Cindy and I along with Kelly made a two week trip back east to visit family and attend Cassie's graduation from Clarion University, PA
As soon as we returned, I began checking owl nests. Although some still have too much snow to approach. I had already checked Black-tail and Hell-Roaring before we left, so next was my collection in Sunlight Basin.
Now this is the place I had my grizzly encounters two years ago, so I was a little amprehensive, especially when fresh grizzly tracks were all over the trail on my way in. The first nest is a 15 foot snag, used last in 2010. It was empty. From here I bush-wacked over to an old goshawk nest last used by the great grays in 2007. Empty. Then I climbed higher to another goshawk nest they occupied in 2012 and another snag also used that same year. Both were empty. That's disappointing!!
Yesterday, I took Dave and the Clemson kids along with Tim Taylor to check my Pebble Creek nest. It's been used three times in the past, the last in 2010.
On the way in we came upon just the biggest grizzly scat you're ever going to see! Continuing up towards the cliffs, we heard ruffed grouse drumming from the forest. We had just reached the foot of the last steep hill to the nest site,when Avery, one of the Clemson girls, stopped us.
"I heard a low who-who-whooo", she whispered.
Well, that's the sound the female on the nest makes when danger is appproaching. It's pretty much done to alert the male. The thing is, up til now I had seen no sign of owls. No pellets. No feathers. No white-wash. So I had no illusions of the nest being occupied. Now there was a chance!
It took another ten to fifteen minutes to gain a vantage point of the mistle-toe. When we glassed it, there she was! Sitting tight with just the top of her head showing. How about that!
While we looked for some sign of chicks, Tim, who had climbed a bit called down to us.
"I've got something up here!"
What he had stunned me. There on the groud was a stash of pocket gophers. Seven in all. They had been obviously collected by the male great gray. But why here on the ground. Any passing marten, fox, coyote or bear could steal this hard earned food supply. For that matter, ravens could easily discover and steal the cache. Then I looked up. It's possible they had fallen out of a tree. Either way, it's a remarkable find. Something I had never seen before, although I have found perched saw-whet owls with a mouse or two sitting beside them.
As we moved on the female suddenly flew off to perch above us. Soon, however, she returned to the nest. The way she sat low leads me to believe the eggs hadn't hatched yet, which make this a late nest with the chicks probably not fledging until the fourth of July.
As we were leaving the area, a pine marten races across an open area above us. I thought again about the cache of gophers.
We found an elk antler farther downslope and stopped at the bear tree I found some twenty years ago. Fresh claw marks are on it every year. A fresh bear scat lay nearby.
I've still got four owl nests to check, hopefully this week.