Yellowstone Reports

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Into The Woods

Pygmy Owl Encounters
by Dan Hartman

Dec. 18, 2011

Iíve been anxious to head into the woods lately but the lack of snow makes snow shoeing difficult. At the same time there is really too much snow for boots.

The appearance of the boreal owl at our cabin got me to wandering if they may also be hanging around their nest site of two years ago. Itís the same area I had my encounter with they pygmy owl last spring. Since there is not any plowed parking near the area I wanted to explore, I had Cindy drop me off along the road with the agreement to pick me up again in two hours.

As I started up the steep slope I realized I could have worn snowshoes. In places the snow was 1 Ĺ to 2 feet deep. Under the big trees it was only 6 to 8 inches so I followed the forest edges all I could. Ermine tracks were everywhere as well as squirrel. Mouse tracks were in the tree wells and it was here I looked for sign of the boreals. No luck.

I was searching farther upslope when the sound of chickadees reached me. I pushed my way in their direction. They seemed to be harassing something. As I got closer I realized they were too high for a boreal. Then I heard the single toot notes of a pygmy owl. My old friend from last Spring!

I finally located the tiny owl by checking out the dead treetops. Three chickadees flew around him like mosquitoes. For the next half hour I followed him from treetop to treetop, then moved on. Elk barked at me from higher up. I searched more stands of thick spruce. Still no boreal sign.

My time was almost up so I waded back down to the highway, Cindy soon showed and I was on my way back to our cabin.

I did not find what I wanted, we rarely do. The pygmy was a good discovery. Weíll continue our match of wits next spring.

When we got home there was a story via email about a pygmy owl encounter. Strange!!! Iíve included the story here with Leo Leckies permission.

Hi Dan :) I work for the Yellowstone Association at the Albright VC and live in the YCC Camp, and I thought you might enjoy my Northern Pygmy Owl story ... With reports that the Canyon Wolf Pack was active in my neighborhood the morning before, I ventured out my front door to hike the feet of the ancient volcanic cinder cone, Bunsen Peak. The snow was up to my knees at points, and I could have probably donned snowshoes, but the feel of different snow depths beneath your feet has its own rewards. Having a sense for their possible path, I plodded on. And it wasn�t long before I not only found Wolf tracks but the obvious slide path of an Otter as well. (I marveled at not only the distance from water but the hills and slopes upon which it was traveling.) As I surveyed the various signs, the flight of something caught my eye � It landed in a tree very close to me, and after pulling out my binoculars knew it was some sort of tiny, tiny Owl ~ about the size of my hand. And even more curious, as I followed the snow signs, I noticed that the little Owl was following me, in the middle of the day, flying silently � almost floating amidst the blowing flakes and crystals. I thought that perhaps the little one was as curious about me, until I heard a �thwoomp� beside me while examining tracks. And as it pumped it wings with all its might, carrying a Vole nearly the same size up to the nearest branch, I realized that this ingenious hunter was following me, waiting for that inevitable moment when I would rouse a creature from its snowy depths. It wasn�t long before the biting wind and cold coerced me back in the direction from which I had come � warm tea and marmalade toast awaits!

Somewhat like Leos experience, I once observed a great gray owl following a black bear scooping up voles the bear had spooked. D.H.


View slide show

Chickadee Mobbing A Pygmy Owl

Boreal Country

Searching For Boreals (needle in a haystack?)

Boreal Nest of Two Years Ago

Pygmys Like To Perch In The Top Of Dead Trees