Winter is comingWildlife Viewing Opportunities
By Matt Fagan | Owner of Buffalo Roam Tours
As an avid “Game of Thrones” watcher, I relish any opportunity to use that line. But it’s true! In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, like in Westeros, winter is indeed coming. But unlike Westeros and the dreaded White Walkers, we have a lot to look forward to in the Jackson Hole Winter! The coming of the elk herds for example!
Winter brings cooler temps, and often great wildlife viewing opportunities. While some animals can migrate out of the valley many stay and make the valley bottom their winter home. There are over 10,000 elk that winter in or around the National Elk Refuge just north of the town of Jackson. The bull elk sport their massive antlers at the start of winter, quite a sight and these antler’s will naturally fall off to start to grow back.
It’s not only elk that make the Refuge home for the winter. Trumpeter Swans, the largest North American water fowl, 35 lbs. and 8 ft wing spans, spend their winters here. The stark white feathers against a wintery background is so serene and peaceful yet keeping them warm in below zero temperatures. Flat Creek, an underground spring feed creek which , winds through the Elk Refuge, has open water, not ice so these beautiful birds have access to food and forage all year round.
Big Horn Sheep are regularly seen in winter when deep snows drive them to lower elevations to find food. Their thick coats provide warmth, and their sharp hooves can dig down below the snow to help uncover freeze grasses to forage on. Great eyesight, quick uphill sprints and hard ramming horns provide protection against danger.
The snow itself offers a great opportunity for tracking animals you might otherwise miss. The telltale prints of rabbits with their elongated hind feet, Paw prints of coyote, fox, and perhaps a wolf are fun to spot. Remember the circle of life means that one animals struggle, elk pushing snow below snow piles for grass to eat can be another animal’s advantage. Wolves with large paws, sharp teeth and working as a pack can easily chase elk into deeper snow which slows them down making elk easier to catch in winter. That is way wolves are more successful in killing large game in the winter than summer months.
Nothing goes to waste in the hard-long winters. With each elk death an estimated 20+ other animals find something to eat off that carcass from mice to bald eagles.
So even though our warm fall weather is fast disappearing, the fun never stops in this magical place. Book a winter tour today and experience Jackson Hole, Grand Teton, and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem with us in the winter!