV value in almost all cases. In other words, when I know I should be shooting at -.3 EV, I set this lens to -1 EV. That could sound like a knock on the lens, right? I certainly don’t look at it that way. The negative EV compensation gives me back some of the “lost” aperture value of this F/5.6-F/6.3 lens over an F/4 Nikon lens.
  • Image Stabilization: Nikon calls theirs “VR” (vibration reduction) and Tamron calls theirs VC Image Stabilization. Over the four months of shooting, I can say Tamron did a great job with their image stabilization in this lens. I leave it ON all the time, including while on my sturdiest tripod, over a bean bag, and hand held. I’ve been able to get some amazingly sharp shots hand held at 600mm, though I prefer a tripod.
  • Removable Collar: The collar on the Tamron lens is removable. Some people might take it off when not using a tripod. I shoot using a tripod almost all the time, so this is not an issue. The knob of the collar loosens easily…or should I say too easily. I’m ready to put a drop of “Lock-Tight” on mine. If the know loosens too much, the entire collar assembly can wobble. I believe this is an easy fix.
  • Focus Issues / Brain Dead: Occasionally, my Tamron 150-600mm simply stops focusing. The only solution I can find is to turn the camera off, take the battery out, put it back in, then turn the camera back on. I’ve read of others with similar problems. The permanent fix is to send the lens back to Tamron for repairs. Reports I’ve read said the problem goes away afterwards. (Note, my rep suggested Tamron may have a firmware fix in the works for this issue) I’ve had the lens on one of my bodies almost constantly since I purchased it. It has been difficult to find a time slot to send it in! I’ve also noticed the lens occasionally refuses to begin searching for a focus zone when I am zoomed all the way to 600mm and change to another nondescript subject. My solution is to pull the zoom back to around 200mm and aim at a highly detailed subject to initiate the focusing. Lastly, the lens typically searches from front to back, then back to front. Lately, I have been taking photos of birds at fairly close range. If a bird stops on a branch at about 15′ and I take a few shots, then moves to 10′, the lens has to search to infinity before returning to locate the closer subject. This can take what seems like a long time if the close bird is doing something “important”. To be fair, I believe my Nikon 200-400mm works in a similar fashion, but it only has a range of 200mm to search while the Tamron is searching a 450mm range.  I’m sure the techno-babble wizards out there understand this issue. I am just reporting what I see when I am focusing.
  • Self Inflicted Striping Problem: I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons I bought the Tamron 150-600mm lens was as a “loaner” to clients going on a photo tour with me. I made a mistake of purchasing a cheap clear filter to add to the front of the lens. The cheap filter caused some occasional stripes or bands in some of the busy backgrounds. I asked if anyone else had seen the issue on a couple of forums and got a response suggesting the filter being the culprit. Bingo! They were correct. I removed it and have not seen the problem since.

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Early Photos

Shots above this section were all taken within the first week or two after receiving my lens. The shots below were taken on the first day.

Tram Tower with Insert
Tram Tower
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 280 mm, 1/500 at f/7.1, Aperture priority Mode, -1 EV, ISO 100

PanoParts

Partial Pano Surprise: The first afternoon after receiving the lens, I headed to Boyle’s Hill to get a few shots of Swans and test the lens. While standing around waiting for Swans to fly in or out, I took a few panoramic images of the Teton ridge line, shown above.

Tram Tower Detail
Tram Tower (tight crop)
: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 280 mm, 1/500 at f/7.1, Aperture priority Mode, -1 EV, ISO 100

This is the crop (red box) of the image above the pano strip. I can easily see the tram tower and dock at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort at Teton Village and the mogul fields. That mountain top is roughly 8 miles off!

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April Photos

The images below will probably appear fairly small on your computer. Click each one to see it at it’s native size.

Climber

The inset image above shows the full capture at 250 yards. The larger image is an unedited, cropped screen grab of a 100% view as seen in PhotoMechanic. This image tells me a lot about the capabilities of the lens. It would be very easy to drive down the highway and never see this climber. When standing on the road, I could see him, but there is no way I would ever see his belt and pouch, much less the small “d” on his chalk pouch. (Note: Click this image to see it much larger!)

