Chickatawbut and ISOWG

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Norman Smith prepares to release Chickatawbut, joined by snowy owl experts Karl-Otto Jacobsen (left) and Arild Jostein Øien (rear) from Norway; Aleksander Sokolov from Russia (green hat); and Roar Solheim from Norway. (©Scott Weidensaul)

We’re tracking a new owl at Project SNOWstorm — and she has an unusually distinguished pedigree, given the circumstances of her tagging.

She’s a juvenile female named Chickatawbut, captured March 7 at Logan Airport in Boston by SNOWstorm co-founder Norman Smith of Massachusetts Audubon, and released the next day at Salisbury Beach, close to the New Hampshire border.

Our newest tagged snowy is named for Chickatawbut Hill in the Blue Hills Reservation, a 6,000-acre (2,428 ha.) preserve just outside Boston. And Chickatawbut is also the site of Mass Audubon’s environmental education center (named, we’re pleased to note, in Norman’s honor), which was the location for the fourth triennial meeting of the International Snowy Owl Working Group (ISOWG), bringing together experts from North America, Europe and Russia.

We’ll have more to share from ISOWG in future posts, but for now, here’s the scoop on Chickatawbut. Though classified as a second-year owl (in bird-banding parlance, bird ages follow a calendar-year schedule, so she became an SY on Jan. 1), she is a juvenile in her first winter, having been born last summer somewhere in the Canadian Arctic. She weighed just under 2,200 grams, a nice weight for a female.

Chickatawbut is a juvenile female, captured at Logan Airport in Boston and relocated to Salisbury Beach State Reservation in northern Massachusetts. (©Scott Weidensaul)

All of us attending the ISOWG meeting joined Norman for her release at Salisbury Beach State Reservation, at the mouth of the Merrimack River. With cameras whirring, including one manned by a photographer for the Boston Globe (read their story here), she took off over the salt marshes, but then hooked back to the rows of beach houses along the shore. A bit later, as our group was birding farther down the coast, we saw her perched on a dune crossover ramp by the beach.

Our main concern with a relocated airport owl like Chickatawbut is that it not go back to the airfield. The first day she stayed at the mouth of the river, but around midnight the night after her release, Chickatawbut began moving northwest, flying up into New Hampshire. She spent March 9 near Danville, NH, and when she checked in that evening for the first time she was perched on some high communication towers in an otherwise wooded area between Danville and Sandown.

Even though we release them in good habitat, relocated owls often bump around a bit until they find a place to settle down, so it remains to be seen if Chickatawbut will hook back to the coast, or find a nice, open area well inland where she was Thursday.

Time to Head…South?
Holding Patterns