Wintertime wildlife viewing is spectacular, just be sure to respect nature (sponsored)
Brought to you by the Town of Frisco
You may not have ever seen a mountain lion, but a mountain lion has seen you, or so the saying goes.
Wildlife abounds in these hills, and if you know where to look and how to respect their habitat, you might get lucky enough this winter to see some of our local residents in action.
From feathered birds in the sky to furry mammals on the ground, winter is a beautiful time of year to see wildlife around Summit County. And while you might get a glimpse of a moose crossing the road in town or a herd of elk hanging low in the valley, the best viewing spots are from afar — far from cars and noise, and reasonably far from the animals themselves.
“You don’t have to go far — slap on some snowshoes or strap on the Nordic skis and cruise anywhere,” said Hunter Mortensen, Frisco’s mayor pro-tem and a professional ski patroller. “That’s where they’re not expecting us.”
Mortensen stresses the importance of respecting local wildlife and keeping a safe distance, even when seeking prime viewing spots. If viewing excursions are done carefully and respectfully, the rewards are worth it.
“My favorite trail when I’m not at work is the Peaks trail between Frisco and Breckenridge,” he said. “It’s great for snowshoeing, fat bikes, Nordic skiing and backcountry touring. If you do any section of that trail for an hour or more on any given day, there’s a good chance of seeing moose, maybe elk, definitely a fox.”
Here are some of the animals popular around Summit County in the wintertime, including some of the animals you likely won’t see, as well as tips from Colorado Parks & Wildlife — the agency that manages the state’s wildlife — about how to keep yourselves and the wildlife safe. One important rule of thumb: “With any animal, if they start to change their behavior, you’re too close, back away,” said Trina Romero, Watchable Wildlife and Volunteer Coordinator for Colorado Parks & Wildlife Northwest region.
Moose are usually fairly easy to see. They like to hang out in riparian or wetland areas, but sometimes you can see them in willow areas or in aspen groves, Romero said.
Moose can be aggressive if they get agitated, so it’s important to view them from a distance and respect their space. While other animals might flee when made uncomfortable, moose tend to stand up to whatever’s bothering them, Romero said.
Mortensen said he often sees moose while Nordic skiing on the Peninsula in Frisco.
Elk and deer
There are two herds of elk active in the winter throughout Summit County, Mortensen said. One herd hangs out around the Tenmile range and moves back and forth between Frisco and Breckenridge.
Deer are common sights down low during winter months when snow is deeper up high.
Romero said it’s important to stay away from animals like deer and elk in winter months because there’s less food available and they burn important energy reserves if they need to flee. They’re essentially surviving on fat storage in late winter, so pressure can lead to starvation or deaths of unborn calves or fawns.
Ermine, also known as short-tailed weasels, are brown in the summer but turn white during winter. Mortensen said he sees them a lot in the early morning. Their tracks create a long drag mark in the snow, and they’re easy to spot because of their beady black eyes, pinkish nose and black-tipped tail. They look like a long, lean little ferret, Romero said.
Foxes are everywhere in Summit County — Mortensen said he sees them about once a day. Keep a distance if you see one walking around and remember never to feed them or any other type of wildlife you see (feeding foxes is common, but considered very unethical and illegal in many areas of Colorado, leading to a hefty fine).
“They’re beautiful in the wintertime — their coats get so beautiful and full,” he said.
Mountain lions, bobcats and lynx
Colorado’s three cat species, mountain lions, bobcats and lynx, are elusive, but they are carnivores that are active year-round. While it’s fairly uncommon to see a cat, you might be lucky enough to see their tracks in the snow. Lynx were introduced to southwest Colorado in the late 1990s. Mortensen thinks he’s seen lynx tracks on the far south end of the Tenmile Range, but he’s never actually seen a lynx.
Bird viewing is enhanced in the wintertime due to beautiful feather patterns they can leave in the snow when they’re taking off, Romero said. Birds around Summit County include golden and bald eagles, ptarmigan, grouse, rosy finches, Barrow’s Goldeneyes and more. Visit coloradobirdingtrail.com for more information about area birds.
One of Mortensen’s favorite animals to spot in the winter is a porcupine.
“They’re awesome. Once you know what to look for — this big brown ball in the trees — they’re really neat to see,” he said.
Snowshoe hares turn white in the wintertime just like the ermine weasels. Mortensen said he’s seen them jump as far as 10 feet through the snow.
Mortensen has seen one bighorn sheep in Summit County, plenty of Dusky grouse and ptarmigan (birds) in the subalpine zone around treeline, and large white mountain goats above treeline up on the rim of the Tenmile Range. Ptarmigan, like ermine and snowshoe hare, also turn white in the winter to better blend into their surroundings.
“Snowshoe up the side of Quandary (Peak), or up by Blue Lakes, and there’s a really good chance you can see the mountain goats there,” he said.
Ethical viewing tips:
- Observe animals from a safe distance.
- Move slowly and casually, not directly at wildlife.
- Never chase or harass wildlife.
- Consider leaving your dogs at home, and always keep them on a leash and under control.
- If the animal reacts to your presence, you are too close.
- Respect others who are viewing the same animals.
- Do not feed wild mammals.
- Respect private property.
- Animals at rest need to remain at rest.
- Avoid animals that behave unexpectedly or aggressively.
*Visit cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/Viewing/aspx for more wildlife viewing tips.
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