Yellowstone Reports

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Wrap Up

Finishing touches on a summer long project
by Dan Hartman

Aug. 29, 2016

     After finding the chicks just below the nest site on July 16th, it would be more than two weeks before I would find them again on August 3rd.  During that time I'd made a dozen attempts always starting or ending at the nest site.  When I did find them, they were perched at the hide just above the nest.

     It would be 15 days of almost constant searching before I would come across the chicks again.  It was August 18th and I was heading home after another unsuccessful morning when I stopped 3/4 mile east of the nest and gave a "chirp".  To my surprise (it was almost 10AM) I got an answer from the north.  I got my gear and walked in, finding them in an isolated meadow I had checked the night before.

     That evening, Cindy and I returned to the meadow and filmed the chicks as they started moving west.  Presently we got caught in a terrific hail storm.  The chicks disappeared into the thick branches.  Cindy and I hid under a spruce.  The hail was as big as cherries and really hurt when they bounced off my head.  (Our parked car had small divits in the top.)

     After the storm, the chicks started moving again until they reached the creek just northeast of the nest.  Got some nice shots of the largest chick hunting.  They had moved a half mile.

     Friday evening Cindy and I found them back in the isolated meadow and filmed them until dark.  The male showed up and fed the chick I was filming, but the chick met him behind a thick spruce so I missed the shot.  Did get a nice flying at me shot.

     Saturday morning I found them 1/2 mile away back of the nest site.  The male fed a chick at 10:30AM.  (I was on another chick.)  NIce preening shots and chick watching a floating feather.

     Saturday night they were back near the isolated meadow.

      Sunday night I got good shots of all three chicks, flying and seeming to hunt.

     Monday morning the chicks were nowhere to be seen or heard.  I was about to leave when a man pulled in and said he had just seen an owl cross the road two minutes to the east.  I hurried up but found nothing.  Could the family have traveled that far?  On my way back through, I picked up the male below the highway hunting in a bog 1/4 mile east of the nest, so  the chicks must be close by.

     The owl the man spotted?  Maybe the female owl.

     Tuesday:  Possibly found the owl the man told me of.  A horned owl was perched at the head of a large meadow.  Circled through the great gray territory all morning.  Heard and saw nothing.

     Wednesday:  Listened in the morning from different points, didn't hear anything.  Went up to the Beartooths and filmed pika for an hour or so.

     Went into frying pan then circled around to the great gray 2007 nesting site.  Got caught in a rain/hail storm.  Found fresh white-wash in frying pan.  Nothing after that.

     Thursday:  Out at dawn.  Heard nothing.  Checked Sunlight owls.  Nothing.  Went back to the Beartooths.  Nothing.  Beartooth Pass is closed.

     Evening I walked from the east to the nest site and beyond.  Took 1 1/2 hours.  Found nothing.  Where are they?

     Went out at 9PM to see if I might hear them in the dark.  Starting 1 1/2 miles above the nest, I stopped every .2 miles and listened until I was 1 mile below the nest.  Nothing.

     Friday:  Out this morning.  climbed tepee hill and listened for an hour.  Lots of squirrels chattering.  No owls.  Walked the cow trail in the evening, listening and chirping along the way.  No owls.

     Saturday:  Out with PBS film crew in the Beartooths in the morning.  Kaitlyn and Katie, the pika researcher from Clemson were filmed with Kirk Johnson, the PBS host.  After they got started, I left and joined my friend, Jeff Hogan, in a search for the great gray owl family.   We hoped to find them for the Jeff/Kirk interviews that wrap up the film.

     We searched for three hours having no luck.  Jeff did find a wing feather from the adult male.

     While hiking up to the nest site, a gray wolf suddenly appeared 30 yards in front of us to disappear quickly in the timber below the owl nest.

     We wrapped up the owl segment without the owls, simply showing the owls have left the area.

     Sunday:  Jeff and I were out with BBC director/camera man Rowan once again trying to find the owl family.  It would be nice to have them to wrap up the BBC version of the Great American Thaw.  Jeff found a pellet and white-wash from a chick in a new area south of the nest.  He also thought he heard a chic upslope.  I was hiking in another area so when we got together he and Rowan took me to the pellet/white-wash site.  I also heard chirping upslope so cimbed up for a look.  I soon found a family of gray jays hunting around me.  Foiled again by mimicking jays!  It did prove the family had been here.  Probably Thursday or Friday by the condition of the dry downy feathers we also found.

     We ended the day getting a final shot of Jeff getting interviewed at the nest site.  Afterward we made a final search for the owl family.  Jeff and Rowan went one direction, I in another.

     Presently, I heard Jeff calling.  I soon found he and Rowan had discovered a freshly killed cow.  It was time to get out ot there!

     The wolf we waw the day before was probably headed to the carcass and a grizzly could have also discovered it by now.

     So ended the summer long filming of the "Great American Thaw". A BBC/PBS three hour co-production Yellowstone film that will air in February on PBS.



View slide show

Great Gray Owl Chick

Great Gray Owl Chick

Great Gray Owl Chick

Kaitlyn & UK Cameraman Scottie

Katie & UK Cameraman Scottie

What Started It All