The Great Sawtooth Migration


Six winters' in Stanley! We count the years by winters around here. The cold white landscape, striking in beauty and majesty, lingers a bit longer in this part of the world. Surviving a few, one can truly begin to understand what is meant by "cabin fever." But, as each day passes, the sun hangs a little longer in the sky and the biting cold that makes beards grow long and grey, eases its grip and something spectacular is about to happen...

I emerged from the cave this morning, scruffy faced, my coffee cradled between my hands, desperate and in need of some redemption. The cold air nipped my face, as I began to shrink back to the warm glow of the fire. Just then, I heard prophetic singing in the skies above town. Looking west, I caught a glimpse of movement. Gracing the skyline was a pair of Sandhill Cranes. As I watched them soar into the distance, I listened to the trumpets of a new beginning. Soon the valley floor and mountain tops will explode with life. The cranes, like much of the wildlife around Stanley, migrate out of the valley and mountains, in pursuit of more suitable winter habitat. As a wildlife photographer, finding subjects can be challenging in the frozen landscape. For the animals that do stay, like my neighbor, the red fox, spring is a welcome visitor; for soon ground squirrels will be on the menu, and a litter of kits will be frolicking in the tall grass outside the den.

blue bird | Stanley chamber

Among the cranes, other varieties of wild avian have arrived, filling the air with the music of spring. Red wing blackbirds, mergansers, and osprey are among some of the early arrivals. It's only a matter of days until the swift footed pronghorn make their journey over the mountain passes, into their summer home, the sagebrush hills in the Sawtooth valley. Badgers emerge from underground lairs, and the stoic great grey owl watches from his perch in the lodgepole pine. Melting snow floods the valley floor. Meadows will soon be painted with mules ears, camas, and shooting star. Sand pipers, ibis, and curlew prepare to nest, hidden in the blossoming carpet. Awakening from their winter slumber, black bears graze and search for carrion, gifts of winters peril. The ermine is trading his white winter attire for a subtler summer shade of brown. And, if you listen carefully, you can almost hear the thunder of hooves; as mule deer and elk begin their annual parade. Bucks and bulls are shedding their crowns, grazing into the newly revealed mountain slopes. Wolves and mountain lions stalk closely behind. Soon the rolling sagebrush hills will be dotted with lupine, balsamroot, scarlet gilla, and sego; beckoning humming birds and buzzing bees to aid in their proliferation up the mountain slopes. The Sawtooths are coming to life. It's hard to imagine a better time and place to be. The miracle of Spring is on full display here in Stanley. With new hope and an eager heart, I await this time each year.

It is also a time to travel the highways with great caution. Animals are on the move, often crossing roads along the way. The majority of wildlife is most active in the mornings, evenings, and nights. It is important to drive slowly and be aware of animals along the roadway. This will insure everyone arrives in Stanley safe and we have plenty of wild critters to enjoy for the years to come!

badger | Stanley chamber

Late April through June provide an opportunity to get a head of the summer crowds and experience these incredible animals below the snowcapped peaks surrounding Stanley. Don't forget to pack your binoculars and a telephoto lens. Keep a safe viewing distance to avoid disturbing the animals. This will increase your chance of observing their natural behaviors. Grab a brew and sit on the deck at Bridge Street Grill, while watching elk and deer crawl across the mountain. Book a scenic trip with White Cloud Adventures, and float by blue heron, bald eagles, and river otter, as you brave the wild Salmon river. The snow is receding so hit the trail and look for the striking Western Tanager; or Idaho's state icon, the Mountain Bluebird. Your adventure is waiting. Visit Stanley this Spring and experience the great migration!

Small yellow and red bird on a branch looking at the camera | Stanley, ID The Sawtooth mountains in Stanley, Idaho
A fox and a good in a snowy field in Stanley, ID Wildlife in Stanley, Idaho
Wild Pronghorn in the rain in Stanley, Idaho

-Adam Gulick