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Night Owl

Snow Shoeing In The Dark
by Dan Hartman

March 18, 2012

Last week began with great promise. Our two singing boreals grew to five. The most gratifying being our old friend from 2010 at our #4 listening post. He was easily our most consistent singer in 2010 and the first to find a mate that year. So hearing him again in his exact same spot was cool.

Saturday night was even better. He was projecting a prolonged song. #4 has found a mate. The prolong song is given at a potential nest site, so a suitable cavity has to be present. Unfortunately I did not have my snowshoes in the car. “Well tomorrow will be soon enough,” I thought. Sunday it began to rain. And not only rain but incredible wind. Late morning I snowshoed to the area the prolong song seemed to come from. Just a few feet into the timber I came across fresh ermine tracks, then just a bit farther upslope, I was stopped dead.

Mountain lion tracks! But not just a single trail. The area had prints everywhere! The tracks were obviously made last night and were probably of a mother with yearling kittens or a female and a male hanging out together, as the tracks varied in size. I also found coyote and marten tracks. A carcass nearby? I looked around a bit. The trails headed straight up. The soggy snow wouldn’t let me follow. I got back to my main objective. Finding possible nesting cavities.

Drifting left of the steep slope I soon spotted a snag. It was an old Douglas fir and sure enough there were two cavities near the top. This could be the nest. But as I moved around through the trees, I located five more snags with holes. Finding a way to snowshoe up to the next bench, I checked the trees farther up. Only a small cavity but I could see there was a small level-ish clearing higher up. The going was extremely steep but I finally gained the high meadow. It was only fifty yards long and thirty yards deep. All around the sides were straight up but some how this little bowl clung to the mountainside. At the east end stood a big snag and on the backside were two cavities. One the largest I’d found yet.

Exhausted, I lowered myself down, falling every now and then. A mountain lion trail appeared and I used it to help me cling to the steep slope. At times I thought the rivets of my bindings would burst. But my Tubbs held and I made it back to the main trail and a quick descent to the car. It was still windy when Cindy and I went out that night. I must admit, I didn’t mind not hearing #4 calling. The thought of snow shoeing in the dark with all the mountain lion sign around was a bit unnerving. The rain and wind continued.

By Tuesday I was so antsy to hear the owls I decided to snowshoe into the cavities in the dark and see if I could hear them by just getting closer. This time instead of finding mountain lion, I soon came across wolf tracks. It looked like the whole Lamar Canyon Pack had crossed my trail. I got to the first cluster of cavities and listened. The wind roared through the trees and I heard nothing. I was just returning to the highway when Cindy pulled up. She had news! My boreal from the nest we found in 2010 was calling! If he can just find a mate, we’ll be in business.

The bad weather continued through the week. Saturday night #4 was calling from his usual spot, as the wind had died somewhat. Then all of a sudden a prolong song came from the trees just below us. I strapped on snowshoes and headed toward the sounds. The snow was rotten and I broke through often. I finally located the tree the owl was singing from and sure enough a large snag with a cavity stood just thirty feet away. The whole time #4 was calling from his perch far up slope, so who is this owl? As I climbed back out of the trees, my flashlight picked up the fresh tracks of a bison. I turned my beam to the side and picked out the shinning eyes of the bull watching me closely. Detouring around, I started up my trail to the cluster of cavities upslope. #4 continued to sing and I was eager with anticipation of what I might find.

When I reached the first cavities I was disappointed when the calls were farther upslope. Continuing on I passed cavity after cavity. The call was always farther. Now the trail went straight up to the little hanging meadow. That’s where the singing seemed to originate from. I remembered the big snag. It made sense. Well, I didn’t want to attempt the climb in the dark so I returned to the car. The wind died completely so we checked out our other listening posts. All but one had owls singing. Nine in all--matching our one night high from March 2010. So far #4 is the only male to find a mate. In 2010 five of the eleven males in our study area found mates.


View slide show

Me With An Injured Boreal

Lion Tracks By Water Bottle For Size

Meeting Of The Lions

#4s Territory

Likely Nest Site

Cavity In High Meadow

Wolves Crossed My Trail

Wolf Tracks Trail Off Into The Night

Snow Shoeing In The Dark

Cavity By Prolong Song