Author Archive for Buffalo Roam Tour Guides

Elk Winter Migration in the Tetons

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With temperatures already below freezing in Grand Teton National Park, wildlife is on the move to locations where they can survive the cold winter. For example, elk herds are migrating to areas where they have the best opportunity to find food so as to not need to rely on the stored-up fats put on from grazing throughout the summer and fall. The ungulates–split-hoofed 4-legged animals such as deer, bison, elk, and bighorn sheep–in winter paw below the snow and nibble on dry grasses, but these grasses are really just empty calories. What is sustaining their bodies is the stored-up body fat.

Historically in Jackson Hole, elk and bison will migrate to the valley floor where snow covers summer pastures. In 1912 the National Elk Refuge, some 25,000 acres, was created to help feed these wild animals. For the last several years, Wyoming Wildlife Fish and Game agency has allowed seasonal winter hunts to reduce the herd numbers.

For example, most winters we have about 11,000 elk on the refuge, literally on the doorstep of Jackson–the north boundary of town. Wildlife management would like to see 7,000 or less. Hunting will not only reduce the herd size but dissuade some animals to find another location to winter. And it seems to be working– migration patterns of elk and buffalo have notably changed. Whereby in November, we typically see several hundred to thousands of Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park elk arriving to the National Elk Refuge for winter food, this year the elk have simply passed through and have not stayed in the valley due to hunting pressure. These elk are choosing to stay in the surrounding Bridger Teton National Forest.
Matt Fagan, Buffalo Roam Tours Guide

For more on the National Elk Refuge, visit
www.fws.gov/nationalelkrefuge

These People Are Too Close to Wildlife

Too Close to Wildlife

CAUTION: Don’t do what these people are doing!

A common occurrence we see in both Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks is people getting too close to wildlife.

The people in this photo (who were obviously NOT on a Buffalo Roam tour) are too close to these grazing elk.  Some of the park wildlife may be accustomed to the presence of human tourists, but they are not tamed or domesticated animals. They are wild. Getting too close is stressful for the animals and can be dangerous if the animal feels threatened.

For personal safety, it’s important to keep distance from bears, moose, elk, wolves–especially if babies are close by. But you don’t want to harass the smaller animals either, such as beaver, fox, coyote, badger, marmots and birds. Stressing the animals out can cause harm to them – or their young.

How close should you be to wildlife? The National Park Service offers the following guidelines for viewing wildlife from a safe and respectful distance: www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/safety.htm. Park rangers advise visitors to protect their park and protect themselves.

Elk in Velvet 3

To observe wildlife at a close, but safe distance for both you and them, quality optics are your best bet. Buffalo Roam tours include the use of binoculars and spotting scopes, so you can get a closer look at wildlife. Bring your telephoto lens or kick up the zoom feature on your camera and get that awesome photo!

Experiencing Yellowstone & Grand Teton Without the Sense of Sight

Experiencing the highs of the Tetons with just sounds and feeling from the top of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort's famous tram.

Experiencing the highs of the Tetons with just sounds and feeling from the top of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s famous tram.

It was a true pleasure to visit and explore Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks with Mind’s Eye Travel group—a blind or visually impaired tour group of 12 fantastic guests and three super trained guide dogs!

There is plenty to experience in the national parks without the sense of sight:

The sounds, smells and rumbling of Yellowstone’s geo-thermal features like Old Faithful Geyser’s ROAR, the waves of hot and wet steam floating across the boardwalk from the hot springs and the sulphur egg-smell belches of the mud pots make Yellowstone accessible to all and unforgettable for our group.

 

Gliding across Jenny Lake with the warm sun on everyone's face and the sound of splashing waves against the hull of the boat.

Gliding across Jenny Lake with the warm sun on everyone’s face and the sound of splashing waves against the hull of the boat.

In Grand Teton Park, floating on icy glacial Jenny Lake, soaring up the aerial tram at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort; hearing, tasting, touching and smelling many things in the aspen and sage-covered valley gave life to the roaming bison, screeching osprey, moose and other wild animals. There is wildlife and movement all around.

Experiencing the topography of the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve by touch. Everyone is welcome to explore this map by touch when you visit this special place!