RockWall

The inset image above shows the full capture at an estimated distance of 40 yards. The larger image is an unedited, cropped screen grab of a 100% view as seen in PhotoMechanic. (Note: Click this image to see it much larger!)

Osprey

The inset image above shows the full capture at an estimated distance of 30 yards. The larger image is an unedited, cropped screen grab of a 100% view as seen in PhotoMechanic. (The smaller white box is part of a final crop I made for this image) (Note: Click this image to see it much larger!)

Marmot

The inset image above shows the full capture at an estimated distance of 20 yards. The larger image is an unedited, cropped screen grab of a 100% view as seen in PhotoMechanic. (Note: Click this image to see it much larger!)

The images above can be made to appear even sharper in post production working off the original raw files. Other than a camera like a Nikon D800e, cameras apply an optical low pass filter (OLPF) which slightly blurs raw captures. I always sharpen my images to my tastes in Lightroom.

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AF Fine Tuning

Most newer DSLR cameras have a feature called Auto Focus Fine Tuning.  This function allow users to make minor tweaks to improve focusing between each camera and each body, including the addition of various teleconverters. The first body I owned with the feature was a Nikon D300. It definitely improved the sharpness of my images. You can probably still find a person or two that will tell you lenses don’t need to be tuned to a camera body, but most people I’ve met in the past 5 or six years think they do need it. I use a Lens-Align tool to check and adjust all of my body and lens combinations. If you are buying a Tamron 150-600mm lens, I’d suggest buying the relatively inexpensive tool to use on this and all lenses.

AF Fine Tune settings can vary at different focal lengths on any zoom lens. A fixed prime lens does not have this issue, of course. A super zoom lens like the Tamron increases the chances some. For example, at 600mm the optimum setting might be +4. At 150mm, the optimum setting might be +2, and at 300mm, the optimum setting might be +3. Some people might suggest to set the AF Fine Tune amount to the middle one. Knowing the main reason I wanted this lens was for the 400-600mm reach, I gave more importance to the longer range settings. You might hear a few “user comments” suggesting the lens gets softer over 400mm. I suspect they haven’t taken the time to find their optimum settings in that range. They might also have poor technique, with small movements amplified at the longer ranges. In reality, my copy of the Tamron 150-600mm lens does not have much of a variation in AF Fine Tuning settings from the short to the long ends.

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For The Money?

Quite often, a reviewer starts out their comments with, “for the money, this is….”. That’s often a red flag, at least for my perspective, but maybe it doesn’t need to be a deal breaker. A Nikon 600mm prime lens is just under $10,000. ($9,799.00) This Tamron lens sells for $1069. Using really rounded numbers, the prime lens is roughly ten times the cost of the Tamron zoom lens. (To be exact, it is 9.116 times.) Of course, they are two completely different products. I read one review in which the person said the Nikon prime is not “ten times better”. I might add…”to that person”. You could also argue that if the images from a Nikon prime are 10% better to some professionals, it probably IS worth ten times the cost. Right? It is simply a matter of perspective and size of the wallet. If you don’t have the extra nine grand, decisions become a little easier. If, or when, I win a big Powerball lottery, I am sure I’d own a 600mm prime!

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A Few Photos

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker: Shooting Data: NIKON D800, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 550 mm, 1/160 at f/6.3, Manual Mode, -1/3 EV,  ISO 800,

Great Gray Over Prey

Great Gray Owl: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 300 mm, 1/1000 at f/9, Manual Mode, -2/3 EV,  ISO 800

Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed Grouse: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 500 mm, 1/160 at f/6.3, Manual Mode, -1 EV,  ISO 500

GGO with Vole

Great Gray Owl: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 220 mm, 1/1250 at f/11, Manual Mode, -2 EV,  ISO 320

