Catching Data on Snake River Float Trips

Catching Data on Snake River Float Trips

snake river float trip jackson hole wyoming

Three mule deer does and a fawn spotted on the Sept. 10, 2017 float trip. Photo credit: Forest Dramis.

A quick step into the dory and a careful shifting of weight with binoculars raised and off we go, five lucky Nature Mappers floating the Snake River on a sparkling Sunday morning. We glide swiftly and smoothly under the Wilson Bridge (with the chittering of swallows and clamor of traffic overhead) and emerge, calling out: “Two, no three Ravens!” “16 Tree Swallows, I think? They move fast.” “Look, a Great Blue Heron!” “No, Osprey!”  “Both!”

As we flow downstream, we scan the shorelines, water and sky, and settle into intervals of excitement and tranquility. A designated Nature Mapper jots down the tally for common species and takes GPS points for unusual sightings. A morning’s count can include eight Bald Eagles, a moose, numerous Spotted Sandpipers, Common Mergansers, Yellow Warblers, nesting Bank Swallows and a flotilla of American White Pelicans. Or perhaps we spy a marmot family basking on a rock, or a beaver up a backwater.

For seven years, Nature Mappers have been gathering data on wildlife thanks to A.J. DeRosa, owner of Jackson Hole Vintage Adventures. A.J. donates his handcrafted wooden dory and an expert boatman every Sunday morning from May to October. With this opportunity for consistent data collection, Nature Mappers have been able to record trends and shifts in species’ numbers and locations over the summer months (May-October), year to year. We are beginning to discern patterns in species’ migrations, nesting locations, and possibly, with time, impacts of flooding, dike vegetation management and river use.

These results are possible thanks to over four-dozen trained nature mappers and friends participating each year. Ace volunteer Tim Griffith schedules the teams and often adds his expertise on the floats. Since Tim started coordinating the trips with A.J., many species’ sightings have increased significantly. Tim has a fine ear and eye for the birds! Please read Tim’s 2017 Nature Mapping Jackson Hole Snake River Float Trip Annual Report here. It includes a species list and numbers; the special conditions of 2017 during the spring flood and its effect; and the season’s variation in eagle numbers. Be sure to contact Tim if you wish to volunteer on a Snake River Float Trip this summer!

snake river float trip jackson hole vintage adventure tipi camp

An idyllic setting, Jackson Hole Vintage Adventures Tipi Camp is a wildlife rich habitat Photo credit: Forest Dramis


The Call of the Loon

The Call of the Loon

by Susan Patla, Non-game biologist for WGFD and NMJH Science Advisory Committee member

The call of a loon echoing across a still mountain lake is a sound that embodies the essence of wilderness. Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI), in partnership with Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and Wyoming Game & Fish Department (WGFD), recently completed a fifth field season to monitor and study common loons in Wyoming. This project has been funded through a generous grant by the Ricketts Conservation Fund to determine the conservation status of loons in Wyoming and four other states. The loon is the rarest nesting bird species in Wyoming and a designated species of conservation concern. The Wyoming population is also the most southern nesting group in North America and isolated from the nearest neighboring population in Montana by over 200 miles. While migrating loons can be seen across the state both in spring and fall, breeding pairs currently occur only in the northwest part of the state.

Common Loon

Since 1987, Yellowstone NP and WGFD have been monitoring the presence of loon pairs and fledged chicks. In 2013, BRI expanded on this effort through increased monitoring of pairs during the nesting season and the capture and banding of adult loons. In 2017, there were 21 territorial pairs documented (15 of which were in Yellowstone), and at least 12 of these attempted to nest. Eight pairs successfully hatched a total of ten chicks and all survived to fledging. Seven unpaired adults and one immature loon were also seen. One territorial female adult was captured and banded, and young were banded at two additional sites. Results from blood and feather samples for mercury and genetic analyses will be available later. BRI also deployed nest rafts at four sites and worked with agencies to implement management measures to protect nesting pairs.

