A Story of Conservation, Friendship, and Surprise Wildlife Sightings in Rafter J

A Story of Conservation, Friendship, and Surprise Wildlife Sightings in Rafter J

By Hilary Turner

The following is a story from Nature Mapping Jackson Hole. Citizen science is valuable because it engages community members in long-term data collection. Through the process of becoming involved in a monitoring project like Nature Mapping JH, folks learn more about their world, while contributing meaningful data that can have a broader impact.

In December of 2021, I received a phone call from a Nature Mapper who lives in the Rafter J Neighborhood. She was wondering if Nature Mapping data showed any strong trends in wildlife use of the area. Unfortunately, there was not enough data in the neighborhood to show any kind of trends, but I encouraged the person to continue Nature Mapping and to have her friends and neighbors email me if they were interested in contributing. So started my friendship with Gina Lipp, a neighbor of the person who had called, who soon reached out with interest in the Nature Mapping program. A resident of Rafter J since 1984 and wildlife enthusiast, Gina wanted to contribute data to further understand how wildlife use the Rafter J Neighborhood.

The Rafter J neighborhood south of Jackson was developed in the 1980s and early 90s. Wildlife corridors through the neighborhood and a thriving Flat Creek riparian habitat have made it a place that many wild animals can call home, alongside their human neighbors.

Gina took my virtual Nature Mapping training in Jan of 2022. About a week after the training, she photographed a Great Gray Owl in the neighborhood, and made one of her first Nature Mapping observations. After this, she reached out to me regularly with questions about the variety of wildlife she was seeing in her neighborhood. She had a camera, so had photos of everything and I was able to help her with identification over email. However, I am a firm believer in the “Teach a person to fish” philosophy, so I offered to meet Gina down at Rafter J and go for a walk to help with some of her bird and wildlife ID questions. As many know, my interest and skill set are geared towards birds, which are one of the most ubiquitous and accessible groups of wildlife, yet relentlessly underappreciated in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE).

Hilary and Gina began recording Nature Mapping observations in early 2022. Documenting wildlife sightings over a three-mile walking route approximately twice per month, Gina has contributed to citizen-science by making well over 700 wildlife observations in her neighborhood.

I met Gina on a chilly morning in early February of 2022. We started off on our birding walk from the Rafter J office and almost immediately spotted Green-winged Teal in the shallow sloughs of Flat Creek. Farther down the road, some small birds flushed from the ground into the willows. As I lifted my binoculars, a sense of excitement passed over me; the birds were American Tree Sparrows! These adorable songbirds nest in far northern Canada and Alaska and are only present in the GYE during winter. As hardy as they are, they can be very difficult to find during the coldest months of winter in Jackson. Yet here were three individuals, making a living in the Rafter J neighborhood in mid-February. We ended up finding 13 species of birds together that cold morning. Gina Nature Mapped everything we saw and we parted ways, happier for having enjoyed the wildlife in the suburban neighborhood together that morning.

Green-winged Teal photographed on Flat Creek in mid-winter. Green-winged Teal are a dabbling duck found year-round in the Jackson area. Photo: Gina Lipp.

The next year went by and Gina continued to collect data in the neighborhood, but I noticed her reports became fewer and fewer throughout the year. This reduction in reporting is typical with Nature Mappers but I had seen Gina’s enthusiasm and thought if I continued to engage with her, perhaps she would continue reporting. At the start of 2023, I emailed her about the new Nature Mapping app and asked her if she would like to walk again in Rafter J to reinvigorate her Nature Mapping. A clear morning, free of snow, finally arrived and we walked again, this time digging up 18 species. Our list included an American Dipper using Flat Creek and a flock of Bohemian Waxwings relishing the leftover fruit of a crabapple tree in the neighborhood. I told Gina that we should aim to walk again in April, to see what we could find as spring migration got underway. My goal was to understand how birds use the neighborhood during different times of year and I knew Gina was also excited about this.

