Yellowstone Reports

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Boreal Study

Year 14
by Dan Hartman

March 5, 2023

     My yearly boreal owl study has begun a few days laten than usual, but weather and previous commitments, well I'm just getting a late start.

     Before our big snowstorm in late February, I'd already heard our local boreal calling near our cabin on two occassions.  But, after 15 inches of snow, bitter cold and constant wind, he's remained silent.

     Now as I head out, I pause at our back door.  It's 7:30PM and a friendly flying squirrel is watching me under our porch light five feet away.  It's 18 degrees and snowing but the wind is calm.  If it wasn't snowing, the moon would light up the meadows.  As it is, the light is still making its way through the falling snow giving the landscape an eerie glow.

     I drove 12 miles to my first listening post where my good friend Len was waiting.   He is volunteering for wolf weeks at the Buffalo Ranch and has agreed to go out into the night listening for owls.  It's his first time and I wished conditions were more favorable.  But it is what it is.

     We drove back towards our cabin, to do the owl run in reverse order so to end at Lens car.

     We we started at Post#6, a mile and a half west of the cabin.  Here the snow was increasing along with the wind.  On top of that a jet flew overhead on its way to Denver.

     So NO owls.

     Post #5 was also silent.  This is where I've actually discovered a nest years ago.

     Post #4  The snow was increasing.  The owl would have to be awful close to hear as falling snow effectively deadens sound.

     After a few minutes of listening, I was about to give up, when there it was.  Calling about 40 yards into the timber.

     And it wasn't just calling.

     A normal call would be 5 to 7 notes then a period of silence then more notes.  But tonight the owl was performing a prolong song.  Meaning a constant call.  No breaks in the silence.

     In theory, this call means he's found a mate and is trying to get her to accept a nesting cavity.

     I've explored the area he's calling from in the past and know of several cavities.

     We'll monitor this site over the next few weeks to see if his calls remain local, or if he'll move about, meaning the female wants a better nest site.

     We continued on then, stopping at posts 3.5, 3, 2. and 1.5 where we began.  My starting post#1 was destroyed by the flood.

     The rest of our run was silent as the snow began to fall heavier.  It was time for Len to get back to the Buffalo Ranch and me back to our cabin while we still could safely.