Conducting Flammulated Owl surveys requires a LOT of driving around during the dark as we try to get to our numerous ‘survey road points’. Sometimes we drive through forest, other times we drive through sagebrush on our way to forest; either way we see a lot of really cool nocturnal animals while driving. Often we also see lots of diurnal animals, that we flush off roost. This past week we worked in the ‘Dubois’ District of the Targhee National Forest. All of our road points were up in the mountains, but we had to drive though lots of sagebrush flat-lands and canyons, before we got high enough up for there to be firs and pines. This week we were especially lucky with encountering cool animals on the roads. We flushed lots of Great Horned Owls (which is pretty typical) and we also flushed three different Short-eared Owls. The first Short-ear that we saw was perched in the road and actually used out headlights to catch a mouse, that it flew off with. The owl immediately came back to the road without the mouse, so we think maybe it dropped it off at a nest. We were able to watch this owl for about 15 minutes!
This week we were also lucky enough to find two Greater Sage-Grouse roosting in the middle of the road while we were driving around. Both of the birds we found were female (I still have never seen a male Sage-Grouse). These two birds were acting pretty typical, and let us approach within feet of them, before they walked off to find better cover under some sage. The Sage-Grouse was so oblivious to us that it even started preening….Anna thought maybe the bird thought our headlights were the sun rising….
The most common diurnal bird that we scare off roost as we drive the forest roads through sage brush areas are Horned Larks. Below is one that I was able to sneak up to, without scaring it away.
We also see lots of mammals. On most nights we see Elk, Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer, Moose, and sometimes Black Bears. We also see lots of mice and rabbits. Below is a photo of a young rabbit that was sitting in the road eating. This rabbit was pretty tiny and a dusky-gray color, so we were hoping it was the rare Pygmy Rabbit, which also lives in sage, but its just a baby Jackrabbit……