An essay from my book “Valley So Sweet” was written a quarter century ago, but the message is still appropriate today.
Not yet two months past the winter solstice. The depth of winter. And yet the signals of spring are already here, if one looks. Sometimes it takes a hard look. Sometimes not.
Days are longer ... an odd familiar expression that means daylight hours are lengthening; too often, nights are shortchanged even in my journals. Coyotes are more vocal; their mating time isn’t far off. On pleasant days pairs of ravens sit together on a favorite perch, holding private conversations. On blustery, windy days they soar in exuberant flight or perform aerial ballets with other paired ravens. Great horned owls call to each other in the night; they will mate and nest in the next few weeks. Chickadees forage in little flocks that appear loose but are actually small hierarchies. Now and again one or more will give a full-fledged spring song. Pleasant to hear, for there’s promise in it.
A midwinter afternoon sun reflects a welcome, delicious yellowish hue as it strikes willow stands, shrubs and trees. The shapes of a few aspens are so subtly altered that it might be your imagination, and yet there really is a tumescence of bud, a thickening of twig.
For an unequivocal sign look closely at the bill of a goldeneye hen being attended by a now overly deferential drake. It is already yellowing. Goldeneyes know spring is on its way.
Now, another signal as the afternoon begins to wane: mare’s tails, cirrus clouds that herald weather change. There will soon be wind, and snow. This day one could imagine spring, feel it in his body and soul. By tomorrow winter will be back. No birds with energy to spare in play or song. The willows will be gray. Gray jays, already on the nest, sit tight.
It will be difficult to remember spring tomorrow.
So far, and not all reports are in, Moose Day volunteers have reported 50 moose. 2017’s total was about 157, which was an exceptional year.
We are still awaiting numbers from last year’s hot spots: north around Buffalo Valley and east out the Gros Ventre. So far this year most moose have been found around Wilson, in the park near Gros Ventre Junction and in the Solitude subdivision west of the airport.
Moose numbers in any given count area are averaging about half of last year’s. Many Nature Mappers noted how healthy and sleek “their” moose looked. It’s notable that this winter is significantly milder than last winter.
Nature Mapping Jackson Hole thanks the over 65 citizen scientists — local residents and Grand Teton National Park, National Elk Refuge, U.S. Forest Service, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department staff who contributed valuable hours Saturday morning to scout for moose. The moose thank them!
Field notes: Sharp-tailed grouse were spotted by Franz Camenzind in the cottonwood trees near Ditch Creek, eating the buds. Roman Kravetsky reported 10 to 12 robins eating berries off the cedar trees up Game Creek.
Moose Day was held Saturday. Initial reports indicate a healthy population. In addition to the official census reports, Joe Burke enjoyed watching a large cow moose feeding her way down a steep slope along Flat Creek.
Coming up this Saturday: the Nature Mapping potluck at the Center for the Arts. It starts at 5 p.m. At 7 Nathan Pieplow will present “The Amazing Sounds of Birds.” See y’all there.