Project SNOWstorm https://www.projectsnowstorm.org Contribute to research on Snowy Owls! Tue, 19 Feb 2019 02:12:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 79610200 Farewell, Harwood https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/farewell-harwood/ https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/farewell-harwood/#comments Mon, 18 Feb 2019 00:21:58 +0000 https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/?p=5037 This was supposed to be a long, chatty update about the status of all our tagged birds, the first in more than a week, with apologies for being behind with blog posts. Instead, we have to start with some somber news: we lost Harwood last week. He’s the Billboard Owl, the second-winter male that’s been hugging the margins of I-29 ... Read More

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Harwood, just before his release last month. (©Matt Solensky)

This was supposed to be a long, chatty update about the status of all our tagged birds, the first in more than a week, with apologies for being behind with blog posts. Instead, we have to start with some somber news: we lost Harwood last week.

He’s the Billboard Owl, the second-winter male that’s been hugging the margins of I-29 north of Fargo, ND, rarely straying from the interstate or its frontage roads. We’ve been worried from the start about his choice of winter territory, and it appears that the danger caught up with him. On Friday evening, Feb. 15, his transmitter sent 50 or so GPS points that formed a depressing cluster along the edge of the northbound lanes just south of Argusville. First thing Saturday morning, bander Matt Solensky headed up and confirmed what we’d feared — Harwood, the bird he’d caught and tagged a month earlier, had been hit by a vehicle.

Harwood’s transmitter appeared undamaged, though we’ll have CTT check it out to be sure; we may be able to redeploy the unit at some point down the road. And as is the case whenever we lose an owl and are able to recover it, we’ll make arrangements for our veterinary team to examine Harwood, assessing his overall condition and, especially, what environmental contaminants he’d been exposed to.

As we’ve said before, it’s always tough to lose an owl, but with each unexpected death we build a better picture of the threat environment in which these owls live when they come south of the Arctic. Our tagging work has certainly shown that vehicular collisions are one of the biggest dangers they face. In that sense, Harwood will make as important a contribution in death as he did in life.

*  *  * *  *

Marge Gibson with Coddington, heading into the clinic for his check-up. (©Raptor Education Group Inc.)

–Let’s shift to some good news. Marge Gibson at the Raptor Education Group in Wisconsin tells us that Coddington, the owl that wound up mucked in manure in a dairy barn last month, has fully recovered and will be released in the near future. He’s gained back his lost weight, and the down feathers that were damaged by the manure (which can be caustic) have replaced themselves with surprising speed. A second snowy, a female, that also came in drenched in manure from another farm is also ready for release.

Marge mentioned that during the record “polar vortex” cold a couple of weeks ago, when wind chills were below -60F, she noticed a marked behavioral difference between raptors that breed in Wisconsin, and their Arctic patients like snowy owls and rough-legged hawks.

“Raptors native to our area are less active and slow down on food intake during harsh temperatures. It is a period of low metabolism, an adaptation to conserve energy,” she said. “The Arctic birds never slowed down, in fact they all increased their intake. The SNOW all ate at least two 350- to 400-gram gophers per day during this period. [Rough-legged hawks] ate one full gopher and extra beef heart as well.  It was really interesting.” (Read more from Marge here.)

Fluffy and good as new: Coddington’s feather damage and skin irritation from the manure exposure have healed, as has a bruised wing. (©Raptor Education Group Inc.)

An owl on ice is usually a happy owl, and Pickford has been spending a lot of time on sea ice off Prince Edward Island. (©Project SNOWstorm and Google Earth)

–On the owl movement front, Pickford had been out of touch for a while, but reconnected starting Feb. 10, when we learned that she had been out on the sea ice north of Prince Edward Island, then moved almost to Cape Breton Island before drifting back west again. Feb. 16 she was about halfway between East Point on PEI and Sight Point on Cape Breton.

Island Beach remains east of Montreal, near McMasterville, QC, but down in New York, Otter moved offshore on the ice that has formed up around the eastern toe of Lake Ontario, then up to Wolfe Island on the Canadian side of the border. Although we were not able to tag any snowies on neighboring Amherst Island to continue our study of how the presence of wind turbines might affect snowy owl movements, Otter was helping the cause during the 12 hours or so she was on Wolfe, which has 86 turbines on its flat expanse. (By Feb. 14, Otter was back on Cape Vincent again.)