Hilary and Gina look for ducks while walking along Flat Creek

The local homeowner’s association controls much of the land along Flat Creek through Rafter J, creating a defacto “development setback.” Native vegetation within  the riparian zone along the creek allows the area to retain ecological functionality. Birds, mammals (including people!), reptiles, and amphibians all make use of the habitat along the creek.

April came and so did the birds. I was stoked to see what had arrived and to my delight, the Osprey pair were already fixing up their nest for another round of raising chicks atop a platform installed by the neighborhood near Flat Creek. A pair of Northern Harriers coursed low over the open space near the wetland habitat restoration area in the middle of Rafter J. I wondered aloud if they might be breeding in the neighborhood. We spotted eight species of waterfowl using the creek and ponds as stopover habitat during their spring migration. I became ecstatic when I heard a Virginia Rail kiddick-ing from the cattails of the restoration area. A Fox Sparrow sang its glorious tune from the willows along Flat Creek. Tree Swallows investigated nestboxes and I was thrilled to detect five finch species as we meandered through the neighborhood. Our three mile walk yielded an incredible 37 species of birds on April 28. I made plans with Gina to walk again in June, this time to assess the community of breeding birds present in the Rafter J neighborhood.

April sightings included elusive Virginia Rails and their chicks (left) in the habitat restoration pond and a Fox Sparrow (right) along the creek. Photos: Gina Lipp.

Gina continued Nature Mapping on her own as well. Everything she reported was easily verifiable with photo documentation. She observed a variety of wildlife using the Flat Creek Corridor and wetland habitat, including beaver, muskrat, moose, coyote and boreal chorus frog. Other members of the neighborhood community became involved as well. Local photographer and JHWF supporter Anna Knaeble became trained in 2023 and mapped Northern river otter and Western toad in Rafter J, both Wyoming Species of Greatest Conservation need and species that are Nature Mapped in relatively low densities in Teton County. Many Rafter J neighbors became excited when a group of White-faced Ibis dropped into a flooded open space of the neighborhood for a few days to refuel during spring migration. The neighbors recognized the importance of the open space in their neighborhood when they observed the birds utilizing it in this way.

White-faced Ibis and Western toad, both Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Wyoming. Some ibis stopped by to dazzle residents during its spring migration, taking advantage of flooded pasture along Flat Creek near the entrance to Rafter J. Photos: Anna Knaeble.

In June, Gina and I returned to our walking route. Indeed, the avifauna had changed again; the breeding season was now in full swing! The dawn chorus included Savannah Sparrows chiming from the edges of the neighborhood, Black-headed Grosbeaks sweetly serenading from the willows, and Bullock’s Orioles chattering from the tops of residential cottonwoods. Male Calliope Hummingbirds zipped around defending territories with their impressive aerial displays and American Robins carried food to young in nests. Many fewer waterfowl were present, as most had continued their journeys to northern breeding grounds, but we heard another Virginia Rail and Gina spotted a Sora this time. These two rail species do not usually persist outside of intact marsh habitat and their presence during the breeding season is indicative of a functioning wetland ecosystem within the Rafter J neighborhood! Willow Flycatchers sang from the Flat Creek Corridor and we watched a sweet female Yellow Warbler building her nest, low in the willows. We documented 43 bird species on this walk, confirming a robust suite of breeding songbirds in the neighborhood.

Gina and Hilary watch and photograph waterfowl on a Rafter J pond. This pond is believed to be geothermally heated which keeps portions of it ice-free throughout the winter. Waterfowl such as Trumpeter Swans, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and Mallards make use of the open water.

August rolled around and once again I contacted Gina. This time, I wanted to see what was starting to move south. Fall is my favorite time to go birding in the West and believe it or not, late August is the start of peak fall migration. I knew our walk was going to be great this time. Following the breeding season, there is simply more avian biomass on the landscape and because so many of the birds are young, the likelihood of finding something unusual increases by quite a bit. We met on August 28 and it was foggy to start. Initially, I was bummed at the conditions, but as the sun started to cut through the fog, Rafter J came alive with activity. A Lincoln’s Sparrow skulked in the willows, popping out to allow us brief looks. A Western Wood-Pewee sallied out over Flat Creek, capturing insects and returning to its perch long enough for Gina to photograph it. We encountered six warbler species, a decent number for a single location-outing in Jackson. A Swainson’s Hawk circled overhead, preparing for its annual journey to Argentina. Ruby-crowned Kinglets alerted us to their presence with their chiddit call notes and Cedar Waxwings swirled throughout the neighborhood with their newly fledged young. It was the best outing yet – we detected 54 species throughout the neighborhood that day!

