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Checking Owl Nests

A Grizzly Encounter
by Dan Hartman

May 7, 2012

Cindy and I drove to Cody Friday and along the way checked out a few nests. Our golden eagle nest was empty. This was disappointing as a film crew was anxious to work on it this year. On our way home, we parked along the highway and I climbed up to a great gray owl nest that was used in 2010. As I passed a perch tree I picked up an owl pellet. This was good. At least an owl was in the area. The nest was empty. I was somewhat surprised after just finding the pellet, but empty is empty. I returned to our car and we had just started down the highway when Cindy spotted a great gray perched just inside the timber. It was having a hard time staying awake in the warm afternoon sun. We left it then only to return just before dusk. Once again Cindy picked it out not far from where we had left it earlier. I parked a little ways away so we could watch it without interrupting his hunting. In the next hour we observed the big bird fly from one perch to another, only attacking the ground once, unsuccessfully. It was almost dark when we lost him and headed for home. Ten miles farther west, another great gray suddenly flew across the highway to land atop a forty-foot spruce. A few seconds and it was gone again.
Saturday I went back to look for the owl we had come across in the night. In daylight, I could see an aspen grove and large stand of timber upslope. That would be the right habitat to start looking. Just above the aspen I came across a hundred year old beaver dam. Moose droppings were everywhere. The dam had been dug up in places recently by a bear. I realized I had forgotten to strap on my bear spray. Following the stream higher up I came across an old carcass. The trees were getting thicker and since I hadnít my spray or any water along, I decided Iíd come back another day and try again.
Today Cindy and I drove to Cody to ship some photos at UPS. It was about 11:00 A.M. on our return trip, I decided to stop and check on an old stick nest that was used by great grays back in 2007. It was only ten minutes into the timber so I left my spray behind and only grabbed binoculars. I remembered smelling something strong on my way in but it didnít register any warning signs in my brain. I guess I was too focused on trying to find the old nest. And I did find it, eventually. What was left of it. Since this nest is relatively close to where weíve been seeing the owl, I had hoped it might have a great gray tucked inside, but there wasnít enough nest left.
It was here I remembered a goshawk had nested that same year farther upslope and to the east. Maybe the owl could be there. I hadnít planned on going in any deeper, but since I was already this far, why not? Well I had only walked another thirty yards or so when I heard something moving just below me. I stepped down for a better look expecting to see a deer, when a grizz loped in to view just fifty feet away. It glanced at me and charged! I remember his claws were turned in as he approached. Itís funny how a serene day of looking for birds can turn into a frightening encounter within seconds. I yelled. He hesitated, and then came on. I yelled again and got ready to throw my binoculars. At thirty feet the 350 pound bear veered off a bit, so I yelled and waved my arms. This turned him and he loped down slope away from me. I lost him instantly in the heavy timber so circled wide to return to the car, stopping every now and then to listen. When I reached the highway I was a couple hundred yards from the car. Cindy spotted me and drove down to pick me up. She had heard me yelling and knew it had to be a grizzly.
Itís funny. She thought the yelling lasted 7-8 seconds. I thought the whole thing was over much quicker.
Iíve always said one needs a bear encounter every now and then to rid your mind of all the meaningless thoughts that have been bouncing around in your brain. Believe me, when itís happening the past doesnít matter. The future doesnít exist. Itís only here and now. Survive the minute!
Looking back, I figure I must have awakened the bear at its bed and it probably charged because of its confusion.
Iím going to make bear spray a priority from now on.

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View slide show

Great Gray Owl Just Inside The Timber

Not The Bear (I Didn't Take Any Shots)