He’s there, and so is his transmitter — Hardscrabble and that tiny little spot of black that lets the LaFortunes keep track of him (©Daniel LaFortune)

Although his transmitter no longer works, we’ve been able to keep track of Hardscrabble this winter and last when he returns to his now-traditional winter haunts near Arnprior, ON, thanks to our dedicated friends Pat and Dan LaFortune. They were able to relocate Hardscrabble there on Feb. 10, and sent us a photo — if you look *really* carefully you can see Hardscrabble’s transmitter, the black dot of the solar panel.

Plainfield is still staying in the ag fields of central Wisconsin, close to where Coddington got himself in trouble — but fortunately, she is steering clear of dairy barns and manure. Argus, who had dipped down into Iowa for a few days, is back up in extreme southwestern Minnesota, on the Nobles/Murray county line, about 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Sioux Falls. And Woodworth has crossed back into Canada, just a couple of kilometers from the U.S. border near Waskada, Manitoba. And Pettibone seems content on his territory near Aylesbury, SK, where he’s been hunting since mid-January.

–Although there haven’t been a lot of owls in the mid-Atlantic this season, there have been some, and Steve Huy has been out frequently trying to tag a bird on the Chesapeake or Delaware bays, to complement our Atlantic coastal dataset. Recently he was able to assist base personnel by trapping and relocating a female snowy owl at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, on the western shore of the Chesapeake. Because the owl was small for a female, and a bit thinner than normal, Steve banded her but opted not to give her a transmitter — we prefer to be conservative about which owls we tag. (The unit would have been one sponsored by the Delmarva Ornithological Society, which has supported our work several times in the past, and for which we are grateful.)

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Plainfield Joins the Flock https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/plainfield-joins-the-flock/ https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/plainfield-joins-the-flock/#comments Wed, 06 Feb 2019 23:09:50 +0000 https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/?p=5017 While Coddington continues to recuperate from is close encounter of the manure kind, we have a new owl in central Wisconsin — Plainfield, an adult female relocated from an airport for her safety, and tagged by Gene Jacobs and released on the Buena Vista grasslands, where she’s been ever since. In fact, Plainfield is occupying almost exactly the same territory ... Read More

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Plainfield (with a little blood from dinner on her face) was relocated from a Wisconsin airport for her safety, and is now hunting the Buena Vista grasslands. (©Gene Jacobs)

While Coddington continues to recuperate from is close encounter of the manure kind, we have a new owl in central Wisconsin — Plainfield, an adult female relocated from an airport for her safety, and tagged by Gene Jacobs and released on the Buena Vista grasslands, where she’s been ever since.

Layers and layers of owls: Plainfield’s movements (purple) show she’s using the same terrain occupied in the past by Straubel (orange), Bancroft (dark blue), Coddington (light blue) and Austin (green). (©Project SNOWstorm and Google Earth)

In fact, Plainfield is occupying almost exactly the same territory that Straubel and Austin — also relocated airport owls — and Bancroft held last winter, in and around some commercial cranberry bogs in southwest Portage County. It’s three or four miles south of the area Coddington was using this winter before he got into trouble (and nowhere near the barn he got into that landed him, banged up and manure-smeared, in rehab). We’ll have a map for Plainfield posted in the near future.

Speaking of Coddington, Marge Gibson’s crew at Raptor Education Group Inc. had their hands full with lots of admissions during the worst of the record-breaking cold snap, but they will be working with our colleague Dr. Ellen Bronson of the Maryland Zoo, as well as SNOWstorm team member Dr. Sherrill Davison at the University of Pennsylvania, to determine why he was underweight when he was admitted. Marge was able to conduct tests that ruled out lead poisoning, but there is concern Coddington may be suffering from a different contaminant exposure. Now that the weather has eased they’ll be sending some of Coddington’s blood to Ellen and Sherrill for additional tests to see if that’s the problem. Fortunately, she reports that Coddington is doing well, has regained his lost weight and then some, and is in an outdoor enclosure with two other snowies.

Argus officially became our first Iowa owl earlier this week. (©Project SNOWstorm and Google Earth)

The weather has shuffled the deck a little bit, but the biggest change is that we have our first-ever SNOWstorm owl in Iowa — Argus, who was originally tagged 270 miles (430 km) north above Fargo, ND. After spending a few days near Luverne, Minnesota, he moved across the border into Osceola County, Iowa, on Feb. 4 and by the next day was near the town of Sibley. (In 2015 a Wisconsin-tagged owl, Goose Pond, moved to just across the Mississippi River from Dubuque before vanishing without a trace, but so far as we know, didn’t make it into Iowa.)

