Yellowstone Reports

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My Grammy Awards

And the winner is....
by Dan Hartman

Feb. 9, 2015

     The warm weather we've experienced lately has gotten me wondering about how wildlife is responding.  Will bears emerge from their dens for a look about?  Can I expect black rosey finches to arrive a month early?  Should I do my owl run and see if the boreals are confused enough to start singing?

     Well, on Wednesday my good friend, Paul Brown, was up from Jackson with a group from the Teton Science School.  He informed me a boreal was calling above Cooke City Tuesday night.  Now that got me excited about making my owl run.

     As luck would have it, the wind picked up and a couple of storms moved through so hearing owls would be impossible.  Finally, Sunday night, the wind slowed to a gentle breeze.

     I started out a 9PM as the Grammy Awards were beginning.  The ten mile drive to Pebble Creek took about fifteen minutes.  I climbed out and listened to the night.  Orion shone above me.  The twinkling starts seemed happy to see me again.

     Here at the campground (listening post #1) the snow would be less here than any other spot I'd be checking tonight.  I listened for three minutes.  Nothing.  Then moved on to my second post in Ice Box Canyon.  I thought I heard the end of a call as I stepped out.  Five minutes later and nothing else sounded.  Maybe it was just my imagination.  Listening post #3 was also silent.  At Upper Barronette, #4 post on my run, I listened anxiously.  For three years this had been my favorite spot.  The Baron, as I called the boreal owl that always sounded to the south, was my favorite and most consistant.  Last year this area had become silent.  I hoped for his return.  Nothing.  I moved on.

     At post #5, the Wyoming/Montana state line, I parked and climbed out.  An urgent call exploded from the forest to the north.  It wasn't your normal singing boreal, this was a call that proclaimed this owl had found a mate!  The calls were rapid and loud, probably from fifty to seventy-five yards upslope.  Another minute and all was silent.  I listened a while longer but the singing had stopped.  Still.... a mate this early in the season?

     At the Northeast Gate, post #6, the forest was silent.  I pushed on past the cabin towards Cooke City.  Maybe Pauls owl is singing.  I parked at the Visitor Center and listened.  Sounds of the town filled the night but no owl calls.

     I drove back towards our cabin stopping at post #8, Sheep Creek.  Nothing.  No, wait.  A call drifted in from the northeast.  This was a normal singing boreal.  A series of notes.  Five seconds of silence.  Then another series of notes.  Five seconds, then another song.  It was still singing when I drove away.

     At our cabin, post #7, I stood at our woodpile and listened for a time.  Nothing sounded.  Still two singing owls this early in the year is encouraging.  The last time boreals called in early February was 2010 and that year I heard ten individuals, also the only nest  I've ever located.

     A rhymatic din came from the cabin.  The Grammys were still on.  Millions of people were tuning in to hear the music.  I'll take the lonesome singing I heard from the forest.


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Boreal Owl

Boreal Chicks

Immature Boreal Owl