In and around Jackson Hole the winter of 2018-19 has been snowy at last.
Enough snow that old-timers are remarking on it. Enough snow that wildlife observers are helplessly watching as some of our nature companions are having what is often referred to as a “tough time.” What that means, of course, is that animals are going to perish through starvation and vehicle collisions at above-average rates.
Unless you want to dig out paths to enable deer and moose to get off the sides of the roads and over banks of snow, there’s practically nothing you can do.
Those same old-timers talk about cold winters, winters that saw the thermometer go down to minus 30, minus 40, even 50 below, sometimes for weeks. This winter has not been that way; it’s been cold and below freezing, sometimes for days in a row, but seldom below zero. Don’t give up hope; it’s just the beginning of March.
Mother Nature doesn’t give up easily. She has provided most of her critters with strategies for survival. Most birds, for example, can move in search of food and shelter. Often, about this time of year, small seed-eating birds tend to band together in flocks of mostly the same species, looking for food. I’m reminded of some words I wrote in “Winter Wings” about what some ducks and other waterfowl do in a cold winter.
“Throughout even the coldest, harshest winter in the northern Rockies, some waters remain open. Major rivers and some smaller streams remain ice-free, at least in stretches. Some large bodies of water seldom entirely freeze over, particularly some large lakes located west of the Continental Divide. There are also spring-fed creeks and thermal areas containing hot or warm bodies of open water and their runoffs.
“These open waters are rich sources of various kinds of foods needed by many bird species. They host aquatic plants, fish and aquatic insects and insect larvae. Often their shorelines are snow-free and even unfrozen in spots, exposing seeds, terrestrial plants and those soft-bodied organisms certain birds probe for.
“As a result, many birds survive by using these open waters. They move about as streams freeze or melt and as their food sources dwindle or flourish. This section of ‘Winter Wings’ illustrates some of the species that are primarily dependent on ice-free waters. Of course, other birds will use and be seen in the vicinity of their habitats.
“When it comes to birds and their individual strategies with respect to ice-free waters, some like it hot, some like it swift, some like it deep. After all, birds are only human.
Field Notes: Pretty much right on schedule a few bird species are either returning to Jackson Hole or passing through on their way north.
Redwing blackbirds were reported Saturday by Greg Ziegler north of the Fish Hatchery and Sunday by Richard Rich in South Park. Richard also reported starlings and a great blue heron.
In Buffalo Valley, Deb Patla watched an early morning starling feeding so avidly at the suet that a Clark’s nutcracker body- slammed him to get a turn. The next day Deb saw two more starlings calmly sharing the suet.
In the town of Jackson, along Flat Creek, Joe Burke had a hairy woodpecker at his suet feeder, as did Mary Lohuis at her feeder in Skyline Ranch. Warner Houfek reported two collared doves in Skyline.
While watching the swans from his office window in South Park, John Simms watched as a Cooper’s hawk swept in and grabbed a gray jay sitting on the fence just 10 feet from his window. Awesome!
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