As Nature Mapping Jackson Hole nears its landmark 1000th certified Nature Mapper, I thought it would be fun to write an article featuring a couple of newer Nature Mappers who were just trained in the last year. Many of you have participated in Nature Mapping and its variety of projects since its inception in 2009, but lots of new Nature Mappers have joined our ranks recently and we warmly welcome them!
Kathy O’Neil and John Norton have been visiting their property in the Teton Valley since 2006 and finally made the area their home in 2020 after Kathy retired from a career as a physician specializing in women’s imaging radiology. John describes himself as “never having been career minded,” but had a variety of interesting experiences throughout his working years. He served in the US Air Force for 10 years, during which time he received an MS in Astronautical Engineering. After leaving the Air Force, he cycled across America, “married his best friend [Kathy],” and moved to Salt Lake City where he worked as a consultant for a variety of organizations.
Kathy loves living in the Teton Valley, a “beautiful community” where she has already become heavily involved in conservation and wildlife projects. She hopes to become even more involved, as she trains to become a certified Idaho Master Naturalist through the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and continues her education through opportunities with the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation. Kathy and John both enjoy skiing, hiking, and viewing wildlife. John describes the GYE as “providing a canvas for doing all the things I love to do.”
The couple tuned into the virtual October 2021 Nature Mapping Certification Training together from their home in Driggs, ID. They heard about JHWF’s Nature Mapping program through the Teton Regional Land Trust, as well as involved friends, and immediately began participating in a variety of Nature Mapping projects. Both have submitted data to Casual Observations and Project Backyard as well as attending JHWF Continuing Education seminars and snowshoeing to count moose during Moose Day.
When asked what their favorite animals are, John and Kathy had very different, but equally beautiful answers. Kathy described her ex-feral Siamese cat Smudge, who she rescued. John’s favorite animal is any animal he is near that is undisturbed by his presence. To me, their answers are those of two conservation heroes. Through the action of rescuing a feral cat, Kathy saved not only the life of the cat, but also the lives of the many birds, small mammals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians the cat would have killed over the course of its life as a feral. John’s attempts to view wildlife without disturbing them means he values the safety of the animals on the landscape over his own self-interests such as viewing the animal more closely or getting a great photograph.
All of the Nature Mapping projects they have participated in have been fun for the couple, but they particularly enjoyed Moose Day for the organization and collective effort by citizen scientists. They were also thrilled to participate in Casey McFarland’s tracking class and other continuing education opportunities through JHWF. Together, Kathy and John have submitted more than 100 Nature Mapping observations in a little more than half a year. John’s favorite observation was of a flock of Bohemian Waxwings that he observed this winter in the Teton Valley. He described loving the sounds they made and how the flock “moved through the sky as if it was one organism, an angel.” Kathy’s favorite observation was of a moose that she found sleeping near her bedroom window one morning this winter. She described the experience of realizing they had spent the night only 15 feet apart as one she will not forget.
The couple participate in citizen science because they desire to give back to the wildlife they love. John says, “we share this planet with life forms that modern society has learned to completely ignore, abuse, and destroy.” Through citizen science, he hopes to bring more awareness to these issues. Kathy appreciates that the data she provides will “help policy makers, scientists, and the general public better understand the needs of wildlife.” Both people think that it is important for humans to share the planet with our fellow denizens “in a more respectful way.” Kathy and John are inspired to participate in citizen science because they value personal responsibility and science. Kathy, with her background in medicine, “has a deep respect for science and believes there is an immense potential for deepening our collective knowledge through the contributions of citizen science.” John eloquently states that citizen science “provides a foundation of understanding through thoughtful practices by ordinary people.”
In conclusion, John states, “life is a quilt work of experiences and Nature Mapping is one, recent, piece of the quilt that makes it bigger and warmer.” Through Nature Mapping, Kathy has learned how much there is to see when one pays more attention. When asked what they hope to get out of Nature Mapping into the future, they responded that they hope to share the experiences they have with friends and family, while “contributing to the ongoing health and resilience of wildlife in the GYE.” They each had a bit of advice for other Nature Mappers. John encourages folks to “slow down, watch, and listen,” and Kathy says, “It is valuable work. Stay engaged.”
