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 […]

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 […]

The Three Amigos, and Other Owls 8

It’s always a little thrill when the cell phone vibrates and the text messages start coming in: “CTT Data Update: Unit #27236551 (Salisbury 4Y Male) has checked in.” And then another, and another, until we have the weekly report from our far-flung tribe. The three amigos (well, two amigos and an amiga) were back together on Amherst Island this past week, and another snowy continues to flirt with airport trouble. Our easternmost owl likes the beach, and our westernmost is enjoying her big-sky horizons on the prairie. One is happily on ice. We’ll skip Dakota, our newest owl — we just updated everyone yesterday on her capture in North Dakota. So let’s start with Salisbury. He’s continuing to play with […]

Weekend Update: Jan. 30

It was a pretty quiet week for our tagged owls — though one of them was courting danger, briefly back at an airport we’d really hoped he would avoid. We’ll start with Flanders, who remained on the north shore of Lake Ontario, having ambled back southeast of Napanee, Ontario, to the farmland around Hawley, just a few kilometers from the lakeshore. After having spent most of the past month out on a small islet off Amherst Island, she is hunting the small dairy farms that make a patchwork of fields and pastures in this area. Still on Amherst itself, Baltimore is wearing a hole in the map, rarely straying from his winter territory just west of Stella. A number of folks were […]

Tibbetts Joins the Crew 2

Tom McDonald just got back from a long, hard trapping trip to upstate New York, which he said was “nothing short of grueling. The weather conditions were perfect but the God of trapping luck was not with me…until Tibbetts stepped into the bow trap.” Not that getting this adult male snowy was easy. Tom spent six hours over the course of two days trying to catch him, and was finally successful only after dark, with the light of a three-quarters moon to help him. Tibbetts was caught near Cape Vincent, New York, where the St. Lawrence River leaves Lake Ontario — the same area where Tom tagged Chaumont (currently on Amherst Island) last winter, and very close to where he […]