In August, Hilary and Gina record six warbler species on their walk, including this Yellow Warbler. Yellow Warbler is the most common warbler in Jackson during summer months, and can be found without too much work in a variety of habitats, from willows, to wet thickets, to open woodlands. Photo: Gina Lipp.

During our five walks, Gina and I documented a whopping 83 bird species in Rafter J! Even better for me, however, was watching Gina become a keen observer of nature as she grew her knowledge of Jackson’s wildlife. She improved vastly in her wildlife identification skills since our first outing and she also found some amazing things. In mid-July, she witnessed a Virginia Rail emerge from the cattails in the habitat restoration area and then another, followed by two small black fuzzballs – baby Virginia Rails! We suspected they were breeding at the site, but now had ironclad evidence. Since Jan 2022, Gina has made over 700 wildlife observations in her neighborhood. Mapping her three-mile walking route approximately twice per month, her wildlife observations have exact locations, showing where wildlife use the landscape in the neighborhood. Her hard work over the last two years has breathed new life into the Nature Mapping database in the Rafter J neighborhood. Although Gina is dedicated, she is not alone. Since 2016, Rafter J residents have Nature Mapped 118 species in the neighborhood, including 20 Species of Greatest Conservation Need, a state-level designation by Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WSGCN).

Occurrences of Wyoming Species of Greatest Conservation Need (WSGCN) near Rafter J are shown with colored dots (left). Trumpeter Swans (right) are an example of a WSGCN and utilize the Rafter J pond and nearby wetlands as seasonal habitat and during migration (SEE SWAN SIGHTINGS MAP). Photo: Gina Lipp.

As more development occurs to meet the needs of the growing community, we have a responsibility to consider those who have no voice. Nature Mapping data can give wildlife a voice. The picture we now have of landscape use by wildlife in the Rafter J neighborhood can inform responsible development along Flat Creek, such as Northern South Park, and other areas. Through the data Gina and others have collected in Rafter J, we see that robust development setbacks from Flat Creek and wildlife corridors through the neighborhood have made it a place that many wild animals can call home, alongside their human neighbors. Nature Mapping data show that the neighborhood’s riparian corridor and wetland complex are healthy enough to sustain a very nice suite of riparian breeding songbirds during the summer and make it one of the most bird-rich areas in Jackson Hole in the winter.

Emergent wetland of the habitat restoration area adjacent to Flat Creek form a valuable habitat type for species like Northern Harrier, Sora, and Virginia Rail, all of which Hilary and Gina spotted here. Sora and Virginia Rail rarely occur outside of intact marsh environments such as this one.  

Rafter J residents are fortunate to live alongside such a healthy community of wildlife, but this also comes with the responsibility of stewardship as neighbors to wildlife. Young wild animals are extremely vulnerable to predation by domestic animals like cats and dogs. Keeping cats indoors and leashing dogs while walking through the neighborhood are simple ways to protect the wildlife that also call this space home. Both grizzly and black bears have been documented in Rafter J. Use of bear-resistant trash containers and securing other attractants can be the difference between life or death for these animals. Making conservation-minded decisions, even in a small neighborhood, can have many far-reaching and positive impacts!

A Red-tailed Hawk perches on a nesting platform on the east side of Rafter J (left). A secretive Sora was a surprise find by Gina in the habitat restoration pond in the summer of 2022. Photos: Gina Lipp.

Gina’s work in the Rafter J neighborhood shows that with commitment and dedication, Nature Mapping can illustrate the complete annual cycle of wildlife – even in developed areas! And if data are rigorously collected, they can sometimes be used to inform responsible development and aid in wildlife conservation.