Stallions Fighting

Mustangs: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 450 mm, 1/800 at f/7.1, Manual Mode, -2/3 EV,  ISO 280

Fort Meyers Beach

Fort Meyers Beach: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 600 mm, 1/200 at f/9, Aperture priority Mode, -2/3 EV,   ISO 100

Reddish Heron Fishing

Reddish Egret Fishing: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, Tamron 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 500 mm, 1/640 at f/6.3, Manual Mode, -1/3 EV, (Auto) ISO 1250

Birds in Flight

In April, my wife and I made a trip to Sanibel Island. I took the Tamron 150-600 lens and my Nikon D4. I took a lot of photos of the plentiful birds in flight and came home with lots of good shots of birds in flight, along with stalking and chasing shots. You can view a lot of them on this page:  Tamron 150-600mm Lens at Sanibel Island, FL . I think it performed wonderfully, however, I don’t have a prime 500mm or 600mm to compare.

White Ibis

White Ibis at First Light: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, Tamron 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 400 mm, 1/1000 at f/9, Manual Mode, -2/3 EV, (Auto) ISO 720

Low Light

I mentioned this issue earlier. There are a few issues. First, don’t expect this lens to freeze action at daybreak. But, you also have to be realistic and understand that no telephoto lens is great at daybreak either. There are lots of low light shots on the Sanibel page and I don’t hesitate to use it.

Wet Flicker

Wet Northern Flicker: Shooting Data: NIKON D4, 150.0-600.0 mm f/5.0-6.3 at 500 mm, 1/500 at f/6.3, Aperture priority Mode, -1 EV,  ISO 5600

I should mention I own two of Nikon’s best high ISO performers (Nikon D4 and D800 -the newer models are D4s and D810). I shoot at ISO 1250 without even thinking about noise and often take shots at ISO 4500 or even above. The Northern Flicker image above was taken yesterday at ISO 5600. The two bodies allow me to set my camera to Manual where I control the shutter speed and aperture, then let the camera set the ISO via Auto-ISO. When some people complain the lens is not a good “low light performer”, the odds are they don’t have a good low light performing body. In that case, the best shots will be taken in the brighter hours of the day. I also speculate some of the blurry images taken at low light are a combination of poor technique, a wobbly tripod, and failure to adjust shutter speeds to an adequate level to stop motion blur.

Zodiac Sculptures

Zodiac Sculptures: These sculptures are currently on exhibit at the National Museum of Wildlife Art, just north of town.  Click this image to see it MUCH LARGER!

Quick Wrap-Up

Whether you want include the qualifier “for the money” or not, I’ve found my Tamron 150-600mm lens to be a welcome surprise and a solid performer. I like it…well because I could afford it…and because of its size and light weight. Once I got rid of the cheap filter I purchased for it, and after I ran it through the normal AF Fine Tuning adjustments, I’ve found it to be plenty sharp. I personally don’t see a drop off in image quality over my $6200 Nikon 200-400mm f/4 lens, which is heavier and has less range. The Tamron had a cheaper, more plastic feel than the Nikon 200-400mm and doesn’t appear to be as weather sealed. The Tamron’s VC (VR) works very well. I have been surprised of the image quality when hand held. I have realistic expectations for my early and late day photography, and as long as I work within practical boundaries, I get good low light results. For my back yard photography, the 93″ focusing range allows me to capture birds and critters at close range at 600mm.

Sigma has recently released their version of a 150-600mm lens. My dealer suggested the lens is just as sharp, but costs just over $2000 and is quite a bit heavier. He also thought it focused a little faster and had a better weather seal. I would image there are reviews and comparisons for the two lenses beginning to show up. Worth noting here.

I have been shooting regularly with the Tamron 150-600mm throughout March, April, May, and June. I create a Daily Updates and Photos page for each month for Grand Teton National Park and Jackson Hole. I’ve only included a sampling of the images on this page, but if you still need to see more, click any or all of these links:

Daily Updates & Photos for Grand Teton National Park & JH: 2015: June: | May: | Apr: | Mar:

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The National Elk Refuge & Miller Butte:

A Mecca for Winter Wildlife Photography.

