Early Spring Wildlife Watching Opportunities in Jackson, Wyoming
By Josh Metten
While I’m no stranger to the seasonal exodus many undertake each April to the warmer, drier climes of the Desert Southwest, the transition from winter to summer is one of my favorite times of year in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. As a naturalist, I’m in love with the phenology, or sequence of annual events, that occurs in Wyoming. Each season brings something new to look forward to, however spring often feels like something new is revealed each day. Thus, spring is a great time to take in Wyoming's diverse wildlife, all while avoiding the crowds of summer.In early March, the land begins to wake up from winter’s slumber. As the snow slowly melts off, we begin wondering what day the first grizzlies will emerge. Loose piles of dirt begin appearing on the National Elk Refuge as badgers dig for soon-to-be-awake Uinta ground squirrels. A flash of blue on sagebrush indicates the return of mountain bluebirds, followed by singing western meadowlarks, and the rukkus of red-winged blackbirds alighting above wetlands.
"Spring is a great time to take in Wyoming's diverse wildlife, all while avoiding the crowds of summer."
By April, greater sage-grouse begin gathering on leks - dozens, if not hundreds, of birds vying for an opportunity to mate. The males strut about with tail feathers fanned out, inflating large yellow air sacs on their breasts in a gratuitous display they hope will impress nearby females.Migrating mule deer and pronghorn antelope return from their wintering grounds, following spring out of the valleys toward the promise of lush vegetation high atop the Wyoming, Snake River, Teton, and Gros Ventre Ranges. We await their return to the Jackson Hole valley, noting the impressive feat of these often 100+ mile biannual migrations.
"With abundant public lands and a relatively intact ecosystem full of life, each year I find it more enjoyable to witness the passing of the seasons right here in Wyoming."
By mid-April, thousands of elk are pouring out of the National Elk Refuge and into Grand Teton National Park. Herds of 20-30 can be found widely across the valley floor as they head toward their summer range. Though the calving season for elk and deer is still over a month away, the first red dogs - our affectionate name for bison calves - of the year have already dropped in Yellowstone. Eagles and many owl species, including the great gray owl, are already on nests, while wolves, coyotes, and foxes will all soon be whelping pups. As snow continues to recede into the high country, the first wildflowers of spring emerge: yellow bells, sagebrush buttercup, phlox, and others. Black and grizzly bears seek out many of these early plants and also the rodents found in melted out meadows.
With abundant public lands and a relatively intact ecosystem full of life, each year I find it more enjoyable to witness the passing of the seasons right here in Wyoming. Whenever possible, I prefer my spring calendar to revolve around the Swainson’s hawks returning from its 7,000-mile South American journey, plants emerging from dormancy, or moose calf taking its first wobbly steps.
To learn more about how to create these experiences for yourselves in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, contact the great folks over at EcoTour Adventures to set up your very own personalized, adventure-filled tour.
A lifelong westerner, Josh spent the last decade working as a professional naturalist for Ecotour Adventures in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, seeking to instill a conservation ethos in visitors from all over the world. He now works for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. When not working with diverse stakeholders to ensure a future for Wyoming’s wildlife, Josh enjoys pursuing high country mule deer and elk, fly fishing, whitewater rafting, backpacking, backcountry skiing and many of the other outdoor activities that make Wyoming special. Josh is also an avid photographer and film producer, most recently producing the conservation film Denizens of the Steep. Find Josh on Instagram: @joshmettenphoto.