Though Bert Raynes’ Far Afield column has been temporarily suspended, bird and wildlife watchers are still calling and emailing in with their sightings. — Eds.
Are you ready for winter? Because it’s here.
The Teton Raptor Center research team’s work was featured in a recent article in Science Magazine linking climate change to altering animal movements, including golden eagles. The data are now included in the new Arctic Animal Movement Archive, a collection of more than 200 terrestrial and marine animal tracking studies.
The Raptor Center has 11 patients in care. It released a red-tailed hawk back into the wild earlier this week after it recovered from a hip wound and some missing flight feathers.
For the past month Martha Feagin and Joe Byron have been watching the hunting activities of two juvenile great-horned owls at Skyline.
Susan Riesch on Nov. 6 reported a dandy ermine, with a coat change underway, hanging out in the Aspens.
Bev Boynton reported many gray-crowned rosy finches in Kelly. She wonders: “Can’t they even wait for late winter?” On Sunday she saw a rough-legged hawk flying over Antelope Flats, pretty clearly hunting, and also saw two adult bald eagles, and a conspiracy of ravens, on a carcass. There were two elk up on Shadow Mountain and many groups of moose in the general Kelly/Black Tail Butte area
Earlier in the week, Bev saw two white-tailed deer near the Gros Ventre River, a bit downstream from Kelly. She recalls seeing a small number mixed in with the mulies years ago in the Kelly band, but hasn’t seen any for some years now.
Bev’s sighting prompted an investigation of white-tail history in the valley. When queried, Franz Camenzind recollected that his first sighting was in March 1970 — a single doe grazing with several mule deer does near the present site of the National Museum of Wildlife Art on East Gros Ventre Butte. A single doe was seen in the same area in May the next year, perhaps the same individual. Franz has pictures of single bucks at his Flat Creek home in town from June 2018 and another a few years earlier. He has seen them at the Crystal Creek campground in the Gros Ventre valley, along the Gros Ventre River across from the “narrows” on the Kelly Road. His latest sighting was a few springs ago when a single white-tail bounded across the sage flats east of Pilgrim Creek. Sightings of this native deer are common along South Park’s rivers and streams, as far up as the confluence of the Snake and Gros Ventre rivers.
The pattern seems clear: Their preferred habitats are the thickly vegetated valley river bottoms. White-tails and mule deer (which favor the more open uplands) have somewhat overlapping food preference, but white-tails win the population game. White-tail does are more apt to have twins than mule deer, and it is not uncommon for white-tail does to breed during their first fall — yes, before they are 1 year old. Changing land uses likely favor white-tails, while deep snows are likely their biggest limiting factor.
When asked by Bev about recent white-tailed deer sightings in the Kelly area, Lee Donaldson said “No, not in about three years. But the white-tailed and mulies sometimes hybridize, and the hybrids have a tail different from either — more like the mulie.”
Susan Marsh found nine bighorn sheep at the south end of Miller Butte, including one mature ram, off by himself, ready for the rut soon.
Dennis and Marian Butcher had a first around their feeder Friday: a Steller’s jay. Pretty bird.
At Tim Griffith’s, a blue jay continues to munch on shelled peanuts along with Clark’s nutcrackers and both kinds of chickadees. New visitors to his feeders this week include several evening grosbeaks and numerous red crossbills.
From Mo O’Leary’s pond in Bondurant: two swans, mallards and a golden eye.
John Hebberger Jr. spent another afternoon on Thursday watching and photographing from the Flat Creek viewing platform, on edge of the National Elk Refuge. Given our edging into winter, the number of trumpeter swans visible in that near piece of Flat Creek water was about 75, well up from the beginning of the week. Not as many ducks, surprisingly, but still perhaps several hundred. On display were mallards, common mergansers, Barrow’s goldeneyes, ring-necked ducks, buffleheads, ruddy ducks, wigeons and a single male wood duck. Canada geese were landing in flights of 12-20 birds. A pair of northern harriers was working above the reeds and grasses out on the refuge. A rather more winterlike setting than earlier in the week, which is why there were more birds.
A report from Wilson bird feeders indicates that few of the usual birds are visiting. The best sighting was approximately 200 snow geese flying over Wilson/Fish Creek, headed south, last Wednesday evening. On Nov. 15 a report came in from Patty Reilly in Wilson of a boreal owl hunkered into a conifer, trying to escape the tormenting chickadees and magpies.
Deb Patla in Buffalo Valley observed an increasing number of Steller’s jays in her yard the past few days — up to seven at one time. They are more aggressive to each other at the suet feeders than in other years. Conflicts and chases have led to some window strikes, one sadly lethal. Magpies and Clark’s nutcrackers in the yard seem to be behaving normally, just packing in the food.
Joan Lucas had a fairly quiet week at her feeders, livened by a couple of Eurasian collared doves that have been missing for a while. On Saturday a single horned lark fed in a gravel driveway on top of West Gros Ventre Butte.
Still quiet in Hoback, the Gessler/Hoffman clan reports. No sign lately of the nuthatches, but the pair of blue jays and a couple of Steller’s jays are still around. A dark-eyed junco, black-capped chickadees, a ravenous flock of house sparrows and several evening grosbeaks are regulars. Ron doesn’t recall having seen siskins or goldfinches of late. They too have “floor chickens,” Kai’s reference to Eurasian collared doves.
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Diane Birdsall reported seeing two bald eagles flying above the Snake River and higher, above Horse Creek Mesa, as well as perched on “favorite” cottonwood trees along the river corridor. A flock of 50-plus English sparrows found her feeder and consumed all the sunflower seed in one day. They overwhelmed the black-capped chickadees and house finches. On Nov. 14, Game Creek was extremely quiet after the snowfall. Diane heard only a Townsend’s solitaire, perched in a shrub above the creek. It was a beautiful, extended aria and, minutes later, when she finally walked away, it was still singing.
Birds are looking for winter quarters, so they may be temporarily displaced as they seek shelter. Drive with care and carry a shovel.