Ram in the HeadlightsLocated on the north edge of the Town of Jackson, the National Elk Refuge offers unique wildlife viewing opportunities during the winter months. By almost all standards, visitor access to the refuge is very limited. Of the 24,700 acres, visitors are confined to 10 feet either side of roughly four miles of roadway during the winter. Visitors are asked to park only in designated pullouts, of which there are currently very few. Work on the roadway is scheduled for the summer of 2015, including adding additional pullouts and expanding the sizes of several of the existing pullouts. Along the highway, visitors are told to pull off the highway only in one of the three or four designated pullouts and are told NOT to cross the bike path and approach the fence. I guess I could identify the issues above as the “negatives” at the refuge. It’s a refuge, not a park!

The positives far outweigh the inconveniences of limited parking, limited access, and narrow (sometimes slick) roads. The positives, of course, are the animals you might see there. The short list would include elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and bison for the prey animals. Predators and scavengers would include wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, foxes, and a variety of raptors and birds. You might not expect to see all of the animals in these lists on a single drive-thru, but you “could” see several of them. That’s the beauty! You simply never know what you might find there from hour to hour, day to day, week to week or month to month. I often go back two and three times in a day!

Update Dec. 2015: Over the summer months of 2015, the National Elk Refuge reworked the roadway and added a generous number of pull-outs along Miller Butte. Additional improvements include better drainage along the roadway. As before, the Refuge reminds people to park only in the pull-outs and insists people NOT let the Bighorns lick the salt and chemicals off their vehicles. You might also find some useful information in this document: Refuge Road Wildlife Viewing Guide.

Summer and Winter: Two worlds.

National Elk Refuge

During the summer months, the National Elk Refuge could appear barren of animals. In a nutshell, you will likely travel “through” the Refuge on your way “to” something else. A few additional roads allow access to areas of the National Forest, such as Curtis Canyon and hiking trails to Goodwin Lake, Sheep Mountain, Mount Jackson and so forth. As in the winter, visitors are confined to a few feet either side of the roadways as they pass through the Refuge. Crews plant and irrigate fields on the refuge for forage for wintering elk, bison, and now pronghorns.

Flat Creek on the National Elk Refuge

Fly fishing is allowed in a section along the highway from August 1st to October 31st, but only fishermen with licenses and gear are permitted to be on the refuge. In the late fall, hunting is allowed for elk and bison in some areas. Otherwise, regular tourists cannot mingle off the roadways. Elk and most of the game animals will have moved off the refuge and into their summer ranges, leaving the range mostly uninhabited. Small critters like ground squirrels, voles, gophers, and chipmonks may be taken by Northern Harriers, Red-tailed hawks, Burrowing Owls, American Kestrels, Eagles and so forth.

National Elk Refuge

By late November, snows in the high country start pushing some of the large game animals to the Refuge. I start looking for Bighorn Sheep around Miller Butte on Thanksgiving. Elk start filtering in around the same time, but the big herds typically show up later. Predators and Scavengers follow the prey animals. I’ve seen wolves on the National Elk Refuge, but I’ve never seen them up close. Whether you see them or not, just know they are around! Wolves and other predators follow the prey animals out of the refuge in the Spring. Kills by the wolves, along with natural winter deaths, bring in the smaller scavengers of fur and feather. Mountain Lions have been observed on the Refuge over the years.

Bighorns and the Beginning of Winter

The Chase

Around Thanksgiving, I start cruising the Refuge watching for the first of the Bighorn Sheep. Early snows prod them to move out of the high country and onto the slopes of Miller Butte. By the first week of December, I expect to see reasonable numbers of both ewes and rams. The rut usually begins around the middle of December and continues until the middle of January. This page from Best of the Tetons contains quite a bit more information and lots of photos: Bighorns of Miller Butte. The page has a map showing the roads and pullouts along Miller Butte.