Common Loon Pair in Wyoming

Compared to 2016, Wyoming had one fewer territorial pair and productivity was slightly lower than previous years. Nest success was affected this year by the above average snowfall, and late ice-out on many of the nesting lakes which were still frozen in early June. Rapid runoff resulted in flooding at a few sites also. Surveys of many backcountry lakes were also restricted in the early season due to lingering deep snow conditions. Productivity, however, over the study period has been above the 0.48 chicks surviving per territorial pair needed for population stability. Loons have been seen in recent years in the Wind River Range although no nesting pairs have been found. In the future, translocation of chicks may be considered to help expand the nesting population in Wyoming. Major threats to this population include human disturbance of nest sites, drought, and water quality. Mercury contamination, which has been a problem in New England loons, does not appear to be affecting Wyoming loons. All documentation of loons by Nature Mappers is greatly appreciated by BRI and the partner agencies to help in understanding the distribution and movements of this magnificent bird.

Click the image to enlarge and back button to get back to post. Photos by Mark Gocke, WGFD.

Nature Mapping Community Celebration Featuring Doug Smith March 22

Nature Mapping Community Celebration Featuring Doug Smith March 22

Join us for an annual celebration of our wildlife-friendly community of citizen scientists. The supervisor of the Yellowstone wolf, bird and elk programs Doug Smith will present ‘Yellowstone wolves: the first 20 years’ about wolf population dynamics, wolf-prey relationships, trophic cascades and wolf-human interactions (hunting).

Have some fun and bring a dish to share: Last Name: A-K Main Dish, L-P Side or Salad, Q-Z Dessert
*You are welcome to join us even if you cannot provide a dish

• Nature Mapping Potluck Dinner at 6 pm and Presentation at 7
• At Center for the Arts
• MC: Dawson Smith, Spring Creek Ranch Naturalist Program Director; Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation Board Member
• March 22, 5:30 pm doors open
• Cost: Free (bring some cash for great raffle items!)

Enter a raffle drawing to win from a selection of great items generously offered by in-kind supporters (tickets are 1 for $5, 5 for $10, 10 for $30).

5:30 pm – Doors open
• Raffle items and silent auction on display
• Learn about becoming a Nature Mapper and see what our collective observations reveal in maps that are on display
• Drinks available at cash bar

6 pm – Potluck dinner begins

6:50 pm – Raffle ends

7 pm – Presentation in auditorium features Doug Smith

Thanks to the Meg and Bert Raynes Wildlife Fund and the entire Nature Mapping community for making the evening possible.


Silent Auction Items: 
• Henry Holdsworth Framed Print of Wolves – Last of the Druids donated by Wild by Nature Gallery
• Breakfast with Eagles Float Trip donated by Jackson Hole Vintage Adventures
• Teton Pines Golfing for Four package donated by Teton Pines Country Club
• Lost Creek Ranch Cookout donated by Lost Creek Ranch

Raffle Prizes:
• Bert Raynes Bird Lovers Package (Special edition of Birds of Sage and Scree, Birds of Jackson Hole, and Far Afield DVD)
• National Park Service Annual Pass & Gift Basket donated by Grand Teton Association
• Spring Creek Ranch – One-Night Stay + Breakfast & Dinner for 2 donated by Spring Creek Ranch
• 2 Day Passes to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort donated by Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
• 5-Pack Yoga Class Card donated by Teton Yoga Shala
• Big R gift card donated by Big R Jackson Hole
• Nature Mapping Jackson Hole Hat and T-shirt

Global Conservationists Interested in Nature Mapping Program

Global Conservationists Interested in Nature Mapping Program


In June, JHWF was visited by a group of conservation professionals from Argentina, Russia, Iran, Sierra Leone, Malaysia, South Africa, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Oman and Zimbabwe. This group was supported by the International Visitor Leadership Program of the U.S. Department of State and hosted by our friends at the Wyoming Council for International Visitors.

