Yellowstone Reports

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Hiking In The Woods

Checking An Old Owl Nest
by Dan Hartman

May 6, 2012

The snow level had dropped enough for me to check an old owl nest last week. I was going to be hiking alone in an area full of bears so my friend Steve suggested I make it a toucan hike. Meaning two cans of bear spray in leu of a partner.

Well I was only twenty minutes in when I heard something heavy running away from me. A few more steps and there was his bed. He went west and I was heading north so I continued on. Another bed laid beside a tree a couple hundred yards upslope. A pair of red tailed hawk sat together on a dead branch. Thereís a nest a few hundred yards west of here every year. As I entered the timber holding the nest, a large marten scurried along a log in front of me. The snow under the thick stand of timber had not melted much, so I was post holing in knee-deep mush. My shoes were soon squishing with every step, but the nest was only another hundred yards up.

I passed by a large doug fir that would serve as a perch tree if the nest is in use. No owl sign anywhere. When I reached a viewpoint for the nest, I wasnít surprised to find it empty. It was last used in 2010. Before that it was occupied in 2005 and 2006. I looked around a bit. Bear scat lay beside a log. I raised my binoculars for one more look. Still empty, but wait. Whatís that moving in the breeze below the nest? An owl feather! I scanned the clump of sticks again. There halfway down the mistletoe I just made out the top of an owl head. A great gray! How about that! Is seems the nest may be deteriorating so the owl had to find a new spot. Hopefully it holds together for one more season.

As I was passing a small pond on my way out, I must admit my mind was more on the nest than where I was walking. So when a goose grunted a few feet away I nearly jumped out of my skin. Then a grouse clucked to my left. They reminded me one shouldnít move through bear country with his mind floating somewhere else. To my left a coyote began barking like a guard dog. Itís a good bet thatís where the grizz is. As I continued down the barking persisted. Even when I reached my car I could still hear the coyote. I feared his den was under attack. A fox moused beside the road on my way home.

Note: As Iím writing this the young moose that was chased by our local grizzly is feeding below the cabin.


View slide show

Owls In The Nest From 2006

Red-tailed Hawk Pair

The Nest Today

Canada Geese

Ruffed Grouse

Mousing Fox