What a week.
There’s a lot of news to share, all of it good, which will come in a couple of updates. But the biggest development is that earlier this week, Mike Lanzone and Tom McDonald tagged two more snowies in northwestern Pennsylvania at Erie International Airport.
But that success only came after two long, frustrating days trying to catch owls at a variety of locations, and with a veritable cast of thousands (well, maybe six) helping, including Andy McGann from CTT, Tom Johnson, SNOWstorm webmaster Drew Weber and his wife Justine, and John Fedak from PA Society for Ornithology, which is sponsoring one of the transmitters.
The crew tried a number of locations, including Presque Isle State Park, which has been a hotspot for snowies since the irruption began. The day before at least three had been in the park, but the wind had shifted from the south and blown the ice offshore, carrying the owls with it.
The crew tried for hours to catch an owl at the Erie business park, but that bird was happily snatching mice and voles right beside their bownet, while not sparing a glance for the jacketed pigeon. Even after running to the pet store for mice and a rat, the banders came up dry — the owl kept pouncing on wild prey. A great indication of local food resources, but obviously frustrating.
They located one owl at the airport, and the local police were cooperative and interested in helping. Unfortunately, they were also understaffed, and couldn’t spare an officer to escort them into the secure area.
But the police told Mike and Tom they could trap just outside the perimeter fence — so Sunday evening at dusk, after two fruitless days, they gave it one more Hail Mary attempt.
Tom has been banding snowy owls in Rochester, NY, for decades, and he quickly realized — watching the owl’s behavior — that there must be a second snowy in the area. And moments later that previously unseen owl swooped in, chasing the first one around in a flurry of wings and talons.
Despite the tumult, one of the birds quickly returned, pounced on the lure and was captured. And by quickly resetting the bownet, Mike and Tom almost immediately caught the second one, too. Like so many of the owls we’ve encountered this winter, both were immature males.
At the nearby Tom Ridge Environmental Center, the owls were banded, processed, tagged, and small feather and blood samples taken for later analysis. Then the birds were taken back and released.
We normally name our tagged owls for their locations, but “Erie 1” and “Erie 2” was just asking for confusion. So they are Erie (the bird sponsored by PSO) and Millcreek, the latter the name of the township in which the airport is located.
Both owls spent their first tagged night out on the ice in Presque Isle Bay, but were back at the airport come daybreak. Millcreek hung out at the airport the next two days, but when Erie’s transmitter checked in Tuesday evening he was a mile or so west of the airport at a Walmart supercenter off Ridge Road, having earlier been on the roof of a nearby housing complex.
Their maps are now up on the website, and we’ll be updating their locations every three days, as new data comes in — though as always, if they’re using a sensitive location we may hold off on an update until they’ve moved on, to protect the owls.