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Great Tetons, or Greatest Tetons?

August 12, 2008

With credit, of course, to an excellent bird blog.

Let me back up just a tad to explain just why I’m in Wyoming with my extended family. I don’t often get personal here, but perhaps some context is in order. You see, my uncle John, my mother’s brother, was recently diagnosed with a primary brain tumor, with all the concerns and medical repercussions and prognoses that come along with such a diagnosis. He’s actually blogging about it too. For a family that has stayed as close, and endured as much, as my mom’s, it has been a sobering time.

For me personally it has been no less. I was often compared favorably to John as a child and a young adult. He was an uncle with whom I shared a common disposition, a nature for nature, a mutual love of the outdoors and a desire to get to the wild places. We continue to hope for the best, as John has responded positively to treatment and there’s really no other way to hope. But, more than anything, this trip was an opportunity, should the worst occur, for him to spend time with his family in his favorite place on earth.

So, birding was a secondary preoccupation, perhaps even thirdinary. But the earlier the rise the more we got to see, so my dad and I took those few times to enjoy our favorite pastime. We had two mornings to take advantage of, neither of which was going to be particularly long so we couldn’t go far afield, but when nearly every bird is new that’s not so much of a problem. The first morning, in particular, was one where we barely went up the road to a large oxbow lake where we hoped to find some waterfowl. There was nothing but White Pelicans on the water, but in the willows on the shore we found several Wilson’s Warblers and an appropriate Willow Flycatcher, a lifer for my dad and one I found just this year.

With time running out we headed back, pausing to check out an Osprey nest on top of a power pole. The birds were still on it.

Along the river we spotted our first Cassin’s Finch, singing atop a lodgepole pine, looking like a sharp-edged Purple Finch, and in the fields just outside the National Park which looked to be used for cattle ranching, a huge flock of Black-billed Magpies flew from tree to fencepost and back again. You’ll probably note the dearth of my western bird experience when Magpies are life birds, but that’s how it is. I’m lucky that lifers are so easy to come by on this trip.

Even though our time was short,birds were still on our minds (this is a good way to get in trouble with family, by the way). We passed another lake and I spotted some large white birds on the water. I yelled at my dad to stop the car, jumped out and soon had my binoculars on a family of Trumpeter Swans, including 3 cygnets. The same pond produced a handful of Barrow’s Goldeneye as well. Though in early August the ducks are looking drab in their eclipse plumage, the high foreheads and appropriately golden eyes made for an easy ID.

The very same afternoon, we hiked up to a spot called Inspiration Point. While the August afternoon birding was slow, the trail ran along a mountain stream, where we found at least two American Dippers. One put on a real show diving through the rapids in water I would have picked as far too swift. Impressive birds. And a lunch stop in Jackson, Wyoming, took us through the montain valley just perfect for a Mountain Bluebird, as well as Sandhill Cranes and a sharp dark phase Red-tailed Hawk, both pictured below.

One last spurt of birding before dinner netted us both Black-headed Grosbeak, a lifer for dad, and Dusky Flycatcher, a lifer for both, for a total of 7 on the day. It was the best single day we’d have all trip as far as new birds are concerned.

The next morning, our last in the Tetons, we took John, who’s not a birder but enjoys seeing new things, along with us to Two Oceans Lake for what was a chilly but almost ethereal morning in the mountains. We came up to the lake itself as the fog was slowly lifting off it, and hopped out of the car to a chorus of yelping baby Red-naped Sapsuckers, and as the lake became more clear, a group of Western Grebes suddenly materialized. No amount of searching could pick out a Clark’s, but enjoying the morning as the sunlight slowly crested the mountains was a phenomenal experience. Below is John and me taking it all in.

We left that afternoon to head north, but a pause due to road construction in an area burned during the famous fires 20 years ago netted us an unexpected Williamson’s Sapsucker. When we finally got rolling again, it was full speed ahead to Yellowstone National Park.

all photos except SACR and RTHA by Greg Swick

  1. John permalink
    August 12, 2008 12:26 pm

    I hope your uncle recovers.

  2. August 12, 2008 9:59 pm

    Thanks John, we’re hoping the same thing.

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