My owl season which began in late February is now coming to a close. With my last nest fledging I now can reveal the ups and downs, triumphs and failures that accompanies every owl family.
I felt this would be a good owl year and it did turn out to be just that. Actually the best by far of my six year owl study. The season was primed with a wet summer and fall, followed by a mild winter. That combination lead to a huge abundance of mice, pocket gophers and voles. Owl food. Any egg hatched this year had a good chance of surviving. In the end, I located seven owl nests. Two great grays, two great horned, two boreal and one pygmy. Unfortunately, during the height of searching for nests, I injured my knee and was on crutches for two weeks. By the sounds I heard during my late winter nightly outings, I felt there were four boreal, two pygmy and a great gray nest left undiscovered. I probably wouldn't have found all of them, but maybe two to three. This first log will be of the great gray nest. My next stories will be on the pygmy then the boreal nests.
On April 13, I was able to climb up the the Beartooth nest. This is the same nest that was used last year. There's a 20% chance a nest is used on consecutive years, so I wasn't too optomistic. But when I reached my vantage point and glassed the top of the old snag, I was pleasantly surprised. There she was!
(Since I had so many nests to watch this year and I was battling an injured knee, I wasnt able to give this nest a lot of attention. My main goal was to see if it would fledge three chicks.)
June 1st I arrived at the nest at 7:45 AM. I'd had to use a crutch so was ready to sit and watch for awhile. The female flew off at 8:20 and didn't return until 9:20. There's definately three chicks inside the snag. By my calculation the oldest should be 2 to 21/2 weeks old. The youngest a little under two weeks.
I have been here before. Almost every nest starts with three hatchlings, but the youngest rarely survives. Last year this nest failed to fledge the third chick. But this is a special year. The forests are crawling with mice and voles. Pocket gopher sign is everywhere. If the male's any hunter at all three should make it.
June 6th Arrived at 6PM It's been raining every afternoon and evening for days. It's raining now. I stayed for two hours and saw only one feeding. All this wet weather could make hunting extreemely difficult for the male. The female covered the chicks with her wings, so I couldn't get a good look at the youngsters.
June 7th The rain stopped so I went in for a quick look at the chicks. I arrived at 5;30PM. The female was off the nest so I got a good look at the chicks. All three looked good and are turning gray in color. The male brought in a pocket gopher at 6PM
A terrible storm was approaching so I left early and reached my car just as it hit. On my drive home I was only able to go 40MPH as the rain came down in sheets. One wonders how the chicks, their nest open to the sky, are able to survive such a beating from the elements.
June 14th Arrived at 6PM The chicks should be nearing fledging time, but show little urge to do so. Male flew in with a large pocket gopher which he passed to the female north of the nest. She then flew in and fed the middle chick.
June 17th Arrived at 9AM Two chicks are out of the nest! One sitting twenty feet up a leaner just behind the nest and the other perched 50 yards to the north.
June 22nd Arrived at 7:30AM All three now fledged. Female sitting near nest. Two older chicks perched high in the firs. I couldn't find the smallest chick, though I did hear him call a couple of times.
June 29th Found the female sitting beside the youngest chick. Another chick perched nearby. Didn't find the oldest chick. Whole family is moving north of the nest site.
Note: I couldn't be happier with how this nest turned out. They proved it's possible to fledge three chicks and I look forward to next April when I'll again climb the slope and look for that round head atop the old snag.