For an owl that was off our radar until just a few weeks ago, Alderbrooke has proven to be one of the most wide-ranging of this winter’s owls.
When she first popped back on the grid last month she was on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in southern Québec, 120 km (75 miles) northeast of Québec City. Then she moved southwest about half that distance to an archipelago of large islands in the river, where she stayed for a week or so.
By March 11, though, she was motoring even further southwest, flying more than 320 km (200 miles) up the river and past Montréal by March 12. By that point she was only 45 km (28 miles) from Otter, on the other side of the Ottawa River in Ontario. Rather than stop, she immediately reversed course the night of March 12-13 and flew 110 km (68 miles) back the way she’d come along the St. Lawrence, finally pausing near Maskinongé, QC, in the Mauricie region of the north shore.
Perhaps deciding the south shore looked tempting, the next night, March 14-15, she flew 66 km (41 miles) east and south, rested for the day between Saint-Hyacinthe and Acton Vale, then flew back to where she’d started near Maskinongé. In all, she traveled some 560 km (350 miles) in six days.
Otter, Columbia and Newton, on the other hand, have been bumps on a log in comparison. But out in North Dakota, Salyer has been a restless soul, moving 190 miles (303 km) on a decidedly serpentine course. In early March he was just east of Lake Sakakawea on the Missouri River, but since then he has meandered south, and east, and sometimes back north, scrawling a twisting trail across central North Dakota. At last report he was on the Burleigh/Kidder county line, between the towns of Wing and Robinson.
Huron hasn’t moved a lot since her big flight across Lake St. Clair and into central Michigan two weeks ago, but this past week she got to do something we know snowy owls love, but which has been all but impossible for them to do this winter — spend time out on lake ice.
In an average winter, 35-40 percent of the Great Lakes’ surface is covered with ice; this year, when average winter temperatures have been more than 5 degrees F above average in the region, the ice has been far below that, with less than 7 percent coverage this week. Lake Huron has the largest percentage of ice of the five lakes, at about 13 percent, with most of that on Georgian Bay in the north. But there has been some loose, wind-driven ice at the southern end of Saginaw Bay, and it lured Huron out March 10-11 before she flew back to shore.
Such experiences are getting less and less common for snowies. Ice cover on the Great Lakes declined 70 percent between 1973 and 2017, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which keeps track of Great Lakes ice.