by jhwildlife | Apr 16, 2019 | Blog
by Kyle Kissock, JHWF Communications Manager
Beginning May 5th, we invite you to kick-off your Sunday mornings with guided wildlife-watching adventures on the Snake River!
Bald Eagles are common sightings on Snake River Float Trips
Veterans and newcomers alike are welcome to join us for the 10th season of Nature Mapping Snake River Float Trips with program partner AJ DeRosa’s Jackson Hole Vintage Adventures. Float trips cost $30 and embark from the Wilson Bridge every Sunday morning through early October.
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 Mergansers have 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 email@example.com or Tim Griffith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Trips depart from the Wilson Boat ramp early, Sunday mornings. No prior boating experience is needed.
We hope you’ll join us on the water!
by jhwildlife | May 16, 2018 | Blog, Nature Mapping Jackson Hole
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!
An idyllic setting, Jackson Hole Vintage Adventures Tipi Camp is a wildlife rich habitat Photo credit: Forest Dramis
by jhwildlife | May 9, 2018 | Blog, Nature Mapping Jackson Hole
“You can’t be unhappy in the middle of a big, beautiful river.” – Jim Harrison
On Sunday, May 6, I had the privilege of participating in my first Nature Mapping Snake River float trip. And what a trip it was!
Along with fellow “bird nerds” Jon Mobeck and Tim Griffith (trip leader/coordinator) and guide Adam “Dutch” Gottschling, I spent two hours of the morning floating the eight-mile stretch of the Snake River between the Wilson bridge and Jackson Hole Vintage Adventure’s Tipi Camp.
Having recently moved to Jackson from the relatively flat plains and forests of the upper Midwest, I have a long way to go before I look up at the grandeur of the Tetons with anything but complete and utter awe. So, had we merely floated for two hours looking only at the river and surrounding mountains, without seeing any wildlife, I personally would have considered my Sunday morning well spent.
That said, we ended up observing over 40 species of birds, mammals and amphibians along the river and in the area immediately surrounding the Tipi Camp. Not bad for the first week of May! (Indeed, I’ve since learned that this is on the high end compared to historic species counts.)
Highlights included 54 American White Pelicans (the largest number ever recorded on one trip), one Swainson’s Hawk, one Merlin, a Greater Yellowlegs and two moose. Though, based on the excitement in the boat, to call the Merlin and Greater Yellowlegs mere highlights is a gross understatement. For good reason too! It turns out only a handful of each species have been spotted by volunteer citizen scientists since the trips began in 2010.
I’d like to say it was beginner’s luck, but I’ve spent enough time appreciating the wild spectacle that is nature to know that to try to claim any credit is silly at best. Besides, who knows what will be seen throughout the rest of this summer? Either way, this trip was an awesome start to what is sure to be an amazing float trip season. Even without such a notable species list, I feel lucky to have been a part of such an experience—to have spent the morning exploring an area of nature that few have the chance to see in a way that even fewer are able to see it.
JHWF partners with AJ DeRosa’s Jackson Hole Vintage Adventures to provide this incredible opportunity to float down the eight-mile stretch of the Snake River between Wilson Bridge and South Park and to collect important data about the various species of mammals, birds and amphibians that use it. Trips take place every Sunday morning from May 6, 2018 through the end of September. Cost is $30 per participant. To learn more, visit the Snake River Float Trip webpage or call the office at 307-739-0968. To sign up for an upcoming trip, contact project coordinator and expert birder Tim Griffith at email@example.com.
Species Counts Along the Snake River
May 6, 2018 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM
Canada Goose 144
Barrow’s Goldeneye 1
Common Merganser 24
American White Pelican 54
Great Blue Heron 3
Turkey Vulture 4
Bald Eagle 6
Swainson’s Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Spotted Sandpiper 10
Greater Yellowlegs 1
Belted Kingfisher 4
Northern Flicker 4
Black-billed Magpie 6
American Crow 14
Common Raven 3
Tree Swallow 50
Bank Swallow 5
Cliff Swallow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 7
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 11
Mountain Bluebird 7
American Robin 31
Yellow Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) 5
White-crowned Sparrow 2
Song Sparrow 47
Red-winged Blackbird 11
Brown-headed Cowbird 2
Brewer’s Blackbird 7
Species Counts at Jackson Hole Vintage Adventure’s Tipi Camp
May 6, 2018 10:15 AM – 10:45 AM
Canada Goose 3
Green-winged Teal 2
Common Merganser 2
Ruffed Grouse 1
American White Pelican 4
Spotted Sandpiper 3
Downy Woodpecker 1
Common Raven 1
Tree Swallow 1
Black-capped Chickadee 6
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 5
American Robin 5
Yellow Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon’s) 5
Dark-eyed Junco 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 4
Red-winged Blackbird 1
Brewer’s Blackbird 2
Frogs ? (unable to get an exact count)