A couple showed up at the gallery yesterday. They were told I might be able to show them a great gray owl. As Cooke Pass had just opened I was anxious to check my Sunlight Basin nests so I invited them along. (Besides, I was going into Grizzly country and didn't mind the company.)
It was great taking Joe and Linda Cocoran, who are world class birders, as hiking partners. They knew every call and were experienced at looking for owl sign.
At last years owl nest location, we parked and started the steep slope. The remains of a snowshoe hare lay beneath a tree. Probably the victim of a hawk. We gained the vantage point of the stick nest. Empty. It's about a thirty percent chance they re-use the same nest. Still it would have been nice to have them back. We worked our way down into the trees. A ruffed grouse strutted by. The snag where I placed the injured chick last year came into view. It was empty. It would have made a fine nest. We were in the area I had my grizzly encounter a year ago, but I didn't see any bear sign.
Down slope, we found the owls 2010 nest. It was empty also. We checked a few obvious perches, found no sign and drove on to another nest site.
On the road to Beartooth Pass, we parked at a wide spot and headed upslope. A nest from 2007 was our objective. We had to skirt patches of snow. The ground in between was wet and spongy. In aspen groves we found hummingbird and flycatcher nest from last year. Another snowshoe hare had been captured. Only fur and legs remained.
As we got higher we were forced to wade through two feet of snow! Black bear tracks dented the snow. They were made yesterday. Finally we reached the nest. I knew right away it was in use, but not by our owls. Fresh pine boughs lined the top. Owls don't add to their nests. I did a shrill whistle. A brown head rose and looked around. A hawk.
Working our way back down, we came across an old bear bed with scat.
Back at the car we crossed the road and walked the timber to the south. We soon jumped a snowshoe. He had been sitting on a small patch of snow. Now his snowy white coat shone like a beacon against the brown.
I looked to my right. A brown shed moose antler lay beneath a tree.