I'd been hearing stories of a great gray owl being seen from Lower Baronette to Upper Baronette. After a few unsuccessful attempts at early morning and late evening drives, I spent a morning combing the few meadows on the south side of the highway. All I found was lots of black bear and moose sign. However, the meadow above Lower Baronette appeared to be good great gray habitat.
Last week Cindy and I decided to explore the area between the highway and the Soda Butte Creek. We parked a car at Lower Baronette, then started our hike below Upper Baronette. We decided to keep the stream in sight if possible. That led to bushwacking through dense timber and over lots of deadfall.
In the early going, meadows or even any open areas were few. As we moved through the trees, we looked for owl sign. Thinking like an owl, my eyes go to perches that overlook hunting areas. Also we are always looking for possible nest signs. And we did find a few. Broken off trees, snags that have a depression in the top suitable for laying eggs.
I admit the climbing over deadfall was becoming exhausting and the lack of owl sign didn't help. We did come across numerous bear scats. All two week to a month old. Also it was hard to go more than a hundred yards without finding a bear tree. These are trees that have been clawed by grizzlies and black bears. Some were five to ten years old, others very recent. One had bark still lying beneath.
Remember our main objective was searching for any sign a great gray could be using this area. We finally did find white wash that had been washed by rain. But, that alone didn't excite me much. Without a feather, or even an owl pellet, it would be hard to identify the owl species.
The hike itself was beautiful when we weren't fighting through deadfall. Across the creek and far above us, Baronette Peak held many waterfalls. Mountain goats clung to the ledges and petrified tree logs glowed orange in the sun.
We were about a half mile from our car when the strong smell of bear drifted from the forest. Soon after we found tracks in the mud. Also a fresh scat that was still somewhat green. While the previous dozen or so scats we had seen were probably from a black bear, these droppings were easily more than twice their size.
There just wasn't enough sign to continue searching for the owl. My next move would probably be to walk the Baronette ski trail across the creek.