As my owl season continues, I re-evaluated my methods of finding nests. Great grays haven't arrived yet, I'm pretty much doing all I can in locating boreal cavities. But, what about pygmys? I always mark an area I hear them call from. Then during nesting time, (May-June), I would walk these areas hoping to hear feeding sounds. It's worked for me twice. That's not good enough. Maybe I can fine tune their breeding areas. Get it down to one aspen grove instead of a mountain slope.
On Saturday, I had Cindy drop me off near where we heard a pygmy owl calling last Tuesday. I asked her to pick me up in two hours, strapped on snowshoes and started up the steep slope.
I thought the calls had come from the west of where I now stood. The best case scenero would be I would hear him calling, then follow the sounds to his nesting area. That's why I gave myself two hours. I headed towards the nearest aspen grove. (My two previous nests were in live aspens.) As I passed through a cluster of five mature aspen trees, I glanced up and spotted the little owl watching me. How about that!
Pretending I didn't see him, I snowshoes on past him a few yards before stopping and getting out my camera. Man, he was tiny! If I looked away I had trouble finding him again. I say "he" because the males are smaller than the females.
Taking a few photos to document him, I backed off to a log sticking out of the snow and sat down. Looking around I began picking out possible nesting cavities. There was a cavity in the tree just behind him and another in the aspen between him and I. Downslope forty yards was a cavity near the top of a dead aspen snag. To my right, beside a small stream, were three more aspens, two of which held cavities. I got up to check a couple of aspen upslope. Whoosh! A grouse exploded from behind the log. It landed on a nearby branch to strut back and forth before floating off downslope. I glanced at the pygmy. He could of cared less and appeared to be going to sleep.
The aspen upslope were hole-less but one had black bear claw marks from last summer. In all, the aspen grove contained 17 trees spread out in a 40 yard by 40 yard meadow surrounded by lodgepole and spruce. I returned to my log and sat down again. The little owl was sleeping. What now. I still had an hour and a half before Cindy would return. What does one do when he accomplished his goal so quickly?
Suddenly, the pygmy gave a soft 'woo, woo, woo" followed by a single "toot" then fell silent again. A half hour passed and the wind picked up. The owl swayed with the breeze, waking now and then to look around.
I got to my feet and snowshoes towards the timber to the west giving the pygmy one more glance.
In theory, the owl calling from the aspen grove four days ago and being perched here now should indicate this is his nesting area. Will he find a mate? Does he already have one? Maybe that's who the soft warble sound was meant for.
I'll try to continue to check on him every couple of weeks, but also try to find more pygmys calling and fine tune their nesting territories.