Alex and I have been out the last few nights conducting Flammulated Owl surveys for IBO just a few miles west of Yellowstone National Park. Last night, Alex and I discovered the grid we wanted to head to required a 3.5 km walk in. It is pretty much at the base of the continental divide west of Island Park on a steep slope, and as far as I can see, there is still a ton of snow just above the grid. Not a good sign! The road towards the grid was full of mushy mud puddles, and we finally hit one that was too big about 3.5 km in. At this point in the day we didn’t have enough time to make the hike…3.5km really isn’t that far, but with a name like “Steep Gulch,” I wasn’t planning on making good time. We will give the big mud puddle a day or two to dry out and try again, but will probably end up hiking it. At nearby Henry Lake while scoping out a road point, our truck was swarmed by blackflies as we watched a pair of Red-necked Grebes on the lake. The warm weather has really brought them out lately, along with mosquitos, which are a treat in the evening as we walk to our points.
Nearby at a reliable spot for Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers, we came across this huge footprint in the road. After finding this, I wasn’t really interested in finding woodpeckers anymore.
You don’t have to be an expert to know that this is from a massive Grizzly Bear. The other prints in the snow looked a little melted over, so I think the bear passed through a few days ago, but I personally do not want to be there when he passes through again!
Speaking of massive intimidating animals, on the grid we completed last night near Island Park, we were carefully watched over by a few moose. The grid was in a young Lodgepole Pine plantation where the trees were packed in over recently cut younger trees that had been left on the ground. Even though the terrain was flat, it was a challenge to hike through while avoiding tons of stumps and fallen trees. It didn’t help that you could only see about 5 feet in front of you! To make matters worse the plantation was on top of a flooded marsh interspersed with pockets of willow, making perfect foraging habitat for moose. Every now and then, we’d come across a well-worn moose/deer trail, which seemed to be loaded with moose/baby moose tracks. At our first grid, we heard a Great-horned Owl amongst a few winnowing snipe, and throughout the 10 minutes we heard a large antlered-animal rubbing its antlers on a tree. On the way to our next point, we were paralelled by a very large mammal that broke branches as it walked. And on our way out and back to the truck, we were paralelled on both sides by what we can only assume were huge tree-crushing moose. At our last point of the grid, a huge animal came running through a nearby puddle, and then slowly walked towards us. A few seconds after it stopped, the huge moose let out a few loud moosey-bellows before walking away from us into a flooded meadow. I love moose, don’t get me wrong, but I’d much rather observe them from the safety of my truck in daylight!
Later that night on road surveys, we detected 3 Northern Saw-whet Owls and flushed a Great-horned Owl from the road. We aren’t exactly in the best Flammulated Owl habitat, but at least we are detecting owls…and large mammals. Tonight we’ll head for Driggs and do our second survey at Grid 5, and hopefully re-detect a Great-horned Owl we found there last time.