Elk

Mass of Elk

Elk migrate from long distances, including Yellowstone, to winter at the National Elk Refuge. I overheard a biologist say there are roughly 5,500 elk on the refuge with additional elk around the edges. You can check the refuge’s official site for more specifics: National Elk Refuge. When driving out onto the Refuge, expect to see mostly cows and calves. The big bulls seldom hang close to the roadways, but you still might see one mixed in. For the best view of wintering elk, consider taking the sleigh ride. Sleigh Ride on the National Elk Refuge: It might be the best deal in town! Bulls can occasionally be seen on the ridge line of Miller Butte. Wolves on the refuge can greatly impact where the elk and other animals are grazing on any particular day.

Bison

Bison Herd

Traditionally, the wintering bison hang in the northeast section of the Refuge and are not visible to the winter tourists. Occasionally, a heard will move to the southern section and even south of the road. Wildlife officials may haze them back off the road for the safety of tourists, hikers, bikers, and photographers. They are quick and dangerous! Watch for them in the last mile of the winter road section.

Pronghorns

Elk and Pronghorns

During the winter months, Pronghorns traditionally move from the Teton valley to areas south of here—such as Big Piney, Daniel, and Marbleton. Over the past few winters, a small herd began staying in the valley. Now that herd seems to be growing in size. I counted over 45 recently along the roadway near Miller Butte. They also appear to be becoming more tolerant of the passing vehicles, hikers, and bikers.

Mule Deer

Hillside Mule Deer

Hillside Mule Deer: I’ve seen a few mule deer actually inside the fence in the National Elk Refuge, but most are along the road and hillside West of the highway. Other than some of the commercial businesses along the road, the National Elk Refuge owns much of the land. Deer and Elk can be seen grazing along either side of the road early in the mornings and on the hillside after first light. You may also see some of them by making the drive up to the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

Wolves

Wolves

Recently, the newspaper reported two packs of wolves roaming the National Elk Refuge and making kills. I’ve seen them on the hillsides before and was able to hear them howl, but I’ve never been there as they chase game into close proximity to the roads. Maybe I will be in the right spot at the right time and capture some of it.

Coyotes

Coyote

Coyotes are more common on the National Elk Refuge. Most stay off the roads and scavenge on winter kills or feed on the leftovers from a wolf kill.

Foxes

Red Fox

Red Foxes aren’t that common on the Refuge, but I’ve seen them several times just south of the Miller House.

Otters

River Otter

River Otters occasionally cruise Flat Creek in search of small fish. I’ve photographed them on numerous occasions from the observation platform just north of the visitor’s center.

Swans

Squabble

Trumpeter Swans and an occasional Tundra Swan can often be seen along Flat Creek. Check out this Feature Post: Trumpeter Swans: A Family of Swans Along Flat Creek in the Summer of 2014. During the winter, much of Flat Creek can freeze over for short periods, but the Swans and other waterfowl quickly return when sections of the waterway open up again. Flat Creek runs through much of the National Elk Refuge.

Eagles

Golden Eagle

Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles can be seen on the National Elk Refuge at any time of the year, but are more plentiful during the winter months. Winter kills bring in the scavengers of all kinds. Watch for Ravens swarming, then look for nearby eagles, foxes, coyotes and magpies. During the winter months, watch for Rough-legged hawks hovering around the valley floor. In the summer, watch for Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers. I’ve seen photos of Burrowing Owls taken on the Refuge.

Scenic Opportunities

Miller House with Fog Bank

The Historic old Miller House sits in the middle of the National Elk Refuge. It always makes a good subject for photography. The house and areas immediately surrounding it are closed to human activity during the winter months.

National Elk Refuge

Sleeping Indian (AKA Sheep Mountain) rests on the far east side of the valley. Check out this earlier Feature Post for more locations: Sleeping Indian: A Lesser Photographed JH Icon

Scenic Comments: I typically don’t go to the National Elk Refuge “thinking landscapes”. Wildlife is usually higher on my priorities. If the light is hitting the Miller House or Sleeping Indian in a special way, I will always stop to photograph it. Access is limited, as I mentioned earlier, so we must shoot only from the roadways. A couple of distracting power lines run through the refuge and the angles are just not designed for photographers, especially while on the Refuge Road. From the highway, many more possibilities are available to viewers and photographers. On the North side, the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park are separated by the Gros Ventre River. Visitors can roam the north side of the river, but cannot cross the river to the Refuge side.