Experiencing the topography of the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve by touch. Everyone is welcome to explore this map by touch when you visit this special place!

The Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve is a special location for sensory-enhanced individuals. Rockefeller’s wishes were for all people to engage with nature through the senses and created a sensory interpretation building to focus on sight, sound and touch. The experience there truly connected our group to the wonders of nature. Thank you LSR Ranger Clay Hanna!

 

The "sound room" at the LSR is an auditory walk through 24 hours. Perfect for all ages and abilities!

The “sound room” at the LSR is an auditory walk through 24 hours. Perfect for all ages and abilities!

Use the senses you have and nature takes shape before you. Our national parks are for the enjoyment of everyone and these wild places penetrate many boundaries.

Learn more about Mind’s Eye Travel: http://www.mindseyetravel.com/

Everest Mountain Guide Apa Sherpa Explores Yellowstone and Grand Teton with Buffalo Roam

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While Buffalo Roam Tours gets to share our national parks with people from all around the world, on a few occasions we are able to gift back and share our mountain town with other GUIDES from around the world. Apa Sherpa is a world-renowned Everest climbing guide and shares the world record of 21 summits to the globe’s highest peak at 29,029 feet—21 times on top of the world!

We had the pleasure of taking Apa Sherpa, his family and Nepali friends on their first Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks tour.Apa&Yanzen

Apa was in Teton Valley to celebrate International Everest (Sagarmtha) Day which is celebrated on May 29 each year to mark the date on which Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa reached the summit of Mt. Everest for the first time. Download this great article about Apa’s Everest Day event in the Jackson Hole News & Guide: ApaSherpaNews&Guide6.3.15

The event helped raise money for Nepali earthquake relief as well as his foundation, the Apa Sherpa Foundation. This foundation supports Nepali communities, builds schools and supports other programs that empower Nepali people. Apa’s visit was also about building relationships and support between unique mountain towns. Of special importance now, the earthquakes in Nepal in early May, his country is in great need of support and rebuilding. In addition to the devastating loss of life, many ancient temples and natural treasures were destroyed in his beautiful country.
ApaFamily&Friends

Apa and his family have traveled the world but had never seen the spectacular geo-thermal wonders in Yellowstone or the beautiful Teton Range. Old Faithful Geyser and the Fountain Paint pots were their favorite attractions as well as a grizzly bear and buffalo spotting. We hope they come again!ApaMattVan

Signs of Early Spring in the Park

Pair of birds in springSpring comes relatively late to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Park. You can’t always tell the season by the weather around here – especially in the mountains.

However, one of the telltale signs of early spring is when the birds begin to separate into mated pairs.

In Yellowstone Park alone there are 285 documented species of birds, and approximately 150 species nest and fledge their young in the park. There are many kinds of birds to see, including raptors, songbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl. Many of the species are migratory.

2 swans in springGuidelines for viewing birds

  • View from a distance: if you are too close, you could disturb the bird and potentially cause the bird to abandon its nest.
  • Never feed birds or other wildlife in the parks.
  • The National Park Service periodically issues wildlife alerts. Follow your tour guide’s direction when viewing wildlife.

More information on birds

For additional facts about birds and a list of some of the most common species found in Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, visit these National Park Service webpages:

Yellowstone National Park -Birds
Grand Teton National Park- Birds

 

 

 

Groundhog Day & The Harbingers of Spring

Marmot: Yellowstone

The groundhog (Marmota monax) is also known as a woodchuck, whistle-pig or land-beaver in some places. However, the groundhog’s cousin who lives in the Jackson Hole mountainous area is a yellow-bellied marmot.

February 2nd is Groundhog Day where legend has it, if the groundhog sees his shadow, winter continues for another 6 weeks. Unlike lower elevations where snow dissipates quickly, in the Grand Teton and Yellowstone high country (Jackson Hole being 6,200 feet plus), winter continues on usually through March and April.

Luckily, there are other harbingers of spring in the Tetons to signal the coming change of seasons. One of the first signs of spring will be the return of birds. Spotting the glorious mountain bluebird in contrast to the white snow is a sure sign spring is on its way, and they’ll start appearing many times in March. Later in April  osprey will return to the valley and their nests.

