Yellowstone Reports

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Looking for chicks

It took awhile
by Dan Hartman

Aug. 7, 2016

     I was informed the BBC wanted to send over the host and do another interview with the now fledged great gray owl chicks.

     Well, I had easily found them on July 16th but then couldn't pick them up on the 20th.  So I went in for an extended hunt on Tuesday.  In the past they always seemed to drift to the east, so I parked a half mile or so up the highway.

     I grabbed bear spray, water and binoculars and climbed up into the forest.  From here I would zig zag through the aspen conifer mix listening for that familiar trumpet sound the chicks make while begging for food.

     It was early morning so the flies and mosquitoes weren't yet a problem.  The heavy dew, however, soon had me soaked from the knees down.  As I walked along, I gave a chirp every now and then hoping to get the chicks started.  Presently, I reached the patch of timber that concealed the nest.  I couldn't believe I hadn't heard a peep so far.  Picking through the trees, I searched for any sign the chicks had been here recently.


     I considered searching farther west but instead decided to circle back to the car moving farther up slope this time.

     I was halfway back when I entered a small clearing.  It was here, years ago, I found the skull of the original great gray female from this nest.  She had been hit by a car during the 2007 nesting season and I had moved her body up into the trees.  Four years later, I had discovered her skull here where I stood today. 

     Being here made me think of the many memories her and her descendants have given me.  The joy when the dozen or so chicks fledged and the sadness when I discovered adults dead on the highway.  Three to be exact.  

     And now, through BBC and PBS, the story of this family of owls will be told in film world wide.

     Who would of thought?

     I was almost back to my car, when I thought of the tepee poles erected some 12 years ago on the hill to my left.  I was tired but climbed the hill anyway.  I often stand beneath it when I need strength or to clear my head.  As I got close I found myself climbing over numerous deadfall.  One branch finally tripped me and I fell heavily on my bad knee.  The pain was nauseating.

     I got up and sat on the downed tree, rubbing my kee.

     "What was I doing here?"

     I could have just called it a day and gone home. 

     I looked around.  The deadfall was no accident.  A wood cutter had dropped a dozen or so dead trees, then had just taken the bottom half of the trees and left the tops.  Another tree had hung up and he had left it.  Another fell downslope and he left that also.

     I heat with wood.  But when I drop trees I take the whole thing.  Even the limbs.  This guy left a mess.  One of the trees had fallen onto my tepee.  I cleared away the branches.  There were still a few poles left unbroken.

     I put it back up and stood beneath it for a time.

     I took the next day off to rest my knee but on Thursday was back at the nesting area.  My plan was to search to the west, but on a hunch, I climbed up to the nest first.  About halfway up, I caught a flash to my right.  The male owl landed in an aspen thirty feet from me and began to hunt.

     "The chicks mst be close by," I thought.

     Sure enough I soon heard chirping from the timber above me.  I eagerly hurried upslope.  When I reached the dense timber, I cold hear them but couldn't see them.  Then on cue, first one, then another, then the third flew out to land 20 feet in front of me.  There they perched, bobbing their heads and chirping loudly.  It was like they recognized me and came out to say hi!  I talked to them and they turned their heads to listen.

     I hadn't brought a camera as I expected to be walking for hours.

     When I returned home, there was a message from BBC asking me to film the chicks when ever I found them.

     Oh, well.


View slide show

Growing Chick

Hide Going Back To Nature

Fresh Bear Sign

Great Gray Owl Skull

Mess Left By Wood Cutter

Tepee Poles

Hunting Great Gray Owl