I asked Gina to speak to the importance of Nature Mapping and this is what she said, “Living in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is a blessing and a responsibility. With all its beautiful wildlife, there is no other place like it in all of North America. Nature Mapping is so important to help us recognize, learn, appreciate, and protect the wildlife and their habitat.”

What will you Nature Map in 2024?

Citizen Scientists Gather in Lander

Citizen Scientists Gather in Lander


JHWF ED Jon Mobeck presents on the artistry of citizen science and the conservation legacy informing Nature Mapping Jackson Hole.

Earlier this month the University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute hosted the first ever Wyoming Citizen Science Conference in Lander. Several representatives from the Jackson Hole Wildlife Foundation (JHWF) and Nature Mapping Jackson Hole (NMJH) attended the conference with the aim of learning from other citizen science practitioners across the state and of sharing what we have learned from the past eight years of running our program. The conference proved to be very valuable.

The variety of citizen science programs represented was immense and indicative of the breadth and depth available in Wyoming. For example, modeled on NMJH, Laramie sponsors both a winter and summer “Moose Day” with up to 38 transects and over 80 volunteers. Rocky Mountain Amphibian Project conducted a survey of chytrid fungus in frogs and toads throughout the state, including Teton County.  A PhD student studied how geo-tagged imagery can enhance surveys by providing follow-up ID, unbiased assessments, and long-term documentation of plants and animals. Museums around the country are recruiting citizen scientists to review historical specimens, including label information on University of Wyoming herbarium sheets. Road Scholar (formerly Elderhostel) volunteers are chronicling archaeological sites in the Wind River Mountains.  Associated with the North American Butterfly Association, twenty citizen scientists have tracked approximately 28 species of butterflies in a count circle in Lander for a decade.  These are only a few of the amazing projects presented.

The core focus of the conference was on the problems and solutions that citizen science program managers and volunteers face. Several speakers talked about the difficulty of designing data sheets that capture essential information while also being user–friendly.  Project directors need to enter and analyze data relatively quickly to keep citizen scientists engaged: volunteers are rewarded by seeing results of their work.  Social occasions help build a concerned community. While ensuring quality remains challenging, with sufficient training citizen scientists produce solid scientific data. For instance, the Rocky Mountain Amphibian Project compared the quality of data collected by volunteers vs. bio-techs with very similar results.  In short, presenters concluded, “Citizen scientists rock!”  And we have a lot to learn from each other.

Our role in the conference:

On the whole, 65 conference participants came from across Wyoming, and even Idaho and Vermont too – all from a mix of individual citizen scientists, nonprofit organizations, primary and higher educational institutions and federal agencies.

JHWF was a silver-level sponsor for the Wyoming Citizen Science Conference, and our Associate Director Kate Gersh served on the program planning committee, which helped select presenters and set the agenda. Over the course of nearly two full days, here are a few programs that were presented by JHWF board, staff, and partners:

  • “Lessons Learned: Eight Years of a Citizen Science Program in Jackson Hole” – Aly Courtemanch
  • “Values Driving Conservation: Citizen Science as Interactive Art” – Jon Mobeck
  • “Fundraising for Citizen Science: Experiences and Advice” – Kate Gersh, Anya Tyson, Wendy Estes-Zumpf, Frances Clark (in absence)
  • Poster Presentation: Nature Mapping Jackson Hole: Mapping Community Solutions ̶ Kate Gersh
  • Poster Presentation: Monitoring Wildlife Crossings on South Highway 89 ̶  Paul Hood
  • “Bringing Citizen Science into the Backcountry: Emerging Best Practices to Engage Outdoor Education Organizations” – Anya Tyson
  • Screening of Far Afield: A Conservation Love Story

Importantly, one of NMJH’s lead volunteers Tim Griffith attended the conference and contributed much to the conversation. Based on the latter and the abovementioned, we believe we successfully expanded awareness of Nature Mapping Jackson Hole statewide and regionally, thereby opening opportunities for greater community connections. This was a proud experience for us and we feel honored to have represented on behalf of everyone who has been involved with NMJH.