Meanwhile, back up in Fargo where Argus was caught, Harwood is sticking tight as a tick to his favorite billboards and fenceposts along I-29 and its frontage roads, not having moved much at all since he was tagged there last month. Farther northwest, Woodworth has shifted another 30 miles (50 km) to the west, just a few miles from the Canadian border near the Souris River, between the towns of Roth and Landa.

It’s been a week and a half since we’ve had a transmission from Pettibone, in southcentral Saskatchewan, but he’s gone dark for periods in the past and he may be in a cellular dead spot.

In the Northeast, Otter is hanging around the reliable snowy owl hotspot that is the farmland of Jefferson County, NY. Her new hybrid GSM/satellite transmitter is doing exceptionally well, maintaining a superb battery charge despite a lot of clouds that are a persistent issue in that part of the world in winter. (At this time of year we’re only using it’s GPS/GSM cellular capability — we won’t turn on the Argos satellite system until we see signs she’s getting ready to head north.)

As of the first of the month, Island Beach was using the farmland of southern Quebec — exceedingly long, narrow fields laid out in the classically French (and French Canadian) fashion, near the town of Saint-Basile-le-Grand just across the St. Lawrence from Montreal.

 

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*Really* Superb Owls Are White https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/really-superb-owls-are-white/ https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/really-superb-owls-are-white/#comments Sun, 03 Feb 2019 12:25:00 +0000 https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/?p=5011   Just sayin’. Happy game day, everyone.

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Just sayin’.

Happy game day, everyone.

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Owl Conservation? There’s an App for That. https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/owl-conservation-theres-an-app-for-that/ https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/owl-conservation-theres-an-app-for-that/#comments Sat, 02 Feb 2019 13:24:15 +0000 https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/?p=5005 We’re always pleased when someone recognizes what we’ve been able to accomplish, working on a shoestring budget, for snowy owl research and conservation — which is why we’re grateful to Connectify. This Philadelphia-based company created the first software-only wifi hotspot, and since then has launched a number of other apps to smooth or speed online use. They also have a policy ... Read More

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We’re always pleased when someone recognizes what we’ve been able to accomplish, working on a shoestring budget, for snowy owl research and conservation — which is why we’re grateful to Connectify. This Philadelphia-based company created the first software-only wifi hotspot, and since then has launched a number of other apps to smooth or speed online use. They also have a policy of donating part of their profits to charity — until now, largely to causes related to internet freedom.

But their newest product, an app called Edgewise that moves your device from wifi to cellular and back when you reach a dead zone, features a snappy, stylized snowy owl as its logo. So the Connectify team knew they wanted Edgewise to support owl conservation — and their engineer Navin Sasikumar suggested us.

“One of the engineers is a passionate bird watcher, and generally quiet guy,” Connectify CEO Alex Gizis said. “When talking about mission and who we want to be, he launched into a passionate pitch for Project SNOWstorm, and the fate of the snowy owls. It was surprising and beautiful, and when he was done it was clear we’d found our cause. SNOWstorm is a great organization and we’re happy to be donating to them to support their work.”

Connectify expects to donate 3 percent of its profits from Edgewise to SNOWstorm. We appreciate both the direct support, and Navin’s original vote of confidence that made it possible.

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Low on Luck on Amherst https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/low-on-luck-on-amherst/ https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/low-on-luck-on-amherst/#comments Tue, 29 Jan 2019 23:08:02 +0000 https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/?p=4980 There’s been a lot going on, and the fates have not always been with us. That’s the way wildlife work goes, sometimes — you take the bad with the good. For example, one of our major goals this winter was to deploy up to five transmitters on snowy owls on Amherst Island, to continue our multi-year look at how the ... Read More

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Malcolm and Charlotte at the wheel, watching and waiting on Amherst Island. (©Rebecca McCabe)

There’s been a lot going on, and the fates have not always been with us. That’s the way wildlife work goes, sometimes — you take the bad with the good.

For example, one of our major goals this winter was to deploy up to five transmitters on snowy owls on Amherst Island, to continue our multi-year look at how the presence of more than two dozen newly built wind turbines may affect the movements and behavior of the snowy owls that traditionally use this 70 square km (27 square mile) island on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario.

Certainly there was no shortage of owls — a population boom of meadow voles attracted a host of raptors there this winter, including as many as 41 snowy owls (and possibly more) in late December. We had a team of banders ready to go right after the first of the year, including colleagues with Nigel Shaw’s Simcoe County (ON) Banding Group; David Okines of Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory; and Rebecca McCabe, who is doing her Ph.D. at McGill University working with Project SNOWstorm’s data.

