Into the North 1

Apologies for the gap in updates — everyone at Project SNOWstorm does this as a volunteer, and this past week a number of us were out of touch and in the field, leading birding trips or studying nesting goshawks, among other day-job kinds of things. But there have been some interesting developments in the past week and a half that we’re anxious to share in this long and detailed update. Dakota moved out of the Souris River valley in southern Saskatchewan, and on April 21, she checked in very briefly from an area northwest of Regina, SK, 165 km (102 miles) from where she’d been April 10. We’re not sure how many more connections we’ll get from her as she […]

Wampum’s Gone 3

Dancing around bad news never makes it any easier to give or receive, so I’ll simply say that we lost an owl last week, and it still feels like a punch to the gut. It was Wampum, the adult female who had been playing with fire much of the winter at several New England airports. She was found dead Thursday morning at Logan in Boston, where she’d been since March 18. Norman Smith — who trapped, tagged and relocated Wampum from Logan back in late December — says she didn’t appear to have been struck by a plane. Rather, Norman suspects she was hit with a blast from a jet engine, which can easily be fatal to even a large […]

Casco’s Grand Tour

Casco — our second Maine owl, tagged in late February — pulled a bit of a disappearing act earlier this month. After being captured at the Portland, Maine, airport, she was released Down East, in a complex of immense blueberry barrens in Washington County, ME, close to the Canadian border. Casco quickly moved a couple hundred miles north, crossing into New Brunswick and Quebec near the Gaspé Peninsula around the first of March — then vanished. Well, she’s back — and an unexpected track it was, when her backlogged data downloaded. Instead of going north, like many of our snowy owls this past week or two, Casco took a loopy route far to the south, crossing six states and provinces […]

The Pull of the Pole

There’s no longer any doubt that spring is pulling many of our tagged snowy owls back home toward the Arctic. In the past week we’ve seen several birds make flights north, while others have dropped off the grid, apparently having moved beyond cell range. For example, Hardscrabble and Tibbetts both left their wintering grounds on the northeast shore of Lake Ontario — Hardscrabble on March 13, and Tibbetts three days later. They followed close, parallel paths to the northeast, and on March 17 were roosting only 3 km (1.8 miles) from each other on the farmland along the Ottawa River near Cumberland, Ontario. Hardscrabble then pushed on much farther north. On March 23 he checked in again (off-schedule; we’re not […]

Spring is in the Air

If you live in the Northeast, you didn’t need much of a hint that spring is coming early this year — it was T-shirt weather across much of the region this week. Here in Pennsylvania, where I live, sheets of migrant tundra swans, Canada and snow geese were papering the skies the past few mornings, and spring peepers and wood frogs are in full voice. This is March? The rapidly advancing season may have been working on our tagged owls, too, because suddenly a couple of our most reliable birds were AWOL — most notably Dakota out on the North Dakota prairies. She’s checked in, regular as clockwork since she was tagged in January, but Thursday night she failed to […]

Merrimack Closes the Season

This week, Norman Smith tagged our ninth new owl of the winter, and our 43rd overall — Merrimack, an adult female that was the 31st snowy owl Norman caught and relocated this winter from Logan Airport in Boston. Weighing a healthy 2,321g (5.1 pounds), Merrimack was named for the Merrimack River, in the tidal marshes at whose mouth she was released on Wednesday — the same place, at Salisbury Beach near Newburyport, Mass., where the male snowy Salisbury was moved in January. This will likely be the last snowy owl we tag this winter — we’re seeing signs of increasing restlessness among our transmittered birds, and we expect they’ll start heading north very soon. But for now, Merrimack has remained […]

Buckeye’s Back!

Here in the northern hemisphere, the days are getting noticeably longer — and that’s having an effect on birds of all sorts, including snowy owls. The past week or two we’ve started seeing some significant movement — not migration, and not necessarily northbound, but a sign of seasonal restlessness setting in. And with predictions for dramatically warmer weather across much of the East and Midwest this week, we may see the start of true northward movement very soon. But first, perhaps the most exciting news of the past week — the return of Buckeye. Last winter this adult female was a repeat offender at the Detroit airport, trapped and relocated a couple of times by USDA Wildlife Services before being […]

Owls, West to East and in Between

It’s been an exciting week with our two new owls, Hardscrabble and Casco, but of course we still have a lot going on with our other tagged snowies — so let’s get to the update. Starting out West, Dakota continues to shift between her northern and southern hunting areas in the northeastern corner of Stutsman County, North Dakota, this fascinating bimodal pattern she’s been following since we tagged her. She spent most of her time last week around several lakes between Courtenay and Kensal, then made a quick transit south to her secondary activity area southwest of Courtenay. With things opening up and the first waterfowl heading north, those lakes are going to be even more attractive to a hungry […]

Ice Owls

If there’s been a theme that was missing so far this winter — one that had been nearly constant in previous years — it’s been ice. Snowy owls love ice. For example, researchers with Laval University in Quebec (including our SNOWstorm colleague Jean-François Therrien from Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania) have documented how some adult snowies leave the breeding grounds in autumn and actually head north, not south, spending the winter on the frozen Arctic Ocean. We’ve seen the same attraction to ice with our tagged birds, especially on the Great Lakes. The past two winters, many of our owls spent weeks at a stretch on the ice, presumably hunting waterbirds in open-water areas, much as those Arctic-wintering owls do farther […]

All Roads Lead to Amherst

We’ve been talking all winter about how Amherst Island in Ontario has a reputation as an internationally famous owl mecca — and the fact that three of our tagged snowies have been wintering there only confirmed that distinction. Well, make it four. This week Tibbetts, who had been wandering around the New York side of the St. Lawrence near Chaumont Bay, suddenly put on his traveling shoes and headed north. He spent the day Feb. 7 on Grenadier Island, then at dusk skipped north along the edge of Wolfe Island and was by the wee hours of Feb. 8 perched on a barn roof in the middle of Amherst. Since then he’s been sticking close to the north shore of the […]