Next steps for Citizen Science

What comes next? Well, based on survey responses, conference participants have expressed a desire for open communication and collaboration between citizen science groups, as well as, one central location to list project information. The Biodiversity Institute is excited to share that they have begun the process of planning a website to act as a citizen science clearing house.  It will provide a forum for discussion around citizen science projects in our region and to glean tips and ideas for best practice.  It will also help to incorporate our projects into the classroom. In addition, the idea of a dedicated newsletter for citizen science groups in Wyoming is under discussion.

The hope is that this conference will take place again next year, giving us the opportunity to follow-up on tactics and ideas that were shared. We have much to learn still about volunteer recruitment and retention, fundraising, risk management, data collection and submission, data sharing and dissemination, evaluation and the list goes on. JHWF will be sure to keep you updated on new developments as they come about. Stay tuned as we continue to explore the potential of all that Nature Mapping Jackson Hole has to offer!

Mast Years and Middens – Central to Red Squirrel Survival

Mast Years and Middens – Central to Red Squirrel Survival

By Frances Clark, Nature Mapper and Botanist

Hiking under Engelmann spruce trees has been hazardous this fall. Light brown cones, 4-6 inches long and sticky with pitch, pour down amidst harsh chattering from above. I have counted one cone falling every 3-5 seconds, another time I couldn’t keep track of the barrage. Cones landed on my head, bounced and then lay strewn about my feet. Cone storms. What s going on?

squirrel-midden-bev-boyntonRed squirrels are taking advantage of a “mast year.” Last spring, you may remember, prodigious amounts of pollen wafted on the wind. Some of that pollen landed on tiny female cones, which have matured, securing two winged seeds under each scale. Spruce trees are now laden with dangling cones from the top down. This abundance occurs every 2-3 years in spruce. The intervening times are lean.

Well adapted to feast and famine, red squirrels form large middens—stores of thousands of cones. They efficiently sample and then harvest trees with the most seed energy per cone and with the greatest cone abundance. Middens lie at the center of the most productive group of trees.

A midden can best be described as several inches of cone scales and cores heaped over mineral soil, forming mounds up to several feet high and wide. The loose surface often has shallow holes in it. In the mineral soil below, there may be a network of tunnels. Squirrels pack several cones, pointed end down, into holes which will be covered eventually by more scales and cores. In this cool and moist environment—a humidor—cones will remain unopened for at least 1-2 seasons until the squirrels retrieve them. When they do, squirrels eat cones like corn-on-the-cob, scattering scales everywhere while consuming the nutritious seeds. It has been calculated that squirrels consume 50-156 cones a day and stash 10s of 1000s in a midden in a good year. No wonder red squirrels are so territorial – chattering loudly at any perceived threat and dashing out to their territorial boundary: they are defending their stash for winter survival.

While cones are preferred, in lean times and in summer, red squirrels will eat other items. Fungi are particularly relished, with parts hung up in trees to dry. They eat buds, fruits, sap, even cambium and phloem, as well as eggs and insects. Small plant parts placed in middens may help train young squirrels for future hoarding. In different years, squirrels may harvest cones of Douglas firs – which have mast years every 4-5 years, or as back up, serotinous cones of lodgepole pine. Lodgepole pine cones are often gathered on top of middens. They do not open even when dry, are too tough for other predators to eat, and seeds remain viable for years. The squirrels don’t need to spend extra energy to bury them.

The other day, walking around Moose Ponds, I heard several red squirrels churring within a stand of battered old spruce and fir trees. Their density indicated good habitat. Tangles of downed limbs and saplings surrounded straight, scaly boles clad in densely needled branches, which intertwined to form a closed, irregular canopy. Engelmann Spruce reach peak production at 150-200 years and provide diverse cover, escape routes, and nesting sites. Old growth trees are excellent for red squirrels.

As red squirrels are active all winter, nesting sites are vital for thermal regulation. Tree squirrels prefer natural cavities, but these are often in short supply so instead squirrels will build a nest of leaves and grass 12 to 60 feet off the ground. Other options include “witches brooms,” an aberrant growth pattern where twigs are unusually dense. They will also burrow into tunnels under their middens for warmth and safety.

