The screech owls did not nest in the owl box this year. The male showed up, as we hoped, in October and guarded the box faithfully, only leaving for a day or two. When the female arrived in February, she stayed only than a week. And then they were gone. A second year without a successful nesting. But the owls have returned.
Elk grazed in the meadows just outside the north entrance as we drove along the road toward Silver Gate. We stopped first to check the great horned owls’ nest in Mammoth and spotted one adult deep in the branches and twigs staring straight at us. We stopped at Slough Creek also to check the Junction Butte den site. This spring the Junction Butte wolves have denned in their old site on the north side of the road.
The owl huddles in the corner of the box. He perches in the entrance in late afternoon or the middle of the day if it’s warm. The past few days he has left the box at somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45 p.m.; shooting out of the box and swooping down, he flies over the fence toward the greenbelt. A couple of days passed when he wasn’t in the box, but they were only isolated episodes.
A cold, wet spring day. Driving I-90 toward Yellowstone we pass pastures greening up with new grass and mountains dusted with snow. Elk fill the valleys - there are so many of them! Gray clouds cover the sky with intermittent rain showers breaking through, but the elk and horses and sheep are not disturbed from their grazing. It’s been a few years since we visited the Park in May and it’s good to be back when it’s cold; the wildlife is out and there aren’t so many people. It just feels wilder.
We encountered a new problem this month. We turned the camera in the owl box on only to discover it wasn’t working! Tim investigated every possible cause for the issue, but in the end the only solution was to install a new camera. Now. At the most inopportune moment in the nesting season.
After a year without Yellowstone, we are finally back in the Park. I want to sink into the mountains, trees and rivers, Yellowstone Lake, all the wildlife. I am so glad just to be here there is nothing that could make this a bad trip. As I write this I am sitting near the banks of Soda Butte Creek, watching Tim throw a line into the water. It is cool here, clouds shielding me from the sun’s strongest rays. Jagged mountain peaks rise up over the rushing water; patches of snow fill rocky crevices.
The owlets are getting ready to fledge. They jump around the box, stretching their fuzzy gray bodies up to the box ceiling, spreading their wings, flapping them. They dig in the sawdust, scratching away, searching for tidbits.
Inside the owl box, Mrs. Owl pecks at last night’s leftovers and feeds the owlets. Her gray feathers, dark with rain, stick to her, making her appear smaller. She grooms an owlet, ruffling through the downy feathers of its head.