I’ve been working outside the park with a film crew this week. Our main focus has been ruffed grouse. On Monday and Tuesday I searched for the perfect shooting situations before bringing in the camera man. Grouse are easy to find, but locating ones that not only drum on a filmable log but also put up with a huge camera and sound gear is a challenge. While roaming through the forest, I made an amazing discovery. I was skirting a thick boggy area when I spotted something white tangled up in a patch of dead grass. It was an owl skull. Looking around, I realized our female from 2007s nest had been killed not far from here. I had left the body lay for scavengers. Five years have gone by but it brought back memories of that summer Cassie and I were guiding for BBC and had discovered this great gray owl family. We practically lived with them and witnessed the tragedy and triumph of those three months. Now I held the female owls skull and said, “I knew you”. Also, I came across a small nest tucked deep in a stand of aspen saplings. It seemed a little too large for hummingbirds, but too small for flycatchers. A warbler maybe?
I must admit I had some lingering effects from my grizzly encounter on Monday. For the next two days as I would approach a thick stand of timber, I would imagine a grizz charging out, then would basically relive the episode all over again. By the third day though, I was pretty much back to normal.
The camera man went out with me on Thursday and we began testing the grouse I had staked out. The first two hopped off their drumming logs as we closed in, but the third one continued to drum and even let Ivo set a microphone beside him. As we filmed, a coyote family howled from a nearby slope so I went searching for the den. Friday we continued filming the grouse and I expanded my search for the coyotes. Moving through draws of Douglas fir, I came across blue grouse. One even hopped off his displaying rock and ran over to confront me! I think if we actually got into a fight I could have taken him. My search for the coyotes took me up in to some rocky outcroppings where I did find an old den, then farther on I spotted a cave partially hidden by aspen shoots. As I got close I realized the three-foot opening was practically filled with a layer of dead sticks topped with another layer of fresh green vegetation. It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before. It seems way too much greenery for a pack rat. Too neat for a bear. Mountain lion maybe?
As I worked my way back I climbed a high slope, which gave me a great view of the sage hills below. If a coyote appeared I could watch him for some time from here. As I scanned with binoculars I passed by a brown spot, but when I looked again it was gone. I know I had seen something, so I peered for a couple minutes at the location. Nothing. Then out strode a sand hill crane. Well, howdy. I climbed down then and made the hike back to my car. A moose lumbered through an aspen grove. Flickers did their mating dance. A marmot whistled from a boulder. Wolf scat lay by an old elk leg bone.
The search for the den was unsuccessful. But I somehow had a hard time seeing it that way.