Curtis Canyon

On May 1st, the roads into the interior of the Refuge open back up, allowing people to cross into the National Forests. On that morning, the road is packed with antler hunters heading into the wilds outside the refuge. Additional photographic opportunities can be found by driving up the Curtis Canyon Road.

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The Dead of Winter:

The Cold Realities and Exciting Possibilities of Winter Photography in GTNP.

There are generally two entities at play. First: The weather. Snowfall, cold temperatures and short days are big players. Second: The National Park Service and Bridger-Teton National Forest. They establish closure rules and decide which roads are plowed. I guess you could suggest a third one might be the lack of demand or volume of tourists, but that would probably be a stretch.

Elk Running

This is my second Winter season writing posts for Best of the Tetons. There are numerous related posts specifically written about the season along with the associated Daily Updates pages. (Check the links at the bottom of the page).  The purpose of this Feature Post is to concentrate on the span of time from mid-December to early April.  That’s when most of the region is firmly in the grip of the winter snow pack and when many access roads are cut off.  It is also when large chunks of the area are closed to human activity for wildlife protection and habitat.

SRO December 2014

Snake River Overlook is open year round. It is one of the few winter locations where you can get a good foreground and a vista view. In years past, many people took photos over the beautiful old buck rail fences in front of Triangle X Ranch, but last year, the Park Service tore them down and replaced them with a rather ugly barbed wire fence. It’s just not the same!

Schwabacher Landing is a great area to use as an example for this post. It is one of the most popular areas of the park when it’s open. Countless thousands of photos are taken there every single day. After the first good snowfall, the Park Service locks the gate. Several areas, like Schwabacher Landing and Antelope Flats Road are gated as soon as weather conditions make it dangerous or if the road becomes impassable. Schwabacher can close as early as Thanksgiving or even before. The area is still open until December 15th, but you have to hike in from the highway. There isn’t much of a parking area at the top of the hill, so except for a few hardy souls, you might call it closed.

November 24, 2006

After December 15th, no activity is allowed in the river bottom (North of Moose) at all. While that might sound like a loss, I don’t really think of it that way. The pond and streams at Schwabacher Landing would have already frozen over, eliminating most reflections. It still might be photogenic, but not in the same way as summer and fall. Additionally, almost all wildlife will have left the area, moving south towards the Gros Ventre River or into the National Elk Refuge. Snow is simply too deep for them.

Peach House with Aspen Trees

The Moose-Wilson Road is still open from Moose to the Death Canyon road junction. I drive that three or four mile section several times each Winter. In much the same way, you learn quickly we are not missing that much by not having access to some of the other areas. The snow is deep and there are few animals. You can strap on your snow shoes and hike around in many areas, but scenic vistas are limited there. Great Gray Owls and Horned Owls “could” be there, but I never see them. Snow is too deep for them to hunt for active mice and voles. They move to areas of the valley where they can dive through the snow to the unsuspecting prey.

Sunrise Over Sleeping Indian 2

Three major arteries are severed during the “dead of Winter”. Actually, one of them closes from November 1st to May 1st. The Teton Park Road (Inner Park Loop Road) closes at the Taggart Lake trail head to Signal Mountain resort area. The Park Service closes the road to vehicle travel during those dates regardless of whether there is any snow on the road or issues of through travel. The other artery is Antelope Flats Road. It closes following the first big snow after hunting season. This year, the road was locked sometime in the week prior to Christmas.  The Moose-Wilson road also closes between November 1st and May 1st between the Death Canyon road junction and the South entrance station near Teton Village. A lot of smaller side roads are closed, but those three effectively create a series of one-way-up and one-way-back trips. Cross country skiing and show shoe travel is still permitted in all three areas.

