Grand Tetons: Wildllife   Leave a comment

Late Autumn along the Snake River in Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming means the moose are busy fattening up for the coming winter.

I was initially pretty disappointed in the lack of animals over the first couple days I was here in western Wyoming.  I heard in the mornings the bugling of elk as they continued to arrive from the colder high country of Yellowstone to the north.  I also got close to running into one large bull on the road while driving at night.  I try to keep it to 35 mph in National Parks (or any wildlife-rich country) at night.  The speed limit on the roads is 45 mph, which I think is too fast to stop in time unless you are really hyper-alert.  I was routinely being passed by cars doing 55-60 mph, which is just asking for a nasty encounter with a large mammal.  Or you will kill a fox, coyote, or even a wolf.  Plain stupidity.

One morning on Signal Mountain, a great place to watch the sunrise from at the south end of Jackson Lake, I glimpsed a fox crossing the empty road.  I pulled up and just watched him, since the light was way too low to try a shot.  He was just beautiful, with a long bushy tail tipped with a bright blaze of white.  Signal Mountain has a seldom-walked trail which winds up its flanks.  You can drive to the top as well, but an early-morning hike will likely reward you with sightings in this wildlife-rich area.  The picture below is not strictly of wildlife, but it points to the fine horse ranches to be found on the drive along the east side of the park, north of Jackson Hole.

The Grand Tetons form a spectacular background to a fine herd of horses in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The main animal I wanted to see, and hopefully in good light with a background of the Tetons, was moose.  After the glorious sunset I posted on last time, I was going to just head into Jackson for the night.  I was nearing two weeks without a shower and needed to do laundry too.  But the sunset got me into the mood to try for a good sunrise, so I drove up to a place called Schwambacher’s Landing, on the east side of the Snake River.  I camped there for the night (illegal but there aren’t many rangers this time of year), and woke early to a nice sunrise (see image below).  Not as colorful as the sunset of the previous evening, but it was worth bearing the temperatures in the teens (Farenheit).

Now I really had to leave for town.  Or did I?  After letting my lazy little dog (who had taken over my sleeping bag and was snoring) out, I decided to take a stroll along the river.  I took only my camera and long lens, a Canon 100-400L.  I saw some birds, including a busy little water ousel (a.k.a. dipper) who didn’t realize I was there laying prone on the stream cobbles.  He approached pretty close, and I got nice stills plus videos of one of my favorite birds, a denizen of cold rocky streams all over the mountain west.

The dipper, or water ousel, frequents all the best mountain streams in the mountains of the American West.


An American dipper goes under on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

The morning was warming rapidly as I walked back, this time eschewing the trail along the river and cutting through the cottonwoods that grew back quite a ways from the riverside.  I was glad I did.  All of a sudden I looked into some willows ans a massive head appeared, not more than 20 yards away: a bull moose!  He was softly grunting and munching away on the willows, occasionally scraping his massive rack on the branches.  I was happy (not the first time) that my lens wasn’t a fixed 400.  Even so, at 100 mm, I had to back up a few steps to get most of him in (see top image).

Now I know from my Alaska days how dangerous a moose can be.  So I was cautious.  But then I noticed the young female and her calf nearby (see image below).  They were very much aware of me, unlike Mr. munch mouth.  When she decided to trot away, her cute little youngster following, the bull followed, grunting and obviously all hot and bothered.  I wouldn’t need to worry about him; his mind was fully occupied.  So all I needed to do was keep my distance from the cow and her calf, something she made very easy to do.

A peekaboo hole through the trees is enough for me to get a glimpse of a cow moose with her calf (and for the little guy to see me), near the Snake River in Grand Teton national Park, Wyoming.


One of the Tetons forms the backdrop for a silhouetted moose in Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

I pursued for awhile, getting some nice shots, even though the light was getting pretty harsh by that time.  I didn’t want to interrupt the family’s morning too much, but I did notice that after a bit the cow relaxed a bit.  She apparently had realized I wasn’t much of a threat, though I never got as close to her or her calf as I did the bull.  It was interesting how she let the slower bull catch up to her, even though she could have made sure of her calf’s safety by leaving me in the dust.

It was near noon when I returned to the van, and the day was so warm that I switched to shorts, cracked a celebratory beer, made a sandwich, and reflected on the sheer randomness of wildlife sightings.  There was another one I was thinking of – the wolf in Yellowstone a week ago.  But that’s a subject for another post.

A beaver-dammed channel of the Snake River in Grand Tetons National Park is the perfect mirror for sunrise.



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