What we didn’t have was an updated permit from the Ontario government. The permit renewal, which we expected in December, took weeks longer than expected. Plans for the trapping trip kept getting postponed and postponed, until we were down to the final days when everyone was still available.

Wind turbines rise above the otherwise flat landscape of Amherst Island, in northeastern Lake Ontario. (©Rebecca McCabe)

That’s when the permit finally came through. So with only days to spare — and despite some nasty weather predicted — Becca and Simcoe banders Charlotte England and Malcolm Wilson headed to Amherst last week. Our colleagues from Whitefish Point in Michigan, Nova Mackentley and Chris Neri, were on call a few hours to the east in northern New York, where they were visiting Nova’s family, ready to help fit owls with transmitters on Amherst if the trapping team was lucky.

Becca’s team gave it their best shot, but the weather (including snow the first day, high winds thereafter) was against them, as was the abundance of voles — it’s hard to lure in owls when they hardly have to work for their dinner. The crew tried for three long days, and had a few close misses, but finally bowed to the inevitable last Friday — Becca needed to get back to McGill to teach, and Malcolm from Simcoe needed to fly home to South Africa, where he studies raptors.

Sunset over the rapidly freezing northern margin of Lake Ontario. (©Rebecca McCabe)

Despite the disappointment this year, we’re not giving up on the Amherst project. We have several years of movement data prior to the start of turbine construction, and data from two owls (Stella and Emerald) that we tagged last winter while construction was ongoing. The turbines aren’t going anywhere, and we’ll be back next winter to fit more owls with transmitters so we can determine whether snowy owls are as sensitive as some open-country birds have proven to be to the presence of tall turbines. In the meantime, warm thanks to our friends on Amherst who help facilitate our visits and work on this special island.

*  *  *  *  *

Moving rapidly, Island Beach flew nearly 400 km (250 miles) in two days. (©Project SNOWstorm and Google Earth)

Now let’s do a quick round-up of what’s happening with some of our tagged birds.

Island Beach is back on the board. After coming south from the Arctic in late November to southcentral Quebec, and dumping thousands of GPS points showing his summer movements, Island Beach’s transmitter (which has had recharging issues since last winter) went dark. But as the days have been getting longer, he’s been back in touch more regularly, checking in Jan. 27 along the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River near Rivière-du-Loup. Then he made a very rapid movement, traveling almost 400 km (250 miles) southwest along the river, past Quebec City to just east of Montreal by the morning of Jan. 29. (Wells, who had been in Quebec City itself, has been a no-show recently.) Island Beach was moving at speeds from 61-79 kph (37-49 mph) when he was in flight.

Pickford’s movements around Prince Edward Island, where she has come off the Northumberland Strait to land. (©Project SNOWstorm and Google Earth)

Over on Prince Edward Island, Pickford continues to shift on and off the ice, and on Jan. 27 was at Brae Harbour on the southwest edge of PEI. In upstate New York, Otter, our owl tagged with one of the world’s first hybrid cellular-satellite transmitters, is using the farmland north of Watertown, an area where we tracked Orleans a couple of winters ago. Tom McDonald, who has been studying snowies in this area for three decades, has noticed that Otter is using a lot of the same roost and hunting spots that other owls have occupied over the years — a reminder that certain landscape features are always going to attract snowy owls.

Argus has moved more than 125 miles south into western Minnesota in the past week. (©Project SNOWstorm and Google Earth)

The biggest movement we’ve seen in the past week was from Argus, the adult male that Matt Solensky tagged north of Fargo, ND, on Jan. 20. We’d hoped he would stay put, since Harwood was right in the same area and we looked forward to more interaction between them. But while Harwood isn’t budging, Argus headed south, flying more than 137 miles (220 km) between Jan. 24-28. At last report he’d crossed over to Minnesota between Ortonville and Madison, just east of the South Dakota line.

Up near the Canadian border, Woodworth remains south of the Turtle Mountain plateau, though between Jan. 21-24 he took a jog about 22 miles (35 km) west past the town of Bottineau, ND, whose claim to fame is “Tommy the Turtle” — a 30-foot (9m) high statue of a turtle riding a snowmobile. (Woodworth did not stop for a selfie.) And after wandering a bit earlier in the winter, Pettibone has snugged down into a fairly small area near Aylesbury, Saskatchewan, of about 8.9 square km (3.5 square miles).

(We hope to have an update soon on Coddington’s recovery at the Raptor Education Group’s rehab facility in Wisconsin, but between a major winter storm Monday and wind chills in its wake as low as -55 or -60F, they have their hands full and have been busy with a lot of admissions. How will the snowies out in the wild handle such extremes? Easily, for the most part — that’s just par for the course for an Arctic owl.)

