Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Great Gray Greetings from the Grand Tetons

I'd been whining for a week because I was going to be out of Cape May for the last week of August and the first week of September - warbler time. I'm off on a "business trip" - leading a tour to the Great Yellowstone Ecosystem for NJAS. NJAS, by the way, has an excellent tour program - you can learn more at

Anyhow, here I am, stuck in the Grand Tetons near Jackson Hole scouting for the tour, which starts Saturday. One of the most sought after birds in the mountain west is Great Gray Owl, because they are a) magnificent and b) elusive. Finding any owl requires current local knowledge, something we didn't really have. Luckily, "we" includes Sean Grace, Director of NJAS's Plainsboro Preserve, who lived out here for several years, and even more serendipitously, we ran into an old friend of Sean's on the streets of Jackson who knew a little bit about where Great Grays might be found.

Sean's friend gave us a road name on the Teton Front Range - a road that was about 30 miles long. Well, that narrows it down, doesn't it? I decided to go scout the road tonight while Sean "networked" with some other old friends at the local brewpub.

The sun was already behind the Tetons when I reached the recommended area, and I just drove, looking for areas where rich montane forest edged up to the road. Just stay positive when you're looking for a bird, and I tried, reminding myself that Great Gray fledglings were flying well now and begging actively of their parents. They should respond to hooting.

I found a spot that had an elevated vantage over a douglas fir-lodgepole pine - trembling aspen hollow, and figured it looked good. So I conjured up my best version of a Great Gray's deep "hwoof, huwoof, huwoof" - and immediately a "squeeh-ya" was launched from the grove. A fledgling Great Gray!! By walking up and down the road I pinpointed the sound, and miraculously detected a spot of gray against green that the bins revealed was a full grown fledgling Great Gray, opening his mouth wide periodically with its plaintive cry. Scope views for one (me) followed. I dearly hope, and dearly doubt, I'll be able to reproduce this for the tour, but sure will try. If I do, I suggest signing up for the Tanzania trip we'll be running next February - with luck like this, great things await in Africa!

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