Thank you for your extraordinary participation in Moose Day 2021. At this time, we have preliminary totals of 106 moose and 109 volunteers who spent 300 hours scouting! The majority of you drove (163 hrs), others skied (74 hrs), a few snowmobiled (33.5 hrs), many walked (25 hrs), and one group snowshoed (4 hrs).This is impressive! Unfortunately, as often happens on Moose Day, only half the teams saw moose (18 out of 34). This is not a reflection on your effort—you tried hard! Moose appeared most frequently along the Gros Ventre River as far east as the Darwin Ranch (14), to along the stretch around Kelly to the rotary (19). Others were seen in much less wild terrain, such as around golf courses at Teton Golf and Tennis and Teton Pines (around 20). Some were resting and feeding in neighborhoods around Wilson, Tribal Trails, and Crescent H subdivisions. Areas of deep snow in the park, downtown Jackson, the forested slopes along Fish and Fall Creek Roads had none this year. Even the Buffalo Valley, a former hotspot, had only 4 moose.
Photo: Josh Metten, Ecotour Adventures
Searching for moose had its challenges. Several reported steep and high snowbanks along roads. “Berms were high so though we tried to cover the area, one never knows as it only takes a small something to hide the animals when they are lying down.” Grace Barca and her granddaughter Elly spent the morning combing the area along Fall Creek Road and up into Indian Paintbrush. “The residents said the snow was too deep on the hill.” So they looked on the flats … “We crossed three streams: Fish and Fall Creeks and the Snake and expected something in the lowlands.” Still no moose. Moose were few around Trail Creek likely because of the cross-country ski races. Notably, for only the second year, we had a team in Alta who spotted 2 moose after much driving and walking.
Photo: Jenny McCarthy
Jason Wilmot, biologist with the US Forest Service, led the most adventurous team on two snowmobiles east out the Gros Ventre to the Darwin Ranch. He texted: “We saw 14 moose up the Gros …. Only one dead snowmobile! Bummer. All safe though!…Beautiful up there!”…“On the hunt for a new snowmobile.” His teammate Lesley Williams, who waited two hours while the one snowmobile finished the search, was delighted to have the time alone in the solitude of wilderness. We appreciate the USFS folks for taking their days off to go search for moose.
While many people did not see moose, they did see other wildlife. The team in the north end of the park around the Jackson Lake Dam had a special treat: Kent Clements and his wife saw otter tracks around Willow Flats, and Eric Carr actually saw an otter “catch the biggest sucker fish I’ve ever seen. Huge!” Matt Fagan reported, “No moose, no traces, but we did get to watch a family of four otters moving through Willow Flats up and over dam wall…body sledding, each taking their own line down the back side. Very fun to watch. Their movements were like inchworms: doubling up in the middle then slide stretching out. Inchworm or slinky like.”
Photo: Beverly Boyton
In their territory around Ditch Creek, Beverly Boynton and Ray White reported Horned Larks, mule deer, Greater Sage-Grouse, and a Great Grey Owl. Kathy McCurdy and Nancy Shea skied the stretch from Kelly to the Gros Ventre Campground and were surprised by an elk in the willows. Marjie Pettus and Brian Bilyeu scouted East Jackson and “did not see a single moose. That said, our trip was not uneventful: we saw elk (of course), bighorn sheep, 2 bald eagles, 3 deer, and no surprise, but fun 2 trumpeter swans” on the National Elk Refuge. Sue and John Ewan were down by the Snake River Sporting Club and spied a large flock of American Robins, along with Townsend’s Solitaires, and a Mourning Dove. Kathy and Jay Buchner also spotted robins north of the junction of Boyles Hill and Ely Springs Roads.