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SNOWstorm receives American Birding Expo Grant https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/snowstorm-receives-american-birding-expo-grant/ https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/snowstorm-receives-american-birding-expo-grant/#comments Tue, 29 Jan 2019 17:44:16 +0000 https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/?p=4995 Everyone at Project SNOWstorm was pleased to learn today that we are a recipient of the new American Birding Expo Conservation Fund Grants, to help us continue our snowy owl research and conservation. The grant program, administered by Bird Watcher’s Digest magazine, received more than 100 applicants, of which just seven were selected. We’re honored and grateful for the support, ... Read More

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Everyone at Project SNOWstorm was pleased to learn today that we are a recipient of the new American Birding Expo Conservation Fund Grants, to help us continue our snowy owl research and conservation. The grant program, administered by Bird Watcher’s Digest magazine, received more than 100 applicants, of which just seven were selected. We’re honored and grateful for the support, and will put the $2,400 grant to very good use.

 

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Otter, the Hybrid Owl https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/otter-the-hybrid-owl/ https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/otter-the-hybrid-owl/#comments Mon, 28 Jan 2019 14:56:06 +0000 https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/?p=4968 Working with snowy owls is rarely easy, but earlier this month Tom McDonald had a run of buzzard’s luck — including a trip to the ER — that would have stopped most people. It didn’t stop Tom, though, and as a result, we have our first-ever owl tagged with an exciting new generation of transmitter — one that will allow ... Read More

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Tom McDonald, left, carefully fits the new hybrid GSM-satellite transmitter on Otter, who is wearing a hood to keep him from biting.

Working with snowy owls is rarely easy, but earlier this month Tom McDonald had a run of buzzard’s luck — including a trip to the ER — that would have stopped most people. It didn’t stop Tom, though, and as a result, we have our first-ever owl tagged with an exciting new generation of transmitter — one that will allow us to keep track of an owl year-round, anywhere in the world, without sacrificing the quality of data we’re already getting.

Tom’s been banding snowy owls for more than 30 years, but he said this particular trip was one of the most difficult of his career. It should have been easier; Tom’s good friend and fellow raptor bander Dave Tetlow offered to chauffer him from Rochester to Tom’s main research area in Jefferson County, NY, close to the Canadian border, so they loaded up Dave’s van with trapping gear and headed east.

Otter, a second-winter male caught Jan. 18 in upstate New York.

By 6 a.m., with the temperature “a fairly balmy 28 degrees,” Tom said, they were in the town of Chaumont Bay at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, where a snowy had been reported. They quickly found the owl, silhouetted against the slightly lighter dawn sky, but also found that all three of Tom’s phai traps had been mangled when packed. (A phai trap has a lure cage in the middle surrounded by a lightweight hoop with nooses to catch the attacking owl’s feet.) Tom hurriedly fixed up one and dropped it for the owl, which made an attack, knocked the rig several feet and managed to evade the nooses — and was gone.

“Things were about to go downhill from there,” Tom said. Over the coming hours they tried for six more snowies, all with no luck. One was scared off by a snow plow, another was chased away by a Cooper’s hawk (which ended up caught itself). Still another kept them waiting for 90 long minutes before simply flying away without a second look. An owl in a perfect spot — dead-end road, no traffic — turned out to have a neighbor, a second snowy that attacked the first, initiating a back-and-forth fight that took both owls far away.

Retracing their steps, Tom and the crew found that original male from daybreak. “Since most of my phai traps were temporarily disabled, I shouldered my large bow net and headed for a secluded spot in the cemetery just off the main drag,” Tom said. “The couple inches of fresh snow that had fallen earlier in the day would be perfect for hiding the outline of my trap. Unfortunately, it was also perfectly hiding the patch of flat, and very slippery, ice.” Tom crashed to the ground with the heavy net, so badly bruised and banged up that he literally had to crawl the rest of the way to set up the bow.

This owl proved to be no fool, and Tom suspects it may have been trapped before. “It managed to do everything but center itself in the trap. He hopped on the hamster cage and jumped back off. He would make a pass at the cage, kiss it and fly a short distance away. He walked all the way around the outside perimeter of the bow trap, turned and walked around in the other direction.” When, after what seemed an eternity, the owl was safely centered in the middle of the net, Tom tried activating the remote release, only to discover that the mechanism had jammed when he’d fallen. This owl, too, got away, and Tom was now in serious pain from his injuries, gulping pain meds to dull the aches.

