Yellowstone Reports

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Beartooth Great Gray Owl Nest

Part 3 of 3
by Dan Hartman

July 25, 2014

     Life continued on at the bog.  A pair of bull elk grazed just above me.  One day I stumbled into a charging moose and had to hit the ground.

      In the owl nest, the two remaining chicks grew larger every day.  Instead of just calling for food and sleeping, they now tested their wings constantly.  At times I thought they would simply knock each other out of the nest.  Then the day came when they were leaping over each other from one side of the snag to the other.  The chicks would surely fledge tomorrow.

     July 10    Day started out with a doe and twin fawns at the old beaver pond.  When I arrived at the nest, I found to my amazement a chick sitting thirty feet from me at eye level.  It had jumped out of the nest, scrambled thirty yards up the steep slope, then climbed up a leaner to where he now was perched.  The other chick still sat in the nest.  "Whooing" sounded from the deep timber.  As I set up where I could cover both chicks, a chirpping flying squirrel streaked just over my head.  He had been sitting just a few feet above me!

     From somewhere a grouse drummed.  First a downy woodpecker, then a red-naped sapsucker arrived to harass the fledged chick, even dive bombing him once.  A squirrel crept in to scold also but not close enough for me to get them in the photo together.

  The female continued to beg for food but none arrived.  Both chicks preened constantly.  At 10AM I packed up and walked over to the aspen grove.  The hairy and downy woodpeckers had fledged but the three-toed woodpecker nest was still going strong.  I photographed several feedings when a loud buzzing sounded beside me.  I soon spotted a hummingbird perched ten feet away.

     There were more than a dozen freshly dug up spots around where a bear had searched for roots this morning.

     Evening:  I planned to only stay until 6PM so to have time to photograph a new bluebird nest.  At 5:30 the female flew in to preen the remaining chick still in the cavity.  A few minutes and she flew off to perch in the dead tree just behind.

     It was nearing 6PM so I was considering leaving when the adult owl suddenly gave a sharp  "whoo" and streaked off to the north.  There deep in the timber she continued  "whooing"  aggressively.  This had been going on for three or four days so I wasn't surprised.  After a bit I noticed the "whooing" was moving in an arc behind the nest and on to the south.  I took this chance to move to a different view of the nest which took me almost to the bottom of the hill.  I had just set up when an extremely loud crash sounded 40 yards or so away.  It was followed instantly by a bouncing ripping sound.

     I froze.  "What the heck was that?!"  A few seconds and the sounds repeated.  When it happened again I was already moving up hill.  By the time I reached the top, the strange sounds had repeated a half dozen times.  I kept right on going.

     What it was, I have no idea.  By the power of aggresiveness of the sounds, it almost had to be a grizzly.  But, what was he doing?  It would explain the nervousness of the great gray the last few days and I had been finding lots of fresh bear sign.

     July 12    Second chick out of the nest.  He was sitting on a log a couple of feet off the ground.  The older chick was in the same tree as before only higher.  The female sat low near the youngest chick.

     My journey with this nest is now over.  I've ridden the highs and lows.  Become more emotionally involved than I ever intended.  I'll still check on them from time to time, but I'll now move on to other projects.

     One spring in the future this same pair may return, or maybe one of the chicks may need a nest site and remember this snag.  

     So I'll continue to check every spring until one magical day I'll spot that familiar round head in the top of the spruce snag in the little clearing nestled in the foothills of the Beartooths.


View slide show

The Nest

Coming In !!!

Trying Out The Wings


Standing Guard

It's A Long Way Down !!!


First One Out

One To Go

Last One Out

Spruce Snag In The Clearing