Nest sites are located within 100 feet of larders so squirrels can readily defend and retrieve their stores. Circular territories may be 1-2 acres centered around a midden. I nature mapped six squirrels – six territories – on my route past Moose Ponds. While dutiful, I wish now I had taken more time in this rough old patch of forest to see where the middens and nests might be.

Predators come from air or ground. Squirrels may have different calls depending on whether or not a threat is aerial or terrestrial. One study indicates that red squirrels produce a high frequency, short “seet” sound similar to alarm calls of birds. This sound is hard for raptors, such as Goshawk, Great Horned Owl, or Red-tail Hawk , to locate or even hear. A louder bark call is used for overland threats, such as a Pacific (pine) marten (12-20% of marten diet is red squirrels), weasels, or fox. Once alerted, squirrels scramble and hide in dense vegetation.

Between predation and starvation, only 25% of squirrels survive into their second year. Females are in estrus for one day only in early spring. Many males, one dominant in the lead, will give chase and several may succeed in copulation on that one day. In just over a month, the female gives birth to an average of four young which will be independent in another 70 days, by early fall. While mothers may share a territory with daughters, they kick out sons who must then find and defend their own territories by winter. Often the most successful males have ventured the farthest to find a relatively large territory containing an abandoned midden. Midden sites are often used by many generations. In autumn, youngsters and seasoned squirrels are particularly territorial, defending boundaries while gathering cones, which is why they are so vociferous.

Red Squirrels are the most frequently Nature Mapped small mammal with 305 observations over the last seven years. Even so, many of us pass them by – unrecorded – on our hikes.  In your next excursions through a conifer forest, listen for chatter. Can you hear differences in their calls? Can you discover a midden nearby? Does a squirrel bound toward you to defend its territory or scurry up a tree or down into a tunnel to escape? Can you find its nest? All these behaviors are fascinating to watch while you may, or may not, log a new Nature Mapping observation.


Animal Diversity Web ADW: Museum of Zoology University of Michigan.  Tamiasciurus hudsonicus Red Squirrel.  Accessed 10.8.16: http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Tamiasciurus_hudsonicus/

Finley RB. Cone caches and middens of Tamiasciurus in the Rocky Mountain region. Misc. Publ. University of Kansas Museum Natural History. 1969;51: 233–273. https://archive.org/stream/cbarchive_36740_conecachesandmiddensoftamiasci1969/conecachesandmiddensoftamiasci1969 – page/n17/mode/2up

Greene E. Meagher T. 1998. “Red squirrels, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, produce predator-class specific alarm calls.” Animal Behavior. 1998 Mar; 55(3): 511-8. Accessed through: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9514668

Steele, M.A. 1998. “Tamiasciurus hudsonicusMammalian Species 586, pp. 1-9. :   published by the American Society of Mammalogists.  http://www.science.smith.edu/msi/pdf/i0076-3519-586-01-0001.pdf

Streubel, D. P. 1968.  “Food storage and related behavior in red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) in Interior Alaska.”  Masters Thesis. University of Alaska. Source: http://www.arlis.org/docs/vol2/hydropower/APA_DOC_no._3351.pdf

U.S. Forest Service data base: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/tahu/all.html

The “Bluebird of Happiness”

The “Bluebird of Happiness”

We checked one nest box… nothing, we checked another… nothing, we checked a third box and sadly found a ruined nest and remains of a female mountain bluebird (probably taken by a weasel). Despondency was beginning to set in when finally, we checked another nest box within our monitoring trail and lo’ and behold… a clutch of five tiny bluebird chicks was tightly slumbering together in their nest, safe and sound. This was such a happy sight to see firsthand. No wonder some cultures see the bluebird as an enduring symbol of happiness!

In order to not stress out mommy and daddy bluebird, we did not loiter for long. This season, the JHWF staff monitor 12 bluebird nest boxes on a weekly basis so we are fortunate to get to go back to see these chicks grow.