Midge (small fly) hatches will soon begin along the river banks, which in turn provide food for the new arrival of hungry birds. For the angling enthusiasts among us, it’s exciting to see the cutthroat trout rise for the 30-minute late winter midge hatch!
Matt Fagan, Buffalo Roam Tours Guide

National Park Wildlife. Wild or Not?

mooseinriver.jpgMany visitors to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks comment that the wildlife seem so comfortable with human presence. How does this happen? Does that still mean the wildlife in the parks are wild? And how should we respond to this behavior?

We have all heard the expression “Monkey see monkey do,” but it is not just monkeys who learn in this fashion. Just this year, our tour groups have observed a mother grizzly teaching her cubs how to look both ways before crossing a road, and a mature moose teaching an adolescent how to deal with the tourist “paparazzi” (CHARGE!) Animals like this teach through modeling. They model the behavior that was either modeled for them, or has simply been working well for them so far. Perhaps Mama Griz had a couple close calls with traffic zipping by and has become wary of cars. Her cubs observe her pausing at the roadside, and only crossing when no cars are in sight. They see this behavior as normal, and adopt it for themselves. The older moose has seen hundreds, maybe thousands of visitors before. They have never approached or harmed him, so he tolerates their presence and sees no threat. Soon the young moose will feel the same toward camera flashes and crowds, just like the celebrity he is!

grizzlybears.jpgBut grizzlies that look both ways before crossing the street and moose that pose for photographers do not sound like wild animals! That may be true, but it is not just a single behavior that makes an animal wild or tame, it is their entire life cycle and all of their behaviors combined. Along with crossing the road, Mama Griz is teaching her cubs to find food seasonally – elk in the spring, flowers and roots in the summer, berries and nuts in the fall.  Along the way, they will learn to avoid predators, swim, hunt, and find winter shelter. Their entire lives will be lived in the wilderness, wilderness that contains human visitors, but un-caged expanses nonetheless. The moose may ignore the photographers, but that is only because he has learned that they are harmless. As long as the photographers stay their requisite 25 yards away, he munches away – knowing humans are neither threat nor competition.

bisononroadWhen animals behave so calmly toward us, we may assume tame-ness, or at least safety, but this is a false sense of security. Animals have what is called a “flight response distance,” or the distance at which they perceive danger and flee (or fight!) Over time, harmless encounters with tourists have decreased the flight response distance of many animals, making close encounters with wildlife possible and often thrilling. For example, bison in Yellowstone are frequently observed so close to cars that one could (but shouldn’t!) reach out and touch one.  Also keep in mind that the distance at which an animal feels comfortable being observed may change from individual to individual, and for each encounter. Different activities such as mating , foraging for food, and raising and protecting young can cause animals to be stressed, and therefore more protective and prone to erratic behavior. Just because an animal was comfortable being watched yesterday, may not translate into today. As wildlife watchers we must be careful to respect the distances at which animals feel comfortable, both for their wellbeing and for our safety. In the national parks, when outside of a vehicle, National Park policy distance is set at 25 yards for most wildlife, and 100 yards (the length of a football field!) for bears and wolves or any animal acting aggressively. And when observing animals within these distances from a vehicle, windows should be rolled up with hands and cameras inside.

In Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, we are so grateful to have the amazing wildlife watching opportunities that we do. Respect the wildlife, stay safe, and have fun!
Karyn Greenwood, Buffalo Roam Tours Guide

Berry Season in the Tetons

huckleberriesMany people who visit the Greater Yellowstone Area have seen, or even tried, the many products made with Huckleberries – ice cream, milk shakes, jams and jellies, even hand lotion! Huckleberry season is a long awaited time of year by all who have eaten this heavenly fruit. Huckleberries, sometimes referred to as Mountain Blueberries, are a smaller, sweeter version of a blueberry. Found throughout the Rocky Mountain Region, they are a favorite for canning and smoothies, or just straight off the bush. Good news, the huckleberry season is soon to be upon us! But wait, there’s more. There are even more delicious berries about to ripen as well.

serviceberryService Berry is a close second to huckleberry. Although possessing a slightly mealy texture, the sweetness and flavor make this berry a go-to for preserves of all kinds. Widely found in this region, the service berry patches are not quite as closely guarded as huckleberry. You may find someone willing to point you in the right direction.

chokecherry2Choke Cherry, despite its ominous name, is quite tasty. As with other cherries, the large pit must be removed, which can be quite a task, but worth the reward. The long strand of fruits makes picking easy and efficient. Combine with Service Berry to make mixed-berry preserves.

