Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation is excited to announce a new partnership with beaver researcher and hydrologist Jeff Burrell and a new project for interested Nature Mappers – Beaver Project! In Beaver Project, Nature Mappers will provide information about beaver sign they detect on the landscape in the Jackson Hole area. Read on for more information about Beaver Project from Jeff:
It is well documented that beavers provide a wide range of ecosystem services including benefits for water quality, water quantity, and fish and wildlife habitat. Beavers also make ecosystems more resilient to the impacts of climate change. These benefits include reducing peak stream flows, and so limiting erosion and damaging flashfloods; improving drought resilience and increasing ecologically beneficial natural water storage; stabilizing water temperatures; and creating/maintaining fire breaks and refugia from fires.
“More than ever, we need beavers doing what they do so well, but they need our help. Information provided by citizen scientists will help wildlife managers understand where beavers are on the landscape and what services they are providing. In Beaver Project we will gather this information by a simple process of field surveys and observations. Beavers leave behind a record of where they are or were active, and what they are or were doing. So not only can we learn about where they are now but where they were active in past. This will help us understand trends in beaver activities so federal and state agencies as well as private landowners can take actions to help ensure beaver conservation and restoration.”
Beaver Project Protocol:
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to Beaver Project in your Nature Mapping account. Not a trained Nature Mapper? Email email@example.com to sign up for the August 24th training.
While out hiking along creeks, check waterways for beaver sign. If you see sign on the landscape, please consider Nature Mapping it.
If you see a live beaver, please use Casual Observations, rather than Beaver Project to document the sighting. Beaver Project is for sign only. If you observed a live beaver and beaver sign, you can indicate the live beaver in the notes section of the Beaver Project form.
Beaver activity indicators are conveniently grouped into the following categories. Because many beaver activity indicator persist through time, we can also group activities into current activities (within the past few months, recent activities (within the past year or two, or past activities (more than two years old).
Please view Jeff’s Beaver Sign Identification Seminar on our YouTube channel for more information.
In Nature Mapping Jackson Hole’s Beaver Project, check the boxes of all activity indicators you observe on the landscape, and their ages.
1. Clipping and girdling:
Beavers are famous for chewing wood to gather food and building materials. As they do so, beavers leave distinctive patterns of tooth marks. ‘Clipping’ means that the beaver directly chewed through the wood; ‘girdling’ means that the beaver partially chewed through the wood and then let wind and gravity do the rest.
Current: the wood has a fresh appearance (fresh wood color with sharp tooth marks)
Recent: the wood has changed to a darker color but still retains sharp markings
Past: the wood is much darker and more weathered in appearance with cracks and feathered markings
2. Food rafts, caches and feeding stations:
Beaver gather and store branches to eat (now or later). These branches will have the characteristic tooth marks of clipping and girdling, and can be grouped into age categories in the same fashion as clipping and girdling.
Beavers move branches from harvest location to ponds and streams. To do so they pull the material into the water; these activities leave behind a smooth ramp in the mud adjacent to the pond or stream. These ramps are ‘beaver slides.’
Current: the slide is very smooth in appearance with few if any other animal tracks
Recent: the slide is still somewhat smooth but will likely show other animal tracks
Past: hard to distinguish between a beaver slide and animal path, but the location will help identity as a beaver slide
4. Bank dens, bank lodges and free-standing lodges
A bank den is a simple home burrowed into the stream or river bank. A bank lodge is similar to a bank den but has been reinforced by beavers building a dome of branches and mud above the burrow. A free-standing lodge is a pile of branches reinforced with mud within the pond.
Bank den: current (fresh, maintained appearance with current clipping around the entrance, recent (similar but the entrance will show some degradation and only recent clippings, past (very degraded and likely at least partially collapsed.
Bank lodge: see above but now we can use appearance of reinforcing branches and mud to categorize as current, recent and past
Free-standing lodge: current (current clipping and fresh mud piled on top of branches, recent (recent clipping and mud at least partially washed away, past (past clipping and most if not all mud washed away
5. Scent mounds:
Beaver use piles of debris (leaves and twigs) and castoreum (a glandular scent) to mark territories.
Current: fresh leave and twig appearance and scent
Recent: appearance more weathered and little if any scent
Past: likely not identifiable as a scent mound
6. Tracks and scat:
These are the most ephemeral of the indicators we will use. Mainly note if observed
Current: fresh appearance
Recent: degraded appearance
Past: unlikely to be identified
Beavers excavate canals from the channel or pond to provide safe access to food resources.
