By Frances Clark – Lead Ambassador, Nature Mapping Jackson Hole
What to look for in October? – Almost everything!
October is a critical month of movement for wildlife as cold settles in, grasses dry, insects die, and berries and seeds are there for the picking.
We encourage Nature Mappers to look for “last of the year” (LOY) sightings of several species that either winter below ground or migrate out of the valley. For instance, keep an eye out for chipmunks—least chipmunks are mostly in the sagebrush running with their long tails stiffly upright, and yellow-pine chipmunks, with slightly wider, shorter tails, are more likely seen in forests. Both species cache food for winter, perhaps rousing from hibernation or a torpor to benefit from these treasures mid-winter. A few osprey were lingering a few days ago as the younger ones leave after their parents. Will you spot the last? Also, we have had LOY records for Bank and Rough-winged Swallows, Wilson’s Warbler, Double-crested Cormorant, and Clark’s Grebe for October in 2011. Kestrels will disappear along with their insect prey–crickets, as will Mountain Bluebirds. Will you take the last record for the year?
Many other birds are moving through: the last of the Sandhill Cranes (listen, then look high!), hawks, many ducks, mixed flocks of songbirds as well as more obvious flocks of blackbirds, starlings, and crows. Do your best. Other critters are shifting around the valley as the weather cools and grasses wither. Pronghorn start making their way towards the Gros Ventre and eventually down to Pinedale along the “Path of the Pronghorn.” Bison move around and away from the bison hunt. Elk are bugling and jousting (territorial and reproductive behaviors), and Bighorn Sheep may show up near Miller Butte in the National Elk Refuge. Watch out for moose now because they are in full rut. Juveniles look on as mom and strange bulls are dashing about in a craze. Bears are in hyperphagia, eating all they can before winter. Eight black bears were seen one morning along Moose-Wilson Road last week—do you know why? Think berries.
Birds that are more visible at lower elevations include Gray and Stellar’s Jays. Goshawks also come lower—checking out bird feeders for small birds. Cedar Waxwings come in for berries.
In short, October is a great month for Nature Mapping. Get out and enjoy the show while giving back to the wildlife we all care for.