The new hybrid GSM-Argos transmitter will allow us to keep track of Otter wherever he goes, even when he’s in the Arctic.

Spirits low, they headed home for Rochester, secretly hoping they wouldn’t see another owl along the way. But when a final snowy appeared near the village of Theresa, not far from the U.S. Army’s Fort Drum, Tom fixed up one of the smashed phai traps, limped out to set it — and immediately caught a second-winter male that was a perfect candidate for a transmitter. The new bird — dubbed “Otter,” for nearby Otter Creek — was tagged at Russell and Dawn Hardy’s house in the village of Philadelphia. The Hardys and Dave provided the necessary help because, Tom said, “Otter was undoubtedly the most bite-y owl I have ever had the misfortune of deploying a transmitter on. He took a pound of flesh from anyone who came within a foot of him,” even with a hood to curtail his aggression. (The next day, after X-rays at the emergency room, the doctors confirmed that although Tom had sprains and bruises, he thankfully hadn’t broken anything in his fall.)

The transmitter that Otter’s wearing is something brand new, not just for SNOWstorm but wildlife telemetry as a whole — the world’s first hybrid GSM-Argos satellite transmitter from our colleagues at Cellular Tracking Technologies. The units we’ve been using for the past five years collect GPS locations and send them to us over the GSM cell network; that allows us to collect huge amounts of data at a very low cost. But it also means that when the owl is out of cell range, we don’t get any data until (or unless) the owl comes back into the cellular network. If the owl remains off the grid, we have no way of knowing where it is, and whether or not it’s alive.

Otter’s transmitter, though, has a second channel for communication, through the Argos satellite system. When it’s out of cell range, we can program it to periodically send a small packet of data — a cluster of GPS points,  accelerometer readings and a few other details — via satellite from anywhere in the world. That means that when Otter heads back to the Arctic, at regular intervals — maybe every two weeks — we’ll get a ping from him that will show very precisely where he is, and whether he’s been moving around or has been stationary for a prolonged period.

At the same time, the GPS locations that his transmitter continues to take, regular as clockwork 24 hours a day — as in all our transmitters — will be stored in his memory bank. When he comes into cell range again, we’ll get that backlogged data in all its normal, extensive detail. But if he stays in the Arctic next winter, or comes south to an area where there is no cellular coverage, we’ll still be able to keep tabs on him.

CTT is the only manufacturer making these hybrid GSM-Argos units, and Otter is the first owl — in fact, the first raptor of any sort and only the second species at all, after Canada geese — to carry one of these hybrid units. So while we’re sorry it was such a trial for Tom getting him tagged, we’re especially glad to welcome Otter to Project SNOWstorm– and look forward to tracking him year-round.

Transmitting via the GSM cell network, Otter’s transmitter shows his movements in the New York farmland north of Fort Drum. (©Project SNOWstorm and Google Earth)

 

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Say Hello to Argus https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/say-hello-to-argus/ https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/say-hello-to-argus/#comments Thu, 24 Jan 2019 02:30:01 +0000 https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/?p=4950 Harwood has some company. Last weekend, the ever-busy Matt Solensky was able to tag another adult male snowy north of Fargo, ND, in almost the same spot where he’d caught Harwood the weekend before. On Friday, Jan. 19, Matt got a call from Dan Mason, one of the Fargo-area birders who have been so helpful in finding snowy owls. Dan ... Read More

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Argus flexes his wings just before his release. (©Dan Mason)

Harwood has some company. Last weekend, the ever-busy Matt Solensky was able to tag another adult male snowy north of Fargo, ND, in almost the same spot where he’d caught Harwood the weekend before.

On Friday, Jan. 19, Matt got a call from Dan Mason, one of the Fargo-area birders who have been so helpful in finding snowy owls. Dan had seen a bird perched on the same billboards along I-29 where Harwood was caught, but couldn’t see a transmitter and thought it was a different bird. Matt was skeptical, but decided to head out the next day to try.

Argus is the second of at least four owls north of Fargo, ND, to be tagged this winter. (©Dan Mason)

Saturday morning, Matt quickly found a snowy perched on top of a high pole. “It was a bit far, but I thought it was worth a shot. It wasn’t,” he said. “A couple hours and a visit from a bored county deputy later, I picked up the traps and moved on.” He had a similarly poor response from a second owl he located, and so decided to investigate the spot Dan had mentioned — especially after emailing me from the road to ask me to check Harwood’s tracking data, which made clear that the owl Dan had spied was, in fact, a different bird.

