By September, autumn has arrived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Days in September may be warm to hot or cool. Nights are generally always cool to cold. Snow will fall, although mostly at higher altitudes. However, roads and trails remain available, and there is excellent access to rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. It’s a pleasant time to visit.
You have a day, perhaps two. Three, to be exact. You’re a birder, and you want to increase your chances of locating birds while still enjoying the Jackson Hole environment. Here are a few suggestions:
First, decide where you’ll sleep. Make a motel, hotel, or campsite reservation or locate a place to stay early in the day. It’s wise not to expect that there will be suitable locations to sleep after a day in the field. Sure, kids go back to school in September, and families don’t go on vacation. However, there are many couples on the road.
Second, although there are many restaurants in Jackson Hole that offer a variety of cuisines, the majority are concentrated in the town of Jackson. It’s not a terrible idea to bring your own lunch; many places will make one for you. Consider that few eateries operate before 7 a.m., and there is only one 24-hour establishment (LeJay’s Sportsmen’s Cafe in Jackson). Furthermore, most restaurants shut at 10 p.m. A few minutes later, a few minutes sooner. Suggestions may be found in the newspapers, and a meal guide is provided at tourist centres and restaurants in the Hole.
Third, prepare yourself with the “Birds of Jackson Hole Checklist” (free); the Pocket Guide to Birds of Jackson Hole (cheap); Finding the Birds of Jackson Hole (a steal); and Birds of Jackson Hole and the Surrounding Area (a steal) (modestly priced and a true classic). You may not need these publications, but having them will help all of us. Oh, and a map of the region, which is available for free at restaurants, tourist centres, and most businesses.
Fourth, a few general observations regarding the birds at Jackson Hole in September. Flycatchers are preparing to migrate or have already departed. Swallows usually leave before October. Warblers and certain sparrow species have become scarce. Rough-legged hawks and Bohemian waxwings are still absent. Gray-crowned and black-rosy finches will most usually be found above the tree line. The Snake River cuts through Jackson Hole, and a branch, the Gros Ventre River, forms a triangle. These rivers and minor tributaries serve as routes for most migrating birds. Birding around these waterways is hence suggested in September.
Jackson Lake is formed by the Snake River’s first dam in Grand Teton National Park. This month is shorebird season on the west side of the dam, when waterfowl congregate in huge numbers. Walking the dam face is authorised; in fact, you may go beyond the dam (north) onto Willow Flats, an important ecosystem. You may spend an hour or two strolling around there. The willows grow tall and might make you dizzy. The Grand Teton Mountains may be seen to the west thanks to frequent openings. The Grand Teton Lodge, situated on the Flat’s eastern side, offers a shorter approach into the Willow Flats. The roads and trails just west of the Lodge take you straight into it. You could see lingering or migrating warblers, sparrows, and flycatchers here. Willow Flats is home to moose and, on rare occasions, black bears.
Christian Pond is located almost immediately to the east of Jackson Lake Lodge. A well-used and difficult-to-miss path system leads to and around this waterfowl sanctuary. Recommended.
An historic oxbow of the Snake River runs south and east of the Lodge and downstream of Jackson Lake Dam. The Ox-bow Bend is well worth exploring by automobile, foot, or small manoeuvrable boat. There are no motors. Keep an eye out for American white pelicans, common mergansers, California gulls, trumpeter swans, double-crested cormorants, and bald eagles.
There are several routes and climbs in Grand Teton National Park. A hike from String Lake Parking Area to Bear Paw Lake winds through a lodgepole forest along the lake and at the foot of the Tetons. You’ll pass an ancient burn that could still be home to a three-toed or black-toed woodpecker. The walk to Taggart and Bradley Lakes begins about three miles north of the Park Headquarters in Moose, Wyoming. It leads to two morainal lakes and a 15-year-old forest fire burn. Without foothills, you will be in the mountains as the Tetons climb.
There are two simpler methods to get into the slopes in Jackson Hole: a chair lift at Snow King Ski Area close in town and a gondola lift at Teton Village Ski Resort north and west of town. The Village lift takes you to the summit of a mountain, where black rosy-finches nest (usually). You’ll be at 10,446 feet, with a view of the valley bottom at 6,400 feet. Trails allow you to stroll and marvel at each activity. Keep an eye out for the black rosy finch, American pipit, and golden eagle.
By driving up Togwotee Pass north and east of Jackson, you may reach the Continental Divide at 9,600 feet. It’s quite birdy. West of Jackson, you may drive up 8,600-foot Teton Pass. It’s not always birdy, but you can get fortunate with your timing. A journey east of Kelly into the Gros Ventre Mountains is well worth the effort, and there are possibilities to see montane species. After Slide Lake, the route is unpaved but typically accessible in passenger cars driven cautiously. When the road is wet, some sections should not be tried.
A Wyoming Game and Fish Department elk winter feeding site located about five miles south of Jackson. On foot or by car, explore its riparian, marsh, and grassland/sage ecosystem. Red-naped sapsuckers, Lincoln’s sparrow, dusky flycatcher, and Eastern kingbird may all be found here.
A visiting birder may now read about recent bird sightings in Jackson Hole and its environs in the weekly Jackson Hole News. Grand Teton National Park biologists are helpful and will offer bird checklists. (Please complete one and place it in a mailbox; they are already stamped.) Your input will aid in the creation of changes to update occurrences and dates.) Finding the Birds of Jackson Hole includes detailed instructions and mileage for roads and trails, as well as cycling trips. Every second Sunday of the month, the Jackson Hole Bird Club meets. When possible, spend time outside. Because the weather in September is unpredictable, study the newspapers.
Good birding to everyone!
Bert Raynes and his wife, Meg, have lived and birded in Jackson Hole for more than 25 years. Bert is the author or co-author of several books about birding in the Tetons, including Birds of Grand Teton National Park and Surrounding Areas, Finding the Birds of Jackson Hole, Valley So Sweet, and A Curmudgeon’s Chronicles.