While there were no moose in their territory of the Snake River Ranch, team members observed many tracks and critters. Ben Wise saw “lots of fox tracks, maybe some ermine tracks, and a magnificent pair of bald eagles”. Jennifer Dorsey and KO Strohbehn noted tracks of martin, coyote, fox and deer, and heard Red-winged Blackbirds. Josh Metten, was able to discern “many fox tracks and holes they dug for the ‘catch.’ Vole?” Gretchen Plender reported. “Two Canada Geese flew into land in the ponds on the Shooting Star grounds! Julie (her ski partner) exclaimed, ‘Oh spring is coming!!’”
In addition, Renée Seidler, executive director of JHWF, in the area south of South Park found “two coyotes and a boat-load of swans south of the Snake River.” Mary Ellen and Bill Fausone surveyed Saddle Butte area and reported a fox, 9 deer, and “when we got home a gorgeous Great Horned Owl nesting in a tree. So is was a great day to see wildlife.”
We want to add thanks to the contributions of agencies, wildlife tour companies, and landowners. Sarah Dewey and Carson Butler of Grand Teton National Park found the 4 moose up at Buffalo Valley (fewer than in past years). Sarah also facilitated the park permit. Ben Wise of WGFD organized the team on the Snake River Ranch. Morgan Graham of Teton Conservation District surveyed Game Creek. Note, Morgan used his GIS skills to produce the Moose Day maps when Moose Day first started. Aly Courtemanch is the lead for Moose Day at WGFD. Without her, we would not have Moose Day!
Photo: Josh Metten, Ecotour Adventures
We thank the owners and property managers for permission to scout Snake River Ranch, Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole Winery, Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis, Teton Pines, Astoria Park Conservancy, Snake River Sporting Club, Teton Mountain Schools, and the many other private landowners. We appreciate the volunteer time of tour companies: AJ DeRosa of JH Vintage Adventures, Josh Metten of EcoTour Adventures, and Matt Fagan of Buffalo Roam Tours.
And a final note: We had participation from hearty volunteers of the Barker, Dornan, Craighead, Ewing, and Linn families—who have contributed to the understanding and appreciation of our wildlife heritage over decades. Without their commitment to the valley, we would not have so many moose and other wildlife to enjoy on Moose Day.
This is preliminary data. We will have a final report in our next Nature Mapping enews with a map of where all the moose were and comparisons to years before. However, we wanted you to be the first to know the success of Moose Day 2021.
We had a windy day with off-and-on light snow, pretty good visibility, and temperature ranging from around 8 degrees to 18 degrees Farenheit in the Jackson area. We had 80 Moose Day volunteers on 33 teams covering 53 different areas. Unfortunately 14 teams struck out…no moose. This is always disappointing to the hardy observers, but “0” is important data, as well. We can get a feel for where the moose don’t go regularly over the years or the variability of their movements.
So where did the moose show up? Wilson once again had a high proportion: about 27 in different clusters and pairs. Grand Teton National Park from Kelly a bit north and west over through the Solitude development had approximately 25. Another eight were seen in the Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis area, including three spotted by Bryan, a guest staying with Randy Reedy. Bryan was getting into his car while Randy was out scouting! Volunteer time: five minutes. Jason Wilmot of USFS and partner saw 15 moose snowmobiling out to the end of the Gros Ventre road. Last year the team saw a remarkable high of 57 moose. Sarah Dewy and Steve Kilpatrick saw five moose in the Buffalo Valley area vs. 20 last year, and an overall low for that territory. The north and southern extremes of our count area had no moose. The total number of moose is 94, but we will double check for a couple of possible overlaps. This number is roughly average–87 is the average count, excluding two high years (2011 – 124 moose; 2017 – 172 moose –both years with alot of snow).
The most observed moose was one browsing and then sleeping along a row of willows just west of Stilson in Wilson. Over eight people reported seeing it there. We will count it once.
Eight mappers saw this moose, but it was counted once. By Amy Conway.