Web Bull Moose Aspens Dec13

The weather is also a factor. During this period, there will almost always be a layer of snow on the ground. Jackson Hole can get 400″ of snowfall during a winter. It takes snow shoes or cross country skis to get around if you want to leave the roads. That’s plenty doable. But, it can be cold…brutally and dangerously cold! Wind can multiply the effect. Winter is often harder on equipment, especially batteries! This page has a few maps, closure areas, and some tips for winter photography: Winter in the Tetons: Tips for travel and photography.

Fly Fishing Snake River March 8

So, why come here in the Winter?

Hoar Frost

It could easily sound like there are just too many cards stacked against a visitor or photographer. Winter photography is not for everyone! It is usually harder. It’s colder. It’s often less predictable. But, the “dark clouds can have a silver lining”.  There are far fewer photographers out taking photos on any average winter day. When you find something good, there won’t be a lot of other people taking the same images. The landscape itself is entirely different than during the green days of summer, or even the golden days of fall. Days are short, so you don’t have to get up as early or stay out as late. Light is usually good for photography all of the daylight hours, a result of the sun being low in the sky. Sunrise and sunsets can last a little longer for the same reason. Some animals hibernate, but the remaining wintering wildlife is pressed into much smaller areas—and some of those areas are right next to the road. I live in town, so knowing the much of the wildlife is in the south end of the valley, I don’t have to drive as far as in the summer. That saves time and gasoline.

RedFoxOnePaw_Mar22

During the spring and summer, many of the large animals shed their winter coat. Moose, deer, foxes, sheep, elk, bison, and so forth can look terribly shaggy and unappealing for a whole month. During the winter months, the coats on the same animals are bright, long, and sometimes flowing.

Sleigh Ride

I can get “tunnel vision” at times and forget there many more attractions in the valley, like downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, shoe shoeing. snowmobiling, sled dog tours, sleigh rides, and…well the list goes on and on! I write this blog for all, so I try to include the other activities on the blog once in a while whether I am a participant or just a viewer. I titled this post “The Dead of Winter”, but Jackson Hole is far from dead in the Winter!

Otter Family

The “Tapestry of the Seasons”: As the preceding paragraph suggests, there’s a lot to see and do here. As the last of the leaves fall to the ground in the fall, the area begins its transition into winter. The landscape changes—sometimes overnight—and sometimes gradually. Wildlife opportunities often occur or unfold like chapters in a book. One heats up as other opportunities cool down. Some overlap. For example, I spend a lot of time photographing moose in the fall. I love it! But, in other areas of the park, elk are in their rut period and bears are just finished polishing off the last of the berries. An owl might make an appearance at any time and “steal” some time from moose and landscape photography. As the moose move out to the sage flats, bison move into the south end of the park. Deer and pronghorns begin their annual rut. By late November, bighorns move onto Miller Butte and Trumpeter Swans return to the valley in large numbers. By late December, moose move away from the roads and the bulls lose their antlers, but that’s okay. Swans and Bighorns fill the void. That’s about the same time to start watching for river otters, foxes, and owls again. And so it goes. By late January, the fur on most of the bighorns are beginning to bleach out, yet that’s about the same time some of the mountain goats show up in the Snake River canyon. Berry eating birds like Cedar Waxwings, Pine Grosbeaks, and Bohemian Waxwings often migrate through the valley during the winter months, filling in small voids, or offering a break from the other action. Before long, you look up and snow is melting and the animals begin moving around. A whole new season is ready to change the valley again. You might not recognize it initially, but each season has its own tapestry and it repeats itself with an amazing amount of predictability.

Winter Storm

Back to that “Cold Reality” thing: Okay. If you read that last paragraph, you might think its easy to get images here daily. Well, in some respects it might be. If you look over the Daily Updates pages, you can see I can usually bring home some shots for the blog. And, I should probably note I am usually only out for a little while each day. I like making the blog posts about as much as taking the photos, so if things are slow, I start thinking I should be back at the office wring a new Feature Post.