Current: sharp boundaries with little vegetation overgrowth
Recent: boundaries less distinct with some vegetation over growth and partial collapse
Past: substantial over growth and collapse
Since dams are for the most part constructed from branches and mud, use appearance of these
Current: fresh cut branches and mud
Recent: recent branch appearance and mud partially washed away
Past: past branch appearance and mud mostly gone
Thank you for your contributions to this important data set. We look forward to understanding more about beaver distribution in Jackson Hole from our partnership with Jeff!
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.”
This year, Vicki Morgan and Kevin Perozeni will head up our MAPS bird-banding stations at Boyle’s Hill and the Kelly Campus of the Teton Science Schools. Vicki will be returning for her third summer in a row, while Kevin will be joining us for the first time!
Vicki Morgan – After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Vicki Morgan has been working as a roaming biologist and bird bander across the United States. Her past wildlife-related jobs were in areas such as South Carolina, Illinois, American Samoa, Washington DC, NYC, Maryland, and Montana, where she studied and banded birds ranging from hummingbirds to hawks. Vicki has been an avid birder from a young age, and she also enjoys expressing her love of nature through art (fun fact: Vicki actually Minored in ceramics). Vicki spent the winter in Alpine and is returning for her third season as Lead Bird Bander with JHWF.
Kevin Perozeni – Kevin’s educational background includes graduating with honors research with a Bachelor of Science from The Ohio State University, majoring in Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife. His research thesis involved studying the survival of wintering birds in an increasingly changing urban environment. Since graduating last year, Kevin traveled across the country to work in a variety of field positions. He conducted bird banding at Powdermill Nature Reserve, Pennsylvania as well as banding in Cape May, New Jersey. Last summer he explored the open plains of Kansas, researching threatened grassland species. Kevin also has experience working as a Naturalist within the Cleveland Metroparks, supporting public outreach and education. In his free time, he can be found birding or storm watching, always scanning the skies for all the new experiences that nature consistently brings! Kevin is excited to hold the position of Assistant Bird Bander with JHWF this summer.
These scientific voyages help gain a better idea of what species of mammals, birds and amphibians utilize this eight mile section of river. They are also fun opportunities to connect with others from the Nature Mapping community, while learning a bit more about local ecology and wildlife identification along the way.
Why have we been asking you to help us collect data along the Snake River for 10 years?
Teton County Habitat Value Map. Areas in green represent “high value” while yellow represents “intermediate” and red represents “low value”.
For starters, if you look at the Teton County Habitat Map, you’ll notice Teton County has labeled nearly all of the habitat along the Snake River green, meaning “high value” for wildlife. You’ll also notice most of what is considered “high value” is riparian habitat; rivers, lakes, streams, and adjacent vegetation. Riparian habitat is relatively scare in Wyoming; it only comprises 1.2 % of Wyoming’s total surface area (for comparison, sagebrush dominated ecosystems are estimated to cover as much as 60% of Wyoming’s landscape). Yet a majority of the state’s animal species rely on it at some point during their life cycles, making healthy riparian zones (like the Snake River bottom) disproportionately important to maintaining healthy wildlife populations.
Floating the river at regular intervals for a decade has provided Nature Mapping Jackson Hole with a long term data set we can provide to scientists (like those involved with the construction and maintenance of the levee system) to gauge the health of the Snake River in our area. This is especially important because the stretch we float, flows mostly through private land where wildlife managers do not regularly conduct systematic censuses.
We can also begin to explore trends in the data ourselves. For instance, we’ve seen a decrease in beaver and otter sightings over the course of our float surveys. Are we noticing a decline related to what has been observed in Grand Teton National Park, where beaver populations have decreased by up to 80% over the last 40 years? On the other hand, sightings of Bald Eagles have increased each year since 2015. Last year, we set a record with 222 Bald Eagle observations (average 12 per trip), which trumped the previous record set in 2017, of 171 (average 8 per trip). Along with Bald Eagles, observations of Canada Geese, Spotted Sandpipers, and Common Mergansershave all been on the rise each of the last four years.
View of the Snake River looking south off the port side bow.
Lead volunteer Tim Griffith generously compiles a full report of our observations at the end of each float season. You can read Tim’s full 2018 report here. You can also check out previous years of data here and let us know if you can identify any wildlife trends on your own!
Our Bald Eagle data is also a great example of how we should be careful when making conclusions from our float data. For instance, each of the last three years our Bald Eagle sightings have peaked in mid-August, which also happens to be when river flow (or discharge) is at .or near its weakest. One might conclude that the low-water means easier fishing and scavenging for the eagles, and that Nature Mappers have discovered that this is the time a birder is mostly likely to encounter an eagle on the Snake River. But perhaps less discharge simply means a slower float, and thus more time for Nature Mappers to sight eagles from the boat?