Other Highlights of the Day Besides Moose:
Several observers saw bald eagles in courtship. Bernie, Diane and Alice saw one pair of adults where the male bird was about 75% smaller than the female–this was an extreme example of a typical size difference in raptors females and males.
That team also sighted Townsend’s Solitaire and Snow Buntings on their territory south of Jackson. Morgan Graham took a picture of a Northern Shrike down in the same vicinity.
Trumpeter Swans, Barrow’s Golden-eyes, Mallards and mergansers were treats along the creeks and rivers.
Two groups of 15-16 elk were seen in different corners of Wilson. Pine Grosbeaks, European Starlings, woodpeckers, Great Blue Herons and coyotes also delighted Nature Mappers, especially those who did not see moose!
Thank you all for keeping your eyes out for moose in Moose Day 2018! The moose thank you, we at Nature Mapping Jackson Hole thank you.
Moose hiding but counted on Moose Day by Kathy McCurdy
Moose Day 2017 set a record for community participation and for the number of moose counted. We extend our thanks to the Nature Mappers and new recruits as well as, biologists from Wyoming Game & Fish Department, Grand Teton National Park and U.S. Forest Service. All volunteered their time from 7 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturday, February 25.
This year, a total of 33 teams, comprising 83 volunteers counted 166 moose, contributing over 290 hours time.
This exceeds our previous record of 124 moose in 2011, and the 99 moose seen last year. Volunteer numbers are well over our 65 person average. In 2016, we had 73 participants helping with the count. This was our 9th annual Moose Day.
Volunteers snowmobiled, snowshoed, drove, walked and most of all, climbed up snow banks to scout moose! Many were rewarded by seeing moose — in some cases many! Successful surveyors often had local tips or tracked fresh moose sign to find hidden individuals. In other cases, neighborhood teams were disappointed to not see the moose that was “there yesterday” and saw no moose at all. However, zero (0) moose is important data as well. And, it is clear that moose move!
A moose feeding by Randy Reedy
Where were the moose this year? It appears they were attracted to low-lying willow wetlands, such as Buffalo Fork Valley, along the Gros Ventre River and in Wilson. For instance, Kerry Murphy and his U.S. Forest Service team were able to survey the Gros Ventre all the way east to Darwin Ranch. Along this route, often with extensive willow stands, they surveyed 57 moose! Much closer to civilization, moose were seen browsing on exotic shrubs in Jackson or loafing in the shelter of buildings. In a few spots, moose were even congregating close to horses.
Where were moose missing? Often in areas of extremely deep snow, such as the northern stretches of Grand Teton National Park and at the base of the mountains along Fish and Fall Creek Roads. Other wide open areas had little browse for the amount of effort it would take to reach it. Fortunately, most reports indicate moose were in good condition.
Other critters like Bald Eagles were mapped, too. Photo by Alice Cornell
Whether Nature Mappers saw moose or not, they reported a good time. Many observed (and mapped) other critters as well: wolf, coyote, Trumpeter Swans, otter, beaver, Bald Eagles, elk, Red Crossbills, a dipper and other birds. Teams of friends and strangers enjoyed each other’s company for the morning, and over 30 volunteers showed up at E.Leaven for lunch to share their stories. Moose Day is very much a community event!
30 moose mappers recounting the morning’s count at E. Leaven. Photo by Frances Clark
Moose munching by Mary Lohuis
Moose Day is important because we survey moose on private lands, where public-land biologists rarely go. We thank the Snake River Ranch, Snake River Sporting Club, Jackson Holf Golf & Tennis, and Trail Creek Ranch as well as, homeowner associations and individuals for granting permission for us to survey their private property. Without their support we would not have counted so many moose!
Next, Paul Hood and Aly Courtemanch will analyze the data and produce a formal 2017 Moose Day report. This report will enable biologists to determine trends in moose populations and planners to understand where moose roam and rest.
Again, many many thanks to the Nature Mapping Jackson Hole community for caring about our Teton County moose!