White Out

Some days are down right miserable in the winter. When the wind is howling and the temperatures are hovering at -10°F, it takes a special kind of dedication to open the door of the vehicle and endure those kinds of winter conditions. On some days, I have more of that kind of dedication in me than others. A little snow falling down is actually a plus. Too much can be a negative. Fairly often, the winter light is flat, gray, and dull. On most of those days, you can’t see the mountains, so there’s limited chances for the massive vista shots. If the light is good, or if there is an animal close, I can endure about anything for a while. I like taking photos of the old barns along Mormon Row. I have thousands of photos of each of them. Once the road is closed, it’s a 3/4 mile snow shoe hike from the parking area to the first barn. I can handle that. But for sunrise shots, that means leaving the vehicle roughly 45-60 minutes earlier, and when it’s -10° or lower, the hike with a tripod and gear is a long one. Throw in some wind and it can be dangerous. This is definitely a cold reality! The Chapel of the Transfiguration is open to visitors in the Winter, but you have to hike in from the main road. Issues there are much the same as hiking into the Mormon Row barns.

Some people make it look easy, but you have to look past that and understand they make it look easy by working at it long and hard. Mother Nature seems to pay off in a big way if you are willing to put in the time. You just never know when you’ll come around a bend and find a red fox standing only 25 yards off the road and will spend the next thirty minutes mousing for you. Winter photography is the season when you have the opportunity to get your most unique images, but you get them at the expense of some cold toes, fingers, ears, and a few days mixed in where nothing seems to want to pan out. There’s always “something” to photograph. It takes a certain discipline to be looking for unique “small shots”, even when you’d like to be getting the “big shots”. It’s amazing how often the latter will emerge while thinking small initially.

People reading my Daily Updates in December of 2014 will recognize the section below. I wrote it mainly for the wildlife viewers, knowing the landscapes pretty much stay in the same place.

Settled into Winter:

Most of the winter months offer similar opportunities for both wildlife and landscapes: Dec: 2014 | Nov: 2013  | Dec: 2013Jan: 2014 .

Suggested “Opportunities”: Right now, here are my top spots to check out. Some will be a bit of a gamble, but they might also pay off in a big way if you hit it right:

Previous Winter Related Posts:

Winter: (after the leaves fall until the snow melts)

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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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Red Fox: A Spring Vixen

RedFoxPrancing_Mar22

It’s hard to beat a fox on snow!

In late March, I had the privilege of spending three mornings photographing a friendly little Vixen. Her winter coat was beautiful! Others told me about a stunning male hanging around, but I never saw him. I would have loved to capture a few interaction shots between the male and female, but I was plenty happy with what I did get! Most of the images were captured with either a Nikon D4 or D800 and a Nikon 200-400mm lens. I relied heavily on the histogram on the back of the camera for determining exposure. Most were taken with an EV of 0 to -2/3.  Sometimes, I can get “text heavy” on my feature posts, but this time, I just want to feature the images.  Hope you enjoy them! MJ

RedFoxLazyOnSnow_Mar22

RedFoxLookingAhead_Mar22

RedFoxCasualScratch_Mar24

RedFoxWalkingOnSnow_Mar24

RedFoxAGoodStretch_Mar24

RedFoxOnePaw_Mar22

RedFoxWalking1_Mar24

RedFoxScratching_Mar24

RedFoxWithSpruceTrunks_Mar22

RedFoxTwisted_Mar24

RedFoxOnSnow1_Mar23

RedFoxHeadScratch_Mar23

RedFoxFocused_Mar24

RedFoxOneEyeOpen1_Mar24

RedWatching_Mar24

RedFoxYawn_Mar24

RedFoxStealth_Mar24

I’ve been back to the area on numerous occasions since these images were taken, but only saw her from a distance.

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Please Note: All of the images on this page are fully copyrighted with the US Copyright Office. ©2014 Mike R. Jackson – All Rights Reserved

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