On Saturday I went hiking in the Beartooths with Park Collins and his students.
My classes at the Institute started on Monday. It was titled: “Finding Owls”. It should have been called “Not Finding Owls”.
On our first excursion, we hiked down into Hell Roaring. I was encouraged when we found a fresh pellet beside the trail. But other than a hoo farther down slope, which I figured to be a horned owl, we did not find any other sign.
Tuesday we walked above Ice Box Canyon where I’d been searching for pygmys all last week. In the first 100 yards we came across the big black bear I’d run across on earlier hikes. After giving us a long look, he lumbered off into the forest. For two hours we searched through aspen groves and thick stands of spruce and pine, turning up only a boreal owl pellet.
After lunch our class headed for Junction Butte. We hiked past a bluebird pair feeding their young. High above us was a red-tail hawk nest. Down slope, below an old owl nest, we found horned owl sign. White wash, pellets and feathers. As we moved up slope the sign played out. The owls must have moved down into the cliffs above the Yellowstone River. Continuing on we reached a large stand of mature aspen. A coyote moused nearby but no more owl sign.
Cassie and I went out that evening to see if we could flush up an owl in the Beartooths. Sure enough, we soon found white wash, pellets, then a saw-whet owl in a marshy area.
The next morning my owl class arrived at the saw-whet location. I called and called but had no response. We searched around and tried calling again, but he was nowhere to be found. Farther up into the Beartooths we stopped at an aspen grove. A Williamson sapsucker as well as many other birds nested in the many cavities. In the timber behind we found a large pellet but once again no actual owl.
Lunch in Cooke City then out checking owl boxes I put up last fall. All were empty. Last years owl classes turned up nine owls. This year, zero.
The class was good sports about our owl less three days. I blame the harsh winter and the way it hung on into spring. Maybe next year.