Matt set up a trap, then waited for 40 minutes before the owl made a pass. It was a miss, but the owl came back repeatedly until he was finally caught. The bird was extremely white and, based on his wing molt, at least five years old. Matt dubbed him Argus, for the nearby town of Argusville, ND. “Interestingly, I looked at Dan’s pictures and compared them to Argus and it was not him.” What’s more, Matt found yet another snowy nearby the next day, a much darker bird than any he’d seen,  but wasn’t able to get it.

So there are at least four owls along the interstate near the towns of Harwood and Argusville, two of them sending us data — and perhaps we’ll have more, if Matt keeps up his run of luck. As was the case last winter in Wisconsin, we’re hopeful we’ll be able to see how multiple owls share the same landscape and interact with each other — and we’re fulfilling our goal of increasing the number of tagged owls we’ve tracked in prairie/Great Plains habitats, to balance the robust coastal/Great Lakes data set we have.

Argus’ map and tracking data will be up soon — stay tuned!

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A Tough (and Smelly) Break https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/a-tough-and-smelly-break/ https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/a-tough-and-smelly-break/#comments Wed, 23 Jan 2019 01:21:07 +0000 https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/?p=4928 Over the years, we’ve seen snowy owls — both our tagged birds and unmarked owls — get into a variety of problems. We’ve had tagged owls killed by collisions with vehicles and planes, electrocuted on poorly designed power lines or die from flying into them, drowned by nor’easter storms on the coast, or mangled by the powerful backwash of jet ... Read More

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REGI biologist Greg Russ holds Coddington shortly after Brian Biadasz and his sons, Kolton and Jake, rescued the owl from their barn. (©Raptor Education Group)

Over the years, we’ve seen snowy owls — both our tagged birds and unmarked owls — get into a variety of problems. We’ve had tagged owls killed by collisions with vehicles and planes, electrocuted on poorly designed power lines or die from flying into them, drowned by nor’easter storms on the coast, or mangled by the powerful backwash of jet engines. Last winter one owl, Manisses, died from an unusual parasitic infection that killed many other owls on Block Island, RI.

But Coddington, who was tagged Jan. 3 on the Buena Vista grasslands of central Wisconsin by Gene Jacobs, got himself into a whole new kind of trouble — at least, new for us, but possibly a growing issue for raptors.

Saturday night, Jan. 20, I got a call from Marge Gibson, who runs the Raptor Education Group Inc., a very well-respected raptor rehab center in Antigo, WI. Earlier that day, a snowy owl had been rescued by a farm family from their barn south of Plover, WI — an owl with a transmitter on its back, and with my contact information on the transmitter.

REGI staff Ashley Nilsson and Katie Helland examine Coddington’s wing after admission… (©Raptor Education Group)

It was Coddington, of course, who had been hunting the ag lands and remnant prairie south of Plover since his release three weeks ago. We’d already been a little concerned about him, because he’d been hanging around a large potato-processing factory — and where there are commercial food processing plants, there is often rodenticide being used. But Jan. 17 he flew northeast to the town of Plover itself, stopping for a while at the Crossroads Commons mall, then looped south into what was (at least since we’ve been tracking him) new ground. By Jan. 19, he was hanging around a farm south of the village of Arnott — and probably while chasing prey he ended up inside a large barn with plenty of manure.

That’s where he was found and rescued the next day by farmer Brian Biadasz, jammed between a wall and a water font, and taken to Marge’s rehab facility. If the idea of an owl gooped up in manure mostly just sounds gross, Marge explained it’s a lot worse than that. “The digestive enzymes used in the [manure treatment] process dissolve the bird’s down feathers,” she explained. Coddington’s not the only victim — in fact, he’s the second manured snowy that REGI has received just this month. They’ve treated other

…and they check to make sure he has full extension and mobility. (©Raptor Education Group)

species of owls in the same predicament, as well as a bald eagle that got into a sewage treatment plant lagoon. Nor is this the first time the Biadasz family has found snowies in their barn.

This snowy owl, found neck-deep in liquid manure and brought to REGI earlier this month, had far more serious skin burns and feather damage than Coddington. (©Raptor Education Group)

“The great news is he did not have a lot of the manure, and what there was had not saturated the feathers as the other SNOW we admitted in early January. His eyes and face are clear of exposure,” Marge said. (You can see from this photo from REGI’s Facebook page, that owl was up to its neck — literally — in liquid manure.) Even better, she determined from the Brian that the manure to which he’d been exposed was just that — plain cow manure, not the liquified stuff treated with digestive enzymes to break it down, “so the feather damage and tissue burns will be less,” she said. “He was found and transported to us quickly so the manure was not in contact with his feathers and skin for an extended period.”

