Cindy and I were on our way to Cody last Tuesday when I spotted a dead raptor lying on the highway shoulder. As I often do, I checked it out.
To my amazement it was a long eared owl! I got one on a camera trap last fall in the Beartooths, but this is the first one I had physically seen since the late 90's. Also in the Beartooths.
I picked it up and carried it to the south side of the highway and layed it beneath a sagebrush.
These owls are masters at hiding so it did not seem right leaving him beside the highway for the whole world to see.
Below lay a stream bottom, dotted with willowly like trees and thick bushes covered with thorns. It was in one of these clumps of bushes, Cindy spotted a dark shape.
I climbed the barbed fence to investigate It was about fifty yards downsloope through a muddy bog. When I got closer, I could make out an owl chick tucked deep in the barbed branches. To my left was a lone willow tree and twenty feet up a small stick nest.
Cindy checked it out from her higher position and reported a long eared owl adult with a chick were inside. It was so thick, one could hardly make out their shapes.
We decided with one chick fledged, others would soon follow, so we left, planning to come back later.
Which we did last night.
The female sat low in the nest tree, but flew as I climbed the fence. The chick in the bushes had moved but I soon located it tucked in deep throny branches.
Back at the nest tree, I found a just branched out chick and after more searching finally found another on the back side of the tree.
White-wash and pellets littered the ground below.
White tail deer blew at me from the thick brush. Nesting song birds chirped. With the stream running high just a bit farther downslope, the little valley was much like an oasis, surrounded by sagebrush.
Since the owl family has lost its' male, who was doing the majority of the hunting, the female will have to assume this role. Luckily the chicks are no longer confined to the nest, so the female is free to move about more freely. Can she find enough food for all three chicks?
Time will tell.