I was conducting cavity nesting surveys in the Beartooths when I noticed a robin barking back in the deep timber.
I decided I'd check it out even though all I ever find in this area are great horned owls. Of course when I got closer the robin flew away. As I walked through the big trees, a large shape took off to my left and quickly vanished. I started scanning the tree trunks when I realized I was looking at the chest of an owl camouflaged against the tree bark. Moving the glasses upward I found myself looking at a great gray owl.
For the last month I've been searching for just this sighting and wouldn't you know it, I just stumble on to the owl in this way.
The shadows were deep as it was almost noon and all the owl wanted to do is sleep, so I headed home.
At 5PM I was back at the owl. He had moved out in to the open and was attempting to hunt.
Now my job began. Moving close enough to keep him in view but not to disturb. The goal is to watch him catch prey then either eat it, (which means no nest), or carry it off into the woods to the female on the nest. Of course you wouldn't be able to keep up with him, but it wil give away the direction to the nest and eliminate 9/10 of the world.
A slow two hours went by. He hunted intensely but even though he would tense up now and then, he stayed on his perch.
At 7PM I started a wide circle around the owl, hoping to hear the female on the nest begging for food.
An hour later my circle was complete. I had found nothing.
The owl had moved across the meadow and was still hunting intently. Finally at 8:30 he hit the ground but was unsuccessful and returned to his perch.
Just before dark, he disappeared in to the trees.
I searched for him and really covered the area the next 2 days but could not find the owl.
On Sunday Parks Collins and his group of 15 arrived and we divided up in to three teams of five. Each team branching off in different directions from where I'd last seen the owl.
I was out this morning, arriving at the meadow at 6AM, trying one last time to either hear nesting sounds or spot the male owl. After two hours, I had to give up.
Finding this owl, then loosing it, adds to my disappointment of not coming through for the BBC Project. Which I now understand is another Frozen Planet series.
Interestingly, my friend Jeff Hogan had almost the same experience with a great gray in the tetons on the same day I did.