Last week Clemson University was in Yellowstone for their field studies. I've been spending time with Dave Tonkyn and his students each of the last twelve years. This year, however, we were shut down on a lot of our hiking by the wet weather.
The group did accompany me on a walk into an owl nest near Pebble Creek. This nest has been used three times in the last eight years and had a great gray owl in it for a time last year before being abandoned.
As we climbed the first hill, we stopped for a breather and to look around for a bit. High above us on Hornaday, a lone mountain goat billy moved through the cliffs. Behind us on The Thunderer, we spotted three bighorn and a couple more goats. We entered the first meadow and were forced to skirt wide of two bull bison. Back in the timber we came across numerous bear beds and lots of scat. a lone elk watched us from a meadow. A calf near by? Another twenty minutes of climbing and we reached the nest area. One of the girls spotted a feather atop a hunting snag. Checking other likely perches, we found white wash splashes. I should have been excited, but instead was somewhat confused. All the sign seemed to be two to three weeks old. Nothing fresh anywhere.
We finally reached the nest. Empty.
Are the owls in another unknown nest nearby and the sign we found from the male hunting the area a while back? Or did only one owl survive the winter and hung around near the nest waiting for its mate to arrive? Then giving up and leaving the area? We'll probably never know.
Below us to the east, a cow moose stood in a clearing. You'd think it would have lumbered off at the sight of us, but it only strutted around in a small circle. A calf was obviously nearby. We stayed away. There's nothing more dangerous than a momma moose.
Circling farther west, we crossed a large meadow. In the grass lay a seven point antler. Here and there sod was pulled back by a bear. His tracks visible int he loose dirt. A large tree had fresh claw marks shredding the bark. The height of the marks indicated a large grizzly.
Darkness was closing in so we headed back to our cars, disappointed we hadn't found an owl.
The next day we did come across a great gray owl in a different area.