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Listening In The Dark

Boreal Owl Study
by Dan Hartman

March 2, 2013

On our way back from Livingston yesterday, Cindy and I passed by two dead skunks lying on the highway. Oh, that familiar sweet pungent smell of spring!
As we climbed the hill from Elk Creek to Petrified Tree Road, a pygmy owl watched us from a dead snag. Maybe this was a sign. A prelude of things to come, for tonight is the beginning of my early spring boreal owl study.
Cindy and I left the cabin at 8PM. It wasnít a perfect night, but was pretty darn close. Only a gusty breeze every now and then would cause us any interference. The temperature was good, (in the high 20ís), snow depth good, (under two feet on the level).
Orion peered down on us as we climbed out of the car at our first listening post. There was no wind here at all. Any sound would easily carry from quite a distance. We stood silently, listening.
Nothing. Only the sound of the Soda Butte Creek in the distance.
We moved on. Listening posts numbers two and three netted the same results. Complete silence. Not even a horned owl or a coyote for that matter.
By post number four, the wind was rising. Listening was getting more difficult. But then something faint. I turned my ears towards the sound. It grew stronger, then seemed to be magnified as through a megaphone. Now it seemed farther away. But it wasnít. The owl was just turning its head projecting for
the whole forest to hear.
It had been almost a year since I last heard the haunting call of the boreal owl, but the sound is so familiar as if it is a continuation from last March with no break at all.
We continued to listen for ten minutes before driving on. Posts five, six, seven, eight and nine were silent. Each listening post is one and a half to two miles apart. The wind grew stronger as we moved east so hearing anything that wasnít very close was impossible.
Note: When we returned to the cabin, I went over my research from previous years. In 2010 no owls called all year, as the snow depth was much too deep for nesting. In 2012 (last year) I didnít hear any owls until the 8th, but then it became our busiest year ever with eleven boreals calling.

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View slide show

Pygmy Owl Near Elk Creek

Watch Tree Tops For Pygmy Owls

Boreal Owl (the guy we're listening for)

Grouse Leaving Night Time Sleeping Spot