When people think about catching glimpses of wildlife, they often picture themselves in shorts during the summer months, embarking on their evening strolls along the river corridor. As the sun slowly sets behind the mountain range, they hope to glimpse a small herd of deer grazing or a heron soaring above the trees. However, most people are surprised to learn that prime wildlife viewing extends into winter at Victory Ranch, and indeed, it can be the best time of year to witness the majestic animals that inhabit our land.
Many of the migratory and resident animals on property become highly visible during the winter months because of their contrast in color to the surrounding environment and lack of cover. Congregation of large herds of elk and deer can be seen foraging in the crucial habitat that Victory Ranch provides. As snow accumulates in the backcountry, many animals gravitate to their wintering grounds in lower elevations that offer more accessible foraging opportunities. Animals you may encounter include moose, elk, deer, bald eagle, mountain cottontail rabbits, and the abundant jackrabbits, along with short-tailed weasels that turn white to better disguise themselves from predators.
Migratory animals, such as the bald eagle, make their way to the Upper Provo River corridor for a short time and can be seen from late September to early Spring. These regal birds can often be viewed perched on Cottonwood tree snags right off the bridge by the Freestone Lodge and Fitzgerald Bridge area. Keep your camera ready, as you never know when an epic photo opportunity might present itself!
Ironically, it is not uncommon to have some of the most amazing wildlife seen from the comfort of your car as you drive around Victory Ranch; early mornings and evenings are often the best time to take a short drive around to try to identify some of the animals and their tracks.
Animal tracking is also an amazing way to understand and learn about the wildlife that surrounds us here at Victory Ranch. There are some simple tips that will increase your chances for successful wildlife viewing opportunities. Number one, always watch from a distance. I would recommend the use of binoculars, spotting scope or a telephoto lens to get close-up shots. Number two, try to stay still and quiet so that the animals are undisturbed and you can view them longer. If an animal starts to run, acts nervous, looks stressed or begins to act unnatural, it means you are too close and should slowly back off.
When viewing wildlife please keep domestic animals at home as they may disturb upland birds, chase, injure or kill small mammals, elk or moose. It is against the law to allow dogs to chase or harass wildlife in Utah.
Some additional courtesy notes: Please make sure to always maintain distance and never do anything to change the animal’s natural behavior. During the winter months, many animals are under great stress from the cold weather and deep snow. These unusual harsh conditions may cause them to expend additional energy and lose important fat reserves eventually threatening their chances for survival. Finally, never feed wild animals. Human food isn’t good for them and feeding them can make them lose their natural fear of people. Always make sure to discard of human food in bear cans and follow the leave no trace practices.
Happy animal tracking!