Flow rate of the river is one of many hidden variables that we should be aware of when we make data comparisons. Everything from shifting river channels to the skill and number of nature mappers on board can influence what we observe. What we can say for sure, is that float data shows presence (not absence) of wildlife species. Our data is still extremely helpful in understanding what creatures are utilizing the Snake River corridor and potential timing of usage, such as when birds are migrating, and if timing of migrations is changing. Thanks to the number of variables at play, Snake River Float Trips are a fascinating study in how complicated getting a full understanding of an ecosystem can be!
If you’d like to sign up for this year’s floats you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or Tim Griffith at email@example.com. Trips depart from the Wilson Boat ramp early, Sunday mornings. No prior boating experience is needed.
After nine weeks of banding birds this summer, JHWF’s first MAPS season has officially come to an end. Every Wednesday and Friday sunrise, from June 6th to August 3rd, was spent setting up nets, collecting data on the birds we caught, and attaching small aluminum USGS-issued bands to their legs. All in all, this season produced 677 total bird captures, with 453 new birds banded this season.
Bird banding is a highly-effective research method used worldwide for tracking bird movement, survival rates, and reproduction success. Banders are trained in specialized bird handling, safety, and data collection, and can only legally band birds if covered under state and federal permits. Each band number is unique to each individual bird. Banders report both new bands placed on previously unbanned birds, and bands that are on birds that they recapture after already being banded before. Other data like age, sex, weight, and various conditions are also collected and reported, forming the massive database of information that USGS and various ornithological groups manage and analyze.
Lead Bird Bander Kate Maley attempts to age this Red-shafter Flicker (Colaptes auratus) by inspecting flight feather characteristics
Assistant Bird Bander Max Frankenberry measures the wing chord length of a Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia) Photo credit: David Hopkins
MAPS stands for Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship. It is a specific banding program begun by the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP), with a goal of better understanding survival rate and nesting success while birds are at their summer breeding grounds. JHWF bands birds following IBP protocol — opening nets at sunrise and closing them six hours later — and submits data to the IBP database. This builds on the years of previous data collected on birds in Jackson Hole from Teton Science Schools (TSS) and Teton Raptor Center (TRC), who helped transition the program to us this year. Our two banding locations, Teton Science Schools’ Kelly campus and Boyle’s Hill on their Jackson campus, have been contributing data without a break in observations for 28 and 16 years respectively. Kelly is one of the longest operating MAPS stations in the country! Long-term, uninterrupted data sets are crucial to understanding trends in bird population shifts. Thanks again to TSS and TRC for making the transitions between organizations so smooth!
The 2018 season ended with 180 recaptures (out of 677 total captures) of previously banded birds, with several of these birds having been banded even before the 2017 season. Much like years before and not surprising to those of us that live in Jackson Hole, our most popular species caught were Yellow Warblers and American Robins (AMROs). In total, 109 new Yellow Warblers (or YEWAs in banding code) had bands placed on their legs this year, many of them young birds born this summer. YEWAs are doing just fine in our valley! American Robins were our second most common bird this year, with 57 new birds banded. While we had constant flows of incoming YEWAs and AMROs, we also had a few particularly exciting individuals as well. By far the most unexpected were a pair of Belted Kingfishers, each caught a week apart from each other! While kingfishers are not uncommon here, they are rarely caught in banding stations, mostly due to their preference for flying much higher than the nets and perching on trees overhanging water.
Male Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)
Female Belted Kingfishers have a rusty belly band (Megaceryle alcyon)
Belted Kingfishers have detailed white patterns on their flight feathers – we can use these to figure out how old the birds are!
We were excited to say the least. Other species that graced us with their surprising presence were a very vocal Olive-sided Flycatcher and a juvenile Brown Creeper. We also had 40 birds that were captured and released but not banded, including large number of Rufous, Calliope and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds (our banding permit does not allow hummingbird banding – that requires additional specialized training). Overall we captured 45 different species of birds over 9 weeks. This guaranteed that we never had a slow morning at either banding station!
Other wildlife sightings always kept us on our toes throughout the season – early mornings at Kelly and Boyle’s Hill allowed us views of several moose and calves, foxes, a grizzly bear, a family of otters, and even an elusive mountain lion! Sunrise work with birds in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem meant bear spray and our favorite badly-sung show tunes had to always be at the ready.
Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi)
Male Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus)
Juvenile Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)
We want to thank all who have made this program possible. This effort to track birds in our valley really does contribute extremely valuable data to a great continent-wide program. The MAPS data has resulted in many highly regarded publications on the state of bird populations in North America and new ways to manage and preserve them. Thanks for being “for the birds”!
Below is a full list of the species we captured and banded this season. Look them up and try to spot some of them in your own backyard!