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Promise Of Springtime
by Dan Hartman

March 8, 2012

Probably the most difficult month of the year is March. We’re given flashes of spring, which are quickly buried the next day by snowstorms. Even on those beautiful 40-degree days, one still has to don snowshoes.
Signs of spring are visible. Our first junco appeared at our feeder a few days ago. Grizzly sightings are being reported in the Park. A robin was seen at The Confluence. But here comes the snow again!
When April arrives I can start hiking into my owl nests. In May I’ve dozens of aspen groves to explore for bird nests. By June the Beartooths open up and a whole other realm of possibilities exist.
But now it’s March.
Two years ago we were descended on by boreal owls. My evenings were consumed with singing skies and I couldn’t wait until the next evening to find how the owls had moved overnight. To decipher what their calls meant and where they might nest. March fairly flew by that year, but 2011 was quiet. Snow just kept falling. We topped out at 60 inches on the level by early April. Owls just couldn’t nest in these conditions.
This year looked good until 2 feet of snow fell in late February. Our snow was still less than last year but a foot more than 2010. How would this affect the boreals? Well, my excursions into the Park have been quiet thus far.
Tonight promised to be a good night. Very little wind and a full moon in a cloudless sky. The only negative was the falling temperatures. It was going to reach
-10 by morning. As I left the cabin, the moonlight poured in my rear window like a truck with its brights on. When I reached Pebble Creek it was 9:00 and the moon had risen so to bathe the snow covered landscape with an eerie glow. I estimated the snow level to be a little over 2 feet here. With great expectations I stood silent, knowing any moment I would have hear that familiar wooing. The quiet was deafening. Undaunted I drove 2 miles to my next location. Again silence. Listening spots 3 and 4 netted the same result. By the time I reached the Wyoming/Montana state line, my enthusiasm was waning. The snow level was over 3 feet here. My chances weren’t good. As I climbed out of my car, the murmur of the Soda Butte Creek below me filled the air. I stood silent. Then off to the north I made out the “woo, woo, woo, woo, woo” of a boreal. I smiled, “Got one!” I said to no one, but really to everyone. It continued until I moved on. Now I’ve got something to work with. I found myself wishing it was tomorrow night so I could chart his movements and listen for the prolong song that signals his finding of a mate. Listening locations 6 and 7 gave me nothing, but I couldn’t help but be optimistic. When I reached our cabin around 10 P.M., I stood for a minute to listen to the night. Far away to the west purred a snowmobile. A dog barked in Silver Gate. Then off to the north came the “woo, woo, woo, woo, woo”.
Well, maybe March isn’t so bad after all.

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Boreal Owl