The elusive Wild Strawberry also grows in this area, but not in large numbers. These tiny strawberries have huge flavor and sweetness, but this fact is not lost on the wildlife. They are quick to grab ripened fruit before anyone else. If found, these are best eaten trail-side since it is unlikely to find any large number for preserves, and who can wait anyway?Red, ripe wild strawberry on green leaves. Very tasty

If you do go berry picking this season, keep two things in mind. First, be sure what you are eating are the real deal so that you don’t eat something poisonous! And secondly, keep in mind that this is food for everyone. Not only is it important to be considerate to other berry pickers, but also to wildlife, like bears, who rely on this food source to survive our harsh winters. Practice restraint, and always leave at least twice as much as you take.

Karyn Greenwood, Buffalo Roam Tours Guide

Wildflowers in Grand Teton and Yellowstone Parks

wildflowers The wildflower season throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has been incredible this year! A long runoff of snow melt and occasional rain throughout the early summer combined with warm temperatures has created the perfect conditions for long-lasting blooms across the Jackson Hole valley.

arrowleafbalsamrootEarly blooms of Arrowleaf Balsamroot with their silvery-haired arrow-shaped leaves and daisy-like yellow flowers gave way to Mule’s Ear in early June. Commonly confused with each other, Mule’s Ear has waxy, shiny leaves but very similar flowers.

Lupine sprang up in mid-June. A long, multi-bloomed stalk, also called an inflorescence, stands prominently across the valley, its light purple hue complimenting the silvery green of the sagebrush. As the summer heat has dried out the soil, lupines have begun to produce seeds. They are part of the legume family, so their seed pods may look familiar, much like soy beans. In fact, other species of lupine are edible, and are a favorite bar food in Portugal, Spain, and South America.

paint bThe newest addition to our wildflower bouquet so far has been the Indian Paintbrush. Sometimes called Prairie Fire, Indian paintbrush appears in this area as a tall stalk with enlarged leaves at the top forming petals that are tipped with red and occasionally pale yellow. Indian paintbrush was used by Native Americans for several uses, from medicinal (enhanced immune system function) to cosmetic (shiny, full-bodied hair). Large meadows of these flowers can truly look like they are aflame, and single flowers look ready to pluck and paint with, simply dripping with color!

As the summer heats up, search for wildflowers up the mountainsides. The blooming sequence follows the climate, so when the valley floor is too hot for these delicate blossoms, they begin to appear at cooler high elevations. If you venture high enough, you may also see specialized alpine flowers, such as Glacier Lily or Alpine Forget-Me-Not.

Karyn Greenwood, Buffalo Roam Tours Guide

Ospreys: The True ‘Flying’ Fishermen

Driving around the Jackson Hole valley, you see many tall poles with platforms at the top erected in open fields—these are artificial nesting platforms built for Ospreys which are beautiful raptors, birds of prey. Ospreys are excellent hunters and almost exclusively eat fish. They can be seen diving and catching their prey around local ponds, lakes and rivers.

If you look closely at an osprey with its catch while in flight, you’ll see that the bird will orient the fish facing headfirst so that wind resistance is minimized. Ospreys have special grips on their feet and their claws enable them to carry their catch long distances.

Ospreys look similar, and many times are mistaken for, bald eagles, but can be distinguished from the eagle by the osprey’s white undersides, as well as a distinctive black eye patch. Bald eagles regularly harass osprey for their game, and it is an exciting experience to see eagles and osprey in mid flight battling for the prize fish.

We regularly see ospreys on our Grand Teton National Park tours, especially around the Snake River, Jenny Lake and Jackson Lake as they spend their days fishing. On our Yellowstone National Park tours, we see them hunting along Yellowstone Lake and in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.
Matt Fagan, Buffalo Roam Tours Guide

To learn more about ospreys, check out Wikipedia and National Geographic websites.