Yellowstone Reports

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Back to the Woods

Late start for nesting birds
by Dan Hartman

June 1, 2017

     I returned from Scotland about a week ago and was instantly busy with groups  By the way, Yellowstone is extremely popular in the UK, so I was well received, especially my owl program.

     Anyway, in the last few days I've been able to get back to walking the woods.  I really expected nesting to be in full swing.  I found just the opposite.

     Bluebird and hairy woodpecker females are still flying around, which means they haven't started incubating eggs yet.  Idid find a flicker in a cavity but many more still haven't chosen a cavity.  I didn't find any sapsuckers.

     Re-checking my great gray owl nests, I found all still empty.  So that's that.

     Yesterday I went on a scout with good friends Dave and Laura.  We climbed to a high aspen grove I haven't walked in years.  We discovered a pair of bluebirds, also a pair of flickers.  Promising nesting will happen soon.

     We climbed higher, reaching a view of decades old fence line that stretches across the sage flats backed by snow covered Pilot-Index.  Shortly after we re-entered a stand of mixed forests that lead down to the river.  Cindy and I had found evidence of great gray owls here some ten years ago, so I thought we'd look around a bit.  As we walked down a long meadow, a feather blowing in the wind caught my eye.  It was from a great gray.  We were instantly excited.  But, that excitement quickly dropped to frustration as more feathers came to view.  More than two dozen.  We'd discovered what remained of a dead owl.

     How did it die?

     Killed by another owl.....  maybe a goshawk?  More likely, it starved to death.

     The tail feathers told me it was an adult male.  Did that mean a female was nearby on a nest?  The feathers were a few days old.  She probably already abandoned the nest, if there was one.  We moved on.

     Today I climbed up to a pygmy owl nest that was active in 2015.  Two bison grazed beneath the aspens.  An elk with a calf barked and disappeared into the forest.  I sat down on a log to listen.  If I was lucky, I'd hear the little owl bring food to its mate.  Tree swallows flitted above the aspens.   A pair of Williamson sapsuckers moved from  tree to tree.  The first sapsuckers I've seen.  I glassed the cliffs miles to the south.  Two goats browsed in a green area.

     Time passed.  I walked around a bit.  Four fresh bear scats lay scattered under a large pine.

     I finally gave up.  No whistles had sounded from the forest.  I wasn't surprised.  I haven't seen a pygmy owl since January.

     Like the great grays, pygmy nest are going to be few and far between.


View slide show

Me After My Talk In Scotland


Great Gray Owl Feathers

Laura With Feather

Williamson Sap Sucker

Pygmy Aspen Grove