Early Owl SurveyThe snow just keeps on falling....
by Dan Hartman
Feb. 13, 2018We're having a steller winter out here in Silver Gate. On Saturday we reached 48 inches on the level. I was expecting a great owl year, coming off a wet summer when prey populations soared. However, food is just one of the important factors. With deepening snow depths can the owls get to this food?
In the past, I observed owls hunting tree wells. (This is the shallow snow cover under spruce and fir trees where the thick branches collect the falling snow and prevent it from reaching the forest floor.) It seems the tree wells are present when snow depths range in the 2-3 foot levels. But from 3 feet on up they seem to fill in making finding prey difficult. At this point the owls are forced to migrate vertically.
Anxious to know the plight of our owls, I ventured out into the night for a listen. Now my official boreal owl study doesn't begin for another three weeks, so if I don't hear anything it really doesn't mean much. At the same time, if I do hear singing it would mean everything.
I begin my owl run at Pebble Creek and head east. When I pulled into the campground parking lot, my old friend Orion, shone brightly over Round Prairie. The Big Dipper sparkled to the NorthEast. A jet plane flashed through the dipper filling the night with a distant roar. I waited until the sound died away, then listened to the night.
At post #2 where I found my first boreal nest years ago, I heard nothing.
Post#3 was silent, but wait! Somewhere far to the west a lone wolf howled.
Post#4 where I located a boreal nest in 2015 was far from silent. The temperature had dropped below zero and the trees were cracking in the cold. A couple of flying squirrels chirpped angerly.
But no owls.
At post#5 the snow brim beside the road was as high as my car. I've had two boreal nests here in the past, but all was silent. As were posts#6 and #7.
Back at the cabin I listened to the cold night for a time before the warmth of our fireplace beckoned me inside.
Like I said, the lack of singing owls really didn't mean much. Still it would have been nice to have heard at least one. I think my owl year has a lot to do with how winter goes from this point on.