The warm weather we've experienced lately has gotten me wondering about how wildlife is responding. Will bears emerge from their dens for a look about? Can I expect black rosey finches to arrive a month early? Should I do my owl run and see if the boreals are confused enough to start singing?
Well, on Wednesday my good friend, Paul Brown, was up from Jackson with a group from the Teton Science School. He informed me a boreal was calling above Cooke City Tuesday night. Now that got me excited about making my owl run.
As luck would have it, the wind picked up and a couple of storms moved through so hearing owls would be impossible. Finally, Sunday night, the wind slowed to a gentle breeze.
I started out a 9PM as the Grammy Awards were beginning. The ten mile drive to Pebble Creek took about fifteen minutes. I climbed out and listened to the night. Orion shone above me. The twinkling starts seemed happy to see me again.
Here at the campground (listening post #1) the snow would be less here than any other spot I'd be checking tonight. I listened for three minutes. Nothing. Then moved on to my second post in Ice Box Canyon. I thought I heard the end of a call as I stepped out. Five minutes later and nothing else sounded. Maybe it was just my imagination. Listening post #3 was also silent. At Upper Barronette, #4 post on my run, I listened anxiously. For three years this had been my favorite spot. The Baron, as I called the boreal owl that always sounded to the south, was my favorite and most consistant. Last year this area had become silent. I hoped for his return. Nothing. I moved on.
At post #5, the Wyoming/Montana state line, I parked and climbed out. An urgent call exploded from the forest to the north. It wasn't your normal singing boreal, this was a call that proclaimed this owl had found a mate! The calls were rapid and loud, probably from fifty to seventy-five yards upslope. Another minute and all was silent. I listened a while longer but the singing had stopped. Still.... a mate this early in the season?
At the Northeast Gate, post #6, the forest was silent. I pushed on past the cabin towards Cooke City. Maybe Pauls owl is singing. I parked at the Visitor Center and listened. Sounds of the town filled the night but no owl calls.
I drove back towards our cabin stopping at post #8, Sheep Creek. Nothing. No, wait. A call drifted in from the northeast. This was a normal singing boreal. A series of notes. Five seconds of silence. Then another series of notes. Five seconds, then another song. It was still singing when I drove away.
At our cabin, post #7, I stood at our woodpile and listened for a time. Nothing sounded. Still two singing owls this early in the year is encouraging. The last time boreals called in early February was 2010 and that year I heard ten individuals, also the only nest I've ever located.
A rhymatic din came from the cabin. The Grammys were still on. Millions of people were tuning in to hear the music. I'll take the lonesome singing I heard from the forest.