Traveling with the objective of assessing U.S. efforts to protect biodiversity, JHWF was pleased to spend an hour with our new colleagues talking about wildlife-friendly communities. There was great interest in learning more about the citizen science effort throughout the valley and how the Nature Mapping program was designed. Citizen science is not (yet) a strong practice in many other countries, but there is growing interest to engage the public in conservation science. We said that one of the keys to launching a successful citizen science effort is to have a “champion,” such as the admired and beloved Bert Raynes, to inspire an initial following.

A visiting biologist from Morocco inquired about the bluebird nest boxes he observed along the Elk Refuge fence. “I noticed more tree swallows than bluebirds as we drove into town,” he said. His observation concurred with our findings in recent weeks, as many of the Mountain Bluebirds and their fledglings had left the boxes, though a few remain. While we delighted in the fact that nearly every representative expressed interest in introducing a variation of Nature Mapping in their country, we also couldn’t help but recognize the common joy we all derive from our interactions with wildlife – a universal bond.

It was an interesting discussion comparing and contrasting our conservation challenges and subsequent efforts around the world. While our working contexts might differ in terms of political, social and economic influences, a consistent thought existed amongst our diverse group – the belief that by removing or reducing barriers we humans have created (obsolete barbed wire fencing, for example), we can moderate our impact on wildlife and live more compatibly within a healthy environment that sustains all life.

Frances Clark, Nature Mapping’s “volunteer” volunteer coordinator-extraordinaire

Frances Clark, Nature Mapping’s “volunteer” volunteer coordinator-extraordinaire

Frances Clark, Nature Mapping’s “volunteer” volunteer coordinator-extraordinaire
By Cory Hatch

Botanist Frances Clark credits her grandmother for cultivating her conservation roots while on family trips to New Hampshire when she was just a small child.

“My grandmother grew peonies and had a fabulous garden,” Clark said. “She was also a fisherwoman and a birder. She had this walled garden. It was magic to someone who was three feet high.”

Now, as Nature Mapping Jackson Hole’s “volunteer” volunteer coordinator, Clark is passing on that magic to the dozens trained citizen scientists who gather wildlife observations for the Nature Mapping database.

Born and raised just outside of Boston, Clark was one of five siblings. Until 3rd grade, she attended Shady Hill School, an experiential learning environment that furthered her exposure to wild animals and wild places. “They had this great science program,” she said. “We got to handle snakes and turtles, and we would break apart owl pellets to see the tiny bones.”

After attending George Washington University for two years, Clark took a break from college and volunteered at the New England Aquarium. The hands-on experience with living things triggered something fundamental, and Clark began thinking of a career in biology.

She eventually settled on plants and focused her year off on volunteering at Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum. It was there that she experienced the satisfaction and sense of community that volunteering can foster.

At the conclusion of this hiatus, Frances finished college at the University of New Hampshire, majoring in plant science and continuing what has become a lifetime passion for public gardens and flowers.

After a stint at the Callaway Gardens in Georgia and a fellowship at the University of Delaware, Frances began what proved a long-term relationship with the New England Wildflower Society. There, she started as an educational program coordinator and eventually worked her way up to serve as the chair of the board of directors. Even now, she continues her association with the group as she runs her own botanical consulting business.

Frances and her partner, Bernie McHugh, landed in Jackson after spending a portion of eight summers here “mostly to enjoy the wildlife and the wildflowers,” she said. “We needed a break… and this seemed to be the logical spot.”

While plants remain her true passion, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation’s Nature Mapping program has cultivated in her a deep appreciation for our specular wildlife. Nature Mapping started out as a way “to focus on and learn about the wildlife while helping to conserve them,” she said. “The Nature Mapping program was easy and fun.”

Now, volunteering as the volunteer coordinator, Clark said she hopes to help create a community that cares about the wildlife. “I think that’s critical to their conservation in the future,” she said.

Plus, “It’s fun to hang out with biologists as well as botanists,” Clark continued. “It’s good people.”

Celebrate Wildlife!

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