One wing was banged up, and Marge initially feared he might have had a radius or ulna fracture, but his X-rays were clear. Coddington was also somewhat underweight, which probably wasn’t tied to the manure; REGI checked to make sure he hadn’t ingested lead, but we’ll be working with them on more extensive blood toxicology tests. At least at this point, Marge hopes he’ll be back in the wild in a few weeks.

The transmitter, which was funded by Madison Audubon, originally deployed last year on Arlington and refurbished after that owl was killed by a vehicle on his way north, was removed — even if Coddington needs only a short stay at REGI, he’ll do best without any additional burden. Gene Jacobs will try to use the transmitter again — perhaps third time will be the charm.

Clean as a whistle: No signs of a fracture on the suspect left wing, just some swelling and bruising. (©Raptor Education Group)

Whenever one of our tagged birds gets into trouble, the bad news is mitigated somewhat by the knowledge that we’re learning more about the spectrum of threats these Arctic birds encounter down here. That’s certainly the case with Coddington, and what may be an unrecognized threat to raptors in general.

We’re grateful to the Biadasz family for rescuing Coddington and getting him to REGI, and we’re especially grateful to Marge Gibson and all her small but dedicated staff, not just for their help with Coddington, but for the great work they’ve done for years helping raptors and educating the public. If you’d like to show your gratitude as well, please consider making a donation to the Raptor Education Group, because like us, they’re a nonprofit whose work is supported entirely by donations from the public.

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Ice-riding Around PEI https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/ice-riding-around-pei/ https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/posts/ice-riding-around-pei/#comments Tue, 22 Jan 2019 15:37:53 +0000 https://www.projectsnowstorm.org/?p=4888 A week or so ago we shared the news that Pickford had come zooming back into range, migrating southeast from James Bay, where she’d been since May, to northern New Brunswick. Well, she kept on moving, and her latest positions — sporadic, because her battery is still recharging from the drain it took to send almost 11,000 GPS points, and ... Read More

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Pickford has been enjoying the iced-up Northumberland Strait off Prince Edward Island. (©Project SNOWstorm and Google Earth)

A week or so ago we shared the news that Pickford had come zooming back into range, migrating southeast from James Bay, where she’d been since May, to northern New Brunswick.

The latest Canadian ice cover map shows the heaviest code — 9/10 — for the waters around PEI. (Canadian Ice Service)

Well, she kept on moving, and her latest positions — sporadic, because her battery is still recharging from the drain it took to send almost 11,000 GPS points, and browns out occasionally — are out in the western Northumberland Strait, the roughly 30 km (18 mile) wide channel between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

She’s loafing along out there, not doing much except riding on the ice as it shifts under the influence of wind and tides, and coming to land on Cape Egmont on PEI’s southwestern coast. Although it had been a fairly mild winter thus far in much of eastern North America, there’s still a lot of ice in these inshore waters, and the recent incursion of Arctic air is freezing up everything that was still open. The latest  map from the Canadian Ice Service shows all of the strait with an ice cover code of 9, meaning, “Fast ice with close or very close pack ice to seaward of the ice boundary.” Until a few days ago there was a narrow swath in the middle, where Pickford was riding, with a code of 7: “Strips and patches of close or very close pack ice with areas of lesser concentration between.” But that’s solidified now.

Meanwhile, all’s mostly quiet on the western front. Woodworth seems to have settled in, at least for the time being, on the farmland close to the North Dakota/ Manitoba border below the Turtle Mountain plateau. He’s using a fairly large area, roughly 20 square miles (32 square km) that includes the Lords Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a small unit of the Clark Salyer NWR complex. Lords Lake is what’s known as an “easement” refuge — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the rights to manage water levels and hunting, but the refuge land itself remains privately owned.

Pettibone has likewise settled down for the past couple of weeks in the prairie and grainfields of southcentral Saskatchewan, about 110 km (68 miles) northwest of Moose Jaw. He’s near the mostly dry bed of the Qu’Appelle River, and his nearest neighbors are the 40 or so residents of the village of Aylesbury, along Highway 11 a few kilometers away.

Harwood the Highway Owl likes utility poles (hydro poles, to our Canadian readers) along and around I-29 north of Fargo, ND, just a few miles from the Minnesota line. In Wisconsin, Coddington got himself into a mess over the weekend — he’s OK, fortunately, and we’ll have a fuller report later today if possible. Plus we have a couple of new owls to introduce, including an especially exciting one — so stay tuned.

 

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