January and the new year usher in typically dry weather and blistering cold. This creates a lot of great opportunity for frigid portraits of wildlife, as well as landscapes in a deep freeze. Most of the hunting in the area has ended by this time, so many animals have returned to their more natural habits and comfortable habitats.
Most bald eagles by this time will have returned to the cottonwood trees along the banks of rivers and streams. A few can still be found along Antelope Flats making use of the large power lines running along the east side of the valley. Otherwise, both the Gros Ventre River and Snake River make ideal places to look for the majestic birds of prey.
Beavers and Otters
Like December, many beavers are tucked away under the ice, though a few from time to time will emerge around sunrise and sunset to gather extra food and supplies. Otters too can be found in similar habitat, most likely in the Oxbow Bend area.
Black and Grizzly Bears
With the hunts having ended, most bears, both black and grizzly, will have gone into hibernation by now. January is, in fact, the least likely month you’ll see bears in the area. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible however, as bears will occasionally emerge from their dens to get a feel for how the winter’s going. The odds of encountering one during this time though, are remarkably rare.
Bighorn sheep can easily be found at this point all over the National Elk Refuge road along Miller Butte. Their proximity to the road makes them an ideal subject during the colder winter months. Parking areas along the road also provide ample opportunity to stop and watch them in their natural habitat.
Without a scope, bison can be very difficult to find in Jackson Hole during the month of January. By this time, most have migrated into the National Elk Refuge, but unlike the elk and bighorn sheep, are tucked away in the north end, frequently out of sight for the naked eye, or even decent photos. If it’s a mild winter, a few stragglers can be found making their way there still along the Gros Ventre River or Antelope Flats.
Coyotes and Foxes
Both coyotes and foxes are beginning to take great advantage of any wolf kills left behind. Likewise, with their mating season rapidly approaching next month, they’re becoming more active in preparation. Though a sighting of either is not guaranteed, sightings are more frequent during this time thanks to the aforementioned reasons, as well as their juxtaposition on the snow when they’re hunting rodents beneath the snow. A healthy fox will especially stand out on the snow.
Many times, coyotes are also confused with wolves. In order to tell the difference, look for the coyote’s large ears on its head, and a more solid color throughout its fur. Size can also be an indicator, but many people aren’t expecting a healthy coyote to be as large as they are in Grand Teton National Park, often throwing visitors off, especially with a thick winter coat.
The new year brings with it the Jackson Hole Elk Herd fully populating the National Elk Refuge. Viewing is readily available from Highway 89 driving north of the town of Jackson. Some days, the elk will be nearby the highway, other days, they’ll be a bit farther back.
With the hunt season ending, moose will be heading back to the Gros Ventre River from Antelope Flats, but will frequently be seen between both, though primarily along the river. Often they’ll also be seen along the base of Blacktail Butte foraging on many of the plants in the area.
Mule deer habits don’t change very much from December to January. They’ll still be in and around town, as well as along the Gros Ventre River and just north in Antelope Flats.
Any pronghorn still in the valley in January will most likely be in the National Elk Refuge, often nearby bighorn sheep on the north end of Miller Butte. During this time, they’re becoming increasingly vulnerable to predators such as wolves and mountain lions.
With the hunts on wolves intensifying, wolves have become more scarce than in recent years. However, your best bets will be to look in the open flats of the National Elk Refuge from either the highway pullouts or the dirt road, or along the Gros Ventre River and Antelope Flats. In the latter, they’ll be in search of varying deer species such as moose and elk that have begun weakening during the winter.
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