Ten slow days drifted by. My leg showed little improvement. My only salvation was I knew the chicks hadn't hatched yet. If my leg would come around, I still had a chance to cover the nests best days. Finally at day 12 frustration got the best of me. I loaded up a light pack, grabbed my crutches and drove to the nest area.
Swinging down the highway on crutches drew some strange looks from the few drivers out that early. I chose a spot where the incline seemed to be the gentlest and started up through the sage. About 10 feet and I lost my balance and fell over backwards. Getting up, I tried again. Once again I found myself lying in the sage. I lay there looking up at the sky. "Maybe I really can't do this", I muttered. I got up and surveyed the slope. If I can just make the first 35-40 yards, the going will get easier. I started up one more time. Little by little I gained ground. Then the going got better. I swung along at what I thought was a good pace. Luckily, I was alone and had no one to compare myself to. Eventually, my little aspen grove came into sight. I stopped for a short rest and started laughing. I knew I was going to make it. Boy if my friends could see me now!
Another 10 minutes and I came to a stream. Here's where crutches came in handy. I planted the crutches in the wateer and vaulted across. Another 5 minutes and I reached the grove. Shaking out of my pack, I opened up a campstool I'd strapped to the pack. It felt good to drop down on to the stool and look around. The one place on earth I wanted to be. It was 6:45AM
The male arrived at 7:00a.m with a jumping mouse. He flew to the perch just ouside the cavity and began to call. The female soon emerged, received the mouse and re-entered the cavity, pulling the mouse in after.
Twenty minutes later the male was back with a small mouse. The female slipped out and took the mouse, but this time flew up into the pines to feed. She was back in the cavity 10 minutes later.
At 8:00a.m, a bear began thrashing around in the timber upslope. I kept a wary eye that way as I coninued to watch the nest cavity. I figured it was a black bear I'd seen earlier, but I had been gone 12 days. Maybe a new bear has enterd the area? At 8:20a.m. I got a strong whiff of the bear. He must be close. I packed up and started down. Being on crutches with a bear around isn't the smartest idea. I'd hoped to stay 4 hours, it had only been an hour and a half. But it was worth it. I got to see the female take the mouse into the cavity. That means the chicks have hatched!
June 3 Arrived at 6:45 a.m I was able to hike in using two ski poles. The male was already calling, then soon appeared on the perch with an audubon warbler. The female emerged and took the bird up into the pines to feed. 10 minutes and she was back in the cavity. At 9:45 the male was back with an unknown bird. This time the female took it into the cavity.
June 6 Arrived at 6:45a.m. Male soon arrived with a vole. Female emerged and received the vole but when she returned to the cavity, she missed and struck just below the hole. For a few minutes she tried to climb up into the cavity but failed and finally dropped to the ground. A couple of minutes later she was back on the perch still clutching the vole. This time she carried it directly into the hole.
Two more feedings occurred over the next 3 hours. A cassins finch at 8a.m and a mouse at 9a.m
A small black bear stumbled into the meadow shortly after 8a.m When he spotted me he raced back into the timber.
June 9 Arrived at 6:30a.m. Observed four feedings. A mouse at 6:50. Another mouse at 8. Still another mouse at 8:25 and a chick-a-dee at 9:40. Twice the male entered the cavity with the female gone and fed the chicks himself.
June 11 Arrived at 6:30a.m Male brought in a warbler which the female took inside. At 8:00a.m the male arrived with a mouse which the female took up to the pines to eat. At 9:00a.m the female appeared with a bird she apparently caught herself and took it into the nesting cavity.
June 14 Male brought in a jumping mouse which the female took inside at 7:10a.m The rest of the morning was quiet.
June 18 Arrived at 6:50a.m. Three feedings occurred. A jumping mouse at 7:10. a small mouse at 8 and the female brought in a bird she caught at 8:40 A chick looked out of the cavity for the first time this morning. Little black bear showed up again.
June 20 Arrived at 7:00a.m. Both adults came out of the cavity, so I just missed a feeding. Chicks are looking out of the cavity half the time now. Back at 3:00p.m. Male brought in a warbler at 3:15 and fed the chicks himself. Female arrived with a mouse at 6:45p.m.
June 21 Arrived at 7:00a.m. Male brought in a jumping mouse at 10:15a.m. Chicks seem to be close to fledging.