Historically, bluebirds relied on woodpeckers and other cavity-dwellers to provide the majority of their nesting places. They would select abandoned cavities in dead trees or rotten fence posts to raise their families. As development and habitat loss wiped out many of these natural nesting sites, the bluebird population declined dramatically. Fortunately, man-made nesting boxes have played a vital role in their recovery.

With the help of 10 dedicated volunteers, JHWF’s Bluebird Next Box Project monitors 104 mountain bluebird nest boxes along the perimeter of the National Elk Refuge every year, once per week from April through July. Some of the information collected includes dates, number of eggs laid, eggs hatched, birds fledged. These data are entered into the Nature Mapping Jackson Hole database and will also be given to the North American Bluebird Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Data gathered by citizen scientists during nest box monitoring is needed to increase our understanding of the breeding success of the mountain bluebird.

There is a warm and rewarding feeling of regularly checking the bluebirds through their nesting cycle. At JHWF, walking our trail is hardly considered work, but instead a privilege. It is rewarding to know that we are really making a difference.


Spring on the Snake Report

Spring on the Snake Report


How can you see 458 birds and wildlife in three hours on a Sunday morning in one of the most beautiful locations in the nation without taking a single step? Four words–Snake River Float Trips! This little-known benefit of being a certified nature mapper is in full swing and you can take advantage of it through September.

Generously provided by AJ DeRosa’s Wooden Boat Tours, this adventurous form of citizen science is not all fun and games. Its purpose is to gain a better idea of what species of mammals, birds, and amphibians use the section of river between Wilson Bridge and South Park, which flows mostly through private land where wildlife professionals do not conduct a systematic census.

How do I Sign Up?

Sign up for one of the dates below with the volunteer director of the trips, Tim Griffith at timgrif396@gmail.com. At least one person in your party (max 6) must be a certified JH Nature Mapper and should be the main wildlife spotter and at least one person to be the recorder. The spotter should have at least a basic understanding of the birds and mammals one might see on the Snake River. It costs only $20 to cover the shuttle fees and you’re welcome to tip the guide, if desired.

May 8th Float Trip Report:

The May 8th Snake River Float Trip traveled 8 miles down the river from Rendevous Park to Wooden Boat Adventures River Camp with Kevin Coughlin, Josh Seibel, Carrie Ann Adams, and trip leader (and retired wildlife biologist) Tim Griffith. They mapped 42 species (listed below) with a highlight of spotting 12 bald eagles as there are six nests along this stretch of river and each nest has two adults associated with it.

  • Canada Goose 123
  • Mallard 49
  • Green-winged Teal 5
  • Barrow’s Goldeneye 3
  • Common Merganser 31
  • Double-crested Cormorant 6
  • American White Pelican 5
  • Great Blue Heron 7
  • Turkey Vulture 1
  • Osprey 2
  • Cooper’s Hawk 1
  • Bald Eagle 12
  • Red-tailed Hawk 3
  • Killdeer 10
  • Spotted Sandpiper 28
  • Mourning Dove 1
  • Belted Kingfisher 4
  • Downy Woodpecker 1
  • Hairy Woodpecker 1
  • Northern Flicker 4
  • Black-billed Magpie 2
  • Common Raven 12
  • Tree Swallow 43
  • Bank Swallow 9
  • Barn Swallow 4
  • Black-capped Chickadee 6
  • Mountain Chickadee 1
  • Brown Creeper 2
  • House Wren 2
  • American Dipper 2
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2
  • Mountain Bluebird 2
  • American Robin 19
  • European Starling 1
  • Yellow Warbler 2
  • Chipping Sparrow 2
  • Dark-Eyed Junco 2
  • Song Sparrow 22
  • Green-tailed Towhee 1
  • Red-winged Blackbird 2
  • Western Meadowlark 1
  • Brewer’s Blackbird 12
  • Yellow-bellied Marmot 7
  • Elk 1

2016 Snake River Float Trips:

MAY: 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th
JUNE: 12th and 26th
JULY: 10th and 24th
AUGUST: 7th and 21st
SEPTEMBER: 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th

Photo credit: STEVE MORRISS

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